April 2008


Due to the collapsing housing market Persimmon Homes (one of the two developers involved in the NW urban extension) has put all new developments on hold due to a drop in sales and collapse in their share price. See full article here.
This must be good news.I wonder when we can expect a full planning application now?

The Examination in Public panel on the draft Regional Spatial Strategy recommend abandoning an ordered and sequential approach to development which priorises development on brownfield rather than greenfield in favour of an approach which would lead to side-by-side development of greenfield and brownfield. See the full article on this development from the CPRE below.

CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England) say they wont support “Save The Countryside” primarily because building on greenbelt to the NW of Cheltenham is a lesser evil than spreading the same number of houses over rural area. We content that this isn’t true because small villages are often on the dying, losing their post offices and with house prices that local residents can’t afford. They may need small appropriate development. Here is the full response.

On the 1st April this year the Tewkesbury MP Laurence Robertson and the Cheltenham MP Martin Horwood were both sent this letter/email.

Following recent developments, the campaign against the Regional Spatial Strategy is growing in Cheltenham. Recently, the Borough Council took a position against the RSS and the NW Urban Extension, despite being party to the ‘expression of interest’ along with Tewkesbury, Gloucester and the County Council for ‘infrastructure’ funds.

Our view is that local resistance must reflect itself in political resistance at all levels, and that MPs are crucial in this process, because the RSS is an expression of a flawed national policy.

We feel that there are a number of things that need to be done, and wonder if you and Martin Horwood MP could help us by:

(i) Finding out what the position of the other Gloucestershire MPs is on this issue, and whether or not there can be a Gloucestershire position.
(ii) Clarifying Conservative policy nationally; do you share the Governments Growth Forecasts? What is your policy on the RSS? In the event of a General Election, would you support a change in national policy?
(iii) Can you convey opposition to the RDA over the housing figures – perhaps through a meeting between Gloucestershire’s MPs and the RDA?
(iv) Will you work with the Council for Preservation of Rural England nationally to coordinate opposition within Parliament?
(v) Would you consider submitting an Early Day motion in the house, and get Gloucestershire’s MPs to support it in order to begin to galvanise opposition nationally?

We feel that the RSS is the biggest threat inflicted on Gloucestershire in recent times. ‘Save the Countryside’ are not NIMBY’s. We simply do not believe that the housing targets are needed and are the result of the wrong policy.

We are NABY’s – not in anyone’s back yard. We really believe that the idea of covering the Severn Vale in houses against our recent experience of flooding – the biggest peacetime emergency in the post war history of the UK – is bonkers, and we are sure we have substantial popular support in this.

You can check the progress of the campaign on http://www.savethecountryside.org.uk

Here is the response from Laurence Robertson:

Thank you for your email. I agree that the countryside is in danger and have been working on the draft RSS for a while, and in fact had a debate in parliament a long while ago on the provisional figures which were being discussed then.

I have written a letter of objection to Hazel Blears and have copied that letter to other Gloucestershire MPs in the hope that they will do similar..

I don’t think a meeting with the RDA would help, though, as the Minister will be taking decisions and the only parts of the RSS which will be out for public consultation after that are those parts of the RSS which she proposes to amend. The Conservative policy on this is that we would scrap the Regional Assemblies.

Re the CPRE – I resigned from their membership because they basically support the RSS proposals!

The EDM idea is a thought, though obviously it would only attract one or two signatures. I hope the above answers your questions and I am grateful to you for writing to me.

Best wishes.

Laurence Robertson M.P.

Here is the response from Martin Horwood:
(sorry its an image because it was faxed)


So what are the major political parties saying about housing issues and development for the local elections? Well, its remarkably difficult to get this information, partly due to which parties wish to put the effort in to fight for Cheltenham and partly because they only mention the issues that will be popular! Currently the Conservatives and the Lib Dems each have 17 councillors, PAB has 3 and Labour only 1. The Conservatives have overall control because of support from PAB.

To see who you can vote for in your ward go here

Labour

I’ve found the national manifesto for the local elections from the Labour Party here. It doesn’t saying anything about the RSS or housing targets or building on greenbelt (of course!).

Here are some quotes I’ve pulled out which are somewhat relevant, and you might want to question your local candidate(s) about how these statements fit with the building plans.

