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.
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.
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?
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.