Monthly Archives: December 2015

Roadshow finale at Whitmore

The fifth and last in the series of Roadshows was held in Whitmore Village Hall on 14 December. A big thank you to all who came along on a rainy December evening to hear about the Neighbourhood Development Plan and participate in the discussion. Once again, we were joined by our friend Ted Holland, who came over from Market Drayton to attend the event.

Neighbourhood Planning has legal status

Neighbourhood Planning has legal status in the planning system. That means that planning applications in any locality that has a Neighbourhood Development Plan (NDP) must be decided with reference to the policies of the Plan.

What does that mean for us? It means that we, as a community, can create policies regarding the type and scale of new development that is appropriate for our Neighbourhood Area and where it can go. It also means that planning applications must be decided with reference to the policies of the Plan.

Neighbourhood Planning is a flagship government policy, introduced in 2012. The government has put a great deal of money into Neighbourhood Planning, and continues to do so, through grants to communities and local planning authorities. The current Conservative government has brought forward new legislation that gives even more emphasis and support to Neighbourhood Planning.

Future vision

Neighbourhood Planning is here to stay. As a community, we need to look at our Neighbourhood Area and make some decisions regarding its future development.

Whatever is decided now will set the future trajectory for the area. It will influence how life, the economy and the environment in this area continue to develop for decades to come. So the NDP is not just about us – it’s about what we leave to future generations who will live and work in our Neighbourhood Area.

Will future generations thank us for the decisions we make?

Community engagement and consultation

If the Plan is to succeed it needs to have the support of the community. The Roadshows are just one aspect of community engagement, to start people thinking about the NDP and what it should aim to achieve. In the new year all residents (both adults and youth) and people with businesses in the area will be asked to complete a questionnaire. The questionnaire answers will be taken into account.

Whatever policies the NDP creates, the effects will be felt in neighbouring communities, and the effects of their policies will be felt by us (for example, more industry in Market Drayton, more housing in Woore, would mean more traffic on our transit routes). So we have to involve other communities too. This is called ‘the duty to co-operate’. We will be talking to the town and parish councils of Market Drayton, Loggerheads, Woore, Madeley, Keele, etc.

Housing and population

We need to understand the housing needs of the local population both now and for the foreseeable future. The stock of small dwellings in the area has diminished, due to changes in the make-up of the population.

Cottages that were once inhabited by farmworkers have either been demolished and replaced with larger dwellings or modernised and extended, and extended again, and again. The result? Not enough small homes for people to downsize as they grow older.

The level of locally available services may seem inadequate to support an increased population. But, on the other hand, the smaller settlements of our Neighbourhood Area need to grow and develop if they are to remain alive and viable. But they need to grow and develop in a way that is appropriate to the community and locality and that will bring new vitality to it.

As one resident noted, we need small developments of 5 houses here, 10 houses there – not one big development of 100 houses. No one was in disagreement with that!

Transport

Our commuter-based population is putting pressure on the roads. The diminishing level of public transport makes life difficult for older people without driving licences as well as for others who may not be able to run a car.

If HS2 is built perhaps the local railway system can be revived. The removal of many fast trains from the West Coast Mainline (WCML) would allow the track to be used for stopping trains and enable local stations such as Whitmore to be reopened or re-established. The line into Newcastle, which once had a stop on Manor Road, and which also has a connection to the WCML, could also be brought back into use.

The revival of local and regional train services would change the pattern of commuting and goods transport and take a lot of traffic off the roads. Who would oppose that? Our roads will become worse in the foreseeable future – but the hope and possibility exist for them to become better. We may not all live long enough to see it happen, but a better future is always worth working for, whether we ourselves witness it or not.

Employment and economy

Our Neighbourhood lacks opportunities for quality employment.

The Neighbourhood Area has about 300 self-employed residents and a proportion of those have businesses that they run from home. But supposing your business grows and you need to move it into larger premises and employ a few people, where would you set up, and where would you find employees?

Lack of business premises, lack of low-cost housing, lack of public transport, poor internet access in outlying areas, lack of sustainable rural employment – all of these conspire to hold back economic growth in the Neighbourhood Area.

The rural economy that sustained the countryside for generations has changed beyond all recognition. Our communities are now heavily commuter based. Unless we can revive local business and employment and breathe new life into the local economy our communities are dead.

Environment

We live here because we value the environment and the landscape. But at whose cost is it maintained? Our local landowners maintain it for us, but do we value them enough?

