As promised the new Lib Dem-Conservative government has now scrapped the Regional Spatial Strategies. Hooray!!

Find the announcement here.

And in the last day or so Cheltenham Borough Council has also reflected this change in the joint Cheltenham-Tewkesbury Joint Core Strategy. The JCS was forced to be broadly in line with the RSS so by design it is flawed if the RSS no longer holds. CBC now says

The proposal to abolish the RSS provides an opportunity for the JCS to support local determination in terms of housing and employment need. We will be able to progress this work once guidance is provided by the Government.

Regards,

Mella McMahon
Corporate Head of Borough Development
Tewkesbury Borough Council
Gloucester Road
Tewkesbury
Glos
GL20 5TT

The stakeholder meetings for the JCS will go ahead imminently. STC representative(s) will be formally involved in the process.

Does this mean we’ve won?

Well, Yes and No! We’ve achieved a huge success now that the RSS is scrapped. It means that housing targets will not be imposed on us from central government. However, they will now be determined by local consultation. If we all keep quiet and let it happen massive new housing development could go ahead anyway. But we now have much more hope to stop them since we are fighting the local council which is more on our side and which has to consult with us, rather than central government.

AN EYESORE in Stoke Orchard is set to be revamped after villagers used their voice to sway committee members.

A fresh bid to regenerate the former Coal Research Establishment (CRE) was given the thumbs up by Tewkesbury Borough Council’s planning committee, even though it did not fit into its official policy.

Ashfield Land Management put in an application to transform the site into a 129-home mini-village, which would also include a community hall, office space, and new roads and sewerage.

Despite a planning officer’s recommendation to refuse the scheme, councillors decided it would be in the best interests of the village after a site visit last month…

See full article in the Gloucestershire Echo here

OUTCOME OF LETTER SENT BY SAVE THE COUNTRYSIDE TO ALL CHELTENHAM BOROUGH COUNCIL WARD COUNCILLOR CANDIDATES FOR ELECTION 6 MAY 2010

Letters with a questionnaire were sent out to the 64 candidates for the 20 Wards:

Political party No. of Candidates No. of responses
CONSERVATIVES 22 5
LIBERAL DEMOCRATS 22 14
GREEN PARTY 12 6
LABOUR PARTY 6 2
PEOPLE AGAINST BUREAUCRACY 2 1
+ ONE WITH ILLEGIBLE SIGNATURE 1

TOTAL 29 = 45% return

Leckhampton Ward was the only one where ALL the candidates responded.
NO candidates whatsoever responded from these Wards: St Paul’s, St Peter’s, Springbank

CANDIDATES’ RESPONSES TO QUESTIONNAIRE BY CUT-OFF DATE 1ST MAY 2010

Yes No ?
1 Should all empty houses be filled first before new homes are built? [ 27 ] [ 2 ] [ ]
2 Should brownfield land be developed first before any greenfield sites are considered? [ 28 ] [ 1 ] [ ]
3 Should garden land be removed from brownfield classification? [ 23 ] [ 6 ] [ ]
4 Should housebuilding be according to established local NEED? [ 29 ] [ ] [ ]
5 Should affordable homes be given priority? [ 26 ] [ 2 ] [ ? ]
6 Should housing instead be according to Central Government-imposed
targets as in the South West Regional Spatial Strategy (SWRSS) or
the virtually identical ‘Option 1’ figures which preceded it?
[ 1 ] [ 26 ] [ ?2]
7 Should large-scale development be permitted in the Green Belt? [ 1 ] [ 28 ] [ ]
8 Should Cheltenham and other Local Authorities with restricted land
areas surrounded by designations be penalised if they are unable to
prove a five year supply of available housing land?
[ 1 ] [ 28 ] [ ]
9 Should Planning Inspectors continue to be invited to ‘look favourably’
on any unplanned application if the Borough does not have a five
year supply of land?
[ ] [ 28] [ ? ]

The Lib Dems have just published their local manifesto for Cheltenham borough. Click below to download.

libdem_chelt_manifesto_2010

The Tory have published a Green Paper on “Open Source Planning”. Read it here.
STC have published a response.

The paper looks promising. They claim they will protect green belt, agricultural land, reclassify gardens as green field, support local democracy and abandon the RSS. There planning process will be driven by local people rather than from the top. Planning inspectors are given a review role and will not be able to force through planning applications. However, they are sticking to “Option 1” housing targets which have their origin in the RSS process and will keep the 5 year supply of land for housing rule. We think it will impossible to stick to the “Option 1” housing targets and protect green belt, etc…

Alice has written to Gloucestershire council regarding the “Option 1” housing targets. See her letter and response from a Conservatives councillor below.

Dear Councillor Dare

Our group, Save the Countryside, has been considering the recent ‘Open Source Planning’ Green Paper which may lead to a change in the planning system should the Conservatives win the next Election. As you probably know, they would abolish the RSS within the first ten weeks of office, and the rest of their proposals would form part of the Queen’s speech.

I attach our letter of representation for your information. We have outlined some areas of concern, particularly the commitment to make Local Authorities adhere to their ‘Option 1’ housing targets submitted in 2004-2005.

In the light of our letter, is the County perfectly happy with the Option 1 figures you were obliged to give back then? If not, do you think that a happier revision of the Green Paper could be achieved reflecting our community?

Yours sincerely

Alice Ross
Secretary, Save the Countryside

The response from Councilor Mark Hawthorne (Cabinet member for planning) is below:

Thank you for your email of the 24th March to Barry Dare.  As the Cabinet Member for Planning, Barry has asked me to reply on his behalf.

I wanted to start by paying tribute to the work that you and your organisation have done on this issue.  You have really helped us to make the case to our national party about the need to scrap the RSS.  I also welcome your support for the majority of the proposals contained within the green paper.

I would admit to some concerns about the appropriateness of returning to the option 1 level in the original draft of the RSS, although, it should be noted that this would still be a considerably better position than we find ourselves in at present.  I would agree that, given the substantial changes to the economy since 2004, it would seem prudent to me for these to be re-examined.

Many thanks.

Yours sincerely

Cllr Mark Hawthorne

Cabinet Member for Planning, Gloucestershire County Council

Gloucestershire Echo have reported the very well attended and interesting Cheltenham Under Attack talk from Jonathon Porritt. Jonathon Porritt spent six years as director of Friends of the Earth and now heads Forum for the Future. He holds strong and important views on the unsustainability of continued economic growth. Local MP Martin Horwood played a major role in the meeting and spoke well about the issues.

Here are some notes from Tim Courtney about the meeting (slightly edited).

Jonathon Porritt said how he educated (in the mysterious workings of government agencies) by his time at the SW RDA. During his time there he was surprised that the figures were excitedly ‘talked up’- 3% growth but if things go well, then almost up to 4%!!!

He described the issue of ‘Finance fetish’ – Where everything has to be discussed in terms of maximum financial growth as opposed to using some wealth to increase quality of life for people and that the Housing figures of the RSS were based on unsustainable economic growth figures

He stated how top down development planning doesn’t work. The local people should decide how the towns grow, although he doesn’t subscribe to the argument that people can declare their towns ‘full’

Importantly he noted how the economy is inextricably interlinked with national growth figures. Crudely if population growth is 2% and the GDP is 1% then we have a decreasing national wealth. A little bit more wealth is spread among many more people. GDP is also very misleading in many other ways,

If housing is only placed in certain towns then they will grow continuously whilst other towns that require growth or not given enough housing. And there are places that actually require housing

During his time at the sustainable development commission he ended up giving up trying to count the over-use and misuse of the word ‘sustainable’ to make otherwise unpalatable things palatable! One of the misuses being ‘eco towns’ and ‘sustainable urban’ extensions Sustainable is as it says and should have appropriate infrastructure in
place so unsure this.

Seeking your views

Wingmoor waste treatment plant and landfill sites

Earlier this year, a group of people from Bishop’s Cleeve and the surrounding areas completed a community health impact assessment (sometimes called an HIA) of the Wingmoor waste treatment plant and landfill sites with assistance from NHS Gloucestershire.

The work identified some key areas of action that the group felt should be addressed by a number of different organisations.

Next Steps

NHS Gloucestershire is now seeking the views of local people on these key areas of action at two ‘drop in’ sessions to be held in Bishop’s Cleeve later this month.  Come along to complete a questionnaire about the work and share your views.

When?

Tuesday 8th December 2009 between 8am and 4.30pm

Wednesday 9th December 2009 between 9.30am and 7.30pm

Where?

Bishop’s Cleeve Parish Council Offices, Church Road, Bishop’s Cleeve, Cheltenham GL52 8LR

No need to book as these are ‘drop-in’ sessions

– just come along

If you are unable to attend please contact Caryn Hall at NHS Gloucestershire – caryn.hall@glos.nhs.uk or 08454 221633 – and she will be able to send you a questionnaire to complete

Good public reaction to future plans for Cheltenham, Gloucester and Tewkesbury

Local residents have been giving their views and comments on a new document called the Joint Core Strategy. The strategy looks at tackling climate change, providing for new homes, managing traffic, and improving public transport, and will replace the local plans in Cheltenham, Gloucester and Tewkesbury.

The first three of 17 planned public exhibitions in the county have already taken place, and a two-day exhibition in Cheltenham’s Promenade runs tomorrow (Friday 27) and Saturday (28 November), from 10am to 6pm.

Steve Jordan, chair of the Joint Core Strategy member group, says: “We are really pleased with the way that these consultation events have kicked off. Local residents have already shown a lot of interest and have given us some good feedback.

“We would like to encourage people to come along to the next events, and have their say, and tell us where they think new development to meet local needs would best be placed.”

Just some of the views received so far include:

o No building in or near the floodplain
o Need more homes – ‘where will I be able to live in future?’
o No need for more homes
o Will the Joint Core Strategy be able to influence climate change and reduction in energy use?
o Lack of facilities in certain local areas such as doctors surgeries/health facilities and other community facilities
o No more growth in the green belt
o Housing should be located in Gloucester or Cheltenham first
o Housing should avoid the floodplain at Tewkesbury
o Housing should not build in the Leckhampton area -it is open countryside at the foot of the Cotswolds
o Could use the land outside but near to Gloucester and Cheltenham as this would mean more spacious less dense development in the urban areas
o Need to protect the environment – ‘we live in a beautiful area’.
o Need for improved cycle ways and footpath networks
o Inadequate public transport links
o No more development south of Gloucester

Further exhibitions planned for next week are:

Monday 30 November – Quedgeley Parish Office, Gloucester – 3pm to 6pm
Tuesday 1 December – -Bishops Cleeve Parish Council Office – 3pm to 8pm
Wednesday 2 December – Brockworth Community Centre – 3 pm to 8 pm
Thursday 3 December – Uckington /Swindon Village Cheltenham Civil Service Sports Centre, Tewkesbury Road – 3pm to 7pm
Friday /Saturday 4 and 5 December – Unit 33 Kings Walk, Gloucester City Centre – 9am to 6pm
The document can also be found on the JCS website (www.gct-jcs.org) where comments can be made using the on-line system.

The ten week consultation period for the Joint Core Strategy ends on Monday 1 February 2010.
ENDS

Contact: Laura Carter, communications team leader, telephone 01242 775037, email laura.carter@cheltenham.gov.uk
Notes:
The Joint Core Strategy needs to be ‘in conformity’ with the draft Regional Spatial Strategy, which is still to be published by Central Government.

