Neighbourhood Plans – nimbyism or localism?

la1There’s an important referendum going on this week, that is, the Long Ashton Neighbourhood Development  Plan is going to the vote! I’ll confess now that I haven’t been particularly involved in this process. I was interested to begin with and took part in some discussions, but the prevailing view of the 3 or 4 people involved at the time was somewhat different to mine. The process then moved around with different people involved, until just 2 or 3 people kind of took it on as a project. I have lots of admiration for those who spent their time developing the Plan, who produced questionnaires and sought feedback, I just don’t agree with the end product!

To call it a development plan would suggest that it actually proposes some development, but this is certainly not the case. The whole Plan is premised on three main principles. Firstly, that no land be allocated for housing development. Second, that separation from Bristol is an absolute must. Third, the green belt must be protected at all costs. For me this just about says it all, it’s a plan that does little to accept that an area, just over 1 mile from the city centre of Bristol, in a prime commuter zone, where cycling and bus journeys are reasonable, has a role to play in the future development of the city region.

It’s not enough to say no more development, no more houses, protect every piece of green space at all cost. There’s no realism about the plan, it’s based on deep seated prejudice and dislike of Bristol and does nothing to support the idea of sustainable communities. Sadly, of course, the Plan will probably be approved, by a small minority of people living in the village who can be bothered to go out and vote and who at least may have heard of the Plan. It probably also reflects the narrow views of many living in the village, who despite working in Bristol and going to Bristol for leisure, seem to want nothing to do with the city once they get home. It certainly reflects the views of many of the local politicians on North Somerset Council, whose Core Strategy is currently under re-examination because of their refusal to accept that the housing need in the area is significant and they need to plan for it. Indeed, even our own Parish Council seem to view housing in any form as a real negative. Recent discussion at a Parish Council meeting about new housing development suggested that they would rather not insist on affordable housing as part of the scheme as that would just bring the ‘wrong’ sort of people into the village from places like Weston-super-Mare. Other discussions have suggested that the housing need is purely because of people moving out of Bristol and we shouldn’t had to accommodate them!

There’s a lot to be commended in the Plan in terms of it’s protection of local spaces and buildings, it’s connection with what’s important to the local community, and supporting local retail and jobs. However, this notion of “an area of separation” is bizarre, it’s all about creating a visual and actual separation from the City of Bristol, when in any other area, where administrative boundaries had been drawn sensibly, Long Ashton would already be part of the city. To produce a Plan on the basis that this ‘separation’ is critical seems not only strange but completely unrealistic. With the South Bristol Link currently being developed, the Long Ashton Park & Ride and David Lloyd Leisure Centre, already linking the edge of the village with Ashton Vale and South Bristol, the connection is already there. Indeed, with the development of the new road it is unlikely that further development in what is currently Green Belt will be successfully resisted in the future. Therefore the Plan is likely to fail on one of its key principles, and to a point, already has – the current separation is a mere field or two between houses in the village and the Long Ashton Park & Ride site.

The Plan talks about Long Ashton as a ‘small rural settlement’ which is not a term I would use for the village – it’s a linear extension to Bristol, which has seen significant growth over recent decades, because of its proximity to the centre of Bristol. I guess that’s why local people are so resistant to more development, there’s a feeling that Long Ashton has taken more than its fair share of new housing. That may be the case, but there’s a reason for that, its proximity to Bristol makes it an obvious place to extend and expand. Otherwise you push new housing further away, jumping the greenbelt and make commuter journeys even longer.

I would like to have seen more creativity and innovation in the Plan. At the moment it reads like a standard planning document produced by a local authority. Although occasionally it does go beyond some of the Core Strategy policies, this is not always in a positive way. The notion that any new housing ‘must’ include adequate off road parking appropriate to the number of bedrooms, seems to be a step back to the 1980s where we continue to assume that all households will have at least 2 cars and we must plan for them. On a positive, the Plan talks about food growing, but equates this with the need for all new housing to have adequate garden space. Again, this will lead us back to the sprawl estates of the 1980s, low density, unsustainable development, dominated by the car. Is that what we really want in Long Ashton?

I’m sure the Plan will be approved but I’m not sure it’ll make much difference. We’re in the middle of a housing crisis, housing growth is needed and a plan that refuses to acknowledge that does’t deserve to make any difference.

NB. the results are now in – 94.8% voted in favour on a 33.6% turnout

To find out more and read the plan visit the Long Ashton Parish Council website.