No one would dispute that our landscape is special. We need to identify those things in the landscape and environment that need to be protected. And if they are to be protected, we need to demonstrate that they have a value – a value beyond our local community, to a wider public that we welcome here to enjoy it with us.

Our area is special

As Ted Holland told us, our Neighbourhood Area is special. We need to develop it in such a way that its specialness is enhanced and recognised – and that it stays alive.

In Butterton church

Butterton has no village hall. The village school closed in 1968 and the local community use the church, situated in the fields south of the village, as their meeting hall, so that is where the Roadshow took place on 9 December. It is a tiny village, but Butterton also counts the residences at Shutlanehead and Lymes Road among its community.

Housing and population

We need to meet the needs of the population both now and in the future. But where can people in low-paid occupations live when the farmworkers’ cottages have been taken over and converted into big, expensive houses?

Yes, there is a need for larger houses too, because anyone who runs a small business from home does need a place of sufficient size to accommodate their office or workspace.

If there aren’t enough small houses for those who need them, one participant suggested, perhaps it’s because house extensions are a problem. Small houses get turned into big houses, and big houses become bigger still. Should there be restrictions on extensions?

The government has just announced a relaxation of planning restrictions in green belt areas so as to allow small developments of so-called ‘starter homes’ in the green belt – subject, interestingly, to any such development being part of a Neighbourhood Plan.

The question of domestic sewage disposal will always constrain development in rural areas where there are no main sewers and householders rely on septic tanks. Sewage treatment plants in the green belt . . . ? Perhaps not.

Transport

The village got its ‘bypass’ in the 1840s, when the turnpike road through Butterton and Acton to Whitmore was rerouted to create a more direct and faster route from Newcastle to Whitmore Station. Nonetheless, as in every other community that the Roadshow has visited, highways issues are high on the list of local concerns.

In Butterton, as in the Neighbourhood’s other communities, footpaths are not the only walking routes. Both residents and urban visitors who come to walk in the area perforce must use the lanes if they want to get by foot from A to B – wherever those places may be. And that means sharing the lanes with vehicular traffic.

Everywhere the same complaints are repeated. Vehicles drive too fast. In Butterton delivery vans and a runaway postman are identified as the chief offenders. The volume of traffic is too high. Again, Butterton identifies delivery vans as the major culprits. And the lanes are being damaged. The banks and ditches of centuries-old narrow lanes that were created to carry foot and horse traffic are being eroded by large agricultural vehicles, often driven by contractors who don’t live locally.

Butterton, like the rest of the Neighbourhood Area, has sunken lanes. They can’t be widened without destroying them. They are part of our local heritage and contribute to the essence of north-west Staffordshire’s countryside.

Employment

Is planning policy that pushes new housing and economic development into larger settlements having a detrimental on smaller settlements and draining the life out of them? Where would one set up a small business in this Neighbourhood? Sometimes, small-scale developments can keep a settlement alive.

Our villages lack opportunities for quality employment and for work in traditional rural trades. Where disused buildings are available barn conversions can provide space for businesses employing, say, half a dozen people, or for small workshops.

One resident noted that the problem of rural depopulation in Staffordshire Moorlands has been mitigated by allowing small-scale industrial development in conjunction with clusters of small houses, with 3 to 4 people working in a unit.

But is it inevitable, another asked, that villages have always to be bustling and expanding?

As in all the small communities the Roadshow has visited, no one wants change. But standing still is not an option. No change = death. Backwards time travel is not possible in real life, and anyhow it would lead only into a state of decay. Forwards is the only option. As a community we have to decide which forward path or paths to take that will shape the future of our Neighbourhood.

However, there is one change that everyone wants. As elsewhere in the Neighbourhood Area, the great need for superfast broadband was noted. It is coming, but it needs to penetrate to all our small settlements. Is superfast broadband alone and of itself enough to keep our rural communities alive?

Environment

Butterton is designated as a conservation area in the Newcastle-under-Lyme Local Plan (2003–2011). But since the plan is out of date, what is the status of the conservation area? This is a big concern for residents – and an unanswerable question. (Update: Butterton’s conservation area was created in 2006; those in Maer and Whitmore were created in 1970 and 1971, respectively.)

The upkeep of the tiny church, which has such an important role not just as a place of worship but as a meeting place for the local community, is a matter of major concern.

Our Neighbourhood Plan can and must identify all those features of the Neighbourhood Area, both built and natural, that are or may be deserving of protection.

Another concern among local people is whether our Plan could be overridden by compulsory purchase orders. Compulsory purchase is normally available only for public and infrastructure works and redevelopment projects. These are usually big projects requiring significant periods of planning and consultation. Compulsory purchase cannot be used to create residential developments on new sites.