The Joint Core Strategy will identify the key issues facing Gloucester, Cheltenham and Tewkesbury and set out a vision and strategy for tackling them. Some of the issues to be addressed include:

· Tackling climate change;
· Protecting the environment
· Managing traffic and improving public transport
· Supporting health and education; and
· Providing for new homes and stimulating the local economy

Exhibition dates and venues
Manned exhibitions:
The big three:
1. Cheltenham
Friday 27 and Saturday 28 November in front of Cavendish House, Promenade.
2. Gloucester
Friday 4 and Saturday 5 December at the vacant shop in Kings Walk Shopping Arcade
3. Tewkesbury
Friday 11 and Saturday 12 December at Tewkesbury’s main library
Gloucester

· Tuesday 24 November: Gloucestershire College, Gloucester campus
· Thursday 3 December (TBC): Quedgley’s Severn Vale School
· Wednesday 9 December: Innsworth Community Hall
· Thursday 10 December (TBC): Hempsted C of E Primary School

Cheltenham

· Monday 23 November: Gloucestershire College, Cheltenham campus
· Wednesday 25 November: Oakley Community Resource Centre, Clyde Crescent
· Thursday 26 November (TBC): Swindon Village Civil Service Sports Association
· Thursday 10 December: Leckhampton/Up Hatherley Brizen Young People’s Centre

Tewkesbury

· Tuesday 1 December (TBC): Apperley Village Hall
· Tuesday 1 December: Bishops Cleeve parish council hall
· Wednesday 2 December: Brockworth Community Centre main hall/conference room
· Monday 7 or Tuesday 8 December (TBC): Alderton Village Hall
· Tuesday 8 December: Highnam Community Trust Centre
· Wednesday 9 December (TBC): Winchcombe Parish Hall (community centre)

Unmanned exhibitions
Gloucester
City Council Offices , The Docks
Gloucester Guildhall, Eastgate Street
Gloucester Library , Brunswick Road
Gloucester TIC, Southgate Street
Hucclecote Library, Hucclecote Road
Longlevens Library , Church Road
Matson Library ,Winsley Road
Quedgeley Library , Bristol Road
Tuffley Library , Windsor Drive

Cheltenham

Cheltenham Borough Offices , Promenade
Charlton kings Library , Church Street
Cheltenham Central Library, Clarence Street
Hester’s Way Library ,Goldsmith Road
Prestbury Library ,The Burgage
Up Hatherley Library , Hulbert Crescent , Caernarvon Road
Lower High Street Resource Centre
Oakley Community Resource ,Clyde Crescent

Tewkesbury

Bishops Cleeve Library , Tobyfield Road
Brockworth Library , Moorfield Road
Churchdown Library Parton Road
Tewkesbury Borough Council Offices , Gloucester Road
Tewkesbury Library Sun Street
Winchcombe Library , Back lane

YOUR TOWN, YOUR COUNTRYSIDE, YOU CHOOSE

A draft JOINT CORE STRATEGY (JCS) is to be prepared by Gloucester City, Cheltenham and Tewkesbury Councils. It will decide our area’s planning future up until 2026. The draft has, by law, to be based on the draft South West Regional Spatial Strategy (SWRSS) even though all three Councils object to many of its policies, particularly unjustified urban extensions and incursions into the Green Belt.

An initial Public Participation Document has been produced that identifies the key issues that need to be resolved before the strategy can be produced. The consulation started on Monday 23rd November for 10 weeks. There will also be manned roadshows on this schedule:

Friday 27 November – Cheltenham Promenade – 10am to 6pm
Saturday 28 November – Cheltenham Promenade – 10am to 6pm
Monday 30 November – Quedgeley Parish Office, Gloucester – 3pm to 6pm
Tuesday 1 December – Bishops Cleeve Parish Council Office – 3pm to 8pm
Wednesday 2 December -Brockworth Community Centre – 3 pm to 8 pm
Thursday 3 December -Uckington /Swindon Village, Civil Service Sports Centre, Tewkesbury Road – 3pm to 7pm
Friday /Saturday 4 and 5 December – Unit 33 Kings Walk, Gloucester City Centre – 9am to 6pm

WE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE IF WE WORK TOGETHER

If we can choose and agree the best options for our area and if we can encourage a massive unified community response, the Councils will have a public mandate to resist Central Government dictat.

WE NEED EVERYONE TO RESPOND

The full “JCS Initial Public Participation Document” together with a comments form is now available online, or you will be able to order a hard copy by phone.

online: www.consult.gct-jcs.org Tel: 0800 073 1441

Responses can be submitted by e-mail or by post.

e-mail: info@gct-jcs.org
Address: Joint Core Strategy Team, Municipal Offices, Promenade, Cheltenham, GL 50 9SA

For further details of the event and a single-page summary of the key issues contact Alice:
e-mail: alice.ross@btinternet.com
Tel. 01242 529793

EVENT ORGANISED BY SAVE THE COUNTRYSIDE (www.savethecountryside.org.uk)
AFFILIATED TO SAVE OUR GREEN SPACES (www.saveourgreenspaces.org)

SUPPORTED BY LEGLAG (Leckhampton Green Land Action Group) (www.leglag.org.uk)

CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England) (www.cpre.co.uk)

(more…)

Greenbelt land around Innsworth - but how long for?

Greenbelt land around Innsworth - but how long for?

Please make time to attend a planning meeting at Longford Village Hall, Longford Road, Gloucester, GL2 9DE) at 7pm on Wednesday July 15th. Here’s why…

One of our number attended a recent meeting involving legal counsel for Robert Hitchins and Tewkesbury BC. What follows is an extract from his notes. I you will agree its a compelling case for us to turn up in numbers.

Anthony Crean Q.C . on behalf of the developer Robert Hitchin: The RSS is coming, and on that basis we have the right to build these 1750 (up to 2,500) houses on this Greenbelt search area round Innsworth.

Paul Cairnes on behalf of Tewkesbury Borough and Glouceestershire County councils 

appealed on the following grounds:

– whether there are very special circumstances to justify development within the greenbelt

– whether granting development in advance of the Joint Core Strategy evedence is premature

–  Whether proposal delivers adequate affordable housing

– Whether appropriate design standards have been met

– whether adequate community infrastructure is provided / intrusion into the rural landscape

– The acceptability or otherwise of the proposed s106 (This is code for the SW RSS) obligations offered by the appallent

 So this is maybe two thousand houses plus on the Green Belt between here and Gloucester. It could turn out to be an important test case for the RSS, so please consider coming along on next Wednesday.

The second newsletter of the Joint Core Strategy for Cheltenham Gloucester and Tewkesbury can be seen below. it has all the dates and contact details so you can keep up to date with what is happening.

jcs_newsletter_2__1112082

burtthumb

West Worcestershire Liberal Democrat campaigner Richard Burt has lodged a petition with the Number 10 website calling for the suspension of the regional housing targets.

The petition reads:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to suspend regional housing targets determined through the Regional Spatial Strategy, empowering local councils instead to set their own targets based on local, sustainable housing needs assessments and consultation with local communities.

You can sign it at http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/SuspendRSS/

Martin Horwood addresses the campaign in Committee Room 14

Martin Horwood addresses the campaign in Committee Room 14

 

About 90 people from Gloucestershire congregated at the House of Commons to put pressure on the Government to back down from its deeply flawed Regional Spatial Strategy proposals. The day before we had been told this in a written note from the Minister Iain Wright:

I cannot discuss the content of the RSS or communicate the points raised at our meeting with decision making Ministers about issues raised by regional stakeholders. This is for reasons of fairness and to avoid new issues arising which might necessitate a further round of consultation..

which all seems to fly in the face of democracy. Our party was undeterred however and when a deputation of Gloucester MP’s met the Rt Hon Mr Wright they found him to be very sympathetic. He was impressed both by the strength of feeling and by the force of some of our arguments and while he could not publicly commit to help, the MP’s were pleased to see aides scribbling notes throughout the meeting.

At a debrief to the whole group in Committee Room 14 jointly chaired by Helen Wells and Cheltenham MP Martni Horwood, the mood was upbeat – there was a definite feeling that the messagewas beginning to get through. Some evidence of this can be seen in one of the comments after the meeting by a spokesman for the Department of Communities and Local Government who said: “The South West is facing long term housing shortages and affordability issues.  It is already the only region with above average house prices and below average incomes. If more homes are not built the housing ladder will get even further out of reach leaving the next generation with nowhere to live.” 

In response to fears about green belt land however, the spokesman continued: “The government has no intention of weakening the protection given to green belt in planning decisions. We believe it is possible to build the homes future generations need whilst protecting the environment and green spaces.”

There were a number of interviews with regional press and television and there was a good write up of the day in the Gloucesrshire Echo here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/gloucestershire/7842764.stm 

NEXT STEPS:

This weekend the focus switches to the local dump – why build houses near the toxic waste facility at Stoke Orchard? This Saturday, 31st January, Grundon are putting on a public exhibition about their proposals for 20 more years of operations at Wingmoor Quarry and Wingmoor Farm.
 
If you need transport or do not wish to drive onto Grundon’s site, SWARD are running a minibus shuttle, financed by Bishop’s Cleeve Parish Council.  The minibus will start at 9.30 am and run continuously till the exhibition ends. Simply wait outside Bishop’s Cleeve Community Centre.

We are planning another meeting in February and will publish that date nearer the time – its important we keep up the pressure.

In the meantime, enjoy this coverage on ITV West with star performances from Helen Wells, Barry Simon, and Martin Horwood.

http://www.itvlocal.com/west/news/?player=WST_News_15&void=279869

floodfieldsAs we heard from the Severn and Avon Vally Combined Flood Group last week, the Environment Agency only includes river flooding in its flood risk estimates. Insurers however take a more cautious approach, and while we may not want our premiums to go up, we would all rather have avoided the risk in the first place. New Flood Risk Assessment maps published by Landmark Information include minor rivers and surface water and give an overall figure of 30% for housing at risk from flooding as opposed to the 10% estimated by the Environment Agency. Landmark worked in conjunction with RMS to produce the reports. If homeowners won’t buy houses at risk, maybe developers can be deterred from building on the green belt.

Matthew Grant, global head of client development at RMS, which has been modelling all sources of flood risk since 2001, said: “The 2007 floods provided a stark reminder that major river flooding is just one part of the full flood risk picture, and a much more comprehensive view is needed. ”

There may well come a time when Save the Countryside should be commissioning RMS and/or Landmark Information to give us a detailed assessment of our area with its impermeable soils and fast flowing minor rivers.

To find out more read this article from today 20th January on the aboutproperty.co.uk site or the formal press release is available on Landmark’s  Homecheck  site along with some similar articles.

Save the Countryside Meeting January 15th 2009 Municipal Offices

More than 40 people attended the meeting last night (15th January) to discuss the issues arising from proposals to build in the Green belt around Cheltenham.
Barbara Farmer from Safety in Waste and Rubbish Disposal (SWARD) outlined the history and issues associated with waste disposal at the Wingmoor Farm site near Bishops Cleeve.
In addition to the smells, flys, rats, noise and 82,000 traffic movements to and from Wingmoorevery year is the much bigger problem of toxic waste disposal. The hazardous waste site deals with ‘disposal’ of dioxins which amount to about 50% of the UKs total toxic waste.
The European Commission in a draft document maintained that there should be a half kilometer distance between non-hazardous waste sites and 2 kilometers distance from hazardous waste sites. This was not turned into law – but the so-called NW urban extension is to be built right up against the tip. Who will buy a house in such a situation?
Dave Wittsand Vernon Smith from the Severn and Avon Valley combined Flood Group outlined the history of flooding in the Severn Vale and the use of Sustainable Drainage Systems (SUDS). The evidence shows that most SUDS systems don’t work on the Severn Flood Plain because it is covered in impermeable clay and the water cannot soak away. Any building in the area of the NW urban extension will send more water down local streams into the Tewkesbury area and increase the risk of flooding there as happened in July 2007. Their campaign has attracted academic support from Professor Cluckie (Swansea University).
Cllr. Paul Massey, speaking for Cheltenham Council Leader Steve Jordan, indicated that the Regional Spatial Strategy has fallen even further behind and won’t be available until Summer 2009 now, and this will delay production of the Local Development Framework back. There will be a General Election in 2010 at which housing targets imposed on the area can be challenged.
Helen Wells, Chair of ‘Save the Countryside’ urged people to attend the meeting in Parliament on 21st January when Gloucestershire MPs will have an opportunity to meet one of the Ministers, Iain Wright, responsible for the RSS. ‘Save the Countryside’ is running a coach to it.
For further information, leave a comment on this site and we will get in touch.

John Webster

Agricultural Grades around Tewkesbury Road

Agricultural Grades around Tewkesbury Road

The land along the Tewkesbury Road earmarked for develpment by the RSS is ‘very good’ or ‘good’  agricultural land as the attached map clearly shows. Even the pasture which makes up most of the proposed development area is classed as ‘moderate’.  At a time when news stories like this continue to argue imminent food shortages, why are we planning to build over these precious food sources?

Cut an activist dash in one of out T-Shirts!

Cut an activist dash in one of out T-Shirts!

There is going to be plenty of opportunity in the New Year to stand up and be counted as an opponent of greenbelt development and Urban Sprawl. Our committee have been cutting quite a dash in their ‘Save the Countryside’ T-shirts. Now we are putting in an order for a whole lot more. If you would like one, please leave a comment (with your email in the hidden email field) on the site stating size (XL, L, or M) and we’ll get you one.

Save the Countryside is a non-political organisation, we just want to stop the urban sprawl that will result if the RSS gets the rubber stamp. To do this we need to persuade politicians of all colours to see the strength of our arguments. Well it looks as if campaigning groups like ours have hit a chord with the Conservatives, as can be seen from this excerpt from a statement from Eric Pickles, Shadow Minister for Communities and Local Government:

Conservatives have pledged to scrap regional planning and the unelected regional assemblies.

