Rural character of landscape at risk

June 04 2020

IN the April edition of Wells Voice, Adrian I’Anson made a spirited plea for the value of a Neighbourhood Plan, at a time when localism was making a welcome comeback in tackling the Covid-19 epidemic.

He pointed out that the Local Plan, produced by Mendip District Council, sadly over-rides any Neighbourhood Plan. Had Adrian been at the meeting a month earlier, held at the White Hart, when Tracey Aarons, a senior figure in MDC, reported on the new central planning targets for local authorities, he might have been dismayed at the scale of the promised changes. Not only were housing targets rising, but the role of local councils will also change, in that they have to identify plots that developers can use for five years ahead.

This will mean that for Wells to meet the government targets it will either have to build tenements, persuade the Church Commissioners to release land adjoining the Cathedral and Bishop’s Palace, or poach on land within St Cuthbert Out boundaries.

St Cuthbert Out surrounds Wells and represents over a dozen rural villages and hamlets. The current situation means that SCOPC councillors hear residents’ views and objections, make a decision on their behalf, then find this local decision is ignored and over-ruled at the next level.

Developers like Gladman, for example, enjoy an annual turnover of £100 million and profits of £25 million. They operate in terms of housing units, gathered as an estate of identical houses, with no contributions to infrastructure, such as a community hall, a school or health practice. Their thinking does not extend to the needs of residents, families or communities. They are rich enough to buy out farmers, landowners and businesses. They are backed by a government that sees local authorities as their “land supply agents”. The whole rural character of the land round Wells will become urbanised, as estate after estate covers this “green and pleasant land”.

Tracey Aarons recognised a further danger in the new order. The aim is to build housing, but not just for local needs. No one actually does an audit of who buys the houses: they are sold to whoever can afford them. Furthermore, many are sold to clients abroad looking for an investment in the UK housing market.

Given recent lockdown experiences in London and other conurbations, many more potential buyers will be seeking to move to a safer, greener South West.

The new centralised planning order is a form of top-down predation by the rich one per cent on powerless and weakened local authorities. Wake up Wells, indeed! You will no longer be England’s smallest city… We shall have the Kings Lyatt High Rise Towers, and a dozen estates adjoining with beguiling names like North Horrington Heights, The Dinder Hills, Worminster Meadows, Coxley Fields and Launceston Leas.

Councillor Pablo Foster
St Cuthbert Out Parish Council