Sadly, the upholding of the Planning Appeal in respect of the Homelands and Cleevelands Developments in Bishops Cleeve this week has highlighted just how far away Government-derived Planning Legislation actually sits from serving people effectively at a local level. It comes as a highly appropriate reminder that when considering a ‘Preferred Option’ for a Joint Core Strategy (JCS) for Cheltenham, Gloucester and Tewkesbury, we must work to retain the greatest level of influence for Tewkesbury Borough’s future development within the Borough itself.
As I and a number of other Councillors made clear through an extensive debate when the decision was taken by a majority of Councillors to go out to Consultation on a set of ‘Preferred Options for a Joint Core Strategy’ in October 2011, there is an option which has not been openly publicised or pursued, but which exists and is very real nonetheless. An option which I have already publicly argued as being much more suited and favourable to the needs of current and future Tewkesbury Borough Residents. An option which I have no reason to doubt will benefit only the Borough itself, rather than creating disadvantage to Residents which is completely unnecessary and avoidable, whilst our two urban neighbours have everything to gain.
Whilst the public documents in circulation and even the literature circulated regarding a recent Consultation on the potential closure of the Ashchurch Camp within my Ward arguably indicate that a JCS is inevitable in one form or another, the fact remains that we could – and in my view should – proactively choose to develop and implement a Strategy for Tewkesbury on its own, or if you like, a ‘Single Core Strategy’, with the JCS being consigned to the dustbin with other local authority projects of questionable origins.
One of the great injustices of contemporary politics in this Country is the way that debates, ideas, views and just about everything political seems to be presented or rather ‘spun’ in a way which favours the outcome which is intended. It’s not a question of saying that anyone is lying and without good reason, I would never actively seek to suggest that is actually what has happened. It is simply the case that the desire to achieve any aim to which some involved in government in one capacity or another have become emotionally committed can all too easily lead to the existence of uncomfortable truths which they may not wish to openly entertain.
Equally, excuses such as ‘cost’ can come into play and prevent alternative and potentially better options from emerging, especially when they may not seem as politically expedient to embrace. So I’m sure that anyone who has read this far will know and understand that the absence of certain options, suggestions or indeed facts even innocently left absent, can quickly lead to an assumption for some that they simply do not exist.
On its own, Tewkesbury Borough Council and its Planning Committee have the ability and expertise to develop and implement a Borough-wide Policy which considers all of our housing and commercial property development needs and ‘requirements’, both now and for the foreseeable future. It is these public decision making bodies which local Residents have Elected for that purpose and who should make those very decisions – and those very local decisions on their own – without obligation or pressure from others who have no legitimate right to make such demands.
There is no Legal obligation upon Tewkesbury Borough to work within a partnership of 3 Local Authorities, effectively leaving it to have to accommodate the projected housing requirements of not just one but all three of those Authorities for the period in question. We do not and should not have to accept such excessive rates of development, especially when there is absolutely no benefit to the Borough and its Residents in being required to do so.
So when it comes to even setting development figures for Tewkesbury Borough itself so far in advance, I would argue that the only true beneficiaries from the ear-marking of development land on such a scale are developers themselves and those whose agendas have as yet to become fully clear.
After all, the rate of development needs dictated by genuine requirement in growth of population rather than lifestyle or investment choice will arguably be far less than the rates which have been suggested. Not since the Blitz of the 1940’s have we experienced a de facto requirement for housing development on any kind of industrial scale and there is no cogent argument which suggests that we are in a position with any such similarities now.
Regrettably, until changes take place which leave all Planning decisions in the hands of the people most qualified to make them in the locality within which they are to take place, we have no option but to accept that general Planning Policy has and will be derived from within Central Government. However, within that framework which already exists, Local Councillors and Planning Committee Members have the ability to ensure that they make the very best local decisions possible for the benefit of the people that they collectively represent as an independent Council.
We will not achieve this by putting the needs of Cheltenham Borough and Gloucester City before that of Tewkesbury Residents and allowing others to build in the future, where today there is not a single reason for us to allow them to do so.