“A Conservative Government will abolish the undemocratic and unwieldy tier of regional planning across England. This will include changing the law to scrap the Regional Spatial Strategies and Regional Planning Bodies (currently the regional assemblies, soon to be RDAs). We will return their powers to elected local councils.
As a logical consequence of scrapping the regional plans, if the RSSs have already been implemented, we will allow councils to revise their local plans (‘Local Development Frameworks’) to undo the changes that the Regional Spatial Strategy forced on them. This will allow local communities to protect their local environment, and decide themselves the most appropriate level of development for their area.”

Fine words – its a forlorn hope that Labout will U-turn on this policy to nullify this vote-catcher, but hopefully it will make them consider the detail more carefully. For example, Margeret Beckett in the Commons this week was put on the spot about the principle of consecutive development which was cut from the final draft of the South West RSS – she responded:

(On the issue of brownfield development..) “this is one of the many targets that others said we could not possibly meet but we have met; in fact, we have exceeded the targets on building on brownfield. I understand his concerns, and I feel sure that all Members will agree with him that we should do this, rather than, as the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) mentioned, go for greenfield development. (Hansard: 18 Nov 2008 : Column 113)”

We just need to keep the pressure up.

This may seem like a rash and brash statement to make but it comes in the light of a written answer to a question submitted in the Commons last week.

Question: What assumptions about annual economic growth rate were made in compiling the housing numbers for South West in the RSS?

Answer: 3.2%

We say: Not flipping likely! These levels of growth are just not going to happen, unless  we go back to piling up huge amounts of unsustainable debt, and starting from where we are now, that just isn’t going to happen. if that figure is then agreed to be wildly overstated, then it follows that population and therefore housing predictions are also wildly overstated. Result? The housing component of the RSS is a busted flush and it has to be back to the drawing board.

Chair Helen Wells catches the photographers eye at Downing Street

Representatives of the Save The Countryside Campaign went to Westminster last week to hand in our petitions, both electronic (well, evidence of) and paper.

We met with the press and a shadow politician first of all outside the houses of Parliament; we handed in a total of 4208 petition signatures from Save the countryside to Hazel Blears’ team at the communities and local government office,  and we handed in our letter at the gates of Downing Street.

 

It was good to get the attention of the press and the politicians, and we have had excellent news since confirming that the 4000 plus signatures on our petition will count as objecting comments against the RSS.

About to be interviewed by the press at Westminster

About to be interviewed by the press at Westminster

TODAY is the day to post your Comments on  the RSS - or email tomorrow

TODAY is the day to post your Comments on the RSS - or email tomorrow

Well I got mine in ok – sent it by email. The Save The Countryside Group has posted over 200 responses, which is brilliant – thanks to Anne, Kit, Tim and all who worked so hard to make that happen. I sent mine by email in case there is a major problem with the mail (or was I just too lazy to find a stamp and walk to the post box!). Martin Horwood’s response in his official capacity as MP of Cheltenham is excellent. He has actually read the whole document so makes the right references to the right paragraphs. He includes almost everything we had planned to say plus a whole lot more – if you would like a copy for inspiration – comment below and we can send it over. Finally, remember you can still do it tonight or even tomorrow if you email it. Use the official form (see previous post) and email to ‘rssconsult@gosw.gsi.gov.uk’

RSS Comments Form - download yours and fill in today!

RSS Comments Form - download yours and fill in today!

You only have one week left to get your comments on the RSS into the system. They must be received by Friday 24th at 5pm so best to do it this weekend and get them posted Monday morning. Advice from our local government expert is: you don’t have to read the whole document and comment in detailed scientific terms – if you use the correct form they have to read your comments and the important thing is to register dissent. Alhough in theory we can only comment on the latest changes, do not hesitate to attack the whole process, the initial assumptions of numbers of housing required, the loss of the principle of sequential development (brown land first), and the loss of greenbelt. Plus anything else you feel strongly about.

To down load a copy of the form click here and then down load the document entitled ‘Response Form.doc’ whihc is the only Word document on the page.

Exter Cathegral Close

Exter Cathedral Close

Message from Anne Griffiths:

Hi everyone,
I have been to Tewkesbury Flood Group Meeting tonight.
They have booked a coach to go to Exeter on Friday.
There are plenty of seats left.
The cost is £5.00
The coach will leave The Crescent at Tewkesbury at 8.00 a.m.

MPs and Campaigners Rally at Swindon Village 27th Sept 2008

MPs and Campaigners Rally at Swindon Village 27th Sept 2008

MORE than 100 countryside campaigners, residents, councillors and MPs rallied in Swindon Village to protest against plans for thousands of homes on the greenbelt.

There were cheers and claps from the Seasons Business and Leisure Complex, in Quat Goose Lane, as politicians called for townspeople to lobby against Government proposals to build 8,100 homes around Cheltenham, including 5,000 on the edge of Swindon Village, as part of the Draft Regional Spatial Strategy.

The meeting was led by protest group Save the Countryside, with speeches from Cheltenham MP Martin Horwood and Tewkesbury MP Laurence Robertson, who gave advice on action to take.

There were calls for revolt as residents heard the Government had failed to take into account space already within the town, flooding concerns following last year’s crisis, or the need for new infrastructure including roads and schools to support the area of new housing.

Concerns were also voiced about the short amount of time taken by Government inspectors to assess Cheltenham for housing

Click here!

Helen Wells, chairman of Save the Countryside, told the crowds: “We’re here to make the maximum impact for our cause.

“The Government wants to massively increase the size of our beautiful town by 26 per cent and we’re not having it.

“Let’s all be clear, it’s our last chance to save our beautiful countryside.

“We have nationwide support and have come a long way since our inception seven months ago. It’s up to us to make our mark.”

Tewkesbury MP Laurence Robertson added: “We are all concerned about this issue.

“We have experienced problems with flooding and further development is only going to make this worse.

“The Government is not listening to us and it’s important to campaign and fight this.

“Once thousands of houses are built in the wrong place it’s too late and we’ll have to live with our mistakes.”

Cheltenham MP Martin Horwood called for public protests in London against the plans.

He said: “We cannot be bullied with accusations of being nimbys.

“We need a test that makes sure space in urban areas is used first and this should be part of the Draft Regional Spatial Strategy.

“That will help us to defend the countryside.

“Laurence and I also need to get together with MPs in the south west and go to London with bus loads of people behind us to make the Government listen.

“If we turn up the political heat, then just maybe we might become a success story.”

Mike Griffiths travelled from Elmstone Hardwick for the meeting.

He said: “This is not just a campaign by people from Swindon Village, but by the people of Cheltenham and Tewkesbury.

“Residents from both towns have joined together to present a stronger case against these plans.”

The public have until October 24 to make their views known on the Draft Regional Spatial Strategy through a consultation process.

■ Have your say by emailing rssconsult@gosw.gsi.gov.uk.

 

Gloucestershire County Council, whose web site still features a special section on flooding, is making it clear that it plans to object strongly to the Regional Spatial Strategy, with the main criticisms being around lack of consideration for flood risk and instrastructure planning.

Cabinet member for Environment, Councillor Julie Girling said: “The whole thing is not very well thought-out – in the Government’s terms it ‘lacks soundness’.  “We intend to make our views very clear on this. I’d like to reassure councillors and members of the public that we’ll be reflecting their views in doing so.”

The council is objecting over increased flood fears thousands of new homes would pose to the county and the lack of a flood-risk assessment in the RSS. It also says there is a lack of planning for new infrastructure – roads, schools, medical services – to support the area of new housing.

These are fears shared by us in North West Cheltenham, where the loss of vast tracts of pasture land to housing will mean the replacement of acres of natural water-absorbing meadows. Have a look at these photos to see what we mean. The run-off will surge into the Swilgate which flows north to join the Avon and Severn at Tewkesbury. The result will surely mean more flooding – Councillor Girling is right – this is not well thought-out at all.

Your personal responses to the Westminster driven ‘RSS’ proposed building plans to build 5,000 dwellings on our Greenbelt must be registered by mid October. This is your last opportunity to officially file your complaint about the absurd plans.

TOGETHER WE REALLY CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE

We have identified some ‘hot’ subjects for you to make a brief comment about:

Flood risk;
Desecration of our countryside;
houses not required;
Urban sprawl;
20 year building site;
massive traffic congestion;
extra pollution;
proximity of houses to Wigmore Farm;
Loss of wildlife;
massive reduction of property prices in local areas; etc

To find out how to comment go to comment on the RSS.

If you haven’t signed the e-petition yet, please do so and please forward onto anyone you know – we need to ramp up the signatures to at least 3,000 to make as much impact as we can: http://www.savethecountryside.org.uk

Once again to show solidarity to the various media that have shown interest, and to register a unified resistance, we will be gathering on:

Saturday, 27th September, 3pm

at

“Seasons”, Quat Goose Lane, Swindon Village

Our Local MPs who are against the RSS, will be there to share with us what they are doing for our cause.

I know most of you who have attended meetings/walks previously have enjoyed the community spirit. If you have not been before, please come and meet us

Looking forward to seeing you there.

Don’t let the diggers in!

Michael Donnelly, PlanningResource, 27 August 2008

A report has warned that housebuilders are jeopardising the UK’s green agenda by cutting green technologies to cut costs.

Window supplier VELUX says the slowdown in the UK property market is posing a serious threat to the UK’s zero-carbon targets and hindering further development of eco technologies.

VELUX says that many housebuilders are being forced to cut costs and as a result, eco technologies are one of the first things go.

Kevin Brennan, head of sustainability, VELUX, said: “While cutting back on the use of eco technologies might provide a short term solution to reducing costs, it is a short sighted view and makes a mockery of the government’s zero carbon target.

“Understandably in the current climate, certain developers will be looking to cut costs, but ignoring the benefits of incorporating eco technologies could have disastrous, long-term consequences.

“If simple eco technologies such as solar thermal became integrated into all new homes, the reduction in the UK’s carbon emissions would be considerable. Further still, the unit cost to manufacture these technologies would fall, making such technologies more affordable and more accessible for all concerned.”

The Regional Spatial Strategy for the South West is currently open for consultation (in fact only the changes is to it) until 5pm, 24th October.

You can view the full documents here

The RSS is a document written by the South West Regional Government (incorporating changes from Hazel Blears) which determines the housing targets for the next 18 years. This document proposed building the NW urban extension, as well as other urban extensions, it proposes building on greenbelt land. We need as many people as possible to comment on the RSS and make your views heard. However, the RSS is a large document, 304 pages for the version with tracked changes.

In theory you can only comment on the changes. This can be done by filling in the rss-comments-form and sending it off to the address below.

An easier solution is to write stating the issues in the RSS you feel strongly about, we have provided a rss-comments-public-letter-template template letter which we urge you to adjust, expand on and send to:

Regional Spatial Strategy Team
Government Office for the South West
2 Rivergate, Temple Quay
Bristol
BS1 6EH

or

email: rssconsult@gosw.gsi.gov.uk

Some extracts from the RSS

Our main issue is that we believe the housing targets are too high, and that this scale of development is not needed.

District housing totals (within administrative boundaries) RSS
Cheltenham 8,100
Gloucester 11,500
Tewkesbury 14,600
Cotswold 9,100
Forest of Dean 6,900
Stroud 6,200

For Cheltenham, this is broken down as follows: 6,500 within the built up urban area, 5,000 within an urban extension at north west Cheltenham, 1,300 within an urban extension at south Cheltenham and 1,000 north of Bishops Cleeve.

Secondly we object to where the housing are proposed to be built.

Here is a map showing where development is proposed around Cheltenham. The RSS contains, I believe, some very dishonest use of language relating to the Cheltenham and Gloucester Greenbelt. I quote:

“The General Extent of the Cheltenham and Gloucester Greenbelt will be maintained subject to the following alterations

  • removal of the greenbelt to accomodate urban extensions at Areas of Search 3C, 3D, 3E, 3F and 3G”
  • Note that only a single area of search (development) in and around the Cheltenham area (that within Cheltenham itself) does NOT require removal of the Greenbelt.

    Map of Development Proposed for Cheltenham

    Flooding

    I quote from page 84 of the RSS.

    “4.1.33. The north west of Cheltenham provides considerable potential to extend the town in an area not subject to flood risk and other environmental constraints”

    If you live in this area you may know that the River Swillgate, River Chelt and Hyde Brook all flooded in July 2007 across the area of proposed development.

    Protection of Wildlife and the Environment

    Heres what the RSS says about this, I quote from page 88,

    “Cheltenham will improve its economic performance and realise its economic potential, while safeguarding the integrity of environmental and habitat designations”

    but this seems not to preclude building over large areas of green fields, spoiling the environment and habitat for deer, badgers, foxes, barn owls, bats and birds of prey.

