Sustainability - Where did it all go wrong?

On June 25th, I attended a meeting of the West Lindsey District Council Planning Committee.

On the agenda were two applications for outline planning permission in ‘Open Countryside’.

And, for the second month in succession, the Committee was considering an application for housing developments in Welton; which is now acknowledged to be larger than Caistor or Market Rasen.

The Officer’s Report to the Committee is somewhat complex, because it is littered with cross-references and uses the National Planning Policy Framework of 2014 to explain a Presumption in Favour of Sustainable Development.

The West Lindsey Planning Strategy was set down in 2006, and it stated (inter alia) that “Central Government Policy emphasises the need to ensure the retention and creation of vital and viable rural communities, whilst protecting and preserving the countryside.

It suggests the main focus of new development should be on existing settlements, promoting sustainable development by strengthening villages and market towns, protecting open space, sustaining local services and reducing the need to travel.

It is desirable, therefore, to generally direct new residential development towards main settlements which have the facilities and services to sustain new residents.

In other settlements, lacking those facilities and services, new residential development will only be permitted under specific circumstances”.

In the light of what has been happening over the last few years the use of the descriptive terms ‘sustainable developments’, ‘sustaining local services’, and ‘sustain new residents’ have a particular significance.

The following year, the Government produced “an Act to make provision about (sic) promoting the sustainability of local communities, and for connected purposes”, known as “The Sustainable Communities Act 2007”.

Its purpose was to introduce legislation that would help to reverse community decline; and reference was made to the loss of local facilities and services such as shops, markets, post offices, pubs, bank branches and health centres.

With regard to sustainable development, this would seem to be the exact opposite of the policies that had been set out in West Lindsey, in 2006.

It was clear that non of the aforementioned facilities and services were viable in the smaller rural communities; which is why they were being closed, and why these closures brought about the term ‘Ghost Town Britain’.

A factor which is not generally known or understood is the requirement for the District Council to identify and enable land supply to meet assessed housing needs for a five year period.

According to statements made at last week’s meeting, West Lindsey District Council has identified a land supply that will satisfy the local housing needs for the next seven years; but as part of the Central Lincolnshire Joint Planning Unit it has absorbed a shortfall in the City of Lincoln, and its supply has fallen to three and a half years. This is neither fair nor reasonable.

If an urban authority does not have the land supply it should not simply pass its problem to neighbouring rural authorities.

That policy does not protect open space in the form of open countryside.

But we are where we are, and in the context of local planning policies and permissions, the term ‘sustainable’ has come to mean all things to ll people.

In Welton, the District Council’s aspirations of 2006 are redundant.

The rate of development is not sustainable, because local services cannot be sustained.

Despite the extensive housing developments there has been no commensurate increase in support from the emergency services, the infrastructure is in a parlous state, the Health Centre is under strain, and the schools are oversubscribed.

So how can new residents be sustained, when existing residents cannot be fully and adequately supported?

The irony is that the William Farr School authorities have made it quite clear that they cannot expand to accommodate more students, and this will directly impact on the question of sustainable communities.

Their current ‘catchment’ is for children who live within a five kilometre radius of the school. If more houses are built and more children live within Dunholme and Welton, the radius will have to be reduced and children in outlying village will have to travel to Gainsborough, Market Rasen and Lincoln for a secondary school place.

More travel and more incentive for young families to move away from the smaller villages and nearer to the secondary schools of their choice.

So what is the price of sustainability?

More shop closures, more public house closures, more church closures, more village hall closures, more primary school closures, and the further loss of public transport.

Of course, the banks and post offices have already gone.

Surely it is time to think again, and decide what we really mean by sustainability, and what all this planning muddle means to our market towns and rural communities.

It does not benefit the smaller communities which are becoming more sparse, and it does not benefit the larger communities who find their services saturated.

Yours Sincerely

Phil Rodgers MBE