Plans to zone the lower slopes of a Shropshire hill for housing development would clearly damage one of the most sensitive landscapes in the region, says Phil Bennion MEP.
|Top: Phil Bennion viewing the proposed housing sites from across the valley in Church Stretton with Cllr Bob Welch. Below: Attending the packed meeting afterwards. 200 residents turned up (at least) out of a population of 2,700.|
The county MEP, Lib Dem Tourism Spokesman in European Parliament, attended a packed public meeting called by Church Stretton Civic Society to galvanise opposition to the proposals by Shropshire Council.
Nearly 200 residents turned up at the Silvester Horne Institute to discuss the Council's revised 'SAMDev' consultation on sites for future housebuilding in the town, which lies between the Long Mynd and Caer Caradoc in the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The Conservative-led Council has sparked outrage by proposing to develop a large site at New House Farm on the lower slopes of Caer Caradoc on the east side of the A49, against the wishes of the Town Council, the Civic Society and many residents in the previous round of consultation.
Planning officials did not attend but sent a written statement, which maintained that the site, clearly visible from the hills and footpaths all around the town, was of limited landscape value.
Summing up after two hours of debate, which included heckling of local county councillors, the Civic Society Chairman Charles Simmonds said: "This proposal does not meet the needs of the town. If it goes ahead, it will only be a matter of time before there are hundreds of houses on this hillside."
Town Councillors including the Mayor Cllr Michael Braid and local Lib Dem Cllr Bob Welch stessed that they supported affordable new homes in suitable locations and that alternative sites were available. The Mayor claimed that the County Council's document 'seriously misrepresented' the views of residents and the Town Council in the previous consultation.
Phil Bennion MEP urged residents who were opposed to write to the Council with a formal objection.
"As a former member of a County Council planning committee, I have experience of the way decisions like this are taken. It is vital that objections are made on the basis of visual impact, access and safety and sustainability."
"Nevertheless I have to say that Church Stretton is a beautiful town with great potential as a tourism destination, an increasingly important source of employment and income. We have a fabulous legacy of beautiful landscape and globally important heritage sites in Shropshire and across the region.
"It would be a tragedy if this was ignored in the course of allocating future housing sites, which must be carried out with the greatest possible community engagement.
"From viewing the site earlier, it seems clear to me that the proposal would have a significant impact on the landscape and amenity value of the AONB, which is of more than purely local importance. I will be objecting along these lines."
The deadline for objections to the SAMDev consultation is 5pm on August 23rd 2013.
Note: Further information on the Site Allocations and Management of Development (SAMDev) Revised Preferred Options plan for Church Stretton and its surrounding area can be viewed here:
To have your say on the proposals, use the Survey Monkey online questionnaire here:
In their objection, the Civic Society say:
"Shropshire Council assesses the site as having low landscape sensitivity (written brief to the Civic Society from the Planning" Policy Team dated 31/07/2013 and a site assessment). The Society objects strongly to this assessment which simply does not conform to the location of New House Farm within the AONB. The site is highly visible from a number of key points, as illustrated by photographs on the developer’s web-site. The developer’s Landscape and Visual assessment Statement accepts that “- - the size of the (housing) site is quite large so its impact on the landscape would be significant.” The statement goes on to confirm the significant visual impact the whole development would have on nearby residents, users of recreational footpaths, nearby views from Caer Caradoc and more distant views from the Long Mynd. The proposed development, by itself, let alone the prospect of future expansion on the site, would have a significant adverse impact on the AONB by the creation of a new urbanisation on the slopes of Helmeth Hill and Caer Caradoc.
The allocation of this site does not comply with:
a) National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)
Para 115 “Great weight should be given to conserving landscape and scenic beauty in National Parks, the Broads and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which have the highest status of protection in relation to landscape and scenic beauty”