    Sustainability

    The word “sustainability” is thoughout the RSS, the definition given in the RSS is this “The simple idea of ensuring a better quality of life for everyone, now and for generations to come. A widely used international definition is development which meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Here an extract which demonstrates that further development is not sustainable, and that we are far from being sustainable at present, page 22

    “There is a tension which the RSS must help resolve between further population and economic growth and the imperative to reduce resource consumption and, most importantly, the decoupling of growth and CO2 emissions. Consumption of natural resources or ‘ecological footprint’ has a global impact. Growing demands for built development, infrastructure, food, fresh water, natural materials and energy, seriously risk the erosion of environmental quality and the life systems on which we all depend. The South West’s ecological footprint is unsustainable as it stands. If everyone on the planet consumed such a quantity of natural resources and energy as an average South West resident, three planets would be needed to support life on Earth. Consequently, a shift is needed towards ‘one planet’, lower consumption, with lifestyles which are more resource efficient. This should include a move towards use of locally produced, replaceable natural resources, more efficient usage of energy, better waste re-use/recycling, and more efficient use of scarce natural resources such as minerals. “

    I’m not sure how the RSS helps to resolve this conflict at all as it proposes economic growth as usual. In fact, at 3.2% per annum which is quote ambitious, considering that the economy showed no grown at all for the last quarter up to August 2008. However, to be fair some mention is made of using renewable energy, and by 2016 all new homes will be required to be carbon neutral, as least in their day-to-day running, not in their construction.

    Food

    Food production is strongly related to sustainability. It is mentioned a few times. Here, on page 200

    “7.3.17 Best and Most Versatile (BMV) land needs to be taken into account alongside other sustainability considerations when deciding between sites. The BMV agricultural soils need
    to be protected from development because these are the most flexible in terms of the range of crops or produce that can be grown, and therefore the most valuable for current and future
    agricultural production. Given changes to Common Agricultural Policies (CAP) and the fact that this is driving businesses to become more economically efficient, it is important that the
    best land is protected, for possible future agricultural needs. In some circumstances, BMV land may be subject to development pressures, particularly in areas identified for growth in
    Sections 3 and 4.”

    I can’t really comment on whether the land around Cheltenham is classified as “Best and Most Versatile” land, but crops are grown on it. I do know that the Swindon Village allotment site which was proposed to build on-top off in the original planning documents grows a huge quantity of produce, so there doesn’t seem to be much wrong with this land to me. The RSS states that less land will be used for food production, is this sensible, or likely given the current food price crisis, heres what it says on page 201

    “7.3.16 In future, as changes to agricultural policy and industry take shape, less land is likely to be used primarily for food production. More is likely to be used for crops for industry
    and energy, or managed mainly for conservation, recreation or community benefits. In this period of transition the Draft RSS seeks to guide change towards the most sustainable land management options which will support the rural economy and wider objectives. “

    Thats about all I can help you with now. The important thing is to make you views heard and object the large amount of unsustainable and damaging development proposed in the RSS.

    Thank you.

    The local greenbelt between Swindon, Uckington, Elmstone Hardwicke and as far as Brockhampton could be desecrated and lost forever.

    It will be replaced with a huge building site for the next 20 years, eventually merging the villages until the space is filled with 5000 dwellings and businesses – as well as creating a myriad of other issues you get with about 12,000 extra residents and extra businesses (and their cars)!

    If you think this is wrong then you must let people know.
    Please come and join everyone else at the public meeting organised by our Parish Council.

    Swindon Village School
    Wednesday 27th August
    6.30pm

    Tracey Crews (Strategic Land Use Manager) and Toby Clempson (Planning Policy Manager) will give a presentation of the proposals in the RSS and explain our best options for making objections to it.

    There will be plenty of local people there to whom you can ask questions you may have and who can give guidance on what actions to take.

    We have just a few weeks of public consultation before final decisions will be made!

    We look forward to seeing you there

    Motion passed rejected the housing targets

    1. This Council notes that the Government, through the Regional Spatial Strategy, will impose a target to build at least 13,800 houses over the next 18 years within Cheltenham and the adjacent countryside and notes that a new 12-week consultation period has started on the amendments to the housing figures contained in the Examination in Public version of the Regional Spatial Strategy which is expected to end on 17th October 2008.

    2. This Council notes that grass-roots opposition from residents, local Councillors and members of Parliament to this imposed house-building in the Cheltenham area is rising. In particular, this Council notes the successful campaigning of ‘Save the Countryside’, and urges all Party’s to have a united front against the RSS.

    3. This Council therefore pledges continued opposition to the housing targets imposed by the RSS and resolves:
    * to work with Community Groups and Parish Councils to register the widest possible opposition to the plans
    * to oppose the RSS housing targets in the strongest possible terms in its consultation submission on the RSS.

    Motion on holding a referendum rejected

    The following motion on a referendum on the housing targets:

    4. This Council therefore pledges to hold a town-wide referendum as soon as possible, using a question agreed by Group Leaders, to consult the people of Cheltenham on whether they accept the Secretary of State’s recommendations for imposed house-building targets. The results of the referendum will be included in the Council’s response to the Secretary of State’s review of the Regional Spatial Strategy.

    was rejected, primarily for the following reasons:

    • The target would be Cheltenham Borough Council rather than the Government (but CBC is behind us)
    • There are better ways for spend the estimated £50K cost (funded by taxpayers)
    • It may be risky (it would result in huge propaganda material from the developers, “Save The Countryside” would probably not be able to match this due to lack of resources)

    “Save The Countryside” did have some input on this and we broadly agreed that it was best to not hold a referendum at this time.

    Note that Tewkesbury Borough Council are having a referendum on the housing targets. I believe partly because TBC is going along with the governments targets rather than rejecting them and for them flooding is of course a particular and major issue.

    See the full story here from The Gloucestershire Echo.

    This Thursday, Paul Massey, a Councillor for Swindon Village, will give a briefing on the SW Regional Spatial Strategy and what its impact on the Cheltenham area will be. This concerns our campaign particularly since the strategy contains prescriptive housing targets which have led to the proposal for the urban extension. The briefing is aimed at informing campaigners and activists within the area. Please attend if you wish to help the cause of “Save The Countryside” and spread the word.

    Thursday 7th August
    7.00pm
    Council Chamber at the Municipal Offices

    An early draft of an article due to be published by the Gloucestershire Echo tomorrow.

    9.30am – EXCLUSIVE – 7,800 more new homes for Gloucestershire
    09:30 – 22-July-2008
    Gloucestershire Echo

    Gloucestershire will have to take an extra 7,800 homes, ministers announced today. A development blueprint published by the Government today confirms proposals for more than 50,000 new houses to be built in the county over the next two decades, despite warnings over flooding and the credit crunch. It would see another 7,800 homes added in Gloucestershire, bringing the total for the period 2006-2026 to 56,400.

    This is despite warnings that government efforts to help the flood recovery would be “rendered worthless” if thousands of houses were built in vulnerable areas. There had also been calls for housing figures in Gloucestershire to be revised downwards because of the global economic downturn.

    A 12 week public consultation now gets underway on the Government proposals for additional housing, ending on Friday October 17. It is planned to publish the final planning document before the end of the year. The proposals unveiled by the Government support those of an independent panel under which Cheltenham urban area’s total would be cut from 8,500 houses to 8,100 but Tewkesbury would see a massive hike from 10,500 to 14,600. Gloucester sees no change from 11,500, while it is proposed to increase the number of new houses in Stroud by 2,400 to 9,100. Cotswold sees a rise of from 6,000.

    GLOUCESTERSHIRE ECHO Tuesday 22nd July 2008

    The long awaited (take a deep breath) “Draft Revised Regional Spatial Strategy for the South West incorporating the Secretary of State’s Proposed Changes” has been published, see here, where you can also post a response. This marks the start of the 12 week consultation period (now extended to end 5pm, 24 October), although note that the consultation is only on the changes and not the whole document. Please read it if you wish, though it is very long. Mike is currently reading through it and will report the major points.

    Now that it is published we will begin to construct a formal response to it, this will take some time. Also note that we will start our e-petition to object to the housing figures for this region, this should go online within the next week.

    Now online. Sign our petition here

    The “Save The Countryside” team ran a stand at the Winston Churchill Cultural Fun Day 2008 on Saturday 19th July. The action packed event (see the poster) attracted large crowds.

    Churchill Gardens Cultural Fun Day 2008

    Churchill Gardens Cultural Fun Day 2008

    Many people were happy to talk to us the needed no real convincing to sign the petition, many people discussed their own planning woes such as the Glenfall development, the proposal for 200 flats near Tescos (a ridiculously high density of housing – expected to be rejected though) and other small developments.

    We got over 250 signatures and more than that really spread the word beyond the village to the main town area. Many visitors to the stand already knew about us from the Gloucestershire Echo editorials and the kids definitely loved the pin the tail on the donkey (they did win a sweet so it wasn’t surprising!).

    We were pleased to have Alistair Cameron help us for a time and he did a good job of pulling people in, we were also pleased to see Martin Horwood and John Webster. This was the first event with our “Save The Countryside” t-shirts, some people even wanted to buy some! We will be considering putting some up for sale.

    Heres a picture of Anne chatting with some pretty concerned locals.

    Anne with some concerned locals

    Anne with some concerned locals

    All in all a great day was had. The event was well worth going to anyway, some very impressive singing from quite young children in the STAR radio singing contest. The “Insect Man” was pretty interesting if you like seeing tarantulas, or any other unusual creepy crawlies. A big thank you to those in the “Save The Countryside” team, some who worked hard all day long, and to those who did the setup and pull down – even though they had a hangover!

    BIRMINGHAM EVENING POST, Jul 7 2008

    Plans for a 5,000-home eco-town in Staffordshire – believed to be the largest planning application of its kind in the West Midlands for more than 50 years – have been withdrawn by developers. However, the Curborough Consortium said it remained committed to the principles behind the Government’s controversial eco-town agenda and still wants to develop the Fradley Airfield site near Lichfield. The site, on 700 acres of a disused airfield, has been earmarked by the Government as one of 10 possible eco-towns across the country – another is Long Marston in Warwickshire.

    The Curborough Consortium included four companies – Redrow Homes, Hallam Land Management, Banks Developments and Gleeson Homes. It said it had withdrawn its bid after discussions with the Department of Communities and Local Government. A consortium official said: “We were delighted to have been shortlisted and have fully engaged in the eco-town process. It is with regret that we feel we must withdraw our bid, however, we remain committed to the principles behind the eco-town agenda. “We will continue to pursue our planning application for a new settlement at Curborough.”

    Paul Massey has kindly provided a much more comprehensive summary of the Pitt report than the much more brief summary of main points I provided previously just after the report came out.

    Summer Floods 2007 – Pitt Report

    Summary

    Introduction

    Over a period of 10 months Sir Michael Pitt and his review team examined over 1000 written submissions, consulted widely, considered the experiences of other countries and visited the communities affected by flooding. They observed at first hand extraordinary hardship and recognise that even now many thousands of families are still living in some form of temporary accommodation. Throughout, they have given priority to the interests of the victims of the floods, whether they are residents, business owners or farmers, and their report was written with them firmly in mind.

    A copy of the report can be accessed at http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/thepittreview. Below is a summary of the key findings from the review along with the 92 recommendations. The government will be considering the report and are due to respond by the end of the summer. Some of the recommendations are for local authorities. Officers will be considering the implications of the proposals and will come back to members in due course as to the implications and actions which Cheltenham BC now needs to take. In addition a number of recommendations fall to the County Council and to the Local Resilience Forum, and again officers from CBC will be in liaison with their appropriate counterparts.

    A number of the recommendations are already being taken forward. CBC are working with the county council, other districts and partners on the multi agency flood alleviation plan which is addressing the issues of surface drainage and the county council are currently revising the flood response plan, in response to a number of these recommendations and also recommendations arising from the county scrutiny review.

    Review Summary

    The floods of last year caused the country’s largest peacetime emergency since World War II. The impact of climate change means that the probability of events on a similar scale happening in future is increasing. So the Review calls for urgent and fundamental changes in the way the country is adapting to the likelihood of more frequent and intense periods of heavy rainfall. They have searched for practical solutions to highly complex problems and thought carefully about the public interest. Sir Michael Pitt indicates that the recommendations are challenging and strong national leadership will be needed to make them a reality.

    1. There must be a step change in the quality of flood warnings. This can be achieved through closer cooperation between the Environment Agency and Met Office and improved modelling of all forms of flooding. The public and emergency responders must be able to rely on this information with greater certainty than last year.

