Harworth Estates Their latest ‘cunning plan’. Introduction. Late in November 2011 Pat Bone (Secretary of R.A.G.E.) and I received information that Harworth Estates were in the process of preparing a ‘Neighbourhood Plan’ for Killamarsh either on behalf of, or in conjunction with, the Parish Council. Such a Plan is intended to decide where development should take place within a community. Such a Plan is not intended to preserve the status quo, or to limit development, it is meant to be a positive ‘green light’ for building. It is not known whether there has been any involvement by the Parish Council in the work being undertaken by Harworth Estates. There is no current evidence to show that they are. It was, perhaps, more than coincidental that one of our supporters received a letter and survey from Harworth Estates, apparently seeking views on where building development should take place in Killamarsh, only two days after we received this information. This was accompanied by access to an online form prepared by the DLP Consulting Group. The survey forms are duplicates of each other, strongly biased towards what Harworth want to hear, and the letter is a travesty of the truth. To understand the relevance of these opinions, and of the nature of a Neighbourhood Plan, one must appreciate the emerging context of developmental planning. Planning Context. On a national basis planning for any development, large or small, will be governed by the provisions of the newly agreed Localism Act, 2011 and the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). This latter document will reduce the current 1,300 pages of planning law to about 52. There has been great controversy over the proposals within the NPPF and its alleged lack of clarity, mainly due to its brevity. It has been described as a “builders’ charter”. Whilst this gives the national framework for planning, each planning authority (in our case the North East Derbyshire District Council) must develop its own Local Plan, which will provide a blueprint for the scale and location of development within its own area for the next 15 years. The Government has, at the core of the Localism Bill, the alleged intention to give decision on local issues to local people. It has, therefore, provided for Neighbourhood Plans, which can dictate the level and location of development within its own community. The Parish Council will be an important ‘player’ in this facet of the planning system. Relevant Issues. th In terms of the national picture the Localism Bill received Royal Assent on the 15 November, 2011. The NPPF is still under active discussion, chiefly because of the huge amount of interest and opposition that the original draft has engendered. The Local Planning Framework, which is the responsibility of the District Council, is proceeding well but has overrun its completion date because of extensive information gathering, and a legal challenge concerning the government’s decision to abolish Regional Spatial Strategies. Until the East Midlands Regional Spatial Strategy (EMRSS) is revoked North East Derbyshire District Council (NEDDC) has a target to build 380 houses per year. The previous plan had required only 215 dwellings per year to be built. The ‘new’ target is difficult to sustain given the Green Belt constraints that apply to the three northern towns of Dronfield, Eckington and Killamarsh, and was applied without any evidential justification. The abolition of the EMRSS is not a problem, more an opportunity to get things right. The NEDDC have initiated various areas of research to ensure that any proposals and recommendations are proposed on a solid base of evidence. After consideration of four alternatives during a consultation excercise held in 2009, the NEDDC were given two options for their consideration by a team of council officials: 1. To focus development on the four main towns (Clay Cross, Dronfield, Killamarsh and Eckington), with lower levels of development around the surrounding villages to meet regeneration needs. This option would require a strategic review of the Green Belt to allow for the expansion of the northern towns, 2. To focus development on Clay Cross and the surrounding network of villages. This option would restrict development in the northern towns to urban capacity and infilling. The latter option was recommended to the NEDDC cabinet, and it is against this background that the emerging Local Plan is being prepared. So, what sort of evidence will the NEDDC consider when making their decision on where, and how much, development will take place? The first research issue relates to the urban settlement capacity, i.e. what development can be accommodated within the various settlement development limits. This will take into account; The housing required for natural population growth, The housing needed for those wishing to in-migrate, Housing to take account of employment growth. This study is being undertaken by independent consultants employed by the district council. Another aspect is the continuation of the Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA). Currently, Green Belt land put forward as available for development has been excluded from consideration, because current Green Belt policy says that it must be demonstrated that development needs cannot be met elsewhere before Green Belt land is considered for release. The NEDDC considers that house builders have not been adequately engaged in the process. It has therefore been decided that a SHLAA panel should be established, having good representation from house builders and agents to work on issues such as densities, lead-in times, build out rates etc. It is also suggested that focussed ground surveys should be carried out on the most likely development sites within communities, using desk-based assessments and/or aerial photography. A retail capacity and employment land review will identify sites to enhance the opportunities for employment within the district and to identify sites that would be more marketable to both investors and potential employers. Transport studies will be undertaken to identify points where congestion may be anticipated on main routes, whilst advising of measures to mitigate such congestion. A green infrastructure study will assess how green infrastructure, presumably the biodiversity available within local fields and hedgerows, may be integrated with the development strategy. There is extensive work being carried out to identify an infrastructure delivery programme. This would include such matters as: What is the nature of existing provision, What areas do sewage