‘Building homes in the Green Belt is the only way to tackle housing shortfall’

woe-map


  • 3,500 houses for Whitchurch?
  • 1,100 extra for Keynsham? 
  • Saltford bypass? 
  • Bristol-Bath tram system?
  • No development for Warmley

 

The West of England region will face a shortfall in its housing needs by 2036 which cannot be met without affecting the Green Belt, while plans for a transport infrastructure to support growth will receive a £7.5 billion investment.

Those are the key elements of a report on the West of England Joint Spatial Plan and Joint Transport Strategy following an initial public consultation last year.

This week, the leaders of Bristol, Bath & North East Somerset, South Gloucestershire and North Somerset councils are meeting to approve the radical plan which will be then open to comments from next month.

The recommendations contained in the draft report, which was released last Friday, are certain to be controversial in many areas with 3,500 houses in Whitchurch, 1,100 more in Keynsham, a 2,000-home ‘garden village’ proposed near Thornbury, and a light rail system on the A4 between Bristol and Bath, while a bypass for Saltford is not ruled out.

The combined total of new housing set out in the four councils’ Core Strategies reveals a shortfall of over 39,000 (66,800 opposed to a ‘need’ figure of 105,000). The draft plan sets out to identify locations where more housing growth can be accommodated by developing potential within existing urban centres and identifying other strategic sites in the region.

The split is roughly one-third urban (Bristol, Bath, Weston-super-Mare) and two-thirds either greenfield sites or extensions of existing development areas. Each project identified in the report comes with its own mitigating transport infrastructure but we will deal with these as a separate topic further on.

However, what the report makes clear is what we have reported from property experts over the last two years or so – that the housing target cannot be met without altering the Green Belt. Of the four authorities’ combined land area, 48% currently lies in the Green Belt and the only way 105,000 additional homes could be built in the remaining land would involve over-development of city centres and use of flood plains. While no precise details are given at this stage, the idea is suggested of incorporating new areas into the Green Belt to compensate for any land lost to housing.

Of the areas identified for potential development, one of the most controversial is Whitchurch, where the report suggests that land to the south and east of the village could support a further 3,500 new homes. Something similar was proposed in the ill-fated Regional Spatial Strategy of the last Labour Government that was scrapped by the Coalition in 2010.

Jacob Rees-Mogg addressing a Green Belt campaign meeting in Whitchurch back in 2008

Jacob Rees-Mogg addressing a Green Belt campaign meeting in Whitchurch back in 2008

While the proposal would see land taken out of the Green Belt, the study acknowledges the need for highway improvements for both current and future use and the continuing requirement to maintain a physical green barrier between Whitchurch and Bristol. Other than and Park & Ride and a MetroBus route, details of the “highway improvements” are sketchy at this stage.

In Keynsham, which has already figured heavily in B&NES Council’s last two Core Strategies, land to the north and east of the town is seen as being able to accommodate a further 1,100 new homes. In order to satisfy the Government inspector of its current Core Strategy, the authority has already had to earmark land adjoining the controversial Breaches Gate development.

On a wider level, the big ticket proposal is a brand new 2,000+ ‘garden village’ for Buckover, west of Thornbury, alongside the already agreed 1,100 homes on greenfield (but not Green Belt) land at Charfield. Further expansion is planned for the Nailsea area as well as a significant development in Ashton Vale.

If there is any good news, it is the confirmation of a number of other locations in our area which have been considered and rejected for future development. Having only recently revealed plans by one developer to create a 2,500-home development alongside the A420 at Warmley, it seems that the authors of the West of England Draft Spatial Plan have also considered it – and ruled it out.

In fact, most of Kingswood, Warmley, Longwell Green, Oldland Common and Pucklechurch has been similarly evaluated and deemed unsuitable for further development. So too has South West Keynsham and Saltford, although the latter could be included in a less controversial scheme to allow restricted growth in the numerous rural villages and communities dotted around the area.

£7.5 billion transport spend

Key to all the areas identified for housing is proximity or access to transport infrastructure. All of the sites featured are either close to road and transport facilities which either exist or are earmarked for some of the £7.5 billion that the joint authorities are planning to spend.

In simple terms, the draft Joint Transport Strategy, which the public will also be invited to comment on, accepts that the solution to around 65% of the population using their car will not just come from building more roads or railways. Instead it sees a scenario in which improvements are made to “radial routes” and “corridors” but the closer they approach city centres, car drivers will have to “interchange” with other forms of transport.

Saltford, where a bypass has not been ruled out

Saltford, where a bypass has not been ruled out

While a lot of emphasis is being placed on park and rides and expansion of the as yet untested MetroBus system, a light rail operation along the A4 from Bristol and Bath is one of the more “blue sky” options under consideration. The transport strategy takes into account the MetroWest rail proposals already in place for 2020 and beyond (including the addition of stations at Saltford and possibly St Annes) but crucially points out that the rail network around Bristol is likely to be close to saturation point once that is realised.

While large-scale housing development in Saltford is ruled out, a bypass is not, and that forms part of ambitious plans for the Bristol to Bath corridor which will be needed to complement the rail improvements. The package of measures will also include highway improvements for the A37/A4 link, Callington Road in Brislington and a rapid transport system, delivered either by bus of light rail.

On a region-wide basis, other major infrastructure investment is planned for the A38 west of Bristol with a light or even full railway service to Bristol Airport. Significant further development is also planned to the north of the city at Coalpit Heath with transport improvements on the Yate corridor.

While there will be pain, for the first time we are also seeing some serious infrastructure projects which are not only years late but vital to the realisation of any future economic planning.

Campaigners are already starting to man the barricades as they did six years ago with the final draft of the controversial Regional Spatial Strategy.

Whitchurch councillor Paul May said: “I recognise the fact the West of England is obliged to go through this process to meet the requirements of the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework.

“However, my position on our area’s Green Belt is clear – it is there to prevent Whitchurch from being swallowed up by Bristol’s urban sprawl and should be protected.

“The residents of Whitchurch village value the fact we have a distinct and separate community to Bristol, and the area simply doesn’t have the road and transport network to cope with this scale of housing.

“I’ll be working alongside the village council and Whitchurch Village Action Group to defend the interests of our community, and I’ll be urging residents to respond to the consultation and make clear the strength of feeling amongst local people about these plans.”

Stressing that the draft plan is only a consultation at this stage, Cllr May added: “Clearly we will have to campaign hard in arguing against these plans. However, these are only proposals at this point and we have been here before. This is still an early stage of a much longer process, so the important thing right now is for everyone to engage in the process and make our views clear.”

Developers had been eyeing up Green Belt land at Warmley but that has been ruled out

Developers had been eyeing up Green Belt land at Warmley but that has been ruled out

Meanwhile, on the east side of Bristol there is relief that large swathes of land including the Warmley area have been dismissed as potential sites for additional housing.

The chairman of Siston Parish Council, John Hunt, said: “Hopefully, all will see this is as an excellent and defensible planning statement that considers all relevant factors, especially the impact on our local Green Belt area and the A420 road corridor.

“Our own representations detailing these very points have clearly been of some influence, bringing much relief for local people and their appreciation to the professionals involved.”

Assuming the four councils approve it at this week’s meeting, the draft report will be published shortly afterwards and public consultation will start on 7th November and run until 19th December.