Peter discusses the way in which local communites are addressing the high levels of new housing demanded in the South Worcestershire Joint Core Strategy and congratulates them on the intelligent approach they are taking.

It really is good news that the three district councils in South Worcestershire have decided to give local communities an extra six moths to influence decisions over the location of new housing in the so-called South Worcestershire Joint Core Strategy (SWJCS).

I have recently had meetings with representatives of the communities that would be affected by the very high numbers of new houses that the councils are being forced to accommodate – and I had a particularly useful meeting with the Norton-juxta-Kempsey parish council.

The three district councils have sound technical reasons to delay the complete strategy by six months – but it is wonderful news for everyone in our county who cares both about housing need and the local environment. It should enable a much better balance to be struck. There is no hurry and those who say there is are just wrong. Such big decisions can only benefit from mature consideration.

I am very impressed by the thoughtful way local people are tackling the issue of accommodating such large numbers of new houses. However, as is so often the case, many people have become aware of the detailed proposals only at the eleventh hour. It is very helpful that we will now have more time to reach genuinely sustainable solutions.

Of course I still think the numbers being insisted on by the government are too high – and those numbers which will actually increase if the Regional Spatial Strategy is revised upwards later this year. A true local needs based approach would lead to lower figures.

In Norton-juxta-Kemspey, the parish council has produced an outstanding document setting out the proper planning considerations that need to be fully incorporated into the SWJCS. I know that the document has really impressed local planners and councillors. I strongly endorse the approach your parish council has taken.

The really ludicrous thing, though, is that we are being asked to define now exactly where many thousands of houses will go over the next 16 years, when we just can’t know how many houses we will need over such a long period. The very high levels of immigration we have seen recently are, in my view, unlikely to continue. If that is right, we will need much lower housing numbers to meet genuine local need. But if this process is rushed, we will be committed now to meeting the demands of developers with no way out.

Indeed, the government is trying to impose even higher numbers of new houses on South Worcestershire through the “Regional Spatial Strategy Revision” – and we now know that one of the options for these further new houses would be to build a brand new village just outside Norton near the proposed site for the Worcestershire Parkway station. Another is the site proposed by QinetiQ at Throckmorton. Both would be huge intrusions into the countryside.

Meanwhile, a new government consultation on strengthening local democracy has some good ideas, but sidelines the most local councils of all, parish and town councils

It is quite extraordinary that in a 58-page document, the first mention of parish councils comes in the Annex on page 55 where parish councils are described as organisations that can be required to provide information to larger councils, and who can be summonsed to appear before scrutiny committees of those councils. On page 56 they are described as bodies to which those larger local councils can make recommendations.

Parish and town councils are the foundation stones of local democracy – they are simply not there just to provide information for, to appear before and to do the bidding of larger councils.


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