Responding to West of England Joint Planning

If you aren’t aware, four authorities in the West of England have come together to produce a housing and transportation strategy for the next twenty years. The area involved is huge, and as such one reads it with local eyes, seeking out how it affects our personal environment. In my home village of Charfield, it seeks to double it in size from 1000 to 2000 houses, without any real intervention to solve the inevitable problems such a rural population increase would entail, nor to address the needs of those additional householders.

I’ve commented on the proposals in a personal capacity. As an individual, I feel able to share my comments.

  • Consultation Question 1
    Does the proposed strategy make adequate provision to address the housing needs of the West of England?

    • It is not reasonable to ask residents to become experts in this matter. We rely on professional planners and statisticians to analyse data and prepare scenarios. In a significant part of the strategy however there is strong reliance upon unsustainable development in Charfield. Here at least it fails to adequately address the scarcity of transport, services and employment opportunity in this north border village and does not support the transition to a low carbon future. Village life is generally less sustainable than urban in terms of services and facilities access and it is not practical nor wanted to make villages into urban satellites of cities. That the required number of houses can be dropped into a community does not make it reasonable to do so, and in the case of Charfield village such proposals fly in the face of the requirements of the National Planning Policy Framework in failing to take into account local circumstances, disallowing local plan-led development, and failing to support transition to a low carbon future.
  • Consultation Question 2
    How can we increase the delivery of homes, in particular much needed affordable homes in the West of England?

    • Emphasise the use of brownfield sites, especially urban redundant office space and derelict areas in central Bristol. Office space is becoming less useful in an age of decentralised home working and many existing empty buildings could be repurposed to dwellings. Re-examine the purpose of Green Belt protection and look to locating affordable housing in urban settings, because those who need affordable homes are unlikely to afford personal transportation. Cycle and pedestrian commuting work well in cities, not so much in villages and rural environs. Interest in affordable housing in Charfield has been shown to be low, because the lack of services and amenities make it an expensive place to live.
  • Consultation Question 3
    Does the proposed strategy make adequate provision to address the economic and employment needs of the West of England?

    • Not in terms of the proposed plans for Charfield. By attempting to place dwellings significant distances away from employment centres, there is an over-emphasis on car requirement. As car ownership and commuting distances increase, congestion and pollution and lost working time harm both the economy and the environment and also increase costs to employees and businesses. The sole large local employer has surveyed its staff and found clear evidence its workforce do not wish to live in and around Charfield, but rather wish to live in the urban cities of Bristol and Gloucestershire. South Gloucestershire hope that employers will be attracted to the village, but large businesses are concentrating more and more into the urban environment. Small businesses are unlikely in the number required to employ 2000 more adults, and therefore ever more committing will be required. The aspiration to reopen the Charfield railway station is not even believed by the planners, and the costs estimated at £12Million will not be made available through government support for this potential white elephant (white elephant because residents of Charfield have to own cars to access services, and having cars will use them).
  • Consultation Question 4
    Does the Preferred Spatial Strategy and the locations identified meet the plan’s strategic priorities and vision?

    • Not in terms of its plans for Charfield. The proposal to double the size of Charfield at the far north of the WoE area offers little or no infrastructure investment to address the inevitable traffic congestion, cost and pollution. In doing so the strategy fails to address the key requirements of the overarching NPPF and the government’s core planning principles. The strategy relies on erroneous assessments of sustainable access to services and is built with emphasis on delivering a five year land housing supply rather than on sustainable development. That South Gloucestershire has determined Charfield to be Tier 2 Good Access Sustainable Location cannot be defended, and Charfield is closer to Tier 4 Poor Access with the differential resting on aspirations of business interest improvement which are highly unlikely to come about in these post-Brexit austerity times. The message in the Spatial Strategy document is that you “have a completely joined up approach to providing homes and supporting infrastructure” and “to address unsustainable commuting patterns by aligning jobs and homes”. The proposals with regard to Charfield are completely opposite to these aims.
  • Consultation Question 5
    Are there any reasons why this strategy or identified locations could not be delivered?

    • Yes, in regard to Charfield the rationale for defining the village as a Strategic Development Location is completely erroneous and merely seeks to add numbers to an already unsustainable location. The plans for infrastructure are expensive, unfunded and unachievable. Though challenging for obvious reasons, it is far easier in the medium to long term to produce a deliverable sustainable development strategy and avoid legal challenge.
  • Consultation Question 6
    Is the Preferred Spatial Strategy the most appropriate strategy, when considered against the reasonable alternatives?

    • There are no alternatives proposed under the JSP, reasonable or not! The document itself states “no alternative spatial strategy was put forward at the Issues and Options stage.” We are not professional planners and do not have access to the data or resources to attempt something like this. Given the general trend for a concentration of services into the urban environment, which is likely to continue and intensify under austerity policies, it is reasonable to make preferences for new build in the urban environment, including urban extension into the Green Belt, so that transport infrastructure can target the increased population. It is not sustainable to implement the top-down urbanisation of village life upon those who choose to make the conscious decision to relax their expectations of facilities for the tranquility of the countryside.

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