    1. It is recommended that there is a wider brief for the Environment Agency and ask councils to strengthen their technical capability in order to take the lead on local flood risk management. More can be done to protect communities through robust building and planning controls.

    1. During the emergency itself, there were excellent examples of emergency services and other organisations working well together, saving lives and protecting property. However, this was not always the case; some decision making was hampered by insufficient preparation and a lack of information. Better planning and higher levels of protection for critical infrastructure are needed to avoid the loss of essential services such as water and power. There must be greater involvement of private sector companies in planning to keep people safe in the event of a dam or reservoir failure. Generally, we must be more open about risk.

    1. Learn from good experience abroad. People would benefit from better advice on how to protect their families and homes. Levels of awareness should be raised through education and publicity programmes, with recommendations on how people can stay healthy and on speeding up the whole process of recovery, giving people the earliest possible chance to get their lives back to normal.

    Lessons from the 2007 Floods: what people need

    Reducing the risk of flooding and its impact

    Being rescued and cared for during an emergency

    Maintaining power and water supplies and protecting essential services

    Better advice and help for people to protect their families and homes

    Staying healthy and speeding up recovery

    Knowing where and when it will flood

    Recommendations

    1: Given the predicted increase in the range of future extremes of weather, the Government should give priority to both adaptation and mitigation in its programmes to help society cope with climate change.

    2: The Environment Agency should be a national overview of all flood risk, including surface water and groundwater flood risk, with immediate effect.

    3: The Met Office should continue to improve its forecasting and predicting methods to a level which meets the needs of emergency responders.

    4: The Environment Agency should further develop its tools and techniques for predicting and modelling river flooding, taking account of extreme and multiple events and depths and velocity of water.

    5: The Environment Agency should work with partners to urgently take forward work to develop tools and techniques to model surface water flooding.

    6: The Environment Agency and the Met Office should work together, through a joint centre, to improve their technical capability to forecast, model and warn against all sources of flooding.

    7: There should be a presumption against building in high flood risk areas, in accordance with PPS25, including giving consideration to all sources of flood risk, and ensuring that developers make a full contribution to the costs both of building and maintaining any necessary defences.

    8: The operation and effectiveness of PPS25 and the Environment Agency’s powers to challenge development should be kept under review and strengthened if and when necessary.

    9: Householders should no longer be able to lay impermeable surfaces as of right on front gardens and the Government should consult on extending this to back gardens and business premises.

    10: The automatic right to connect surface water drainage of new developments to the sewerage system should be removed.

    11: Building Regulations should be revised to ensure that all new or refurbished buildings in high flood-risk areas are flood resistant or resilient.

    12: All local authorities should extend eligibility for home improvement grants and loans to include flood resistance and resilience products for properties in high flood-risk areas.

    13: Local authorities, in discharging their responsibilities under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 to promote business continuity, should encourage the take-up of property flood resistance and resilience by businesses.

    14: Local authorities should lead on the management of local flood risk, with the support of the relevant organisations.

    15: Local authorities should positively tackle local problems of flooding by working with all relevant parties, establishing ownership and legal responsibility.

    16: Local authorities should collate and map the main flood risk management and drainage assets (over and underground), including a record of their ownership and condition.

    17: All relevant organisations should have a duty to share information and cooperate with local authorities and the Environment Agency to facilitate the management of flood risk.

    18: Local Surface Water Management Plans, as set out under PPS25 and coordinated by local authorities, should provide the basis for managing all local flood risk.

    19: Local authorities should assess and, if appropriate, enhance their technical capabilities to deliver a wide range of responsibilities in relation to local flood risk management.

    20: The Government should resolve the issue of which organisations should be responsible for the ownership and maintenance of sustainable drainage systems.

    21: Defra should work with Ofwat and the water industry to explore how appropriate risk-based standards for public sewerage systems can be achieved.

    22: As part of the forthcoming and subsequent water industry pricing reviews, Ofwat should give appropriate priority to proposals for investment in the existing sewerage network to deal with increasing flood risk.

    23: The Government should commit to a strategic long-term approach to its investment in flood risk management, planning up to 25 years ahead.

    24: The Government should develop a scheme which allows and encourages local communities to invest in flood risk management measures.

    25: The Environment Agency should maintain its existing riskbased approach to levels of maintenance and this should be supported by published schedules of works for each local authority area.

    26: The Government should develop a single set of guidance for local authorities and the public on the use and usefulness of sandbags and other alternatives, rather than leaving the matter wholly to local discretion.

    27: Defra, the Environment Agency and Natural England should work with partners to establish a programme through Catchment Flood Management Plans and Shoreline Management Plans to achieve greater working with natural processes.

    28: The forthcoming flooding legislation should be a single unifying Act that addresses all sources of flooding, clarifies responsibilities and facilitates flood risk management.

    29: The Government and the insurance industry should work together to deliver a public education programme setting out the benefits of insurance in the context of flooding.

    30: The Government should review and update the guidance Insurance for all: A good practice guide for providers of social housing and disseminate it effectively to support the creation of insurance with rent schemes for low income households.

    31: In flood risk areas, insurance notices should include information on flood risk and the simple steps that can be taken to mitigate the effects.

    32: The insurance industry should develop and implement industry guidance for flooding events, covering reasonable expectations of the performance of insurers and reasonable actions by customers.

    33: The Environment Agency should provide a specialised site-specific flood warning service for infrastructure operators, offering longer lead times and greater levels of detail about the velocity and depth of flooding.

    34: The Met Office and the Environment Agency should issue warnings against a lower threshold of probability to increase preparation lead times for emergency responders.

    35: The Met Office and Environment Agency should issue joint warnings and impact information on severe weather and flooding emergencies to responder organisationsand the public.

    36: The Environment Agency should make relevant flood visualisation data, held in electronic map format, available online to Gold and Silver Commands.

    37: The Environment Agency should work with its partners to progressively develop and bring into use flood visualisation tools that are designed to meet the needs of flood-risk managers, emergency planners and responders.

    38: Local authorities should establish mutual aid agreements in accordance with the guidance currently being prepared by the Local Government Association and the Cabinet Office.

    39: The Government should urgently put in place a fully funded national capability for flood rescue with Fire and Rescue Authorities playing a leading role, underpinned as necessary by a statutory duty.

    40: Defra should amend emergency regulations to increase the minimum amount of water to be provided in an emergency, in order to reflect reasonable needs during a longer-term loss of mains supply.

    41: Upper tier local authorities should be the lead responders in relation to multi-agency planning for severe weather emergencies at the local level and for triggering multi-agency arrangements in response to severe weather warnings and local impact assessments.

    42: Where a Gold Command is established for severe weather events, the police, unless agreed otherwise locally, should convene and lead the multi-agency response.

    43: Gold Commands should be established at an early stage on a precautionary basis where there is a risk of serious flooding.

    44: Category 1 and 2 responders should assess the effectiveness of their emergency response facilities, including flexible accommodation, IT and communications systems, and undertake any necessary improvement works.

    45: The Highways Agency, working through Local Resilience Forums, should further consider the vulnerability of motorways and trunk roads to flooding, the potential for better warnings, strategic road clearance to avoid people becoming stranded and plans to support people who become stranded.

    46: The rail industry, working through Local Resilience Forums, should develop plans to provide emergency welfare support to passengers stranded on the rail network.

    47: The Ministry of Defence should identify a small number of trained Armed Forces personnel who can be deployed to advise Gold Commands on logistics during wide-area civil emergencies and, working with Cabinet Office, identify a suitable mechanism for deployment.

    48: Central government crisis machinery should always be activated if significant wide-area and high-impact flooding is expected or occurs.

    49: A national flooding exercise should take place at the earliest opportunity in order to test the new arrangements which central government departments are putting into place to deal with flooding and infrastructure emergencies.

    50: The Government should urgently begin its systematic programme to reduce the disruption of essential services resulting from natural hazards by publishing a national framework and policy statement setting out the process, timescales and expectations.

    51: Relevant government departments and the Environment Agency should work with infrastructure operators to identify the vulnerability and risk of assets to flooding and a summary of the analysis should be published in Sector Resilience Plans.

    52: In the short term, the Government and infrastructure operators should work together to build a level of resilience into critical infrastructure assets that ensures continuity during a worst-case flood event.

    53: A specific duty should be placed on economic regulators to build resilience in the critical infrastructure.

    54: The Government should extend the duty to undertake business continuity planning to infrastructure operating Category 2 responders to a standard equivalent to BS25999, and that accountability is ensured through an annual benchmarking exercise within each sector.

    55: The Government should strengthen and enforce the duty on Category 2 responders to share information on the risks to their infrastructure assets, enabling more effective emergency planning within Local Resilience Forums.

    56: The Government should issue clear guidance on expected levels of Category 2 responders’ engagement in planning, exercising and response and consider the case for strengthening enforcement arrangements.

    57: The Government should provide Local Resilience Forums with the inundation maps for both large and small reservoirs to enable them to assess risks and plan for contingency, warning and evacuation and the outline maps be made available to the public online as part of wider flood risk information.

    58: The Government should implement the legislative changes proposed in the Environment Agency biennial report on dam and reservoir safety through the forthcoming flooding legislation.

    59: The Risk and Regulation Advisory Council should explore how the public can improve their understanding of community risks, including those associated with flooding, and that the Government should then implement the findings as appropriate.

    60: The Government should implement a public information campaign which draws on a single definitive set of flood prevention and mitigation advice for householders and businesses, and which can be used by media and the authorities locally and nationally.

    61: The Environment Agency should work with local responders to raise awareness in flood risk areas and identify a range of mechanisms to warn the public, particularly the vulnerable, in response to flooding.

    62: The Environment Agency should work urgently with telecommunications companies to facilitate the roll-out of opt-out telephone flood warning schemes to all homes and businesses liable to flooding, including those with ex-directory numbers.

    63: Flood risk should be made part of the mandatory search requirements when people buy property, and should form part of Home Information Packs.

    64: Local Resilience Forums should continue to develop plans for door-knocking, coordinated by local authorities, to enhance flood warnings before flooding and to provide information and assess welfare needs once flooding has receded.

    65: The Met Office and Environment Agency should urgently complete the production of a sliding scale of options for greater personalisation of public warning information, including costs, benefits and feasibility.

    66: Local authority contact centres should take the lead in dealing with general enquiries from the public during and after major flooding, redirecting calls to other organisations when appropriate.

    67: The Cabinet Office should provide advice to ensure that all Local Resilience Forums have effective and linked websites providing public information before, during and after an emergency.

    68: Council leaders and chief executives should play a prominent role in public reassurance and advice through the local media during a flooding emergency, as part of a coordinated effort overseen by Gold Commanders.

    69: The public should make up a flood kit – including personal documents, insurance policy, emergency contact numbers (including local council, emergency services and Floodline), torch, battery or wind-up radio, mobile phone, rubber gloves, wet wipes or antibacterial hand gel, first aid kit and blankets.

    70: The Government should establish a programme to support and encourage individuals and communities to be better prepared and more self-reliant during emergencies, allowing the authorities to focus on those areas and people in greatest need.

    71: The Department of Health and other relevant bodies should develop a single set of flood related health advice for householders and businesses which should be used by all organisations nationally and locally and made available through a wide range of sources.

    72: Local response and recovery coordinating groups should ensure that health and wellbeing support is readily available to those affected by flooding based on the advice developed by the Department of Health.

    73: The Government, the Association of British Insurers and other relevant organisations should work together to explore any technological or process improvements that can be made to speed up the drying out and stabilising process of building recovery after a flood.

    74: The monitoring of the impact of flooding on the health and wellbeing of people, and actions to mitigate and manage the effects, should form a systematic part of the work of Recovery Coordinating Groups.

    75: For emergencies spanning more than a single local authority area, Government Offices should ensure coherence and coordination, if necessary, between recovery operations.

    76: Local authorities should coordinate a systematic programme of community engagement in their area during the recovery phase.

    77: National and local Recovery Co-ordinating Groups should be established from the outset of major emergencies and in due course there should be formal handover from the crisis machinery.

    78: Aims and objectives for the recovery phase should be agreed at the outset by Recovery Coordinating Groups to provide focus and enable orderly transition into mainstream programmes when multi-agency coordination of recovery is no longer required.

    79: Government Offices, in conjunction with the Local Government Association, should develop arrangements to provide advice and support from experienced organisations to areas dealing with recovery from severe flooding emergencies.

    80: All central government guidance should be updated to reflect the new arrangements for recovery and Local Resilience Forums should plan, train and exercise on this basis.

    81: There should be an agreed framework, including definitions and timescales, for local central recovery reporting.

