The Parish Council finds itself hosting a battle between giants, with the future of our community in the balance. On the one side, a predatory developer seeking to profit from a perceived weakness in local planning structure. On the other side, the county council; cut and cut again by government austerity, and working hard to adapt to increasing demand for homes which become ever more unsustainable in a diminishing environment. The actual matter of the application for 106 homes seems almost irrelevant in this Public Inquiry, and yet that is what we are here for. The outcome of this Inquiry may be wide-reaching, but will certainly affect the residents of Charfield, current and future, for decades to come.
The developer has little consideration for the village of Charfield. If it were otherwise, there would be no plan to dump a hundred plus houses into an isolated field on the outer edge of the village, with no supporting infrastructure and little opportunity for the families who are expected to live in them to assimilate into village life. The evidence for this lack of consideration includes the congested outline design which offers no space for children to play, apart from at the outer edge of the development where it is known to flood. Into this space, more than a hundred children would be expected to occupy themselves, because there is no decent pedestrian link from the development for children (or indeed adults) to access the rest of the village. In the knowledge this field floods, even without the additional concrete and tarmac, and in order to purport to offer play space, the developers offer buried catchment tanks; though how an underwater tank can assist more than fleetingly in storing above ground water is beyond our understanding. Children deserve better.
One way in, and one way out, onto a heavily trafficked B-road only made worse for the addition of a couple of hundred cars pouring in and out of a single t-junction twice a day. Not a development with children, or any pedestrian or cyclist, in mind. That every house will have at least one car and probably more is not hard to anticipate; Charfield is remote from almost every facility and service. Even a visit to the doctor, dentist and supermarket requires many or most of the existing residents to cross into the adjacent county. Local employment opportunity is minimal, and largely restricted to small or specialist employers, meaning most of the workforce of the village commute in and out each day, in cars. The single access t-junction sits at the start of a sweeping bend into Gloucestershire where the speed limit change from 30 mph to 50 mph means traffic is either slowing down or speeding up. Experience informs us that much of the traffic entering this section of the village is still over the speed limit of 30 mph. While there is a narrow pavement on one side of the B4058, it is highly likely that even the primary school children will be driven to school, while those attending secondary school will either be driven or wait on the school buses that will have to stop near this same sweeping bend.
This is not a place for a large development of family homes.
Charfield has been positive and proactive in assessing its needs. The government tells us that Localism is the way forward and that a local view is essential in addressing community need and aspiration. Indeed, it has enacted legislation designed to ensure power is exercised at the “lowest practical level – close to the people who are affected by decisions” – I quote from the Department for Communities and Local Government 2011 paper on the Localism Act. Our community has carried out a Village Plan and a Housing Needs Survey to identify how much and what sort of additional housing our village needs. In each case the result has been a small number of small and affordable new homes, not a mass of large family houses. As such, the Local Authority rightly rejected this application. If the outcome of this Public Inquiry, which seems to have only indirect bearing on Charfield and the application specifically, finds in favour of the Developer, it will fly in the face of Localism and in the face of everything the government has put in place for planning. To quote again from the lay guidance to the Localism Act;
Previous to the Act, “power was exercised by people who were not directly affected by the decisions they were taking. This meant, understandably, that people often resented what they saw as decisions and plans being foisted on them. The result was a confrontational and adversarial system where many applications end up being fought over.”
“the Government thinks that local communities should have genuine opportunities to influence the future of the places where they live.”
We have done this. We have determined this development is not in the best interests of the existing village, nor in the interests of those who may end up living in it. We have demonstrated this to the Local Planning Authority, who have refused planning permission. We now find ourselves involved in an argument about wider policies and are at risk of suffering as a test case is fought. If this Public Inquiry is about the planning application it must find for the Local Planning Authority. If it is about policies and the efficacy of them, it is an injustice to the people of Charfield, and flies in the face of the intention of national government.
Mark Rosher – Chairman
Charfield Parish Council