Throughout 2009, our pages were full of stories about the fight to protect the Green Belt against Government imposed plans to build thousands of new homes in the area.
The Regional Spatial Strategy, along with the regional government quango which created it, were consigned to the bin shortly after the election of the Coalition Government in 2010.
Last week, the four local authorities of Bristol, B&NES, South Gloucestershire and North Somerset published their Joint Spatial Plan consultation document for the region through to 2036 and while this project is locally created, rather than centrally imposed, two major and related issues have not gone away. The lack of housing, particularly affordable and the impact on the Green Belt are taxing the local authorities of the new ‘city region’ as much as they did the bureaucrats of the West of England Regional Assembly almost 10 years ago.
Then, they figured we needed 120,000 new homes in the Bristol area, today the Joint Spatial Strategy predicts we will need 89,000. Of that figure, 56,000 have been identified through each local authority’s core strategies although three out of the four had to agree to releasing Green Belt land to satisfy Government inspectors. That said, 48% of land in the ‘city region’ still lies in the Green Belt.
Members of the public now have three months to comment on the plans put forward in the Joint Spatial Strategy which highlights five ways in which the additional 29,000 homes could be accommodated:
Urban intensification: increasing the density of existing development mainly within Bristol but also the north east fringes (in South Gloucestershire).
Urban expansion: spreading existing development out into the adjacent countryside in places such as Hicks Gate, Whitchurch and communities east of Kingswood, such as Oldland Common.
Town expansion of locations already being developed, such as Keynsham and Midsomer Norton.
Other settlements: small-scale opportunities such as village clusters. Charfield, which has been in the news just last month for this very reason, is mentioned along with Saltford, which managed to resist such a situation last year.
Dispersed growth: an aggregate of very small-scale opportunities of which none are named but are assumed to exist in each of the four local authorities.
No doubt, the very inclusion of many of those local communities will have campaigners dusting off their posters and reforming action groups. The document stresses frequently that absolutely no decisions have been made and that the public is being asked to give its views on every possible option.
The five scenarios which are then detailed include one which involves no change to the existing Green Belt. It does, however, predict a negative impact of dispersed settlements which are distant from employment areas, thus adding extra pressure to the transport infrastructure. Each of the other scenarios factors in some negative impact on the Green Belt and no doubt there will be observers who have always maintained you can’t have the economic development and retain half the area as Green Belt.
Consultation response to the Regional Spatial Strategy in 2009 broke all records – in fact it overwhelmed the system. While the Joint Spatial Strategy has identified many of the same issues, it represents a far more measured approach and considers many of the consequences, such as transport. It is a far more detailed document than we can do full justice to in these pages and at this stage, is an invitation to comment.
You can comment on the plan by visiting www.jointplanningwofe.org.uk
The deadline for responses is 29th January 2016.