It has to be said that a certain insecurity and fear of being ‘done to’ was expressed. All the more reason to support the Neighbourhood Plan and for local people to participate in shaping their place by creating a Plan that will have legal status in the planning system.

Madonna – without the guitar

Chorlton parish has no village hall, so the Roadshow went to the Madonna Club at the Stableford caravan site on 8 December. Here the Roadshow had its youngest participant so far – a 14-year-old resident of Chapel Chorlton. Thank you for coming along to give the views of the younger generation! We look forward to your participation in the Youth Questionnaire in the new year.

Although the village of Chapel Chorlton, in the south-west corner of the Neighbourhood, is closer to a main road, in many ways it is just as isolated as Aston, in the north-east corner.

Each Roadshow has a different flavour and throws up its own set of issues. The chief issues discussed at the Madonna Club were younger people, plus the low-waged, the state of development in the urban area, and the rural communications infrastructure.

The young generation

A young person on minimum wage can’t afford to run a car, can’t afford the bus fares, can’t afford to rent the sort of accommodation that’s available in the rural area, and they all want to live near their friends in town, so why are we even talking about creating employment or housing for low- or semi-skilled workers?

We start to lose our young people at the age of 12, when they go to secondary school at Madeley or Market Drayton. When they leave school they want to leave the parental home, and where do they go? To the town, to be with their friends, where there are jobs, where things are happening and there are things to do in the evening, and where they can rent a small flat cheaply or a small house to share with friends.

What did our young participant think? What will she do when she finishes school. “There’s nothing employment-wise in Chapel Chorlton, so I’d go elsewhere where I can have a career.” Later on she might come back, but the only attraction would be to live in countryside. (But think back a bit … what about all the teenagers who were living in Chorlton parish 40 years ago? They all went away too, to Newcastle, Market Drayton and further afield. Later on, just a few of them returned.)

Low-waged workers

But we mustn’t forget that people in lower-waged occupations are needed in the rural area to fulfil roles in the social sector. Businesses and schools need cleaners, elderly and disabled people need carers. Where do our caring professions come from now? They come out from the town and drive long miles to visit their rural clients. Of course, they are not the school-leaving generation, and they have training and experience in their area of work.

Mightn’t there be a case for Neighbourhood Development Orders that would enable communities to build small pockets of housing for people in low-waged occupations? Otherwise, farmers will continue to have to provide housing on agricultural tenancies for their workers, and other low-waged people such as carers will continue to drive long miles from town to serve their clients.

Newcastle and the urban area

“We need to put pressure on Newcastle to develop better what it’s got.”

“There are brownfield sites and run-down areas in Newcastle that need to be redeveloped.”

Yes, and Newcastle used to be an attractive, bustling market town with good shops in the centre. Now, no one wants to go there because it has nothing to offer.

Come on Newcastle, pull up your socks!

Communications infrastructure

You can get 4G mobile at Chapel Chorlton, but internet access is abysmal. It’s not just home-run businesses that need high-speed broadband. It’s a social necessity too, now that services, broadcasting and entertainment have increasingly moved online.

Self-driving cars

Was the talk about autonomous cars at Maer last week bit too optimistic? Like everything else, the necessary infrastructure development will take place in urban areas first and it will be quite a bit longer before we see them in the countryside.

The Roadshow comes to Maer

The Roadshow came to Maer Village Hall on 2 December and was attended by residents of Maer village, Blackbrook and Willoughbridge.

Maer village has just 24 houses. That makes it one of the smaller settlements in the Neighbourhood Area, which had a total population of 2,468 at the last Census. And that is just 2% of the population of the borough, and one tenth of the population of the entire rural area. Although the borough of Newcastle is dominated by the rural area (80%–20%), the borough as a whole is classed as urban and 80% of the population live in the urban area.

Change is inevitable

If there is just one thing in life that is constant, that thing is change, and change in land use over time is very well illustrated by historical maps. Our area has changed greatly in the last 200 years, and change is set to continue. That change can be on our terms or on someone else’s terms. Whose shall it be?

Our Neighbourhood Area faces five key issues: housing and population, services, transport, employment, and environment. But we cannot consider them in isolation. These five issues are all inseparably intertwined.

Housing and population

We need to understand the nature of the rural population, which has changed beyond recognition in terms of its composition. Where once it was dominated by people engaged in agriculture and supporting trades, it is now highly urban dependent and commuter based.

