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

Written evidence from Oldland Common Save our Green Spaces (ARSS 51)


Granted the Regional Spatial Strategy gave certainty on housing locations and prevented opportunistic and costly development applications, but the residents of Oldland Save Our Green Spaces group celebrated its passing. The Coalition Government appears to have put a satisfactory interim arrangement in place to fill the policy gap and its replacement must be seen to be fairer from the residents' point of view, as the field for objection and stopping the process was narrow indeed.

We have considered in particular the effects on the area of Oldland Common, in particular on a site called Barry Road. On this site there was an application to build 450 houses (just the first phase) a general store (likely Tesco) 60 bed care home and employment warehousing, all on grade two agricultural land. Under the RSS, that would have gone ahead, under the localism agenda of the Coalition, it would not.

There was no connection with job opportunities. There must be a proven need for people to fill the local jobs market BEFORE housing permission is granted. There must be a restriction on settlement expansion if employment is inadequate.

There must be an assessment of the impact on existing shops of any supermarkets development which often accompany these applications. The Oldland High Street with its restrictive parking would have died with the unfair competition of a supermarket.

The number of homes that were demanded under the RSS was always under some suspicion. There must be a transparent method of assessing the local need for housing as numbers are easily manipulated by amongst others, multiple council housing applications, people unsuitably housed or those just wishing to move. These figures must be available to all members of the public who will then have the ability to question their justification.

The Regional Spatial Strategy was originally having to be completed on line, was complicated and difficult to manage as it was so lengthy. The site was subject to crashing and losing previously entered data. It was advertised in public libraries, an unsuitable method of communication and so communities were often ignorant of a consultation which would have enormous bearing on their lives. Older people without internet access and abilities often excluded from the process.

The Oldland Common application had the accustomed one third affordable houses. Therefore more than two thirds of the housing would have been superfluous to local need and providing affordable housing, in effect, a tax on the builder's profits. Under the present system S106's are used as a community bribe to provide social housing but we think this is wrong and all developments should stand or fall on their own merits.

As the Oldland site was on the inner edge of green belt land, it would have to be accessed by what is at times, a single track road. We ask that no development be allowed to proceed without the necessary new infrastructure being in place.

This un-necessary development would have swallowed up acres of productive farmland. We ask that more value be placed on the protection of our food source, especially in the light of climate change and Britain's advantage of its temperate climate.

So under the RSS, South Gloucestershire would have been forced:

to provide an un-necessary care home, warehousing and shops;

to build houses without job provision which would put more cars on an already overloaded road system; and

to overload the local health facilities (the local dentist said she could not take on anymore patients, the doctor was "concerned").

All on the strength of a perceived housing number with no transparent process of justification, and all on valuable farm land which is now being farmed.


There might well be a problem if the incentives offered by Government or direct by developers (as has been suggested) are such that they entice local councils, in cash stricken times, to try to bulldoze through planning applications without the necessary community consent. This situation would result in the campaigning groups fighting with their local councils against inappropriate development, instead of the as it was Labour Government under the RSS arrangements.

If the incentives to build are offered directly by developers to the community, presumable the local authority will be bypassed in this process. I would offer a word of caution on this process, as no provision appears to have been made for the supervision of suitable materials to be used, building regulations, funds for architect fees for supply of appropriate plans and their unlimited adaptation to meet community approval. A local authority has the tried and tested ability to co-ordinate all the various planning processes and is able to ensure that nothing slips between the cracks in a way that direct developer/community participation would not.

The Government needs to consider incentivising the re-use of the 800,000 vacant properties that are in the UK by introducing some sort of grant system or reduced interest rates for developers. The planning system must include some "time limits on use" to address the second holiday home and "buy to leave" issues.

The Government needs to also consider stopping charging full rates on empty commercial properties which will help prevent wasteful demolition or deliberate property damage to avoid rate charges.

The link between house building and our Gross National Product should be severed. Building houses must not be used as a vehicle for economic growth rather than a function of need. There must be allowances within the planning system for respect for our ecological limits.


Whilst admitting that the revocation of the Regional Spatial Strategy has left some policy gaps, its demise has given local people the chance to influence future development that would never have otherwise been afforded. The people of Oldland Common value their green belt above all else, a key factor in the change of administration at the recent election.

With careful thought, a future policy can be put into place that will never again allow the views of the population to be so completely ignored.

September 2010

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 31 March 2011