    82: Following major flooding events, the Government should publish monthly summaries of progress of the recovery phase, including the numbers of households still displaced from all or part of their homes.

    83: Local authorities should continue to make arrangements to bear the cost of recovery for all but the most exceptional emergencies, and should revisit their reserves and insurance arrangements in light of last summer’s floods.

    84: Central government should have pre-planned rather than ad-hoc arrangements to contribute towards the financial burden of recovery from the most exceptional emergencies, on a formula basis.

    85: Local Recovery Coordination Groups should make early recommendations to elected local authority members about longer-term regeneration and economic development opportunities.

    86: The Government should publish an action plan to implement the recommendations of this Review, with a Director in Defra overseeing the programme of delivery and issuing regular progress updates.

    87: The Government should establish a Cabinet Committee with a remit to improve the country’s ability to deal with flooding and implement the recommendations of this Review.

    88: The Government should establish a National Resilience Forum to facilitate national level multi-agency planning for flooding and other emergencies.

    89: The EFRA Select Committee should review the country’s readiness for dealing with flooding emergencies and produce an assessment of progress in implementation of the Review’s recommendations after 12 months.

    90: All upper tier local authorities should establish Oversight and Scrutiny Committees to review work by public sector bodies and essential service providers in order to manage flood risk, underpinned by a legal requirement to cooperate and share information.

    91: Each Oversight and Scrutiny Committee should prepare an annual summary of actions taken locally to manage flood risk and implement this Review, and these reports should be public and reviewed by Government Offices and the Environment Agency.

    92: Local Resilience Forums should evaluate and share lessons from both the response and recovery phases to inform their planning for future emergencies.

    For further information contact: Jane Griffiths, Assistant Chief Executive on 01242 264126.

    [3 July 2008 ]

    The Pitt Review was published by Sir Michael Pitt on Wednesday, 25th June, 2008. See here for the Cabinet Office Pitt Report Webpage where you can find the full report and a press release (bottom of page) which contains some key quotes from the full report. This report is relevant in determining the approach taken by planners when considering house building in areas at risk from flooding.

    Unfortunately (although I haven’t yet read the report in detail) I gather from a debate in the House of Commons that some MPs are not happy with the report, see some questions posed by Martin Horwood (Cheltenham MP) and Laurence Roberson (Tewkesbury MP) to Hilary Benn (Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)here and here. It is also worth reading the rest of the debate.

    However. The goverment Planning Portal Site says Pitt urges tougher development control in high flood-risk areas. Here’s some quotes:

    The report voiced strong backing for current planning policy set out in Planning Policy Statement 25, which says there should be a presumption against building in high flood-risk areas, taking into account all sources of flood risk.

    mmm. I see it doesn’t say you shouldn’t build in high flood-risk areas, and

    Where it is necessary to construct buildings in high-risk areas to meet wider aims of sustainable development, PPS25 requires developers to fund necessary flood defence and mitigation works.

    and

    Pitt’s report has argued that the automatic right to connect surface water drainage of new developments to the sewerage system should be removed.

    so may be in does help discourage building in this area, perhaps due to increased cost, but the reality will depend on the enforcement of the recommendations in the report.

    The Gloucestershire branch of Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) have published a response to the draft Regional Spatial Strategy for the South West Examination in Public (EiP) Panels Report. The panels recommendations will feed into changes made to the draft RSS due for public consultation. The full response is here. It make the following important points :-

    • Urban extensions should only be considered when all major brownfield sites have been exhausted (The draft RSS proposes parallel development on greenfield and brownfield sites).
    • The CPRE believe that housing targets rely in too high estimates of economic growth and population increases and to low estimates of housing occupancy. Plus the fact that many of the assumptions are unreliable particularly given the predictions are for 20 years in the future. The Panel recommends a 40% increase in housing over the draft RSS!
    • The Panel is very complacent in flooding believing that the areas considered are not at risk from flooding and more detailed assessment should be left to Local Development Frameworks (LDFs).

    Also see the CPRE – Gloucestershire Branch Website.

    It is expected that the Secretary of State’s modifications to the Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS) will be released in July (likely to occur shortly before Parliamentary recess). Once published, the modifications will be subject to 12 weeks public consultation. It is likely that the consultation will not be delayed to take account of the peak summer holiday period therefore Parish Councils may find it useful to programme in appropriate time in their September agendas to consider the implications arising from the RSS modifications.

    Some recent discussion with MP Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) and Caroline Flint (Housing Minister) primarily about whether the housing targets a likely to be reduced given the dramatic downturn in the housing sector. No much give from the Caroline Flint but even the Governments adviser on this says the housing targets should be reduced.

    Oral Evidence Taken before the Environmental Audit Committee on Tuesday 3 June 2008

    Members present:

    Mr Tim Yeo, in the Chair
    Colin Challen
    Martin Horwood
    Mr Graham Stuart
    Jo Swinson

    NB: Any public use of, or reference to, the contents should make clear that neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

    FIRST EXCERPT…

    Q163 Martin Horwood: I am impressed to discover the Department’s policy is not to tell people what to do. That is news to me. One of the things you are going to do is build the two million new houses by 2016 and a further one million by 2020. Obviously those targets were created at a time of rising house prices, with all the challenges of affordability that we talked about. Given that house prices now seem to be falling and we are apparently in an economic downturn, are those targets still right? Do they need to be revised downwards?

    Caroline Flint: I think they are still right. Obviously we are, as people know and I have said it on numerous occasions, dealing with a challenging time; we are seeing changes in the market but I think the underlying need for a supply of more houses has not gone away. Part of my job and our department’s job, working across government with colleagues but also with the House Builders’ Federation and others, whilst recognising the downturn at the moment, is to see if we can make sure for the medium and long term how the market can pick up. That is why we continue to work to identify surplus land across government departments and why I think now we have something like 63 per cent of local authorities that have identified their five-year land supply going forward and again how we are working on our £8 billion social housing programme over the next three years through the Housing Corporation and through private developers to meet needs there.

    Q164 Martin Horwood: This is based on Kate Barker’s analysis?

    Caroline Flint: Yes, it is because I do not think fundamentally there has been any change. There is a slowdown in the market but that does not necessarily mean that the supply of houses and the target for those have substantially changed.

    Q165 Martin Horwood: Can I quote you what Kate Barker told this committee in 2004 when she was questioned on this point? She said: ” …there are points in the review where I stress very clearly that you might start out with an intention to build X in an area and two years down the line what has happened in the market has suggested to you that X was too big and you should cut the target, and that would be absolutely reflected in this report.” She actually talked about, “One would hope that the reaction of the house builders …. [in a market downturn] is such that they would not build the houses”. Do you agree with her that that should be the response in a downturn?

    Caroline Flint: I think the key point in terms of what you have quoted is her saying “in an area”. Clearly, all the time we are working with local authorities through regional and spatial strategies and other things, such as the growth areas, to identify the housing supply that is needed. We have a national target that is underpinned by negotiation on a regional and local basis. I think it is far too early to suggest that our national target, which I think is the point of your first question, should be changed, but of course we have to be mindful of what happens out there. It probably is the case that, in terms of the present climate, this year the number of houses built will be potentially lower than last year, given that last year was a record high.

    Q166 Martin Horwood: That does not seem to be what she told us. You said that the key phrase in the quote I gave you was “in an area”, but she went on to say: “I am sometimes talked about as though I always talk about the need to increase building. The report absolutely does not do that.” Her point was that it was not about an absolute number; it was about increasing market responsiveness, so that in a downturn you should decrease those numbers.

    Caroline Flint: I think it is far too early and premature to suggest that we should revise our target, which is 2016 and 2020. That being said, we are mindful of the market and recognise that some of our projections may have to be looked at based on how many houses might be built this year, which is likely to be lower than last year. Then again, it is about how the market picks up when those market conditions change. That is why I think it is too early to suggest that our target for three million homes in 2020 and two million by 2016 should be moved away from at this point.

    Q167 Martin Horwood: The private house builders certainly are still complaining about increased costs and I guess they would say regulatory buildings [should read:burdens] too are making life difficult in this downturn. Do you not think that there is a risk that they will go for the quick wins in development terms, which might be the most environmentally costly, and not for the more difficult but more environmentally friendly options?

    Caroline Flint: Firstly, the building industry is working with us as part of a ten-year strategy towards zero carbon new build homes by 2016. I think that work has been a good example of how government can engage with industry and over a really pretty long lead-in time but with a challenging target at the end of it really to make some changes to the way in which our building industry addresses these issues of energy efficiency. We have had the report recently from the UK-Green Building Council on the zero definition. We are consulting this summer on how zero carbon might be applied to commercial buildings. I have witnessed and seen myself some of the prototypes that have already been developed by some volume builders like Barratt in terms of zero carbon homes. I think having a clear sense of direction, a ten-year lead-in time, is one of the ways we can work very productively with the industry but that also gives us time to look at how the costs might be brought down. I do believe that the costs, whilst high at the moment – and that is something on which clearly we are working with the industry – if the expectation is that all houses will meet these demands, then I think that has an impact on lowering the costs over time. I think we have the right balance here between target and delivery towards that target.

    Q168 Martin Horwood: I think other colleagues will question you a bit more about the standards.

    Caroline Flint: That is about standards, is it not, zero carbon homes?

    Q169 Martin Horwood: What I am trying to question you about is the impact of those targets. You say it is too early to say that the current downturn in house prices is one for which you should adjust the targets. Let us say it continues and that in due course you do have to adjust that target downwards, as Barker has suggested, what happens to the land that has already been designated for development? Some of it is sensitive greenfield sites and some of it more difficult urban regeneration, more difficult small developments around rural communities and things like this. Surely for developers, once the easier wins, the greenfield big developments, have been released for development, it will be impossible to pull them back from that and they will naturally as business people go for the more profitable sites and urban and small rural community regeneration will end up coming second?

    Caroline Flint: Again, this is where local authorities have a crucial role to play in developing their local development frameworks.

    Q170 Martin Horwood: If you will forgive me, that is based on the current targets. What I am saying is: if those targets in a downturn have to be or ought to be cut back as Barker suggested, in practice how does a local authority cut them back? How do they reclaim land?

    Caroline Flint: Speculating on whether we will reduce our targets or not when I have indicated it is too early to give you a position on that – and actually the overall housing supply and demand is still there, regardless or not of the downturn – I do not think would add anything to the debate. What I can say is that we work with the building industry, and I think it is absolutely right that this is where Government does set a direction that shows leadership, about the types of homes that we feel should be the standard for the future. In doing so, we work with the industry because we do recognise at the end of the day they are the ones that will be putting up these buildings and they have costs; they are private firms and so forth. The other part of the question in terms of costs is that we are working with the industry at the moment to look at some of the issues around cumulative costs that are put on them as a result of different things that Government, not just my department but other departments, are asking of them. Again, I think that is a demonstration of a common-sense approach to having ambition but at the same time setting a realistic and common-sense framework to deliver on the target.

    Q171 Martin Horwood: I am sorry to press this point but can I bring you back to the targets again? Kate Barker very clearly told us that in a downturn the targets should be reduced. That is the implication of what she said very clearly. Accepting that you think it is too early at the moment, are you saying that you will never look at reducing those targets and that she is wrong or are you accepting what she told us that in a downturn X might prove to be too big and therefore you should build less?

    Caroline Flint: What I am saying is that the targets we have set are challenging but the long-term demands are not going to change. Whilst any government has to look at what is happening in the market and how it affects it, and our trajectories for housing growth is one of those areas, the long-term demands for housing still exist and will continue to exist in the future.

    Q172 Martin Horwood: So when she says, “What has happened in the market has suggested to you that X was too big and you should cut the target”, you think she was wrong?

    Caroline Flint: What I am saying, as I said earlier, is that I think it is too early to say that we should cut the targets.

    Q173 Martin Horwood: I know that. I am sorry to press you, Minister. We have accepted that you think it is too early now. We are looking at the theoretical possibility that if the circumstances that Kate Barker described as a market downturn persist and that X proves to be, in her words, too big, then you should cut the target. Do you accept that she was right to say that, accepting that you think it is too early at the moment to make that judgment? Do you accept that that is possible, even in theory?

    Caroline Flint: I would rather have a conversation wider than Kate Barker or a discussion around the demands that are made, which she identified in her report. Whilst we might have a situation in terms of our delivery that the number of houses that is projected to be built in any one year might be reduced because of market intervention, that does not necessarily mean in terms of the long term that we would move away from our target. The other point that I think is crucial to this is that as and when the market picks up, and the market will, have we got the necessary foundations in place to make sure that house building can move on quickly and as is needed in those communities? That is why some of the fundamentals like identifying land now is very important to all of that.

