Written evidence from Whitchurch Village
Action Group (ARSS 34)|
Whitchurch Village Action Group exists to inform
local people of the impact that the massive proposed South West
Regional Spatial Strategy (SWRSS) housing developments would have
on the village and surrounds. We felt it necessary to form this
Group because the RSS had been imposed upon us with very little
open easy accessible consultation. Even with the public in the
North giving a resounding NO to the Regional Assembly that John
Prescott launched it has still been pushed and with it the Spatial
Strategy demanding Local Authorities ( LA's) to cooperate with
We are a non political group whose sole purpose is
to inform and to that end we have taken information stands around
the South West to the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, Ashton
Court Bristol, the Royal Bath and West Agricultural Show, Shepton
Mallet, Local Fetes, addressed Womens Institutes, Parish Councils
and our LA, Bath and North East Somerset Council (BANES) and many
many Car Boot Sales around the whole area. Such has been the disquiet
and dislike of the SWRSS that to date we personally have forwarded
some 8,000 letters of objection to the proposals to the DCLG and
to MP's and in addition 37,000 letters of objection to the RSS
via the Save Our Green Spaces Organisation have also been sent.
The Majority of households in the Village of Whitchurch wrote
letters of objection to our LA. Banes.
We discovered other areas around Bristol were suffering
similarly and thus Save Our Green Spaces was created with a Web
Site www.saveourgreenspaces.org which gave the public a wider
picture of the National problem and all the implications should
the previous Government have implemented the RSS.
We are truly hopeful that now the RSS can be abolished
and be replaced with a much more local community based plan.
Set out below are the individual terms of reference.
The Committee has decided to undertake an inquiry
into the revocation and abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies.
The Committee will be focusing particularly on the implications
for house building, especially:
The implications of the abolition of regional
house building targets for levels of housing development
This target driven format for the housing market
is the wrong way round. The housing market should be driven by
need for the area. Development for need, will stabilise the market
allowing prices to become realistic for first time buyers. The
need will be proven based and open by LA's in consultation with
local communities which may then provide a better balance between
housing, employment and leisure space not to mention infrastructure.
The scrapping of house building targets that the
RSS demanded is a positive move.
The likely effectiveness of the Government's plan
to incentivise local communities to accept new housing development,
and the nature and level of the incentives which will need to
be put in place to ensure an adequate long-term supply of housing
As we travelled around the South West with our Information
Stand, people were expressing their disquiet at the sheer size
and scale of the imposed housing targets the numbers for which
were at variance with LA's identified local need and without support
of realistic future employment, facilities for communities or
infrastructure. If local need is identified and local communities
are consulted appropriately there should be no need for incentives
(blackmail/bribe/bung) as people realise housing is needed but
at a local need level. The development needed should not be massive
urban extensions but rather spread through villages with a good
mix of requirements especially social housing both in the public
and private sector so that the social "life-blood" can
be retained. At present families become even more fragmented due
to lack of availability of housing for first time buyers in rural
areas. Further, social/affordable housing should be retained,
not sold on for profit thus exacerbating the situation. Incentives
could be given to LA's, Parish Councils, Community Groups to promote
The Committee understands that the Government
intends to announce further details of its plans for incentives
"shortly", and would welcome comments on the adequacy
and appropriateness of those incentives when the details are available
We look forward to learning what form these incentives
will take and note that you will welcome our comments.
The Committee will also be considering.
The arrangements which should be put in place
to ensure appropriate cooperation between local planning authorities
and matters formerly covered by regional spatial strategies (eg
Waste, minerals, flooding, the natural environment, renewable
This is extremely important and must be addressed
because if a sensible form of open consultation is created with
maybe local representation being welcomed and respected by LA's
then the need for campaign groups will diminish. In more controversial
projects a referendum system (as we carried out at Whitchurch
Village) should be put in place. Campaign groups usually only
exist because people feel disenfranchised and ignored.
The adequacy of proposals already put forward
by the Government, including a proposed duty to co-operate and
the suggestion that Local Enterprise Partnerships may fulfil a
The problem with this proposal is to make sure that
the Local Enterprise Partnerships are independent and not infiltrated
or controlled by Developers or Land Agents as has been the case
throughout the development of the SWRSS. Unless openness prevails
Campaign Groups will continue to be active. Already the implications/expectations
are that LEPs will get developments through the system successfully.
How the Data and Research collated by the now
abolished Regional Local Authority Leaders' Boards should be made
available to local authorities, and what arrangements should be
put in place to ensure effective updating of that research and
collection of further research on matters crossing local authority
The validity of the Data was always the problem.
The figures for future housing development was always questionable.
These figures MUST be revisited. The process by which figures
were determined for the RSS should be scrutinisedcomputer
modelling as we know can be seriously flawed as it was with sars,
swine flu, bird flu, foot and mouth, in fact the list is endless,
population growth too. In our area of Bristol City Council (BCC)/Banes
under the SWRSS figures, the area was required to provide development
of 33,000 houses which presumably assumed up to 66,000 people
would be seeking a house. Worse still these thousands of houses
were to ALL be built on Green Belt Land protected by PPG's. There
is absolutely no data anywhere to substantiate these figures for
huge urban sprawls and invasion and degradation of Green Belt
Land. This is what has incensed local people and prompted such
opposition to the SWRSS. Housing needs for BCC and Banes is extremely
low in the hundreds and could be met by utilising Brown Field
Sites and incentivising Landlords to rent out the hundreds of
empty houses in the area.
Crossing borders between LA's has proved a huge problem
in our area between BCC and Banes who will not accept correspondence
from residents residing outside their borders. If this can be
addressed then that is progress indeed.
At Whitchurch Village, Banes, we were faced with
the dictat to have up to 9,500 houses for an urban extension to
Bristol all on Green Belt Land. As a farmer, earning a living
working on this targeted Green Belt Land I am more aware than
most of its importance not only to agriculture but to the general
well being of wildlife, flora and fauna and also to humans. The
reason for Green Belt Land is as relevant, if not more so now
as it was 40 years ago. It is a finite resource and at a time
when we should be looking for food security and sustainability
we should all be thinking very carefully before concreting over
this land which further provides mans Primary Industry and the
only true form of Carbon Capture. I was certainly unaware of what
was intended for my farm and my neighbouring farms until Land
Agents came knocking on my door offering silly money. Furthermore
one Land Agent even put in writing that they had been involved
in the development of the SWRSS so it was not difficult for them
to know exactly which farmers doors to knock on for likely success
of procuring their need for profit.
If Data is accurate, open, freely available for scrutiny
then Groups like ourselves, having to spend their precious unpaid
time fighting very unpopular and in many cases unwarranted development,
will be less likely to challenge.
The SWRSS was deeply unpopular because people felt
they had not been consulted, the data was unbelievable and unchallengable
and it was Developer lead with intent to succeed whatever. Whitchurch
Village Action Group is not against housing needs for the area.
Local knowledge provides the key to what the need
is for local requirements so let Local Communities say what they
need. Respect is a good word.