Around 300 people packed into the Royal British Legion Club in Whitchurch Village last night for a public meeting about plans for 2,500 homes on Green Belt in the area.
As well as people from the village, there were people from other parts of South Bristol who will also be affected by the proposals in B&NES Local Plan, and a proposed road linking Whitchurch Village to Hicks Gate roundabout through Stockwood Vale.
Alyson Lampard, from the Whitchurch Village Neighbourhood Planning Team, which has been working hard to fend off the proposals, told the meeting: “You can see by the turnout tonight that there’s a lot of feeling about what’s going on and many of you will now be aware of the plan put forward by B&NES to provide large-scale housing in this area.
“This is called a Strategic Development Location and it feeds into the overall Joint Spatial Plan for the West of England up to 2036.This also affects our neighbours in Pensford, Stockwood, Whitchurch Bristol, Hengrove, Stockwood Vale, Queen Charlton and Hartcliffe.
“We’ve been consulted – again. And we’ve been asked to comment – again. And what I hear from many people is, ‘What’s the point – we have been asked to comment before and nobody listens to us’.
“Last Monday I walked into the community centre down in Whitchurch Village to see numerous professional-looking display boards and lots of B&NES planning people, all there to show us their ideas to develop this area. There was a lot of human emotion in the room – anger, anxiety, disbelief…all completely understandable reactions to a shockingly unsustainable plan for this area.
“The response from people that worries me the most though is one of resignation…’well, it’s a done deal…it’s going to happen anyway’ – and perhaps it will one day – but perhaps it won’t and that it where your councillor Paul May comes in.”
She said that Cllr May, who called the meeting, had been the B&NES councillor for Publow and Whitchurch since 2015 and has fought “tenaciously” to preserve Whitchurch as an historic village, to keep the Green Belt and promote sustainable development.
She added: “He won’t give up this fight and neither should we. Please support him, write your letters, send your emails and do your bit to mitigate this unrealistic and unsustainable vision for Whitchurch.”
Cllr May worked with Alyson Lampard and parish councillors on the village’s Neighbourhood Plan, which was approved by B&NES Council last year. Such plans, introduced by the 2011 Localism Act, are supposed to give a community more control over the type, location, size, pace and design of development in their areas.
Whitchurch Village’s Neighbourhood Plan highlights the importance of the green buffer between the village and Bristol, and says it is not against development but it’s about scale.
The 12th century village has already absorbed 250 new houses and says it lacks the necessary infrastructure for another 2,500 homes. Local roads cannot cope with the present level of traffic, there is no general shop and the nearest doctors’ surgery is in Stockwood. There are also few employment opportunities in the area.
Cllr May said B&NES has a duty to co-operate with other local authorities to provide housing in the region but not to “capitulate”. He feels that a figure of 600 extra homes is a more realistic number for Whitchurch Village, whereas B&NES’ proposals would see “urban sprawl” going as far as Hursley Hill Garage.
Talking about the proposed road to Hicks Gate, he warned that would it be the shortest route to get from the South Coast to the motorway system moving north, and there would be a significant increase in HGVs. He said the justification for this southern orbital route is open for challenge: “Are they building the road because they want the houses or are they building the houses because they are building the road? …I have never had a satisfactory answer.”
Whitchurch Village Parish Council has employed an independent planning adviser, John Medlin, who was at the meeting. Cllr May said the chair of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) is also helping the village and considers the proposals “quite clearly” have flaws.
Cllr May said the flaws in the proposals would be exposed when B&NES Local Plan goes forward to independent planning inspector next May. But he stressed how important it is for people to get their comments in and to tell their neighbours to do the same so the strength of feeling is clear.
People at the meeting were asked to register their concerns in letters which will go to B&NES Council, highlighting that the Local Plan is “unsound” as paragraph 14 of the National Planning Policy Framework clearly states that housing targets should not override constraints within the area.
The template letter says: “The constraints at Whitchurch Village are the Green Belt and the flooding. The Whitchurch Village Neighbourhood Plan has recently been adopted by B&NES and residents (98%) voted both for the retention of the Green Belt and the Plan itself with an amazing 48% voting turnout.”
The letter also explains that the proposals for 2,500 new homes are not sustainable because of the lack of facilities and the traffic. It adds that other sites are more sustainable and can offer the necessary infrastructure, such as Hicks Gates/Brislington, Long Ashton, and Bath.
Cllr May acknowledged that the various plans and consultations are confusing for the general public and warned the meeting that there would be another round of consultation on transport plans for the region in the New Year.
He is in contact with Cllr Tim Kent, who represents the Hengrove & Whitchurch Park ward on Bristol City Council. A further 2,500 new homes are being planned Hengrove towards the region’s housing needs.
At the end of last night’s meeting campaigner Jill Britten said two things made her very angry – that B&NES Council says the 2,500 houses would be a “zero carbon” development: “They must think we are stupid. I think that statement should be retracted. How can they possibly assume that this is going to be a zero carbon development?”
She also said at it had been documented at a meeting that a B&NES highways officer had stated that the journey time saved from the proposed new link road would be one minute.
She reminded people that this is not the first time that Whitchurch Village has faced being swamped by the threat of massive development. Under the Labour Government’s controversial Regional Spatial Strategy proposals, villagers fought off plans for up to 8,000 homes on the Green Belt.
“We have done it before and we can do it again,” she said.
Meanwhile there will be a meeting at Stockwood on Monday (3rd December) for people to find out more about how road schemes in B&NES Council’s Local Plan will affect South East Bristol and Whitchurch. The meeting is at Stockwood Library on Monday from 1pm to 4.30pm.