November 2011


STC and LegLag join forces

On Thursday 10th November the combined the forces of STC and LegLag mobilised about one hundred of us for a peaceful demonstration outside the council offices in Cheltenhams promenade. We were makinb our views heard on the Joint Core Strategy (JCS). On that day councillors were about to pass for the ‘preferred options’ document for publication.

The Joint Core Strategy

Both Kit Braunholtz (LegLag) and Helen Wells (STC) gave an excellent speech on the current state of the process. Kit explained that he believed the joint core strategy was the correct approach as it was right that planning needed to be jointly decided by neighboring regions. However, he was seriously disappointed by the draft document. It is almost a carbon copy of the Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS) which was scrapped by the coalition government when it came to power. But surely, don’t we have localism now, surely they have to listen. But do they? as despite much discussion of STC and LegLag with the JCS team we seem to be back where we started 3 years ago! Also the JCS document is seriously flawed.

Scenarios

The JCS document contains four scenarios with increasing requirements for housing over the next 20 years in the Gloucester, Cheltenham and Tewkesbury regions.

  • Scenario A – 16,200 houses built. No building on the green belt
  • Scenario B – 33,120 houses built (baseline projection -10%)
  • Scenario C – 36,800 houses built (baseline projection)
  • Scenario D – 40,480 houses built (baseline projection +10%)

Scenario A has been presented as the doomsday scenario as according to the document the housing market will fail. We know it won’t be seriously considered. The councillors are expected to recommend scenario B. So they are planning to build on the green belt, even though the government says and green belt should be protect, and while it says the default answer to development is YES and it required council to up there needs for 5 years supply of building land by 10%!

An absurd document

Ridiculous economic growth predictions – The JCS ‘preferred option’ information assumes 2.3% economic growth for the next 20 years!, hardly likely

Dodgy population projections – These seems seriously out of whack with the proposed housing. Scenario B makes the assumption that 80% of household will have one person, whereasgovernment predictions for 2031 assume only 65%.

Villages ignored – There are 2 key areas of development in Cheltenham 4450 in the NW urban extension and 1300 in the south Extension but absolutely little regard for any development in what is termed medium and smaller settlements, so where villages are asking for housing, these again seem to be ignored.

Toxic waste site vanished!  – there is no mention of Wingmoor Farm toxic waste site in the JCS or Greenbelt review. The land in this area is referred to as agricultural land. We know that this area is one of huge concern and no housing should be built with a 3km range

Greenbelt not valued– The references to the greenbelt around the area are far to generalised and seem only to focus on its value as a spacer between urban areas. We all know that these fields have more value than that and reference should be made towards it’s value in delivering food production, flood prevention, health benefits, wildlife protection and so on.
County council owned Green belt land – Despite assurances some time ago from council leaders that the council owned land was not for sale, we have fears that a document from rural estates includes their policy to continue to work with developers – what does this really mean?  This land used for agricultural purposes was highlighted as a ribbon development on the greenbelt review and this is inaccurate. We fear that the county council may now consider the sale of this land to developers to help relieve their financial pain.
Flooding – Reference is made to flood prevention but also to a 1 in 100 years risk. We know that the Environment agency data is unreliable and have grave concerns that their flooding projections are inaccurate regarding fluvial and pluvial flooding. This means that development could be allowed on high flood risk land. We are not clear if the surface water management assessment was actually included as part of the preparation.

Outcome of the meeting

Several people attended the council meeting in the public gallery. From what I heard the council didn’t make a good impression, it was hard to hear and some aspects were disappointing. For instance questions were asked early on by STC and LegLag but they were told they would be answered at the end of the meeting. This meeting went on for 3 hours. Many of us have jobs, family and other commitments to make. It isn’t fair to expect people to wait around all afternoon on a week day.

Despite this I’ve heard from Helen that most of the councillors are very supportive of STC and LegLag positions, but the concern is along the line that if modifications are made as this stage developers will be able to use this an ammunition to further undermine the document. This really makes no logical sense to me, surely a more solid document without obvious flaws would be less open to attack! Importantly, however, we established the the evidence base of the PCS document could be challenged via the consultation.

The JCS ‘preferred options’ document will be published any day now for consultation. Unfortunately the consultation period is over Christmas when people will be very busy. Both LegLag and STC are pressing for an extension to the consultation period.
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This letter was written to the councillors from Gloucester City council proceeded their consideration of the JCS ‘Preferred Options’ document. It lays out our dismay at the process which it likely to see the document passed with all its flaws, omissions, inaccuracies and downright biased view.

TO ALL JCS STEERING GROUP MEMBERS

Dear Steering Group Member

We understand that, if Gloucester City agrees, then all three Joint Core Strategy Districts will be prepared to allow the JCS ‘Preferred Options’ information to go out to public consultation, unrevised and with whatever omissions and flaws may have been identified during the Councils’ discussions on the document, particularly with reference to the housing Scenarios A – D.

The rationale for allowing the go-ahead appears to be that, if the Officers’ recommendations, which are already in the public domain, are altered at this late stage, this would provide Appeals ammunition for developers now relying on the recommendations.

The first very sad thing is that the document seems to have been presented to the Councils as a fait accompli, take it or leave it, rather than as a consultation draft where any problems identified could be solved before it reached publication.

There seem to us to be two terrible effects of letting the document go forward without review or revision of those points Councillors have already queried.

Firstly, we should be so sorry if the three District Councils are called to account for allowing the publication of information many Councillors suspect to be flawed or misleading. Surely this could cause even more trouble for the Councils – even heading towards maladministration?

Secondly, to rely on the public to spot the flaws and challenge the weaknesses on
your behalves, and actually for them to take a positive and informed part in sufficient numbers to correct the document, is surely pie in the sky and almost an abrogation of your responsibilities as our democratic representatives.

For instance, how would Joe Public gainsay the ‘doomed collapse of civilisation’ predicted by the Team in Scenario A? Wouldn’t he say, on reading the document as it is now, “If the OFFICERS and a COMPUTER model and the COUNCIL say it, it must be true. So bother, we can’t vote to save the Green Belt as the housing market will fail, all the 19 – 59 year old workers will leave, there’ll be 84% of oldies and we’ll all be overcrowded. So, we’ll have to choose Scenario B, even though it means that 4 out of every 5 houses in 20 years’ time will only have one person living in them and even though it means so much of our green countryside being concreted over.”

Surely you should not go out to an innocent public and waste their time (and yours) by asking them to comment on what may be faulty statistics.

Please agree to initiate a speedy review of the housing Scenarios and the weighting of the input into the Gloucester Affordability Model which seems to us to have produced such questionable results – perhaps because of an inflated 2.3% growth rate.

Yours faithfully

Alice Ross

Secretary, Save the Countryside