    Q174 Martin Horwood: I am sure Kate Barker would agree with you about market responsiveness and that was part of her theme as well, but it sounds as though you are saying that those targets would stand regardless of the market. Is that right?

    Caroline Flint: No, I think I said that at the moment I do not think there is a justification at this point for changing any target.

    Q175 Martin Horwood: Not at this point; we accept that.

    Caroline Flint: But I have just said in terms of the market now, and I can only talk about the market now. I think it would be unwise to theorise about where the market might be next year or the year after that.

    Q176 Martin Horwood: Your adviser did: Kate Barker talked about the scenario in which a market downturn meant that the targets were too big and should be cut. Why will you not just answer the question about whether in theory you would accept that and say that if the scenario turns out to be a market downturn —

    Caroline Flint: I think I have said – I am sure the transcript of the meeting will bear this out – that based on the present situation, I do not think there is a necessity for targets to be cut.

    Q177 Martin Horwood: Can you imagine any scenario in which the target would be cut?

    Caroline Flint: I do not think it would be useful for me to answer that question.

    SECOND EXCERPT:

    Q199 Martin Horwood: On the green belt, may I declare a constituency interest because the precise scenario I am going to describe to you applies to my constituency. We have an urban district council which is almost entirely ringed by green belt.

    Caroline Flint: Where is it?

    Q200 Martin Horwood: Cheltenham. It is AUNB [should read: AONB, for Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty] on one side but green belt on three sides. It has been handed down in the regional spatial statutory housing targets which project about 6,000 houses inevitably going into the green belt. Local councils of all colours have been committed to protecting that green belt but they are being asked to meet the housing target. How do they do it?

    [There was a really long pause before she answered. M]

    Caroline Flint: You will have to forgive me; I will have to be careful about what I say about anything that is in terms of the Regional Spatial Strategy and individual housing targets for legal reasons. What I will say is that we have protected the green belt and the procedures that underpin its protection are not something that we plan to change at all. In fact, in England the green belt has actually increased by 64,000 acres since 1997. The proportion of land in England counted as urban is something around 8.5 per cent of it, certainly under 10 per cent, well below 13 per cent of land in England that is currently green belt. Our view and our guidance underpinning this is that we should be looking to develop on brownfield. I think we increased from 56 per cent to nearly 75 per cent brownfield use since 1997; a quarter of new homes built on brownfield has risen by those figures. In some cases clearly green land as opposed to green belt has been utilised as well. My general advice to any local authority is to make sure that it has looked to all planning guidance that is provided, that it has looked at what available land outside the green belt is there for it to use. In those circumstances, that will be part of the negotiations for any house supplier or house delivery on the ground. As I say, there are cases sometimes where green belt I understand is infringed on in some way but often as part of negotiation. That is then offset by creating green belt elsewhere or it is on a marginal point in terms of the development. But, overall, green belt has increased and brownfield sites have increased.

    [discussion about amount of new Green Belt omitted here. M]

    Q203 Martin Horwood: To bring you back to the original question, if the Regional Spatial Strategy specifically says that 8,000 or 10,000 per year [shouldn’t read ‘per year’] of an area is the maximum capacity, all the potential exploited, therefore a larger number has to go into the green belt, how does any local council that wants to commit to protecting the green belt square that circle?

    Caroline Flint: As I say, I think it is only in exceptional circumstances that green belt boundaries can be amended through the development plan process and only after there has been robust public consultation, an independent examination and the independent examination of the draft proposal. It is important therefore if a local authority has any view on the development in its area that it looks at making those cases and that is part of the discussion that takes place in the negotiation. I cannot really say any more than that.

    Q204 Martin Horwood: You said it was exceptional but CPRE has told us that there are 37 current or projected reviews of green belt boundaries. Is that right?

    Caroline Flint: They may have situations where development plans come forward in which they want to impact on green belt. That does not necessarily mean that they are going to be allowed to go forward. The whole point is that these are subject to very robust investigations and examination. That sounds logical to me. We cannot stop a situation where someone might put a plan forward but by putting the plan forward that might infringe on the green belt it does not mean it is necessarily going to go ahead at the end of the day. That is why there are the various planning policy statements and other guidance available to underpin the importance of the green belt and for that therefore to be used by local authorities and others in their negotiation about whether a development should or should not go ahead.

    Q205 Chairman: So in very broad terms what would be the ratio of proposals to amend the green belt which are rejected?

    Caroline Flint: I will have to come back to you on that.

    Chairman: Thank you very much for coming this morning. I am sure what you have said will be useful to us in writing our report.

    CPRE Figures

    Government Target is 240,000 homes per year = 3m by 2020.
    Regional Spatial Strategies provide for 203,000 pa.
    Current rate 180,000 pa, highest for 15 year. Equals 21 sq mile.
    Affordable home 10% of this.
    There are 670,000 more homes than households in Britain, not all in good repair (however treasury figures say only 300,000 empty for over 6 months).
    255,000 families have second homes.
    Housing density 2001 was 20-25 per hectare. 2006 was 40. CPRE recommend 50.
    Percent homes on previously developed land or conversion =74%
    Previously developed land available for housing = 62,700 hectares
    Of this 27,600 ha suitable for housing = over 1m homes at 40 per ha.
    Developers hold plots for 341,000 homes.

    The Barker Report

    Many of these figures come from the Barker report of 2005. Her report is based on the ODPM statistic which shows 190,000 more households forming per year to 2021. Reasons given: Longer life expectancy, different family basis (marital breakup etc), no mention made of immigration.

    Have not yet found how ODPM figures derived. CPRE do not say. Cant find basis on any annual growth figure.

    The head of the Gloucestershire branch of the CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England) urges the goverment to use brownfield rather than greenfield land for new houses and argues that the amount of housing needed should be much lower. Heres the full article from the May 20th Gloucestershire Echo:

    Here follows a debate in the House of Commons between Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury MP), Martin Horwood (Cheltenham MP) and Ian Wright (Hartlepool MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government) on the implications of building in the area to the NW of Cheltenham which is proposed in the South West Regional Spatial Strategy. Some good points are raised on flooding, whether houses might not be built in places that really need them, the consultation in the changes to the RSS and how the quasi-judicial nature of the RSS blocks the normal democratic processes.

    Hansard 7 May 2008 : Column 816
    South West Regional Spatial Strategy
    Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Mr. Watts.]
    8.58 pm

    Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): I am pleased to have secured this debate. I am very grateful to the Minister for staying behind to reply, particularly as we did not know what time it would be when we got to this stage.
    The subject of this debate—the implications for Tewkesbury of the south west regional spatial strategy—is especially important. Not only do we have green belt, green fields and beautiful areas in my constituency that we wish to protect, but, as the world knows, we have a problem with flooding. I say “as the world knows” because it is true. On recent trips to three countries in the far east and four countries in the Caribbean, my constituency of Tewkesbury was known about for the wrong reason—the terrible floods of July 2007. It is worth remembering that as a result of those floods, three people lost their lives and thousands had their homes and businesses flooded. Hundreds of thousands lost mains water supplies—some for up to three weeks—and power supplies were affected. The effects of the July 2007 floods remain with us. Even now, almost 10 months on, approximately 385 households in my constituency are still displaced from their homes, and some are probably still months from returning to them. Business in certain parts of my constituency remains depressed.
    I have held two Adjournment debates on flooding and on each occasion—and on many other occasions—I have said the following. People in my constituency accept that living at the confluence of two rivers means that the area will flood every so often. Fields in the area flood a number of times each year. Although we all accept that the rainfall of 20 July 2007 was exceptional, we believe that certain factors made the flooding worse than it needed to be. One factor was the poor maintenance of the culverts, sewers, drains, ditches and waterways, but the other factor was that too many houses have been built in flood risk areas. People accept that the area will flood, but the one overriding message that people give to me, which they want me to pass on to the Minister, is that we should not be making the situation any worse than it needs to be. We should mitigate, rather than escalate, the problem. Imagine, then, the disappointment and anger at the contents of the regional spatial strategy, which proposes the building of thousands of houses in my constituency, in areas that have to be classed as at risk of flooding.
    Before I go any further, let me state what should be the obvious. This is not just a matter of whether the new houses flood. Houses built in the wrong place take up field space that would otherwise have soaked up water, thereby preventing that water from resting on those fields. Water will be sent into other areas, causing terrible flooding. In other words, the run-off of water from one development causes other developments to flood. That fact should be obvious, but certain people just focus on whether the new houses flood. That is missing the point, either deliberately or otherwise. Those people also state that houses built in those areas should be flood-resilient. Again, that is missing the point, because the presence of these houses causes
    other houses to flood. It is my submission, therefore, that to build thousands of houses in or around my constituency would be madness. What further evidence, other than three deaths, people still being out of their homes and business still being flat 10 months on, do those taking the decisions need to persuade them to build houses elsewhere?
    In the RSS, the required number of houses for the whole housing market area is about 56,400, with 23 per cent. of these—a total of 13,100—proposed for the Tewkesbury district. If we want to talk about constituency boundaries, 27.7 per cent.—15,600 houses—would be within my constituency, much of which is a flood risk area. If we analyse those figures, we see that the RSS proposes the building of many houses at Longford and Innsworth, close to the Walham power station, which, as everyone knows, almost went under during the 2007 floods. If the water had risen much higher at that power station, hundreds of thousands of people would have lost their mains power supply, and that was almost the case. If that area is not at risk of flooding, what is? How can it make sense to propose to build houses in such an area?
    Houses also flooded in Bishop’s Cleeve, but the RSS proposes the building of thousands of houses close to that village. Uckington floods, and flood alleviation schemes are being built to contain the River Chelt in that area. Yet again, thousands of houses are being proposed for that area, and 2,900 houses are proposed for the rest of the Tewkesbury district. From conversations that I have held with planners, it appears that those houses might have to be built close to Tewkesbury town, which was badly affected only last year, and remains so. No one can forget the television images of the town surrounded by water.
    The evidence of the problems of excessive building is already there for all to see. For example, in Bredon road in Tewkesbury, houses in the process of being built flooded, and houses that were built in Noverton lane worsened the flooding in the village of Prestbury, where in June—never mind July—houses flooded for the first time in people’s 40-year memories. They flooded again in July of course, and the streets became like rivers. Who can say that those extra houses did not worsen matters?
    The Government often say that they have strengthened the case against building in flood risk areas through planning policy statement 25. However, a glance at that document, which was published in December 2006—months before the terrible floods in 2007—shows that the guidance on building outside flood risk areas is qualified by “wider sustainability objectives”. The “exceptional test” allows building in flood risk areas.
    So what is the principle that underpins PPS25? Is it avoiding inappropriate development in flood risk areas or ensuring that housing targets are met? In other words, the exceptional test undermines the principle of the whole document and disregards the dangers and major disruptions experienced by people who live in flood risk areas.
    As Sir Michael Pitt says in his interim report:
    “Some respondents felt that the introduction of this test could be interpreted as a get-out clause for local authorities”—

    or, in this case, the RSS. Crucially, he continues:

    A decision to permit development should not be taken lightly by the planning authority, not least because a prospective purchaser will generally assume that the granting of planning permission signals that the local authority does not perceive there to be a problem with flood risk”.


    That is a good point. Who will buy those houses if they are perceived to be likely to flood, and if there are problems with insuring them? Earlier today, the Association of British Insurers told me:
    “We want to ensure that wherever possible new homes are not built in high flood risk areas. If they are, then insurers cannot guarantee to offer cover.”


