Monday, 28 June 2010

WALC Rugby Branch Meeting - 24 June

Last Thursday I attended the Rugby branch meeting of the Warwickshire and West Midlands Association of Local Councils (WALC) in Rugby. This was the annual joint meeting that the WALC Rugby branch has with Rugby Borough Council in order to discuss matters of joint concern and interest.

There were a number of different issues discussed, including fly tipping/litter, dog fouling and flooding. However, the issue that interested me most was an update from Rugby Borough Council as to recent developments regarding the production of the borough's Gypsy and Traveller Site Allocations Development Plan Document.

In May, I blogged that Councillor Tony Gillias had reported at the Shilton Annual Parish Meeting that production of this important planning document - that would identify where, within the Rugby borough area, provision for the 42 extra gypsy and traveller pitches that were needed between now and 2017 were to be located - had been delayed, and would not now be adopted until July 2012. At the time, I indicated how disappointed I was that this plan had been delayed from February 2011 to July 2012.

As with so much to do with local government, there is a long and tortuous history to the production of the Gypsy and Traveller Site Allocations Development Plan Document, and for a recap you should read my blog post from January this year. However, in summary, the plan would have allocated land for the 42 extra pitches that the West Midlands Regional Spatial Strategy said that Rugby Borough Council had to find. Each local authority in the West Midlands had to identify sufficient land within its area to provide for the number of pitches that the Regional Spatial Strategy required of it. Rugby's total was forty-two.

This was all well and good, until the incoming Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government decided to abolish Regional Spatial Strategies. In fairness, this policy was common knowledge by everyone well in advance of May's General Election, but it's implementation has left local councils (including Rugby) with a fair amount of uncertainty. It was the Regional Spatial Strategy that said Rugby BC should provide for 42 extra pitches, but if the Regional Spatial Strategy has been scrapped, how many pitches should it now provide for? And because of this uncertainty, Rugby has actually decided to do.......... well, nothing.

It has formally decided to suspend any work on producing its Gypsy and Traveller Site Allocations Development Plan Document for the next six months, in which time it hopes to get guidance from the Government as to how many pitches it needs to accommodate. Which means, at the very earliest, there will be no Site Allocations Plan in force until January 2013.

I strongly believe that this is bad news for Shilton and Barnacle. A Site Allocations Plan would have ensured that traveller sites were located in areas where they were most suited, both for travellers themselves and the settled community. It would have given clear planning guidance to travellers as to where Rugby BC would support their applications for sites, and it would have avoided the "one rule for us and another rule for them" argument that can so damage community relations. As it is, we are no further forward in finding a planning solution to the siting of traveller sites in the borough than we've ever been. And there's now no realistic likelihood of any progress being made within the next year.

The Government thinks that local councils are best left making these sorts of decisions, without having to implement diktats "from above". I am all for giving local authorities more powers and responsibilities, but on this issue I have to say that I think the Government is wrong. The West Midlands Regional Spatial Strategy evened out the amount of pitches that each council had to provide, to ensure that sites were provided across the region and that no one council area was required to provide a significantly larger number of extra pitches than any other council area.

As I said in January, Rugby's original allocation of 66 extra pitches was revised down to 42, and the surplus 24 pitches were re-allocated to neighbouring authorities. But now with no Regional Spatial Strategy to enforce that re-allocation of pitches, have a guess at how many of Rugby's 'surplus' 24 pitches the councils in Coventry, North Warwickshire, Tamworth and Warwick will want to volunteer to provide??

The hope is that the Government, within the next six months, will issue clear guidance to local authorities and the Planning Inspectorate as to how they are to determine applications for traveller sites. And if the answer is to leave it up to each council to determine, and provide for, its own need (as most councils want), then Rugby will be a big loser. Anyone who thought that traveller sites should be allocated more evenly across the West Midlands should not be happy at the scrapping of Regional Spatial Strategies.

I'm hugely doubtful, given all of the other national issues that need to be addressed, whether anything will be forthcoming before Christmas. But until it does, Rugby Borough Council are not going to do any more work on developing its policies for the proper provision of gypsy and traveller sites within the borough.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Parish Council Meeting - 1 June

On Tuesday night I attended the June meeting of Shilton Parish Council. There was a fairly light agenda for this meeting, resulting in an early finish and back home for 9.00pm. However, there were a few items of interest that were considered.

As part of the Shilton and Barnacle Parish Plan, the
Warwickshire Rural Community Council had previosuly carried out a Housing Needs Survey to determine what local need there was for new housing in either of the villages. The Housing Needs Survey is an important document because Rugby Borough Council should only give planning permission for new housing development in the parish where it is intended to meet an identifiable local housing need. Up until the production of the Parish Plan, it was not known what the additional housing need was for local people with a connection to either of the villages. This left the parish open to 'evidence' submitted on behalf of a developer that what either village really needed was a new estate of five-bedroomed Executive housing, and we would have had no hard evidence to show that this wasn't the case.

However, the Housing Needs Survey only identified a need for 3 x two-bedroomed houses in the parish. The only new development that Rugby Borough Council should therefore allow is a planning application that will meet this identified need.

Warwickshire Rural Community Council has been looking to identify suitable land in either Shilton or Barnacle where these three properties could be built, and one piece of land recently identified was in Spring Road, Barnacle. I had my concerns about the suitability of this site, principally because of the dangerous junction at Spring Road/Top Road. A small development of three houses could still result in six or more extra cars using this junction on a daily basis, and I was not comfortable in supporting this because of the potential increase in traffic at a junction that is, effectively, blind from all three directions.

Warwickshire County Council's Highways Department shared this concern, and once they indicated that they would object to any development in Spring Road on highway safety grounds, the proposal was effectively vetoed. Warwickshire Rural Community Council will continue their search for other possible sites that would be suitable for development and will report back to future meetings of the parish council.

Councillor Bill King, Chairman of the parish council, also reported that our annual accounts for the last financial year had now been audited and given a clean bill of health. So, for anyone who's interested in what your money goes on, here are Shilton Parish Council's finalised accounts for 2009/10:

Burial fees - £1,885
Wayleave - £8
Precept - £15,580

Total - £17,473

Cemetery maintenance - £917
General administration - £4,835
Playing field maintenance - £1,127
Car park - £3,007
Land at Ash Tree Grove - £950
s137 payments - £100
Barnacle notice board - £360
Street lighting - £3,788

Total - £15,084

Balance at start of year - £861

Income less expenditure - £2,389

Balance at end of year - £3,250

The next parish council meeting is on Tuesday 6 July.