“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.