Abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies: a planning vacuum? - Communities and Local Government Committee Contents

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 Core Strategies.

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 this concept.

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 energy, &c)

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 planning function

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 boundaries

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 scrutinised—computer 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.

September 2010

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