LETTER: Battling for Rotherham's green belt

By Admin | 21/11/2014 0 comments

LETTER: Battling for Rotherham's green belt

BELOW is a letter from the Dinnington and Anston Save Our Greenbelt action group about the current public consultation on Rotherham’s Local Plan.

It is followed by the full response from Rotherham Borough Council.

The 15-year housing masterplan will allocate space for 14,000 new properties across the borough.

Click here to read the documents on the council website and have your say.

 

ROTHERHAM Borough Council has recently launched its Final Drafts and Policies, open for public consultation until November 24 with four drop-in sessions. Previous consultations offered 12 drop-ins. 

It looks as though RMBC is still up to its old tricks by trying to strangle any democracy, this is quite obvious when we see that the area selected for the largest development at Greasborough has not been allocated a drop-in. 

Why make it more difficult for people to have their say?

The Sites and Policies document includes what they call a Statement of Community Involvement.

This is written in such a way that anyone reading it would think that RMBC is the most caring council you could wish for by saying they are listening to the people’s views and letting us shape the outcome of the local plans, but throughout all the consultations they have never listened. “Localism” does not exist.

Despite thousands of letters of objections, the plans are little changed from the original RMBC proposals of 2011.

It was in November 2011 that our group had a meeting with RMBC to discuss concerns over the loss of greenbelt throughout the borough. 

Officials from RMBC attending the meeting included Roger Stone (then leader), Martin Kimber (then CEO), Karl Battersby (strategic director), Andy Duncan (strategic policy team leader) and four Anston/Dinnington ward councillors. 

Minutes of that meeting recorded agreements between all parties present, as follows:

- Building on brownfield sites should be maximised with priority being given to derelict and overgrown land.

- Where building on greenbelt cannot be avoided at any cost, preference should be given to scrub or grassland whilst retaining traditional recreation areas. Any building on agricultural land to be restricted to the lowest quality land.

- No unnecessary building of factory units until vacant ones are utilised.

- No building on greenbelt land whilst any brownfield sites remain undeveloped.

Almost all these agreements have been dishonoured by the council, how undemocratic. They claim to be listening but they are not!

On September 10 at a full RMBC meeting, webcast for the first time, the Labour group voted to accept the Core Strategy Plan, pushed through despite calls for suspension from the UKIP and Conservative opposition pending enquiries into the “macho and bullying culture” endemic throughout the council.

They now intend to “bully” through the final part of their plan ignoring the concerns and views of the public.

This consultation is just something they have to be seen to do to comply with the law, but the decisions have already been made.

At the Core Strategy Hearings in November 2013, the council convinced the Government inspector that development on Dinnington West was out of the question due to environmental and biodiversity issues.

So he agreed, with reservations, to go along with the council’s preferred site at Dinnington East, which happens to be the best and most versatile agricultural land in the whole borough. 

Could it be a coincidence that this land incorporates a council owned playing field which they intend to sell to developers, despite it having a standing covenant restricting its use to public open space. It’s referred to as “asset stripping”.

Now the inspector has gone, RMBC has put forward a new site at Dinnington West adjacent to the new A57 roundabout at Todwick which proposes 70 acres of industry on greenbelt land.

It appears to be incompetence at the highest level, proposing to blight the whole landscape and bring more congestion to an existing busy intersection. 

Within 300 metres of this site, on the same road, there is a 43-acre ghost industrial site laid out with roads and street lights which has remained unsold and undeveloped for over four years, senseless stupidity! 

How does everyone else from the area feel? It already seems that this area is becoming one enormous industrial estate. 

Is this what the people of this area want? These are rural communities, are you listening RMBC? 

Has anyone asked the people of Todwick if they want to overlook a sea of industrial sheds and be plagued by massive trucks thundering through the village? 

This council is beyond belief, common sense does not exist.

Due to public concern we have requested RMBC to suspend the Sites and Policies consultation so that the council can revisit the plans in order for them to incorporate the new directive from the Secretary of State Eric Pickles, which clarifies the new guidance for protection of the green belt, which clearly would be the right approach in deciding their final plan.

If you care about your green belt and your local environment, whichever area of the Borough you live then act now. 

Don’t be complacent, once it’s gone, it’s gone. Challenge RMBC to listen to the people because at the moment they are not. 

Send in your objections before November 22 by letter or online to Rotherham planning.

Also send your objections to Eric Pickles MP Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and let us see if he can make them listen.

Graham Capper, Dinnington and Anston Save Our Greenbelt action group 

***

WE NOTE the letter to the Advertiser from the Dinnington and Anston Save Our Greenbelt group. 

We are concerned by the assertions the group make and think it helpful to set the record straight. 

We have highlighted the most significant points the group make with our response below: 

“Why make it more difficult for people to have their say?”

As before, all consultation material is on our website with hard copies in local libraries. 

We have written or emailed all 12,000 people on our Local Plan database and have also written to all households within 100 metres of any site that is new for this consultation. 

We have also put adverts in the local press and issued press statements about the consultation. 

