It feels as though Calderdale Council has been working on its Local Plan for a long time although we’re told that the requirements for this have changed over the years.
Getting clear dates and deadlines out of the council isn’t easy and it’s difficult to know whether that’s because government requirements keep changing or the council keeps changing its process. We are now told that if the council hasn’t produced the Local Plan by next year, the government will step in.
Nonetheless the consultation on potential sites last autumn has, quite rightly, concerned a lot of people around Calderdale. A major concern is about apparent proposals to build on green and open spaces.
It feels as though not enough regard is being given to how communities feel about their place and possible extensions to it. Building a large housing estate onto the edge of a village can change the nature of the place if not enough thought it given to the implications of it. Over 600 people in Warley ward have signed a petition about this to make sure that they are heard.
My confidence in the identification of potential sites was shaken when the response to my queries about some of them in my area was that there hasn’t been either a Highways or an Environment Agency assessment. Neither was there an explanation of why some sites had been filtered out and not others.
This Local Plan is expected to guide development in Calderdale over the next 15 years when population is expected to grow by 25,000 (over a 10 per cent increase) with the need for another 16,000 houses. The question is where they should go.
Earlier consultation on the plan proposed that building on brownfield sites (where there has previously been building) should be the preference and Your Area, Your Plan proposes that a target of 55 per cent of new development should be on brownfield sites.
I’m not convinced yet that this is an ambitious enough target and want to see the evidence for it. Some places around Calderdale have started to prepare their own Neighbourhood Plan which will be linked into the Local Plan. This gives local areas the opportunity to set out their own plans for development. I shall be asking whether the emerging information from these are informing the preparation of the Local Plan. People know their own area, they know what they like about it and what they want for it, so this information could be invaluable.
It’s also especially important to us to protecting our countryside through green belt and other environmental measures but I’m concerned that Calderdale Council may not be bold enough about this. I attended a really interesting seminar provided by the council last week on this but it was led by a planning barrister from a legalistic point of view so it seemed to be more about what can’t be done rather than what we may want for our countryside. We were told that the green belt can’t be extended but the Council said that it was reviewing it. I hoped that this would give the opportunity for the land around Todmorden to be formally redesignated as green belt.
In running the council, Labour talks about being ambitious. Can’t it be more ambitious and creative about how we manage growth? As Liberal Democrats, we’ve been interested in the possibility of creating more garden towns and villages, building on the tradition of Ebenezer Howard (who was referred to in the green belt seminar) and places like Bournville, Letchworth and Welling. This could give us an opportunity of building some new communities incorporating lessons learned about renewable energy, affordable warmth, promoting good health, community cohesion and so on. That would be a real plan for 2030 and go a long way to achieving carbon neutrality.
We are a country that encourages folk
I’m going to the Liberal Democrat Spring conference shortly.
The cover of the programme quotes our Leader, Tim Farron saying: “Against the politics of division, our message of hope and optimism is needed more than ever.”
There’s a consultative session about our vision for the future of Britain to which we’re asked to make our contributions. Thinking of Calderdale, the place where I live, in particular, I want a Liberal Britain to be a country where everybody is encouraged to make the best of themselves, to participate in the community that they live in, and to help others.
The Boxing Day floods, horrible though they were, brought out the best in people and I’d like to see more of that everyday.