treatment plants serve, and are there any trunk sewers, What is the provision of education, both primary and secondary, Can healthcare providers deal with an influx of new patients, Are there any existing capacity problems or ‘bottlenecks’, What is included in the current capital investment programme (likely to have a horizon of only 3 – 5 years) The difficulty comes when acknowledging that some infrastructure services are provided by external sources, i.e. drains and water by Severn Trent Water, in our case, the roads are the responsibility of the Derbyshire County Council, etc., etc. It is acknowledged that there are difficulties in obtaining sufficient information from infrastructure providers whose views on their own developmental needs will differ from those of building development plans. An additional issue is that the needs of the northern part of North East Derbyshire will be considered against our links to the Chesterfield district and Sheffield and Rotherham – areas which provided much of the current employment opportunity. The above matters are merely a flavour of the issues that are exercising the minds of strategic planners and policy makers within the district council. The whole complex area of planning and development is in a state of flux. The whole approach will not be determined in terms of a Local Development Framework – the development plan for NEDDC – until all the work has been carried out and the draft plan has been put out for public consultation. Against this background, with all the activity previously described, it is right to ask why Harworth Developments have decided to consult locally, using a badly flawed questionnaire. The reason, we believe, is that they are trying to develop, or at the very least influence, a Neighbourhood Plan. The Government is, on the face of it, trying to give more rights to citizens to decide what is built in their community, including houses, shops and community facilities. These rights are enshrined in the Localism Bill th which, as already stated, received Royal Assent on the 15 November, 2011. Unfortunately, in our case, the Neighbourhood Plan does not allow communities to plan not to build. They allow development in a place agreed by a fairly small group of people, with the recommended plan being subject to a community referendum. To be accepted more than 50% of those who vote must agree with the plan, which will then receive planning consent. This is where apathy, and a lack of information, comes to the aid of organisations like Harworth Developments. Let us consider some of the issues contained in the letter and questionnaire. Harworth Estates Questionnaire – The Real Truth. We now find that HE has circulated a letter and questionnaire supposedly aimed at finding out what the people of Killamarsh want. This is an excellent aim, but the letter and questionnaire grossly distort or hide relevant facts. In our view HE have only given you what they want you to read so that you will answer the way they want you to. The opening paragraphs of the letter suggest that the government should allow communities to say where they want development to take place. They do not mention that the other option is that development does not take place! RAGE members are not about preventing all development – that would be silly and counter productive. However, we believe that the Green Belt land, which protects us from ‘urban sprawl’, that is to say the apparently unstoppable spread of the Sheffield suburbs, provides a vital buffer to such over- development. Think of how much building has gone on in Killamarsh over the last 30 years. It has moved from being a village to a small town. RAGE believes that enough major development has taken place. The only mention made of the Green Belt by HE gives the impression that it is, apparently, a nuisance that constrains development. The first issue raised by HE is that Killamarsh, ‘as one of the major settlements in North East Derbyshire… should accommodate a substantial proportion of the housing demand in the district’. Why???? We have only become one of the larger settlements because of lots of previous building here. Our services have not kept pace with all the previous development. As one former senior NEDDC planner said to our Vice Chair, Chris Curzon, “In my opinion Killamarsh has had more than its fair share of new building”. Do not be fooled by the alleged funds to support better services. More of this later. The next point is designed to make you feel selfish if you say ‘no’ to the question ‘should Killamarsh meet its share of housing demand?’ Killamarsh has already met more than its fair share of building requirements. Killamarsh and its residents should not be made to feel guilty by objecting to further, unnecessary, development. Our near neighbours, Sheffield, Chesterfield and Bolsover all have significant housing development plans. None of them intend to touch their Green Belt land. The current NEDDC intention is that Green Belt land will not be used for general housing need. Apart from this, previous public consultation has shown that the responders to NEDDC questionnaires said that building would be preferred along the A61/A6175 corridors. The locations are in the Clay Cross area. NEDDC investigation results also propose that major building should be in the Clay Cross area, where they will develop significant facilities. Tick the ‘Clay Cross’ box, without feeling in the least bit guilty, if you wish to do so. The next issue involves the improvement of off-site infrastructure, such as roads. In a congested area like Killamarsh this sounds attractive, but ignores the practicalities. The County Council decide on, and pay for, most road development in our county, excluding motorways and major trunk routes. HE tells us that if the site is large enough it is possible for the developer to deliver on and off site facilities, and for the local community to have some say in this. Everyone would like to see less congestion in the roads of Killamarsh, but consider the situation as it is. Most traffic feeds on to Sheffield Road. Would the developer and the County Council spend millions to build a larger road bridge at the main ‘choke point’ on Sheffield Road? How would the traffic get to Sheffield Road from Upperthorpe Road or Green Lane? Would you vote for houses on one side of Upperthorpe Road/Green Lane/High Street/Sheffield Road/Rotherham Road to be demolished so that major road improvements could take place? Would you want double yellow lines all over every road (another alternative) so that no-one could park near their home or drop