“Let us, the public, help to shape Colne's future" - this was the lead headline in the Colne Times’ readers' views page on 12th December. It was the request of Sheila Smith and her five colleagues (the Six) campaigning in front of the Glass Box outside Colne Market on 22nd November.
Passers-by were horrified to be told how much of our green fields had been allocated for development in the span of the draft Core Strategy (dCS) for Pendle Borough 2016 to 2030. The Six were concerned that however explained, involvement of the public had simply not been properly organised and any input received had been marginalised. This had led to a plan which in their view, was misdirected in its objectives and its allocation of land. Submission of the dCS should be postponed and the public should be given a more leisurely and empathetic hearing.
I'm guessing that all the papers, boxes and boxes of them, will already be in Bristol, queueing for the first available Government Inspector to make his decision including coming to Pendle to ask questions. All those comments the Six referred to will be there for the Inspector to make his own mind up about. The truth is that the delay suggested by the Six whilst well intentioned, would almost certainly have been an increasing disaster for our precious green fields.
There have in effect been two and a half dCS's prepared including the starter in 2006. The previous Government asked for a revision part way through. The Coalition reduced Planning legislation to a new fifty two page slim line document replacing over twelve hundred pages previously. The new legislation took precedence in March this year and makes it easier for developers. Implementation of the suggestion of the Six would simply be taken as a serious failure by Pendle to comply as quickly as possible and would make it easier still for a determined developer to ride roughshod over our precious green fields which the Six want to try and protect.
In looking at the Pendle dCS the Inspector will only want to satisfy himself at this stage that there are enough hectares to marry up with the overall economic Pendle Plan. He will not be reviewing individual sites. That review will be done by Pendle Planning as soon as possible and formal public consultation will occur. So far only one site has already been allocated which is at Trough Laithe Farm, Barrowford for about four hundred and forty houses I think. The other important point is that this last consultation was purely to establish that the documents were legally sound. For most of us I would agree that the dCS is in essence complex and therefore not easy for the many of us to comment on. Legal soundness is likely to be almost out of reach for most of us but nevertheless the formal consultation was obligatory. This complexity derives not from a determination of planning authorities to make it difficult for lots of us but rather from planning law and formulae which constrain our planning developers in their presentation.
The clue to communication failure lies in the fact that many people told the Six that they did not know about the consultations. Six consultations in eight years is a lot stuff to miss out on. The planners received a national award for their 'Framework' which 'keeps you up to date on emerging planning policy in Pendle'. Sheila Smith gets a copy. Anybody can have a copy either via the web or just by picking one up. There have now been 29 of them. The other communication failure lies in lots of people admitting they do not read the Leader/Times newspapers. Assistant news editor, Andrew Spencer, has consistently kept readers informed of what is going on in this sphere over the years and what to do if you need more information. Neil Watson, the Pendle Manager responsible for planning spelt out on 28th November in this newspaper, the many ways in which the message is spread. It is clearly we as Pendle citizens are failing to take the trouble to pick up the messages responsibly. It is not the Council's failure to communicate. Sending stuff to every household has been proved not to be the answer. Every household gets the annual refuse collection timetable with detailed instructions on what to put in which bin and why. It is an expensive paper exercise. I know as a member of the Pendle recycling focus group just how many wrong items are going in the wrong bins and what a mess this ends up as at the county recycling centre near Preston and that will cost us money on the council tax probably sooner rather than later including penalties at the rate we are going on. We are simply not acting responsibly as a community.
The Six, Edward Lee, most of the rest of us say build on brownfield sites. Government ministers are crying out - build on brownfield first. However almost every brownfield by its very nature needs remedial work and developers are unwilling to do it. Legislation needs to be more imaginative than at present in order to get them to go brownfield.
