This week, Forest of Dean MP , Mark Harper, used his Facebook column to make clear his opposition to the District Council’s ill-thought-out plan for a new town as their preferred option for the upcoming Local Plan.
His comment is reproduced here in full.
THE LOCAL PLANNING LOWDOWN
Some will already be familiar with the District Council’s mooted plans to build several thousand houses near Churcham.
I know that planning and housing conjures up lots of views, especially over plans such as these, so I thought I would take this opportunity to set out the current situation in the Forest of Dean and the area’s Local Plan for housebuilding.
We find ourselves in a situation where the District Council don’t really need to build several thousand houses near Churcham, on a floodplain and near a busy road junction. Their own planning documents show that we can meet the housing targets through a combination of existing settlement expansion and by developing the site at Beachley to be vacated by the MoD within the next decade.
In order for the Beachley plans to work, my neighbouring MP David TC Davies and I continue to make the case for a Chepstow bypass in order to fix the congestion at the English-Welsh border. You can’t build more houses at Beachley without dealing with the traffic situation. Central Government sets targets on how many extra houses each area needs, based on, amongst other things, Office for National Statistics figures on population growth. It was the case for a couple of months in 2020 that a ‘mutant algorithm’ might force the District Council to build many more houses each year than usual. Plainly, this would not do. In the end, this did not come to pass thanks to pressure put on the Government by over 70 Conservative MPs, myself included. I am glad that they listened.
This means that the District Council are now only being asked to build a similar number of houses as they have been for the last few years. Had that ‘mutant algorithm’ come to pass, the District Council could have reasonably blamed the Government for forcing them to build lots more houses than our area could cope with, resulting in the kind of strange plan at Churcham. However, thanks to the work of my colleagues and I to get the algorithm dropped, the District Council no longer have that excuse and cannot pass the buck to anyone else.
My own view on planning has always been consistent: new housing should be in keeping with the surrounding area, both in scale and style, and any significant new settlements should be targeted at already developed brownfield sites. The recent suggestion by the District Council of building several thousand houses in the vicinity of the A48/A40, close to Churcham, doesn’t seem to pass that entirely reasonable test. This is especially true given the significant traffic congestion which frequently occurs at the A40/A48 junction.
So, that’s where we are at the moment.
As we approach important local elections on 6 May, it is important to bear in mind that the District Council’s planning policy is run by the Green Party.
It’s a reminder of what you get if your local Councillors aren’t Conservatives.