Why we should all care about Planning

Planning; there’s lots of talk about it at the moment. Most of us glaze over at the mention of it!  Planning is a bit like the Legal profession; we know it’s there, don’t take much notice of it and hope that it will work for us when we need it…The thing about the Planning system is that there are clearly defined times when you can express an opinion; if you miss it, the moment is gone.  For many people, the first time they notice development is when the builders move in.

Planning  is what decides how where we live looks and feels. In Ashford right now, we all need to take an interest; we live in a very desirable part of the country, with employment and high speed links to London and Paris.  Development is happening on every side of the town and is a hot topic of conversation everywhere.

Many residents feel ground down by the constant planning applications and ignored by the planning authorities. The way planning works today is not delivering quality of life for many localities – such as ours.  The Campaign for the Protection of Rural England says “it is entirely possible to have a planning system that is rebalanced towards community and environmental interest.”  Rural Means Rural agrees with this statement.

We are village residents who feel that our communities should have more say in what is built there, that the combined effects of a development should be considered and that the environmental impact in rural areas should be a major consideration. We have all participated in many Planning discussions; and seen that the application usually gets through, eventually.  The irony is that, though the developer justifies what, how  and where he builds – it is the people who already live there that have to adjust and live with the consequences.

We think that Planning needs to apply the same consideration to rural development as it does to large infrastructure projects; considering the total impact through examining all the different ways that the proposal will affect the place in which it is proposed. It would be designed to help planning to be for residents – going beyond the current Neighbourhood Plans and truly swinging the balance of planning power back into the hands of local people. We call this the Landscape Protection Policy.  It is a kind of mini- environmental audit. It is very different from any other Planning tool that exists right now.

Let’s take a practical example of how a Landscape Protection Policy could work.

There is a current planning application ( ref. 18/00225/AS) for land in Aldington.  Two years ago Aldington residents pioneered the Landscape Protection Policy approach so have already identified the special rural characteristics that they want to preserve and have collected information to help prove the impact that further development would have upon them.

The  proposal is to build  80 dwellings. If the Landscape Protection Policy were adopted by Ashford Borough Council a cumulative impact assessment would be required and would evaluate the following matters that are all not covered by the current local plan:

  • the amount of development that has already taken place and when it took place;
  • the impact of the pace of growth of new housing in the locality;
  • the cumulative positive and negative impacts on local businesses, on local services and whether the school can meet demand, on the quality of life of residents, the disruption caused by parking, noise, light and traffic pollution during development, and long and short term damage to wildlife habitats and on the built heritage;
  • the cumulative impact of the development – both on its own and in combination with previous developments – on the unique character and special features of the village that have been identified as in need of protection.

The Landscape Protection Policy and cumulative impact assessment arising from the application to develop would give communities the ability to define the grounds on which development could happen in their village.   In effect, the community gets to raise the bar for rural development so that development, when it comes, is a positive thing.  In Aldington keeping the lanes quiet, the skies dark and the hedgerows intact are all crucial to quality of life.  Like all local villages services to the village are minimal and broadband speeds a concern.

With a Landscape Protection Policy agreed, the  community would decide the circumstances under which development would be appropriate.  For example, the developer could be asked to help improve public transport to reduce car dependency, or to compensate for the effects of HGV traffic on fragile lanes by covering the costs of resurfacing and repairing the erosion of gulleys, verges and hedgerows. The village could work with wild life groups to put a programme in place, supported by contributions from developers, to address damage to hedgerows and wildlife habitats. Most importantly the Policy would put the onus on developers to build the type of housing that the community needed first and foremost, reducing executive homes and increasing smaller, more affordable houses.  Building would have to compliment the rural setting and be suitably landscaped with native plants to protect and enhance the highly valued countryside views with great care taken to minimise the effects of any lighting to avoid increasing light pollution. All in all The Landscape Protection Policy would acknowledge that rural development has very different needs to urban ones – and would ensure that developers were guided by the identified needs to keep the countryside special. 

It’s an ambitious plan and we need your help.  We need  lots of villages to demand the Landscape Protection Policy!  We will be talking to the Planning Inspectorate , an executive agency, sponsored by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government that is reviewing the Ashford Local Plan over the coming months. We will be explaining why our Council should give all Borough villages the tools to shape their community in ways that a Neighbourhood Plan does not achieve.

Join our campaign at https://ruralmeansrural.org/become-a-member/  – a few moments of your time could make all the difference.