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Vision for Wiltshire

As I tried to put together my final thoughts on Wiltshire's Strategic Plan Consultation, I helped myself by putting an overview of my thoughts together so that my inputs really will be strategic and not just about what we want / don't want in our back yard!




A Vision for Wilsthire ...

Where should Wiltshire be going in the next 20 years? What will your home town and your lifestyle be in (say) 2026, or the years leading up to it and thereafter? Is this a place that you'll be proud to live in, or have your children living in? Is it going to be somewhere that's a safe, happy, practical, and environmentally and economically sustainable for everyone?

Wiltshire Council is currently soliciting views under their ""Core Strategy"" consultation so that they can take those views into consideration as the formulate stategic plans leading up to 2026 and beyond. There are bold decisions to be made - and the question "where do we want to be in 2026?" needs to be asked and answered prior to the question "how do we get there?"

Overview

Wiltshire has been descibed as a "largely rural county" but at the current time, that applies only to the fact that most of the land is not built up, but rather is agricultural or open. The majority of the population lives in towns or the city of Salisbury rather than in villages, hamlets or isolated dwellings, and the majority of the working population and economic wealth is within those towns and cities rather than in the villages and countryside.

However, a disproportionate expense attaches to the village / isolated dwellings; it costs more to provided a bus service five miles to a village of 500 people than it does to server 500 people who live in the next streets in a town to where a bus serves another community, and furthermore the children in the village will need to be provided with transport to school, whereas as an extension of the town they'll simply be able to walk to school. So this urbanisation is not only efficient when it comes to cost, but also when it come to the time, efficiency, sustainability for the people involved.

Under the Regional Spatial Strategy that's already in place, considerable population growth is called for in Wiltshire, and we should be looking at growth of between 15% and 40% in the number of individuals in the County. On current trends (which look set to continue), average household size is reducing and where a typical home may have 2.6 people at present, it will have 2.3 in 20 years. The population is also aging, which means there is a need for a disproportionate growth in services for the elderly - health care, mobility, leisure activities, home support, etc.

Will we have the resources to see us through to 2026 and beyond (and should we be looking beyond)?

1. Even with the additional housing stock implied by the plans being built at low density on what is currently agricultural land, well under 2% of such land would be taken up. In practise, with grouped housing / higher density living in affordable homes, sheltered and cared accommodation, the figure will be considerably lower. However, not all agricultural land is suitable for development, with issues such as flooding, waterlogging, and access to be considered.

2. Fossil fuels and other materials are limited resources; at current rates of use, some resources are set to run out (it is said) within 20 years, whereas other resources will continue to be available into the distant future. Whilst further resources may be found / available / forthcoming, it is prudent to make efficient uses of what resources we have, and to use alternatives which are less limited or are replemished / sustained into the future.

3. The effect of human life on the wide environment is also under consideration - be it in the form of 'global warming', carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, effects on the strathosphere such as the ozone layer. These items may be much argued over - is it indeed the effect of human life and our way of living that's effecting the environment around us, or is it just natural cycles? But once again, it is prudent for us to reduce the effect we have on the wider environment around us - if we damage our environment, it may be permanent - but if we preserve it, the worst we'll be doing is taking some unneeded precuations.

4. Local waste is also an issue - the immediate fouling of the area that we live in, quite apart from the wider area. We're looking at rubbish, clogged roads, overrun services, and once again it does no harm to go forward with a less heavy footprint even though (in the benefit of hindsight) it might not turn out to have been necessary.

To make more use than is really needed of resources that may run out in the future, and in doing so to perhaps produce a negative global and local environmental is hypocritical. To cherish resources, using less resource rather than more, and using something that's more replemishable rather than less, is the only logical and caring way for us to go.

So what does putting this together mean for Wiltshire?

The growth necessary for to support the future population can come in several ways.

a) The extra growth could be allowed to happen ad-hoc, with commercial interests taking he lead and with infrastructure provision following.

b) A new town could be built, with the extra growth being placed there and existing towns continuing on with little change

c) Extra growth could be channelled into the existing towns

Ad-hoc development would lead to a sprawl of communities - a growth of villages and hamlets, of bottlenecks and no-go zones. There's no natural geography in Wiltshire (as perhaps there would be in a land of valleys such as the Norwegian Fjords) which would provide an external influence to channel ad-hoc growth in modern society whereas there was in the past - with towns developing in valley bottoms or at defendable positions.

