Finale at Whitmore

The last Roadshow of the series, at Whitmore village hall, drew participants from Acton, Butterton, Whitmore, Baldwins Gate, Madeley Park Wood, Chapel Chorlton, Hill Chorlton, Chorlton Moss, Blackbrook and Minn Bank.

The evening followed the format of the previous two events and opened with a formal presentation on progress to date, evidence gathering and Questionnaire results, and future work. This was followed by consultation and an opportunity to view the display materials – more charts of the Questionnaire results, parish maps and the Neighbourhood Map.

Vision and Aims

Each participant received a copy of the proposed Vision and Aims and policy themes for the Plan and a list of discussion topics, waiting on the seats when they arrived at the village hall. The Vision was well received by participants and they gave the Steering Group a heart-warming round of applause. Thank you all. (The Vision and Aims can be viewed here.)

Questionnaire results

The results of the Questionnaire did not reveal any great surprises – but the questions had needed to be asked all the same. What most attracts people to live in the Neighbourhood Area is the rural location and the countryside. Interestingly, the selling points that estate agents like to push, such as accessibility to the urban area and transport links scored significantly lower! It was notably hard to engage the age groups under 55, especially the under-45s. This means that the needs of this segment of the community – for example, education, playgrounds and other facilities for families and children – are not well represented in the results. (The charts that were displayed at the Roadshows can be viewed here.)

Neighbourhood Planning process

Participants were interested in the statutory processes of Neighbourhood Planning and there were questions about the local consultation, submission to the local authority for public consultation, the formal examination and the referendum.

Local economy

As at the two earlier Roadshows, the rural economy was a topic of discussion. The economic base of the countryside has changed very significantly in half a century.

Agriculture is necessarily still the greatest land use by a long way, but agriculture and allied trades are no longer the predominant employers and sources of income for rural dwellers. Agricultural work that was once done by local people is now done by contractors. We will see more changes in agriculture in the years ahead. Farmers will need to develop new income streams and we can expected to see more tourism-based enterprise in the area.

Rural dwellers are now more likely to be working in professions, either self-employed or commuting to work, or they are retired. Unless we do something to help the local economy, our Neighbourhood Area will be little more than a commuter base and a graveyard.

The community needs to know more about the businesses that operate in the area so that it can support them and an online local directory covering the three parishes is needed. This would be a project for the parish councils, not the Neighbourhood Plan, which is concerned purely with land use and infrastructure for new developments. But it would go a long way in helping the Neighbourhood Plan with its own aim to revive and develop the local economy.

The matter of the old Whitmore Station Ticket Office was raised. It could be a suitable place for a small business or for a local enterprise centre. So far the Parish Council’s efforts to engage with Network Rail have not been successful.

Housing

A Housing Needs Assessment (HNA) for the Plan was prepared as free technical assistance by AECOM, an international planning consultancy appointed by the government to prepare HNAs and other technical reports for neighbourhood plans. The HNA concluded that over the 20-year plan period 2013-2033 our Neighbourhood Area would need between 50 and 100 additional dwellings. This is based on ‘fair shares’ across the borough, and is calculated on the basis of our population, which is 2% of the borough’s population.

Currently, there are 142 planning permissions in the area, including the Kier site in Baldwins Gate. This puts us well ahead of the identified need. It may be natural to assume that Baldwins Gate is the logical place for new development because it has more services than the smaller settlements, especially the all-important sewerage. Still, there may be a case for one or two new houses or a workshop here and there in some of the smaller settlements in order to meet the area’s economic development needs.

The Neighbourhood Area’s need for smaller dwellings – the kind that developers don’t want to build – was stressed. Young people working locally, such as in the local pubs and restaurants, are travelling out from town, which is quite contrary to the purpose of local jobs.

The displays and maps drew a great deal of interest. The evening concluded with an opportunity for participants to view these and to seek out Steering Group members for further talk about issues raised during the consultation.