their children off at school? Would you want the years of disruption this would involve? So, why do HE want to build on Green Belt land in Killamarsh? In the opinion of the RAGE committee HE has little interest in the future of Killamarsh or any improvement in its infrastructure. They have, we believe, one reason – no, make that 20,000,000 reasons, for their desire to develop the land between Green Lane and Upperthorpe Road. That is the value of the land owned by HE, estimated by a building contractor, if the 25 acres that they own becomes building land instead of agricultural land - £20,000,000. The letter talks about the New Homes Bonus, and the £2 million that the council could spend in the settlement. This figure is correct, but is spread over six years, and will not be used in Killamarsh. The New Homes Bonus is intended by Government to ‘reward’ councils for allowing development in their area. This money is not ‘ring fenced’. This means that the council can spend it on whatever they like, including balancing any shortfall in their books. Not one penny has to be spent in the town or village where the actual development has taken place!!!! The NEDDC is already on record as saying that the New Homes Bonus they receive this year will be used ‘to fund efficiency savings’. Another area for potential income is the new Community Infrastructure Levy. This is an agreed payment by developers to (in our case) NEDDC to fund infrastructure improvements. It does not have to go to the area where development is being undertaken, but must be used to improve infrastructure within the whole district. It is fair to say that the government expects a proportion of the CIL to be used in the area where the development has taken place, but this is not legally demanded. The only way we can prevent further deterioration in our road access is to ensure that no more major development takes place in Killamarsh. The questionnaire talks about houses being available for people moving into the village. The majority will come from Sheffield as we are seen as a cheaper area to live. Sheffield’s own housing survey shows that they do not intend to build on any of their Green Belt land. Why should we, just to accommodate their ‘overflow’? The survey form talks about more employment land being made available. We currently have excellent facilities available at the Westthorpe Fields Business Park. At the last NEDDC survey, the facility there was only about 47% full – leaving plenty of room for new businesses to move in. No new businesses had moved in during the first half of the year. Many of the questions refer to a ‘wish list’ of infrastructure improvements, implying that HE can influence or provide these facilities. Take public transport as an example. This is provided by independent, private companies who will decide on services on a purely commercial basis. Educational services are provided by the County Council, and whose budget is due to be cut in the future. Health services are provided by the local health authority. Care Homes are run, for the most part, by private companies. The list refers to formal sports pitches. We have the Rother Valley Country Park facility and the excellent services and facilities of the Village Centre. Both have spare capacity. Do we need more? To think that you may have a choice in these matters is superficially attractive until you actually think about what they are saying. It would be inappropriate to go through the whole questionnaire – it would take too much time and no-one would bother to read it. I would just add that, in the opinion of the RAGE committee, it is a loaded, distorted and inaccurate document which does not provide any basis for an objective survey of need. It is not based on any identified evidence of need. Killamarsh deserves improvement to its infrastructure purely because it, and other towns/villages, have borne the brunt of previous development – not because of a ‘bribe’ to further increase overcrowding and ‘steal’ our vital Green Belt protection. Oh, by the way, have you noticed that there is no space for a name and address on the survey form? There is nothing to stop anyone sending in multiple replies or even those interested in development, for whatever reason, getting people living outside the village to fill in these forms. Why is that, do you think???? Why do you think it was sent over the Christmas period, and when there was no RAGE scheduled public meeting? Draw your own conclusions. The questionnaire also refers to ‘the latest Government forecast suggests that Killamarsh will require 950 dwellings in the next 15 years. Where is the evidence for this? It is based on an outdated requirement within the Regional Spatial Strategy which did not take account of the Green Belt areas around Killamarsh and other towns to the north of the NEDDC area. The housing requirement will be decided by the NEDDC, who fully acknowledge that the previous government-required figure was far too high. To decide on an accurate, evidence-based requirement the NEDDC is conducting rational, scientific research designed to show the optimum location and quantity of further necessary development within the district. One important area of research is to consider what infrastructure changes are needed, and where they should be. They are also looking closely at what the actual demand for houses in Killamarsh is and how much capacity for further development our village has, without touching the Green Belt. Remember, the Green Belt provides a vital resource and significant protection. Once it is gone it will never return. Then you will become part of Sheffield, whether you want to or not. Think of the disruption that at least five years of significant house-building in the Upperthorpe Road/Green Lane area would bring. Do you want that? We believe that this would be the ‘thin end of the wedge’ and, as soon as permission was given for the development of this site, other development would follow in local Green Belt ‘prime’ sites. Developers are waiting in the wings to do just that. If you feel that the ‘survey’ deserves a reply, then RAGE would suggest that you say ‘Yes’ to ‘There should be as little change as possible in Killamarsh’. Assess what I have written, check the facts by contacting NEDDC if you wish, and then complete the rest of the questionnaire accordingly. Send us a message at RAGE if you want any more information. www.killamarsh-rage.co.uk Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and our telephone number is 0843-289-7091. Paul Johnson, Chair of RAGE.
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