In our last Labour Opposition business I set out our vision for a cleaner, safer, greener, more connected town where the citizens feel valued and where our home grown post graduates feel welcome to stay.
With that in mind, this time I want to address some of the issues to do with planning. I do this in the hope that we can find ways of working cross party on the issues where we can all see a clear benefit for the town. I am going to suggest we need an ethical planning policy- one that puts the needs of the people and of the town first. I know this isn’t easy because Planning is laid down in a National Policy Framework by Central Government. As it is Planning Policy favours developers. It is very hard for local people to influence outcomes. But we can take heart from what some other LAs are doing. We want developers to work with us so that development meets need and meets our vision. First, we need to agree basic principles.
We have Article 4 which seeks to protect the inner part of the town from an over- supply of Houses in Multiple Occupation- HIMOS.
We have set the bar at 15% in a radius of 50 metres. We should bring this down to 10%.
We should extend Article 4 to Far Cotton and other areas that are going to be magnets for developers seeking to exploit the university move into town.
We need to prioritise family housing and stop the trend of family housing being turned into tiny one bed apartments. We allow the smallest sq. footage for living spaces in the whole of Europe. We should be setting higher standards for developers to follow.
HIMOS and the loss of family housing to flats are putting unbearable pressure on neighbourhoods that use to be the pride and joy of the town, like Watkin and BeaconsfieldTerrace. We are creating ghettos of transience, with all the accompanying nuisances- anti –social behaviour, dirt, noise, litter, rubbish, rats and cockroaches.
In Watkin Terrace, if I may continue to use that as an example, in a row of 21 houses only four dwellings are family homes. The rest are flats and HIMOS. The resulting loss of community, the increase in everything undesirable is making life difficult for the householders who remain while all about them comes and goes.
We face a housing crisis and that is being compounded by developers trying to wriggle out of 106 commitments for infrastructure and affordable homes. The viability test is being used over and over with developers becoming expert now in viability issues. We need to stand firm and insist on no development wit6h put 35% affordable homes and no development without the appropriate infrastructure.
That’s housing. But we should also be doing the same with our retail areas. We need to bring in by-laws that restrict the number of Poundland shops, the number of payday loan shops, casinos, betting shops, fast food shops, in any one area. This is a particular issue in the Market Square and the rest of the town centre but it is an issue on our estates and smaller retail areas too.
Our environments are man- made. Or should I say person made? We need to be in the driving seat of development, looking to create balanced, diverse and cohesive communities. We need homes fit for families that are energy efficient and give all the people in the household room to breathe, to rest, work, study and play.
We need balanced and diverse retail, leisure and service areas that are welcoming and encourage towns people to come here and spend their time and money.
And it goes without saying all these areas need to be safe and well lit. They need to be clean and free from hazards and rats.
We need to get better at looking after ourselves, our town and put people before exploitative development.
• We want an end to Rabbit Hutch Britain
• We want to learn from the Town and Country Planning Association
“Housing provides just one example of why we need to plan properly for the future.
We must act on a crucial guiding principle: good-quality housing, for people of all incomes and circumstances, is a pillar of a civilised society
“ Building the future-The TCPA’s Prospectus for Progressive Planning
“Successive governments have simplistically viewed planning as an ‘enemy of enterprise’ – a frequent if totally unsubstantiated complaint. In fact, smart planning is an engine of sustainable growth that delivers multiple benefits to our society: certainty and confidence
to business, democratic rights for communities, and protection for our heritage, environment and biodiversity. Planning is a positive force for good and should be at the heart of future public policy.
“Planning is a creative enterprise, embracing the arts, economics, engineering and
community development. We need a transformation of planning practice to restore these creative elements and to apply them positively to the development of our communities.”