Friday, July 20, 2012

South Somerset Local Plan - last chance to comment

In local news....

The nearly final version of the South Somerset Local Plan for 2006-28 is up for consultation, before it goes to a government planning inspector (this autumn) then comes back for approval in 2013.

You can comment online here, either through printing out a comments form or going to the plan itself and commenting on the relevant section. Comments close on August 10th,

A few thoughts from me:
 - Each version of the plan has become successively vaguer about community provision in new housing areas. This one commits to schools, health centre, employment land and green space in a large 'Urban Extension' (2500 homes) but leaves everything else up for grabs. There are phrases about what the council  'considers necessary' (Policy SS6), which is a blank cheque to planners.

 - 234 homes are planned to be crammed in to existing Key Sites (Wyndham Park, Lufton and Brimsmore). There are already 150 extra homes planned on Wyndham Park on top of the initial 700, and I must admit it's hard to see how they could be more densely packed in than they already are. But is the council getting any more money out of developers for these? It doesn't look like it.

 - The 'Sustainable Urban Extension' (SUE) is billed to start in 2016, or 2017, depending which bit of the plan you read. With 2 estates 1/3 the size of this still waiting to begin 15 years after they were first mooted, this just seems unrealistic.

 - Along with proposals for the SUE is an 'Infrastructure Delivery Plan'. Pages 28-9 recommend setting aside some land for 'faith infrastructure' within the new estate. That's encouraging, but nearly everything in the report is conditional on finding the money.

 - One of the more striking stats in the report is that the ratio of house prices to incomes rose from 3.86 in 2000 to 10 in 2006, and has only drifted down slightly since then. Now that the property is back to being a home, rather than an investment, I can't see how the housing market will recover until the ratio is significantly lower than it is at present. Which will be painful for anyone in the housing market already.

 - Demographically, South Somerset is a pretty good place to live: lower than the national average on crime, unemployment, children at risk, and life expectancy 4 years higher than the national average. We have less deprivation, and more retired people than the average: one challenge for the plan is to keep attracting younger people to the area through creating jobs, to keep the population in balance as it steadily ages.

 - The first of the councils 9 'Strategic Objectives' is Safe, resilient, socially just, inclusive and sustainable communities providing employment, homes and services in close proximity with strong networks and confident people sharing respect for each other. Strip away the jargon and hopefully that's something we can all support.

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