We are holding four public drop-in sessions around the borough and, after feedback from 2013, have extended the opening hours into the early evening to allow those who work to call in on their way home. 

We are holding fewer sessions compared to 2013. This is because the bulk of proposed development sites are the same as last year and there is no need for extensive sessions. 

"The plans are little changed from the original RMBC proposals of 2011." 

Our plan has changed significantly from 2011 to 2014. We have taken on board public comments and the outcome of further technical work. 

Taking Dinnington as an example, our draft plan from 2011 showed housing sites that could have accommodated over 3,500 new homes. 

Our current 2014 draft shows sites for around 800 new homes, when sites already permitted are taken into account. We believe anyone looking at these plans would be able to see a difference. 

"Almost all these agreements have been dishonoured by the council." 

We first met the Dinnington group in 2011 and have had several meetings since then. We have tried to accommodate the group’s view as far as possible but we always made it clear that no greenbelt release at all was never a realistic option. 

We have to release some to meet our future housing needs, Dinnington fares no better or worse than other areas. 

When we steered the Local Plan Core Strategy through public examination, we fought hard to achieve a local housing figure much lower than that required under the previous regional strategy. 

The local target we achieved of around 14,000 new homes is significantly lower than the 24,000 homes the previous regional target would have required. 

In so doing we have kept to a minimum the amount of greenbelt release required. This should be viewed as a success in light of the significant pressure from the development lobby for a much higher housing target. 

We are one of the very few councils to achieve a housing target lower than previous regional figures. 

It is worth noting that the Dinnington group took part in the public examination of the Core Strategy. They had a seat at the table and had their say in front of the independent inspector. 

"Their decisions have already been made"

This is not true. The current consultation shows our draft plan as it stands at 2014. We will take account of public comments as far as possible where they raise planning considerations. 

We will then consult on the plan again in summer 2015 before submitting it to government. 

The plan will then be looked at by an independent planning inspector who will hold public hearings where all can have their say. 

Only then will the inspector give their verdict on our plan and whether we can adopt it for Rotherham. 

This is a transparent public process which the Dinnington group have had, and continue to have, every opportunity to take part in. 

"The council intends to sell a playing field to developers (at Birkdale Avenue)". 

We own some land at the end of Birkdale Avenue in Dinnington, which is used as informal greenspace. We have made no decisions on the future of this land. 

If the wider site around this greenspace is eventually earmarked for housing we will decide on the best way to maintain the recreation provision in this area. 

This could be by keeping the recreation ground where it is now or relocating it within the development site or even by moving it to a nearby site with better access for local people. 

What we would do is ensure equivalent or better provision is made. No decisions have been taken at this stage. 

"This area is becoming one enormous industrial estate". 

Our current draft plan shows an area for new employment at Todwick. The site is off the new dual carriageway and roundabout at Todwick. 

We are targeting this site at inward investors to attract high quality jobs to Rotherham. 

The highly successful Advanced Manufacturing Park at Waverley is nearly full, as is the Wath Manvers employment area. 

To compete for investment and bring quality jobs to Rotherham we have to provide a large employment site within easy reach of the motorway. 

An extensive search of possible sites resulted in the land at Todwick being put forward as the best option. 

"The new directive from Eric Pickles clarifies the new guidance for the protection of the greenbelt". 

The Secretary of State has amended the national Planning Practice Guidance. He has not made any change to national policy as set out in the National Planning Policy Framework. 

What he has done is remind councils to take account of the greenbelt when drawing up their local plans. 

We were and are aware of this requirement and have fully considered the greenbelt in drawing up our Local Plan. We have done this by carrying out a strategic greenbelt review to assess the impact of development on the greenbelt. 

We have also carried out a sustainability appraisal of the Core Strategy at each significant stage of its evolution. 

In tandem with drafting the Core Strategy, we have prepared the Sites and Policies document to identify specific development sites. 

In doing so, we have carried out a detailed greenbelt review and, again, have carried out sustainability appraisals of each draft of the document. 

In completing these assessments we have demonstrated how the benefits and disbenefits of releasing greenbelt land have been weighed up. 

In our view the benefits of proving the new homes the borough’s people need clearly outweigh the disbenefits of releasing a small percentage of the borough’s greenbelt over the long term. 

This release will amount to around 1.8 per cent of the current greenbelt over the next 15 years. 

The broad extent of Rotherham’s greenbelt and the strategic purpose it serves will not be harmed. 

Our approach has been endorsed by the independent planning inspector who examined the Core Strategy. 

He took the view that the presence of greenbelt is not a reason to avoid meeting the objectively assessed housing need for Rotherham. 

He agreed that providing new homes for future needs and making up historic under delivery is the overriding priority. 

It is also worth noting that at the same time as the Government has revised the Planning Practice Guidance, the Lyons Housing Review has been published reminding us of the stark challenge we face to address the housing crisis and help the younger generation onto the housing ladder. 

As a responsible council, we are planning for all the borough’s communities, including future generations, and by releasing sufficient land for new homes we can play our part in addressing the housing crisis. 

Bronwen Knight, planning manager, Rotherham Borough Council


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