A new town could be provided in Wiltshire - indeed "West of Swindon" is such a suggestion - but it will cost a great deal to provide complete and new infrastructure not only for a town, but for a substantial town with the facilites to be considered complete. And such a new town, with the corollary of ceasing most moves forward at other towns in the vicinity, could lead to those other towns moving into a slow decline.

Extra growth into existing towns will mean some growing pains, but also some huge opportunities; towns need to be looked at individually to see what suits them best. There are some towns which are currently of a natural size and with a natural character where substantial growth would detract from that balance and character which should be retained ... where current infrastructure is not easily extensible, and local opinion is in favour of the status quo. There are other towns for which growth would be a positive benefit, bringing them to a size where that can have a much more complete range of facilities, and where such growth is welcomed and encouraged from within the town.

There is a natural desire on the part of many people to ask for their own area to be left alone, and for development to carry on elsewhere, and if everyone succeeeded with this argument ("NIMBYism") then nothing would get done. But a town that's being left alone will typically going into a quiet decline, and it won't be that the status quo is maintained - it's likely that you'll see a slow degredation of services, and an increase in poverty.

Wiltshire Council's draft strategy

The council's draft strategy calls for substantial growth in Chippenham, Trowbridge, and in an are known as "West of Swindon". (Salisbury and South Wiltshire have their own plan and are outside the scope of the current consultation).

For the next level of town - ranging from Melksham (largest in the group) down to towns with populations of around 4000 to 5000, it calls for a lower level of growth - essentially looking at what the current setup will support, with an expectation that an increasing number of services will need to be accessed from "the big three". These towns are know as the "market towns" in the Wiltshire Council documents

For smaller towns / and villages, the plans are broadly for infill, with many places not mentioned in the plans because nothing will be added, and others mentioned because a pocket of land has been identified within the town / village where extra houses could be built.

New communities / development in halmets with minimal services / isolated homesteads and small clumps of houses are discouraged by the strategy.

The strategy has much to commend it, and congratulations are due to Wiltshire Council on many areas of the strategy. However, a more detailed looked and further comment needs to be made, and plans amended to take account, in a number of areas.

Areas of Concern

a) Has the correct division been made between the larger towns and the Market Towns? Have the aspirations of the local population been truely considered, and is it right to treat a town of 23,000 in the same [headline] way that you treat one of 4,000, rather than treating it similarly to a town of 28,000? Statements made by staff (and planning recommendations already made by them) from the spatial planning unit conflict with the view of local businesses and population.

b) The individual area plans each need considerable local review. Some appear to have been drawn up in haste (and to be fair, this IS a consultation excercise), with information shown on plans being directly contradicted by Wiltshire Council employees who were on hand at the exhibitions held around the area in November and early December.

c) There is concern that not enough opportunity is being taken to implement the sustainability issues as defined earlier in this document within the plans; although they are being spoken of, that's not followed through as much as it could be to the detail of planning for people to enjoy a high standard of living and services with a practical reduction on the use of resources (including their own time) and production of waste to have such a standard.

Glossary:

"County" -> Unitary Areas
"Towns" -> Towns and City of Salisbury
"Larger Towns" -> Towns that are proposed as major centres - currently Salisbury, Chippenham, Trowbridge and West-of-Swindon
"Market Towns" -> Towns with population of 4,000 to 25,000, proposed for more limited satellite growth




Having cleared my mind with some of those broad brush strokes and asking "where are we going and why?", I have come up with the following which are worthy of detailed review / possible input

1. Should Melksham be considered / treated as a larger town, or a market town?

2. Where should the planned growth in the Melksham area be placed / where should be ungrown?

3. What infrastructure changes should be made for Melksham

4. How does travel and transport work within, through, between and beyond Wiltshire's settlements?

5. Tourism, culture and leisure


(written 2009-12-20, updated 2009-12-21)

 
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