It is not surprising Ribble Valley Borough Council’s housing plans for the borough have figured largely in these columns recently. They are important and I understand the strength of feeling being expressed.
However, let’s be quite clear about the fundamentals.
The council is totally committed to the preservation of the unique rural nature of our borough – that is a formal part of the council’s stated objectives and any suggestion there is some hidden agenda to “swamp” the valley with unwanted development is utterly ludicrous and would in any case be political nonsense.
That said, we need to recognise we have to operate policy in the real world of planning laws and regulations. Fact: We are required to produce a 20-year plan – the Core Strategy – to identify numbers and locations of future development based on hard evidence of key indicators that must pass rigorous scrutiny by a planning inspector. It is not a “wish list” and there is no choice – we have to do it or it will be imposed upon us.
On February 2nd, Ribble Valley Borough Council’s planning committee reached a decision on the number of properties for the strategy period following nearly two years of public consultation and extensive research by our consultants. Four thousand properties for the borough for 2008 to 2028 is significantly less than most developers wanted to see, but is, we feel, the minimum acceptable in terms of Government inspection as adequate to ensure Ribble Valley remains sustainable.
A couple of other facts to remember: Of the 4,000 total, 1,800 have already been approved since 2008, leaving only 2,200 for the remaining 16 years and up to 30% of all this development will be affordable housing to help our young people and other residents to get on the housing ladder.
Perhaps the most important point is that the eventual adopted strategy, with its integral deliverable infrastructure plan, will actually enable the council to get a firm handle on future planning applications by bringing clarity and certainty – preventing overdevelopment, not causing it.
If we fail to propose a credible and defensible housing number in the Core Strategy, the inspector will reject it – as has already happened in neighbouring authorities. The borough may then be flooded with planning applications, which could be considered massive overdevelopment and which we would struggle to oppose successfully. Surely residents prefer we spent money on services and not on expensive legal appeals?
One final point: In 2028, based on the current options being considered, including large strategic sites such as the Standen Estate, Clitheroe will still only have just under 30% of the total properties in the borough – roughly equivalent to its population – not 58% as some claim. In 1995 Clitheroe had 28%.
Can a rise of 2% over 23 years really be called “dumping?
In this difficult situation we need clear, firm civic leadership to take us forward with a credible strategy: controlling development, yet serving the growing needs of the borough. We must not bury our heads in the sand and pretend we can “get away” with little or no development, which will lead to chaos and stagnation.
This is not going to happen.
By Stuart Hirst, Deputy Leader of Ribble Valley Borough Council