    Planning policy statement 25 calls for flood risk assessments to be made at all levels of the planning process. However, what flood risk assessments were made during the compilation of the RSS, a document that was largely drawn up before the floods of July 2007? Does not that in itself make it incumbent on the Secretary of State to require the authors to go back to the drawing board on their housing proposals?
    What constitutes a flood risk area? If the definition is based on annual likelihood of flooding, how can that be assessed if we accept that climate change is taking place? In other words, a place with a one in a 100 chance of flooding in the past can no longer be assumed to be in that category if the climate is changing as the Government tell us it is.
    We are, of course, supposed to be protected from inappropriate development by the Environment Agency. However, an appeal to build 600 houses near Longford in my constituency, close to Walham sub-station, is currently being considered by the Secretary of State. I have submitted photographs of at least part of that site when flooded, yet the Environment Agency did not even submit an objection to the application. Even worse, the Environment Agency said that the area did not have a monitoring station on the site, but it does. That station indicated flooding, so I hope that the Secretary of State will take that error into account when assessing the appeal.
    I suggest that the fact that the Environment Agency has not objected to the proposed building at Longford is evidence that, as currently constituted, it is simply not up to the job and its role should be reviewed. How can the Environment Agency, when it has seen the effects of the flooding in my area, fail to object to the proposals to build thousands more houses there? It defies belief. Of course, some might describe my objection to those houses as an example of nimbyism—but if it is, so be it. I am paid to represent the people of my constituency, and I do not believe it to be in their best interests to have those houses.
    Let us consider the situation somewhat more widely. Village post offices are closing, including a further six in my constituency, pubs are closing at the rate of an estimated 27 a week, and village shops are struggling. So why not top up the housing stock in villages throughout the country? Many villages are calling for such development, partly so that their own people can continue to live in the villages where they were born.
    Why is the concentration on principal urban areas? Why are so many houses needed in the first place? What is the science used to calculate the need for such housing stock? It cannot be that the divorce rate and the life expectancy figures are still accelerating to such a degree. However, I accept that the net immigration figures are a worry, with a total of 1.62 million more people coming to this country than leaving it over the past 10 years, which puts pressure on housing. That perhaps needs tackling as a separate problem. The method of calculation, immigration, the dispersal of houses and the planning process are all underlying issues that the Government should tackle, rather than allowing unelected regional bureaucrats to make crude calculations about the number of houses that we are supposed to need in each constituency.
    The Government have made two promises that are relevant to this debate. One, which they made before being elected to office, was to end the predict-and-provide approach to housing. That has not happened; in fact that approach has been entrenched, and on a regional basis, which is why we are in the current predicament. The second promise, made after last week’s election results, was that the Prime Minister would listen to people’s concerns.
    The Prime Minister paid a welcome visit to my constituency during the flooding. I now call on him, the Secretary of State and the Minister to listen to what the people of Tewkesbury are saying: that building extra housing to the level proposed by the RSS would make the risk of flooding in the area significantly worse, with the risk to life, property, business and possessions being greatly heightened.
    When he visited Tewkesbury, the Prime Minister saw for himself the water, the bowsers, the problems at Walham and the Mythe, and the enormous efforts that people were making to help each other. I know that he would not want us to go through that again. So through his Secretary of State and the Minister who is here tonight, the Prime Minister needs to reject the proposals in the RSS to which I have referred, in order to reduce that likelihood. To refuse to do so will be to fail to respond to the situation in which we found ourselves last year, and will also represent a failure to listen. As only the changes that the Minister makes to the RSS will be open to further public consultation, this is our last chance to affect the outcome of what, to us, is a crucial process.

    The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Iain Wright): I congratulate the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) on securing this debate. I am aware that he raised similar issues during a debate on the south west regional spatial strategy in January, to which my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury responded, when she was Minister for Housing. The hon. Gentleman has this evening reiterated how important the regional spatial strategy for the south-west is to him and his constituents, and I commend him on that.
    However, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be aware that I shall have to disappoint him tonight. Like my right hon. Friend in January, I am unable to respond to many of his concerns. The RSS process is a quasi-judicial one involving plans and planning decisions, and I do not wish in any way to prejudice the impartiality of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in coming to a decision. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for that, but I hope that he will accept it.

    It would be helpful to start by giving some background to the regional spatial strategy. A regional spatial strategy is a requirement of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. That piece of legislation, and the role of the RSS in particular, helped to strengthen the role and importance of regional planning. A regional spatial strategy’s purpose is to set out a broad development strategy for a 20-year period. I acknowledge that the process undertaken in the preparation of a regional spatial strategy is often described as, at best, laborious. However, the regional spatial strategy is a vital document. The length of the process rightly reflects the need for extensive dialogue in its preparation.
    A regional spatial strategy is a key component in achieving more sustainable development and provides a spatial context for local development frameworks and other strategies and spending frameworks. Regional spatial strategies include issues such as how much housing is needed, the general location where it should be built, the priorities for new infrastructure and economic development, the strategy for protecting countryside and biodiversity and the policy for reducing carbon emissions and safeguarding natural resources—for example, water and minerals.
    It might also assist the hon. Member for Tewkesbury if I mentioned something about the history of the regional spatial strategy in his area of the south-west. As he will be aware, responsibility for the initial drafting of the regional spatial strategy rested with the regional assembly, which submitted its draft to the Government on 24 April 2006. A 12-week public consultation gave the opportunity to put comments to an independent panel, which was appointed by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to test the soundness of the draft regional spatial strategy. Following that, an examination in public was held between April and July 2007 to discuss and test the draft regional spatial strategy before the panel. The length of the examination in the public stage reflected the level of interest in the draft RSS, with the panel reviewing comments from almost 2,000 different parties. I understand that 191 organisations and individuals took part in public hearings held in Exeter. The panel’s report was submitted to the Government on 10 December 2007 and was published for information on 10 January 2008. It contains recommendations to the Secretary of State on all aspects of the draft regional spatial strategy.
    I have now set out the background to the draft RSS, but I reiterate what I said in my opening remarks—that I hope that the hon. Gentleman will understand that on account of the quasi-judicial nature of the process, I am very much constrained in what I am able to say at this stage about the detailed proposals contained within the RSS. I must point out that in taking quasi-judicial decisions under the Planning Acts, there is clear guidance for Ministers, which is based on advice from the Law Officers and First Treasury Counsel. A copy of the guidance can be found on the website of the Department for Communities and Local Government and is entitled “Guidance on propriety issues in handling planning casework in Communities and Local Government”. If it would assist the hon. Gentleman, I can certainly provide him with a copy of it. That guidance outlines that Ministers should not enter into discussions with interested parties on the changes that might be made to a draft regional spatial strategy while consideration is being given to the panel’s report.
    Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): Will the Minister give way?
    Mr. Wright: I certainly will, even though the hon. Gentleman was not in his place at the start of the debate.
    Martin Horwood: I am very grateful; I was listening to the debate from another location. The Minister says that the examination in public took account of many hundreds of submissions. However, in an area called Leckhampton, which straddles the boundary between the constituency of the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) and my own, potentially up to 1,300 extra homes have been approved for building on land that is waterlogged as we speak. That development, which will increase flooding in parts of both my and the hon. Gentleman’s constituency downhill, has been approved despite hundreds of objections from local people. In effect, those unelected inspectors have made this decision with no democratic accountability. If the Minister will not answer questions on this strategy, where are we to ask them and how are we to challenge this decision making?
    Mr. Wright: The hon. Gentleman has made his case, but I am not that tempted to respond to it. As I have tried to explain, the whole process regarding the regional spatial strategy is a quasi-judicial one and I do not want to be tempted to make any comment that would prejudice in any way the Secretary of State’s ability to come to an impartial view about the figures and the detail contained within the RSS. I hope that the hon. Gentleman understands that point.
    As I said earlier, the panel’s report was submitted to the Government on 10 December and was published for information the following month. I am sure that the hon. Member for Tewkesbury would like me to explain, following the publication of the report for information, what the next step is. The Secretary of State is now considering the panel’s report, along with all the representations previously submitted, and aims to publish her proposed changes as soon as possible. I must stress that at this stage no conclusions have been reached on any of the panel’s recommendations. There will then be a 12-week period of public consultation when the proposed changes are published. That will be the opportunity for those interested in the content of the regional spatial strategy to make their comments known. Following consideration of comments and views arising from that consultation, the Secretary of State expects to publish the final regional spatial strategy before the end of 2008.
    Mr. Laurence Robertson: Am I right in thinking that only the changes the Secretary of State proposes will go out to public consultation—in other words, the whole lot does not go out again, but only the changes?
    Mr. Wright: Yes, that is my understanding: the proposed changes will be put out for the 12-week consultation.
    The hon. Gentleman raised important points on flooding in his area. Again, I will not be drawn into talking about specific details, or about specific housing developments
    and planning permissions on floodplains. I should, however, point out that the Government believe that effective flood defences are a vital component of new infrastructure, and that they will be an integral part of development. Also, it is for councils to take key decisions on individual developments, but we have put in place the toughest planning rules ever through planning policy statement 25. For the first time, all councils must now consult the Environment Agency on their housing plans, to ensure that all new homes are safe from flooding and properly sustainable for the future. Those new rules have been praised by Sir Michael Pitt and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s report on flooding, and they have been backed by the Association of British Insurers. I am pleased that we have put in place the toughest planning rules ever with regard to development on flood risk areas.
    Martin Horwood: The Minister might be interested to know that not all the environmental organisations accept that the new planning guidance is sufficient, partly because it is only site-specific, so it does not take into account the overall landscape. If a site is entirely inundated with water, it does not really matter where the drainage goes. If the overall landscape has been allowed to develop in such a way that there is too much urbanisation, increasing run-off or increasing surface-water flooding, the local site-specific consultation will not be sufficient. Does the Minister not see the problem with that?
    Mr. Wright: To some extent, the hon. Gentleman is making the argument for a regional spatial strategy. These matters sometimes transcend local boundaries, so it is important that we have a regional overview. Essentially, however, it is up to local authorities to carry out developments in a plan-led process, in order to make sure that the whole environment is considered when deciding where development should take place. I am sure that—not for the first time—I will have disappointed the hon. Member for Tewkesbury that I have been unable to enter into a debate on the content of the south west regional spatial strategy. However, I am sure he will continue to represent his constituents’ views energetically when the proposed changes are published shortly. He has done that tonight, and he did it in the debate in January.
    Mr. Laurence Robertson: I am not satisfied with planning policy statement 25 as it is inadequate in that it compromises itself. My main point, however, is this: although I understand that the Minister is in a difficult position with regard to the process, all I am asking him to do is consider the serious points I have made about the difficulties the RSS will cause us in Tewkesbury. Will he have a serious discussion with the Secretary of State about the points I have made? That is all I expect of him tonight.
    Mr. Wright: As I said, I will not do anything that will compromise the ability of the Secretary of State to be able to come to an impartial decision, based on the report that is put on their desk, with regard to the RSS. The hon. Gentleman has made his case on behalf of his constituents most eloquently tonight, as he has in previous debates, and I would expect nothing less from him.
    Question put and agreed to.
    Adjourned accordingly at twenty-four minutes past Nine o’clock.

    Gloucestershire Ciounty Council today withdrew as the sponsor of the consortium that expressed an interest in bidding to Government for infrastructure funding for the NW Urban Extension in Cheltenham. They backed down because of the increasing public opposition to the idea and know that this will be a big issue in the 2009 elections.

    Heres the full press release from the council:

    Gloucestershire County Council has withdrawn its support for growth point status to protect the county from unnecessary over-development.

    Under the scheme, councils with growth point status would be given the necessary funding and resources to provide roads, schools and other facilities if significant new development was to take place.

    Last October, the county council, at the request of Tewkesbury Borough, Gloucester City and Cheltenham Borough Councils, expressed an interest in gaining the status to the Government.

    Gloucestershire County Council has consistently argued against accommodating significantly higher growth levels in the county, partly because of the potential new development on the Green Belt.

    But the council was keen to ensure that if development did take place, there would be money available to provide the infrastructure to go with it and so the expression of interest was submitted.

    However, the decision from the Government on whether or not the scheme can proceed has been significantly delayed, which has given rise to concerns about its viability.

    And proposed changes to the Regional Spatial Strategy – which decides on the amount and location of housing and development in the county – will be made public in July and it is feared it will include higher growth rates than the council is comfortable with.

    These factors have led to a decision by Gloucestershire County Council to withdraw its support for growth point status.

    Cllr Julie Girling, lead cabinet member for environment, said: “Initially, the council was keen to be included in the growth point initiative because we wanted to make sure that the we had the back-up to build the necessary roads and community facilities for new developments.

    “But since last October, when we indicated our interest, things have changed.

    “The delay by Government to implement the scheme has led to concerns and uncertainty about the whole initiative.

    “We are also worried that if we do sign up for this, it could tie us into accommodating developments that we do not want or need, particularly within the Green Belt.

    “Gloucestershire County Council has to act in the best interests of the county and our communities and at the moment we do not believe this scheme does that.”

    Issued by Gloucestershire County Council’s media team 01452 425226 lisa.bonnell@gloucestershire.gov.uk

    Lisa Bonnell

    Media & PR Manager

    Gloucestershire County Council

    Tel: 01452 425226 / 07805 540422

    The countryside walk on the 18 May was a great success. We had fantastic weather making it an enjoyable walk and we raised a fantastic £191 which we will be used to fund printing leaflets and similar necessary expenses. Around 200 people joined us on the walk around the fields to the West of Swindon Village where the proposed development site is. One person commented to me on how stunned they were that the whole area we walked through and beyond could be built on.

    We also made front page of the Gloucestershire Echo the next day. See here.

    Here a compilation of photos from the event kindly provided by Anne Emery. Click to enlarge.

    A compilation of photos from the 18 May walk

    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)