  • The mechanisation of agriculture = reduction in the agricultural workforce = the taking over of farmworkers’ cottages by migrants from the city.
  • The green belts, which were originally created to contain urban sprawl, are now like corsets around their urban areas and force housing for growing urban populations out into the open countryside.
  • Financial pressure in the agricultural sector leads farmers to sell off their land to be used for housing for migrants from the city.

And so we have a situation in which rural areas are used as dormitories for urban populations and there is no suitable, affordable housing for people in lower-paid, locally based employment. That’s the problem that our Neighbourhood Area faces.

Where different generations of a family want to be close together granny flats can be a means to bring a younger element into the home. But that won’t solve the problem of providing affordable housing to support local employment and services in rural areas.

Services

There is a mismatch between the services available in the rural area and the needs of its growing population.

On the other side of the coin, a heavily urban-oriented, commuter-based population turns its back on local services in preference for the town.

When the services are not available, even the locally oriented, non-commuting population are forced to go elsewhere. In this way the stimulus for local services to grow is weakened. (But we all agree that the doctors’ surgery needs to open in the afternoons! And Aston, please note, local children can go to school in Woore.)

The lack of affordable housing also impacts on the ability of local services and businesses to grow and thrive, because they need access to a pool of employees.

Unless we can ensure the viability of our Neighbourhood Area’s settlements by helping local services and businesses to thrive and serve our local population, rural life in this area will die.

It is a question of sustainability.

Transport

Like housing and population, transport is a mega issue.

Our roads, lanes and footpaths are the same ones that were in use 200 years ago, but whereas once they were cart tracks, now they are transit corridors and commuter routes for heavy trucks and fast cars.

Our roads and lanes which even 40 years ago were safe walking routes are no longer safe. Many routes that we walked and cycled as children are no longer an option to use, and where the ‘A’ roads do have grass verges they are often no longer maintained in a walkable state.

Fast, powerful farm vehicles towing large machines or huge trailers travel big agricultural miles and pose a hazard to other road users. Cars go too fast. Horse riders are hazard – and a nuisance because they don’t (or won’t) clean up. Even cyclists, who we thought were safe and clean and green, are a hazard – they’ve forgotten how to use their bells.

Public transport is diminishing and its cost is prohibitive. People would love to use the bus for all the conveniences that it has to offer, and Maer people do use it (the half-mile walk to the bus stop is not a problem for them) – but the expense means that daily travel to work by bus is simply not an option.

The lack of public transport means that local attractions such as the Dorothy Clive Garden are not accessible to people without cars.

Public transport is an issue that we have to look at in terms of getting around the rural area, not just in relation to travel into town.

What will the effect be in the countryside when there are driverless cars on our roads in 10 to 15 years from now? Then everyone, even children, could have a car and the volume of traffic our roads would become even worse.

On the other hand, private car ownership might diminish because car-hire apps would enable us to hire a car whenever we needed it. Some cities already operate car-hire pools. Even in some rural areas enlightened and progressive parish councils have set up car-hire pools for local residents.

And what about the ‘HS2 effect’? Phase 2a is now planned to be completed by 2027.

Employment

Employment affects transport. The heavily commuter-based population of the rural area use the A51 and A53 as transit routes through the area, and the lanes as ‘rat-runs’.

How can we turn the commuter tide?

People who work in professional services are moving into the rural area. They either have their own businesses at home or work from home for their employers.

But the facilities are inadequate for growing and successful businesses. The internet should improve when high-speed broadband is up and running. Mobile coverage is patchy and generally poor. There are no conference and meeting room facilities, and nowhere for visitors to park.

When the time comes for a successful and growing business to move out of the home, where is it to go?

And if growing businesses need employees, and if rural employment is to be sustainable, we need accommodation. Back to the issue of population and housing.

The bottom line is that if the services and facilities for businesses are inadequate, people will go elsewhere as their businesses grow, where they can find the services, facilities and workforce that they need.

Environment

The environment’s the reason why we live here. We need to protect our environment.

We need to make our centuries-old walking routes safe once again, and to reduce the dangers from hazardous activities.

We need to identify the historical, natural and geographical heritage assets of our Neighbourhood Area and ensure their protection. And we need to identify those assets that have not yet been afforded recognition and protection.

We need to share our environment with the urban population for recreation and leisure, but to do so in a way that will protect it from harm.

We need to provide services for our urban visitors – public transport, car parking, refreshment and picnicking facilities, signposting and well-marked footpaths.

Our environment is our Neighbourhood Area’s greatest asset. We have to demonstrate its value and put it to work in the service of the borough’s wider population.