- Posted by: Canterbury Labour
- Category: Latest News
Councils need a Local Plan. What they don’t need is a plan whose growth targets are set centrally and dictated to them, forcing a reactive responsive which is the very opposite of “planning”. Yet that is the situation we have.
Like much else in this Government’s policy, the gap between proclaimed purpose and reality is vast. Saying one thing and doing something else entirely seems to be the whole modus operandum of Johnsonism, so we shouldn’t be surprised that while stating that he wants residents to have more say over how their district develops his Government imposes ludicrously inflated population growth targets.
Those targets in turn trigger a series of predictable results: more people means higher demand for schools, doctors and hospital beds. More electricity has to be supplied, more sewage has to be disposed of and, not least, there are more cars and a need for more roads.
Thus any Local Plan which is developed is immediately burdened with meeting a spiralling set of demands which have somehow to be accommodated. That challenge is supposedly sweetened by a mechanism should provide public infrastructure and gives Councils some additional but inadequate capital spend, the so-called section 106 (s106) payments and Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL). But it still presupposes that major growth is needed, is desirable, and can be accommodated.
The new Local Plan for Canterbury may well be testing these assumptions to destruction, because someone somewhere has decided that it is a “preferred option” to radically inflate the Government imposed growth target from 9,000 extra homes to a staggering 17,000 (or more) so as to build by-passes which are themselves needed primarily because of the existing planned growth. This, you can see, has the potential to create a self-inflicted spiral of growth with no end.
The Government imposes other rules and constraints on local decision making, too. Landowners, not residents, decide which land they want to offer for house building, meaning that any strategic control over development locations is subjugated to the profit motivation of those landowners. The system decrees that developers must make profits which they deem viable, meaning Councils have to fight for every penny of the s106/CIL monies they are supposed to get as of right, while developers engage in financial manipulations and legal challenges, using the country’s top legal experts against under-funded local Councils, forcing their planning teams to cave in on essential requirements.
Of those requirements the two most obvious are social housing provision and environmental impact. One of the many shortcomings of the process is that because it is developer led and profit driven, it provides almost no housing which is genuinely affordable. In housing market hotspots like Canterbury, what that means is that for all the housebuilding that is taking place, neither the Council nor anyone else is able to create homes for the 2,000 plus people on the housing waiting list, while all around them massive estates are being built, presumably for people moving into the district from London.
So far as the environment is concerned, while the emerging Local Plan to 2040 is a significant improvement on its predecessor, there is no escaping the basic fact that new building will take place almost exclusively on green spaces, mostly but not exclusively, farmland. Brownfield sites don’t get much of a look in because of the way landowners are asked to propose sites for development and the massive financial gain that converting farmland to housing provides. Of course if you’re building houses on the scale this Council is intending to then there simply aren’t enough brownfield sites to start with. Worse, it’s not only farmland which may be sacrificed by this mechanism but also woodland and other wild spaces, which are proposed for two bypasses and for additional housing to the north-west and south-east of the city.
On top of this there is any case a series of knock-on effects of housebuilding on this massive scale. Roads and hard standing outside houses reduce the ability of the land to absorb rainfall, increasing flood risks. Vital trees and hedgerows get cut down and not replaced. Vehicle emissions increase, both gas and particulate because a growth in households means a growth in cars and journeys. Our few remaining parks and open spaces become over-used. There may be window dressing by providing electric bikes, vehicle charging points and the creation of some cycle routes (linking to where, no one knows), and the provision of some sort of shuttle bus (but not the funding for it). But none of that can mitigate the fact that journeys from developments on the fringes of the City and other urban areas into the centres will mostly not be taken on foot or by bike.
Worst, perhaps, is the challenge of sewage disposal. Currently afflicting the Stour and our coasts, the unforgivable lack of treatment capacity after 30 years of private ownership is now not only literally a stain on the country but a constraint on growth. There is, simply, no way that mains treatment capacity can be increased over the life of this Local Plan. Even now, under the existing Plan, the major developments at Sturry and South Canterbury are having to provide on-site treatment plants, with at least one of them needing solid waste to be transferred off-site by tanker, while smaller City centre developments have had to stop altogether. This is a third world solution, at best, and should be wholly unacceptable in the UK. Even at a practical level, these plants require maintenance and, in a short period of time compared to a real sewage works, replacement. How is that to be paid for? And what incentive does it give Southern water to ever address the stark issues of capacity that are at the root of the problem?
In short, the concept of a Local Plan as established under this Government and applied by this Council is at odds with sensible and genuinely local planning for growth and development. We can and must respond to prevent the worst aspects of the Council’s “preferred” option, not least the grotesque notion that more building can solve our district’s transport problems. And we ought to ensure that in future neither Government nor Council can impose such crass solutions, ensuring meaningful input and decision making by local residents is at the heart of truly sustainable long term development.
NB. The pictures show Labour Councillors on a walk of the proposed Eastern bypass site
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