With Swindon and Wiltshire Councils are preparing new planning frameworks, but Richard Pagett of environmental group Purton P&Qs says they should look long into the future.
Given we now know that climate change, population increase and diminishing natural resources stare us in the face, we cannot afford planning core strategies of both Swindon and Wiltshire Council to be agreed unless they reflect the serious realities that we face as local communities, as a nation, as a planet.
We have to plan bearing in mind the government Foresight Committee’s reports on food security, water security and energy security, and the really big one on land use.
These reports take a forward look to 2030 and articulate how we must think now about the availability of food, water, energy and land use when making plans.
The general assumptions of unending economic growth, inward migration and business-as-usual are now history – from the publication in 1968 of Swindon – a study for further expansion (the ‘Silver Book’ report), through to the last government’s Regional Spatial Strategy in 2009. These, with hindsight, were unrealistic and should play no further part in the serious business of future development planning.
The evidence is startlingly clear even if we just look at the west of Swindon in which the core strategies for both councils have a common interest:
• Thousands of houses are still to be built to the north of Swindon, and to be sold to the south;
• Infrastructure originally built for West Swindon, and now expected to cope with the Northern expansion, is creaking under increasing strain;
• Lack of any major employment in the west (and no realistic economic case to change that);
• The nearest motorway junction (16) is running at full peak-time capacity;
• Lack of adequate water supply and sewage infrastructure to support what we have now. The list does go on and on.
Although the last rites have been read for the Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS), housing developers and Wiltshire planners seem intent on playing some last chords despite being completely out of tune with the times. The studies that ‘supported’ the aspirations of the RSS for development to the west of Swindon are now framed by out of date ambitions. Whilst there is some value in those studies, they must be re-worked to take in wider considerations – not the demands by developers to build more and more houses.
Put simply, the core strategies of Swindon and of Wiltshire are not fit-for-purpose unless they take into account local economic forecasts, local inward migration patterns, local housing needs, local food security, local water and energy security – set against the backdrop of national and international impacts.
There are two potential bright points: a consultation for a new National Planning Framework and the Localism Bill. Whilst it is not yet clear how these two will mesh, surely we now have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to finally ditch the planning strait jacket of the 60s and 70s and embrace local decision-making that may finally have some muscle. And all within the new realism of climate change, population increase and diminishing resources.
Let’s hope our politicians have the courage and we have the chance to see this through. Once land is consumed for housing, it’s gone forever. What kind of legacy are we leaving for our grandchildren.?