A Clear Way Forward
How they do it in better in Arnside & Silverdale
Church Stretton is unique. It is the only market town within the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
South Lakeland, and especially the district of Arnside and Silverdale is, in many ways identical to Shropshire in that it has towns and villages within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty where new housing is proposed: The Arnside and Silverdale AONB.
When South Lakeland District Council proposed a new Development Plan in 2012 it originally followed a very similar approach to that which Shropshire Council are currently taking with Church Stretton and The Shropshire Hills AONB: namely, a top-down, command-led, big sites approach, with very little respect shown to the views of local residents or regard for caring for the AONB.
South Lakeland District Council submitted their original plan to Her Majesty's Planning Inspectorate (as Shropshire will also have to do at the end of its current review). The Planning Inspector emphatically rejected South Lakeland’s planning proposals for The Arnside and Silverdale AONB. Here are the relevant paragraphs from the Planning Inspectors report:
The Arnside and Silverdale AONB
213. The NPPF says that AONBs have the highest status of protection in relation to landscape and scenic beauty. As such, in the AONB, the weight to be given to environmental considerations when balancing them against social and economic issues should be greater than elsewhere.
214. However, in allocating sites for housing, the Plan as originally submitted is based on the uniform application [of] exclusion criteria. As such, sites below 0.3 hectares have not been considered. But in the context of its status of protection, consideration of smaller sites in the AONB amounts to a reasonable alternative. Indeed, it seems to me that smaller sites would be more likely to ensure that the landscape and scenic beauty of the AONB is protected in the way envisaged by the NPPF.
215. Moreover, some of the sites proposed for allocation add to my misgivings. At the hearing session, the Council confirmed that the land proposed to be allocated for housing at Station Road (RN337#), Hollins Lane (RN225-mod) and Redhills Road (R81) is considered to currently perform a greenspace function. I am told that the Council judges these sites to have amenity value, in that they contribute positively to the character and appearance of the settlement and thus of the AONB, to some degree. From my site visits, I concur with that analysis.
216. Overall, in the context of the policy protection applying to the AONB, the combination of discounting smaller sites from the site selection process and the visual contribution made by some of the sites chosen for allocation, I consider the proposed housing sites in the AONB to be unsound.
217. To address this, the Council has given consideration to a number of alternative options, set out in a letter [Ex057]. In effect, the proposed way forward is to modify the Plan so that rather than allocating land in the AONB it introduces a commitment to produce a new AONB Local Plan jointly with Lancaster City Council.
218. [The] planning authorities have committed to producing the AONB Local Plan. Also importantly, this option has the clear backing of local groups, notably the AONB Management Unit and Parish Councils. That such groups are to be actively involved in the preparation of the plan is another good reason to support it.
219. I recognise that the effect of producing a separate plan for the AONB will be to delay housing delivery in that area. But, in my view, delaying the progress of the district-wide land allocations DPD [Development Plan Document] would be [a] reasonable alternative[s].
220. The Council envisages the new AONB Local Plan being adopted in January 2016. This is not soon [this report was written in 2013]. However, given the degree of partnership working and cooperation involved, and the Council’s other plan-making commitments, an earlier adoption date would likely be unrealistic. In this context, I consider that the Plan, as proposed by the Council to be modified, should be regarded as sound in this respect.
So the way forward for Church Stretton and the whole AONB is quite clear - and crucially it has been already developed in other parts of the UK.
Sadly however, as we currently stand Shropshire Council’s planners are continuing to take the position that the Shropshire Hills AONB’s “highest status of protection in relation to landscape and scenic beauty” does not carry weight against the Council’s desire to push its “high growth” target through major development on large greenfield sites. They also (incorrectly) continue to claim that building houses on two areas of great landscape and visual sensitivity is the only way to sustain Church Stretton socially and economically. [This was stated at the “Consultation Event” on 16th January]
Shropshire Council’s current Plan is unsound. Allocating sites for housing based on a uniform 0.5 hectares exclusion criteria throughout the whole of Shropshire is not acceptable to our Town Council, the AONB or local residents, and will almost certainly be rejected by HM Planning Inspectorate. Decision making by Shropshire Council has been inadequate: from the imposition (against the clearly expressed local wishes) of “Key Centre” status for Church Stretton; the imposition of a one-size-fits-all site size policy; to encouraging the building of large numbers of unneeded homes to provide (at no cost to the Council) possibly a few that we do.
The future pathway is clear. Use smaller town centre sites; actively facilitate the use of vacant commercial sites for housing; promote the highest standards with regard to climate and environment pretection, and; work with the local council and other stakeholders.
But perhaps most importantly, draw all the above groups together to produce a Development Plan bespoke to the needs of the people and landscape of the AONB and endorsed by those who live and work here.
Church Stretton thrives because its people care. Self-help and volunteering give this small town a great heart. There is abundant talent and technical ability within Church Stretton spanning all ages and all social groups.