We are also helping families and individuals to live greener lifestyles. Our commitment to making all new homes zero-carbon by 2016 will put environmental concerns at the heart of the planning system and the way we build new homes.

Meanwhile, we will build up to ten eco-towns which will showcase sustainable development, while providing clean and green, sustainable communities for people to live in. And while we are setting ambitious targets for new housing development to help first time buyers, we are also maintaining robust protection of Britain’s green spaces.

Today, over three quarters of all new housing is built on previously developed, brownfield land.

Lib Dems

The Lib Dems are fighting a strong campaign locally since they want to gain overall power from the conservatives. Find their local manifesto here.

Heres what they say about the need for provide affordable housing:

How to we provide sufficient housing at affordable costs for the skilled workforce that the Government says the town needs when land is so previous and expensive

and specifically about the North-West urban extension:

This is precisely what makes it (Cheltenham) a desirable place to live in and is the basis of its success. An urban sprawl will ruin it. The proposals contained in the Regional Spatial Strategy of 12,500 more houses in the next 20 years – almost twice the rate of growth we have witnessed in the last 20 years – could result in this. The so-called ‘urban extension’ to the North West of the town must be opposed. Cheltenham, Bishops Cleeve and Gloucester mustn’t be allowed to merge into one long urban sprawl. Some well-managed open space must be kept between them.

and about “garden grabbing”:

We will also review local planning guidelines so that wholesale “backland” development in gardens is subject to controls that make sure the character and amenity of the existing town is protected

Conservaties

The Conservatives don’t have a local manifesto. However they do have a local website here. The main issue so them at the moment is “garden grabbing”:

Mark said, “Under present planning rules, gardens are classed as brownfield sites, just like a derelict factory or railway siding. This is a loophole that leads to mature family homes being bulldozed and replaced by apartment blocks and car parks. This is a garden grabbing charter that’s a blight on the town.”

They also talk about affordable housing (see here) and heres a quote:

Mark continued, ‘These schemes provide the opportunity for people to make a capital investment not possible with privately renting, whilst those still wishing to rent would benefit from reduced pressure on the market for rented property. What’s more an improved provision of affordable housing in Cheltenham brings greater diversity, vital for our community’.

People Against Bureacracy

The PAB party is a local group currently having 3 councillors. Their web site is here. The aims of the PAB party proudly stated on their front page are:

To keep party political issues out of local government, to protect the Green Belt and preserve the green open spaces of our town. To promote sensible developments that provides houses, employment and services for local people while retaining the proud and beautiful architectural heritage of Cheltenham. To preserve the environment and all the integral parts of its complex structure.

so, you would do well to question their candidates on this statement. In their issues section on their website they also mention “garden grabbing” here:

The chapter in the Cheltenham Borough Local Plan dealing with the urban green environment states that “The Council is proud of its parks, gardens and other green spaces and features and in recognition of this, the Council does not wish to see their loss through development.” So why are we allowing development on private gardens?

We do not support the cramming in of dwellings in every green space that becomes available. Green spaces are just as important to an area as trees and public parks. Back gardens are also important biodiversity resources and often contain habitats for wildlife, which we should always strive to retain.

so again they are keen to preserve green spaces.

The Green Party

The Green Party have a Gloucestershire website here. They don’t appear to say anything directly about preserving green space, green spaces or housing but their national policies on these issues are (see here:

All new house building and change of use should be subject to open democratic planning approval. For larger schemes and all proposed developments on green field sites, this will require independent comprehensive environmental impact assessments.

HO201 To ensure everyone is provided with housing appropriate to their needs.
HO202 To ensure that housing promotes community life.
HO203 To minimise the impact of housing on the environment.

Thats all I’ve managed to get so far. Please, please comment on this page particularly if you found out any more details or wish to correct any bias or error I have inadvertently introduced.

To see who you can vote for in your ward go here

This is a report undertaken on behalf of the South West Regional Assembly (SWRA) looking at the Green belt areas and their purposes around Cheltenham. I quote “This is a freestanding technical background paper to assist understanding of the issues influencing possible development. As development will be dependent upon multiple factors, suggestions within any single paper should not be treated as a development proposal”. Its produced by the Green-Belt Working Group.

Green Belt Background paper.pdf

Importantly it grades the Greenbelt by various criteria and the NW of Cheltenham does very poorly.