A better way for Town Councils to think about development proposals

I had an interesting and stimulating day a few weeks ago, taking a group of town and district councillors around potential areas of development in Wincanton. The process, called a PlaceCheck, draws out people’s views on what are the important features of a place that need protecting and factors that need to be addressed in any development, such as flood risk, zoning and traffic access.

The PlaceCheck was led by Jo Witherden, Dorset Planning Consultant and assisted by Landscape Architect Sarah Barber.

Over the course of a day we visited 8 sites, taking around 20-30 minutes walking, talking and making notes. We had forms asking the same questions for each site.


Photo courtesy of Sarah Barber

This is a really useful tool that I believe would benefit most Town Councils, whether undertaking a Neighbourhood Plan or not.

Seeing areas & sites on the same day, and thinking about them using the same criteria, gives an objective a view as possible. Historic planning concerns were discussed but they are just one element of the big picture. There were of course some differing points of view about certain sites but also a positive approach in thinking about what is possible that would be good for the town.

The results are being collated at the moment, and this will form part of the Evidence Base of the Neighbourhood Plan.

This kind of guided workshop could help Town Councillors make better, more informed decisions in future on planning and wider issues.



Economic development strategy needed, say rural businesses

The Wiveliscombe & 10 Parishes Business Group are discussing with Taunton Deane Borough Council how to create a strategy for economic development that’s tailored for this rural part of the county.

In a recent survey that I was commissioned for, we found that having no clear strategy relating to Wiveliscombe and its hinterland was not helping existing businesses to plan or to attract new ones to the area. The focus of the Local Plan is very much on Taunton & Wellington, and no clear or recent ED Strategy exists for the wider area since the ‘Grow & Green’ strategy of 2010.

The lack of business support was another key issue, along with a lack of knowledge about the training and apprenticeship options available to employers.

Poor quality communications (broadband, mobile phone coverage and road resilience to bad weather) was also an important issue for many.

The survey contacted 39 of the larger businesses in the area, the vast majority of which were light industrial.

The Business Group, which has had a positive relationship with TDBC Economic Development to date, hope to ensure that high quality business units are brought forward, and that a ‘one-stop-shop’ for quality business advice and support is developed.

Many of the issues raised can be addressed by the Business Group, such as better networking and communication between local businesses.

You can view all of the issues captured here; Business Survey results

Unique local business promotion event proves popular

The second Showcase for businesses in the Wiveliscombe and 10 Parishes area of western Somerset took place on Saturday 25th April. I was pleased to coordinate this event again, which saw 50 local businesses participate with stands or demos. Around 260 people attended, with good feedback from many businesses. You can read more here http://10pbg.co.uk/news/showcase-2015-a-great-day

Building good homes for older people

Wincanton’s Neighbourhood Plan is still at an early stage, though a review of the key local consultations has already flagged up a number of issues that may make it into the draft Plan in some form.

One of these is that there is a lack of suitable housing for older people in the town.

The feeling is that all the recent housing developments are 2, 3 & 4 bed houses and townhouses; allied with the fact there are many single older people living in large houses who would prefer to move into a one or two bedroom smaller home that is more centrally located.

Both these points are common to many other communities across the country.

There is also a large care home planned in Wincanton, but the need that’s being flagged up appears to be for older people who are not yet ready for a Care Home level of support, are still mobile and want to retain their independence – perfectly understandable! (We may well  formally assess the need in a Housing Needs Survey to give us the evidence)

So what can a Neighbourhood Plan do to encourage developers to build alternative types of houses?  We can select sites and write policies! Let’s look at some other NP’s;

Our neighbours at Malmesbury, Wiltshire (who have just successfully passed their referendum) have included the following older person-specific policies in their plan;

  • Policy 2 allocates an additional approximately 50 dwellings at Burton Hill for use by older people
  • Policy 6 allocates approximately 50 units for elderly and extra care at the redevelopment of Burnham House.
  • Policy 7 requires that planning permission be granted for the development of dementia-specific accommodation.
  • Policy 8 that all new accommodation for older people should be well-connected with the town and Policy 9 that it should be sustainable.

Langwathby Parish in Cumbria approached it differently;

  • LNP5 – Older people’s housing
    Within any proposed development of four units or more there should be provision for 20 – 25% housing for elderly people. These dwellings should be two bedroom bungalows restricted in occupancy for those over 65 year of age. They will be available for sale or for rent on the open market. The restrictions will be secured by condition.

Petersfield has similar concerns to Wincanton regards getting the correct mix of housing types to support a sustainable community. They have two policies;

  • Housing Policy 2 (HP2) – Provide an appropriate mix of market housing. Market housing proposals will be expected to provide a mix of sizes of units, where appropriate, in accordance with the percentages set out in Table 2. The overall achievement of the mix of unit sizes will be monitored as part of the Annual Monitoring Report.Dwellings designed to be suitable for older residents (aged 60 and over) must demonstrate, as a minimum, that they meet the space and accessibility requirements of the Lifetime Homes standards. These dwellings will also be suitable for younger residents and are not intended to be restricted in use.

Housing Mix 

housing mix

Housing Policy 3 (HP3) – Allocate housing to meet the needs of an ageing population. Sites H8 (Land at Durford Road) and H12 (Bulmer House Site) – are allocated as specialist housing and Continuing Care facilities to meet the on-going and changing needs of older persons. These sites are not allocated for conventional housing. Planning permission will be granted for such developments so long as the proposals conform with the site design frameworks in this Plan and meet the requirements set out in other appropriate policies of this Plan as well as those within the East Hampshire District Local Plan: Joint Core Strategy. The proposed developments will not be expected to provide on site affordable housing but the developer will be required to make a financial contribution which will be agreed with the Local Planning Authority.

So that’s some examples of policies being developed in NP’s for older people’s housing. The next step is to ensure quality housing is built on these sites – which will be the focus of a future post.

How to create unsustainable non-places

On my travels at Christmas I was very sad to see even more development is going ahead at a hugely congested part of Leicester. The ‘Sustainable Urban Extension’ is nothing of the sort – just a desperate effort by Blaby District Councillors to cram in all housing development for the district into the congested area near a motorway junction.

The residents will have to drive everywhere, adding to the gridlock at most times of the day.

This is one example of how badly connected our planning system is with reality. A site visit by the case officer should be far more insightful than any Highways study paid for by the developer.

http://t.co/gSz1ieGr07 http://t.co/k8z5QR68qE