Prior to the second series of Neighbourhood Plan roadshows this month, Maer Village Hall was the venue on 2 March for a meeting with the parish councillors. The Steering Group gave a progress report on the Neighbourhood Plan to date and a preview of what is coming next, while councillors had an opportunity to ask questions and discuss issues related to the Plan. Our consultant Hannah was present to answer a variety of technical questions about neighbourhood planning.
The inevitability of change and the types of change that can be expected featured in the discussion.
Agriculture received the highest rating in the questionnaire section on suitable uses of land, but this is one area where we need to expect change. Brexit means that farmers will lose their EU subsidies and they will have to look to new means of making money. Inevitably this will lead them to diversification into other areas besides farming. As a result, we will see changes in the way they use their land, and changes in the rural economy.
Another finding of the questionnaire was a high level of dissatisfaction with mobile voice and data reception. While the answer to this problem is to upgrade the infrastructure and provide 4G connectivity across the area, it does mean that people will have to accept that phone masts become part of the landscape. The need for mobile infrastructure upgrade also has wider significance. For example, we can expect to see the growth of telemedicine for delivering medical services in rural areas. Likewise, improved infrastructure will be needed to support the development of the local economy and those people who work locally, whether in a business or working from home for an employer.
‘A rural area where people both live and work.’ This was the future vision of the Neighbourhood Area that received the most support in the questionnaire. There was significantly less support for local business or enterprise centres. But if the area is to be a place where people both live and work one thing that is certain is that there must be places where they can work, and also a business and service infrastructure to support them. Conversion of farm buildings to new uses, scope for lunchtime catering businesses, and yes, 4G mobile connectivity spring to mind as just three ingredients (but by no means the only ones) of a mix that would support this future vision.
It will take time, but over the years, if we work towards it, our area can change from one that is dependent on commuting and the urban area to one with a strong and thriving local economy.