Where next for our village and the Civic Trust?

Back in the autumn of 2011 The Civic Trust featured an article in The Rollestonian concerning the new Localism Bill. Our new Coalition Government promised a voice for the people at Neighbourhood level in planning matters to protect our towns and villages from the threat of rampant development. The people were to produce their own “Neighbourhood Plans” which would allow them to have their say in how they wanted their neighbourhoods to develop and protect our beloved countryside from the desires of developers.

We did question the small print that said the plans must reflect National (Government) and Local (Borough Council) Plans and wondered which would take precedence. But hopes were high, this could really give local people a say in their future.

Rolleston Parish Council was at the forefront in the realisation as to what this could mean to towns and villages throughout our Country and quickly set in motion the means of producing our own Neighbourhood plan. A Steering group was formed by the PC from members of our Community (including The Civic Trust), meetings and drop in sessions were held, opinions were canvassed, questionnaires were issued, filled in and returned: and the Village gave a clear message as to what it wanted. The Village Neighbourhood Plan took shape, was issued for consultation to the community and appeared well received. Localism was alive in Rolleston and the Village seemed to like it. Perhaps Government intended to listen after all.

At Local Level (ESBC) however, things were not going so well. Their Local (Core Strategy)Plan seemed a little unsure as to the number of new houses required and where. What they were sure of, however, was that Rolleston was a village of means and had facilities that attracted members of the surrounding Communities to come to Rolleston to shop and use our non existent village hall or other attractions and amenities. So good are these facilities that Rolleston has been deemed a “Strategic Village” and: therefore falls into the category of Villages that need 100+ new houses. To fulfil this need the village requires the “Strategic Development” on The College Playing Field Site.

The Parish Council and the Village as a whole strongly disagree with this unilateral declaration of strategic importance by ESBC and the requirement for this “strategic” development, and have said so. Most villagers and the members of surrounding Parishes still use Burton for their needs and do not flock to Rolleston. This however is to no avail as ESBC know best. So be informed, you are of strategic importance, or at least the College Playing Fields are.

We are informed by ESBC that our Neighbourhood Plan does not conform to Their draft Core Strategic Plan and is not acceptable. We are told that certain parts of it are very good but in essence it does not reflect the amount of development we have been told we must have irrespective of what we want.

Here we come to the crux of the matter and the worries that niggled two years ago. Did the Government really intend to give the People a say in their future and what happens in their Towns and Villages. The answer is loud and clear and has been provided by ESBC.

I ask “is it me”; or does every promise that Government; of any persuasion; makes to let “The People” have influence in matters affecting our lives actually reduce our ability to do so.

So what now for the Village and the Civic Trust. We have seen our role in the planning process decimated over the past years. Our voice is no longer listened to or (we think) wanted. The default position now is in favour of development and from what we read in the press it appears planners are advising elected Local Councils that they must accept proposed developments if they are approved by the unelected planning authorities or run the risk of incurring unacceptable costs if decisions are reversed on appeal. Who is in charge?

Far from involving the people in planning this “Localism” Legislation appears to be having a totally opposite effect.

So does the Civic Trust have a voice anymore? Is there a need for a Civic Trust as an independent planning watchdog ? Our Village is under attack, our conservation area which was once protected by The Planning Authorities has seen many “relaxations in requirements” and we are told to welcome development or wither and die.

Local interest in the activities and aims of the Civic Trust is on the wane and membership is falling. Perhaps we are not dynamic enough for this new world which wants to swallow up our villages and our green fields. Perhaps we should be more pro-active in our response to development and re-set our default mechanism’s to acceptance as requested by our leaders.

(Rollestonian Autumn 2013 - Article by Peter Barnett, RCC Chairman)

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Last updated: 29 September 2013