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.