Lidgett and Beyond held an encouraging fund raising and call to arms event at Colne Cricket Club on Saturday 8th March. I thanked all those who had helped, in whatever way, to get over to Pendle Council, our constructive comments on the latest Pendle Core Strategy draft. When finalised and Government approved this document will be the Bible for about everything planning related, in Pendle, up to 2030. Just the previous basic national planning laws ran to around thirteen hundred pages to be superseded by just 52, yes 52 pages in the new overall National Planning Policy Framework. At a Pendle Council Cabinet meeting last December Lord Grieves summed up this new planning legislation as a mess.
I stressed that the national outcry against always supporting developers and their constant use of those easily manipulated terms "viable" and "sustainable" had led to welcome revisions being made in the last few days. This proves the Government is seeing the error of its ways and the imperative of developing Brownfield sites first.
Brownfield sites are almost invariably stuck with problems from the past which tend to make them more expensive to develop so developers instinctively home in on more profitable Greenfield sites like the Rough. Our L&B campaigns will be helped by the removal of the Community Infrastructure Levy, whereby developers pay for infrastructure improvements when Brownfield sites are being developed. In addition, councils now have the power to block developments in Greenfield areas if local road and sewerage arrangements cannot cope with extra homes.
I pointed out that Nick Boles, the planning minister admitted that changes had to be made because the Government recognises that the new Framework was not working as it should. He had said: "We want to use every inch of previously developed land to meet housing need". Surely this is a precise and common sense statement which should be adhered to literally from now on. It also reflects the guidance of a former Conservative grandee to his younger less experienced colleagues and was recorded in my blog two years
In spite of all this, our fight to save the Rough will still present a formidable challenge. But all sites which are forcibly snatched from us and from hundreds of others all over the country in similar circumstances
are, when aggregated, a frightening and formidable overall despoliation of the UK. This is mindless short termism at its very worst. A shameful legacy to future generations!
Finally I thanked all those who had helped, volunteered to help, canvassed, given raffle prizes or otherwise furthered our cause to try to protect and enhance our precious local surroundings for the benefit of everybody who comes to enjoy them. My thanks went especially to Sarah and David for the truly monumental effort they have put into this call to arms. Without them it would quite simply never have assumed such impressive and focussed proportions. I urged those who are with us to please keep supporting us and rally any of their neighbours who can help. We know that the majority of Pendle councillors support us as they always have done. Andrew Stephenson who has supported us since he became our MP was at the Cricket Club on 8th March. I left him with the message;-
"Please go and rattle Eric Pickles', Nick Boles', and David Cameron's respective cages. Rattle them hard and rattle them now Andrew!"
Read Nick Boles statement https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/local-planning
2014 has swept in with wet and windy weather in the attractive outskirts of Eastern Colne. But a two pronged planning flurry has also arrived. Prong one is in the form of a six week consultation period on the latest Core Strategy draft. The consultation closed on Friday 21st February. This addresses the Plan for all aspects of Pendle Borough right up to 2030. The now well established Lidgett and Beyond organisation with hundreds of members has submitted its views and recommendations for keeping our local landscape worthy
of the proud inhabitants of Colne and also to encourage visitors who come from far and wide to appreciate the timeless quality of the immediate surrounding countryside. Just take a walk on the east side!
The Council spends money actively promotes tourism here.
But prong two and threatening all this is the dark spectre of 270 houses on "The Rough" which is part of a network of paths and vistas which bless this East Colne landscape. Yes! That is 270 houses on top of all the empty houses we already have in the Borough as a result of the period of national economic blight we have suffered over the past six years. This is in fact the most desperate economic period since the 1930's when I was born. . New planning laws are now leading to developers dashing for easy virgin land instead of starting with brownfield sites. We citizens are recycling as much used material as we can every other week at our back doors at a considerable financial cost to the nation; but we are stopping recycling our previously used land in favour of virgin ground. Doesn't this strike you as a monstrous contradiction?
I detect, in our legislators, a massive lack of consistent thinking and common sense. This Island is too small to squander any valued bit of it.