Councils have failed residents by not doing enough to plan for development
There are few things more emotive for people than the place that they live and the general environment that their home lies in.
So from that point of view it is quite understandable that there are regularly stories coming through of the concerns felt by many local residents about proposed new developments in or near their home towns or villages.
However the more I see and hear about proposed developments, the more it becomes clear that many of our local authorities have failed to prepare for the challenge facing them.
Some seem to think the increased homes requirements should not really apply to them, that they should be a “special case” – the NIMBY argument.
Others seem to feel the decisions are just so tough that they think it’s best to put them off to another day, the NIMTOO (Not In My Term Of Office) argument.
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But in 2018 that simply isn’t good enough. Local authorities like Babergh, Mid Suffolk, Suffolk Coastal, and West Suffolk really do need to show some courage and grasp the issue facing them.
According to the government and New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, Suffolk needs 70,000 new homes.
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Councils might not like that fact – but that is the policy and the population of the county is set to increase. Unless you want to see more people living on the streets more homes have to be built.
And you’re not going to put 70,000 new homes on brownfield sites in Ipswich, Lowestoft and Bury St Edmunds. Rural districts have to take their share of the expansion.
Many districts have woefully failed to prepare for this.
Suffolk Coastal has prompted controversy as it prepares for major development at Martlesham, the Felixstowe peninsula and some market towns – but at least there has been some signs of strategic planning.
But Babergh and Mid Suffolk have been particularly poor at coming up with strategic plans for the future development of the districts.
For most of the time their planning departments – both the officers and particularly the councillors that are supposed to be providing the strategic direction – have appeared to be overwhelmed by the challenge facing them and look like rabbits caught in the headlights.
Where is the five-year housing supply document for these districts that is a basic requirement for a local plan? They haven’t got around to completing it yet.
That removes a vital weapon from the planners’ armoury when it comes to try to reject an unwelcome development application.
And there doesn’t appear to be any strategic thinking from the council when it comes to large applications.
Outline plans have been approved for 800 homes at Thurston. Assuming each home will have 2.5 occupants (about the average now) that would put the population of the community up from 3,200 to 5,200.
Looking at the location of the village, the services it already has (high school, community centre) and its communication links (railway station, access to the A14) that really doesn’t look too outlandish an idea.
However development of such a scale needs to be carefully planned and the developers need to be made to contribute to other community facilities to support what would end up as a significant town.
Where is the requirement to upgrade the railway station by installing a footbridge? Where is the requirement to include a neighbourhood shopping centre in the development? Where is the proposal to build new health facilities for a community of 5,200 people?
In failing to come up with any kind of detailed plan, Mid Suffolk/Babergh council has let down the people of Thurston and it is hardly surprising a massive row is rumbling.
It’s not just Thurston. Mid Suffolk councillors may have dug a huge hole for themselves in rejecting an application for 300 homes in Claydon.
They’re local heroes after they rejected officers’ advice and turned down the application, but experts I’ve spoken to both inside and outside the council believe it could be very difficult to defend that decision if an appeal is launched.
If that goes to appeal and the council loses, they will be left with 300 homes on the edge of Ipswich, possibly with fewer conditions than they wanted, and a bill for legal costs for the appeal. That’s a lose, lose, lose scenario!