I recently received the below letter from Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, concerning the revocation of the regional strategy for the South East of England Plan. I warmly welcome this announcement which means that the top down Central Government targets for house building will be scrapped. It will give more responsibility to elected local councillors to decide how much development we need and where it should take place.
Archive for the ‘Stoke Mandeville’ Category
A letter from Eric Pickles concerning the revocation of the regional strategy for the South East of England PlanFebruary 14, 2013
Residents in Weston Turville and Bedgrove will know that the consortium hoping to build 3000+ homes on the Hampden Fields site recently submitted a revised planning application. This included some significant changes to the original plan. They then applied to the Communities and Local Government Secretary, Eric Pickles, to decide the case. There was a lot of local surprise at this since neither Aylesbury Vale Council nor local residents had had time to consider the new plans. From what the consortium has said, it would seem likely that what has driven them is a fear that the Planning Inspectorate would decide the appeal against AVDC’s refusal of the Fleet Marston development proposal (North of Berryfields) ahead of any decision on Hampden Fields. Presumably they fear that if the Inspector allows development at Fleet Marston, it would weaken the case for yet more housing at Hampden Fields.
Anyhow, I’ve signed off a letter to Mr Pickles to make clear my view that it would be wrong for his Department or the Planning Inspectorate to accept the Hampden Fields case for decision at this stage, when there has not been anything approaching a reasonable time for the revised proposals to be considered locally. My understanding is that the Inspectors are still considering whether or not to accept the case onto their list. I’ll post the text of the letter here as soon as possible.
I’ve also lobbied the Planning Minister Nick Boles about the need for the Government to deliver on its policy of scrapping the previous administration’s Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS) which include Labour’s housing targets. He told me that they would do so but that since the courts had struck down their first attempt to do this, they needed to be absolutely certain of their legal ground. The good news is that just before Christmas Ministers announced the scrapping of the RSS for Eastern England. I shall continue to press hard for early action to do the same for the South East targets.
At the most recent round of Community Forum meetings HS2 Ltd provided details on their current thinking for the locations of construction sites and road diversions and I have included copies of the information they provided below. HS2 Ltd stressed at the meeting that these plans are not final and are subject to change.
Last month, the Planning Inspectorate and the Secretary of State upheld AVDC’s refusal of planning permission for about 1400 homes, a primary school and other facilities in the so-called Quarrendon Fields area which lies between the approved development areas at Berryfields and Weedon Hill/Buckingham Park.
The documents, including the full text of the Inspector’s report can be seen HERE. The Inspector sets out her reasons for upholding the Council’s decision in paragraphs 121 onwards.
The arguments set out here strike me as very relevant to the current planning application in respect of the so-called Hampden Fields area between Bedgrove and Weston Turville. I suspect that both AVDC and the development consortium will be looking carefully at the Inspector’s reasoning.
The local NHS consultation closes on 16 April.
To see a short and jargon-free summary and to comment online you can look HERE.
The proposals include changes to hospital services at Stoke Mandeville and Wycombe. There’s been a fair bit of coverage in the local media already but if you haven’t yet what is being suggested and want to have your say, do follow the link.
I recently filmed a short video in my role as Minister for Europe marking 200 days until the start of the London 2012 Paralympic Games. As you may know a torch merging ceremony is due to take place the day before the start of the Paralympics in Stoke Mandeville. To watch the video please click here.
I recently received a letter from Stoke Mandeville Parish Council concerning a meeting they recently held with UKNP and I have enclosed a copy of its body below. Constituents may be interested to read the letter I wrote to Mr Scarsella referred to below in my blog post of 14 December and his response in my blog post of 5 January.
The Parish Council met with Ian Rudd Area Manager and Mary Preece Customer Relations Manager UK Power Networks on 4th January to discuss the number of power cuts suffered in the village during the past two years. This is the second meeting after many months of correspondence. We were handed a copy of their letter to yourself from Basil Scarsella Chief Executive Officer and thank you for your intervention.
Our meeting was successful and work commenced on 9th January to install a new power circuit across the railway bridge, using existing ducts within the footpath.
The problem evidently has been that Stoke Mandeville village is between two power supply stations which stop and start at the railway bridge but for those roads from the railway bridge towards the church and beyond, there has been only a single supply system with no possibility of a switch over to a standby supply when a failure occurred. An additional power circuit to this area has now been provided and should avoid power failures from this source in the future. UKPN emphasised to us however that it is tree clearance which will make the most difference as most of our power lines are above ground and in rural areas. A new contractor has been brought in to clear trees around power lines with ongoing maintenance and line patrols to inspect on a regular basis. It was also noted that problems could still exist due to unexpected underground cable faults, illegal tampering with the distributing network and theft of equipment but this is more widespread than the area with which we have been concerned.
The Parish Council feels reassured that something more positive and constructive is being done than had been our past experience.
I spent Friday in Kent looking first-hand at the impact that the Channel Tunnel High Speed rail route had had there. I travelled to Ashford with the Managing Director of Southeastern, the rail company that operates the local rail services serving the whole of Kent. In the county, I met parish councillors from two villages beside which HS1 was built, local campaigners fromk the Ebbsfleet/Gravesham area, Kent County Councillors and KCC officers, including planners who had been closely involved in coping with the railway’s construction and operation. I also stood right by the HS1 route while both a local fast service and a Eurostar train passed.
Inevitably, one day can only give you a brief impression of what people in Kent went through and live with now. To start with, there are two major differences between HS1 and the proposed HS2. First, Kent actually has stations – at Ashford and Ebbsfleet- and not just the Eurostar services but fast local services run along the HS1 tracks. So there are some benefits to local people in terms of better services to be weighed against the adverse impact. Second, for most of its length HS1 runs alongside a six-lane motorway. There is simply no comparison between that and the Misbourne Valley route. To label them equally as “transport corridors” is risible.
Southeastern told me that they now had more passengers from towns like Ashford and Folkestone using the high speed services than using the conventional trains, despite a 20 per cent fare premium for the high speed option. They argued that passengers were willing to pay the extra because they valued the time saved from the daily commute and the opportunities that that gave to them for leisure and family life. I challenge them as to whether this meant that they were providing a rich man’s service. They denied this, arguing that their trains were used by people on average incomes too. In don’t know whether there are published figures to show the number of passengers from different income groups. The local campaigners and parish councillors were more sceptical about the transport benefits. they said that the Department for Transport’s original predictions of passenger numbers and revenue had not come close to being fulfilled and said that they resented paying through taxes and higher fares for a line that only a minority of the county’s population used.
It was difficult to gauge the noise impact, in large part because the proximity of the motorway inevitably dulled the impact of train noise. While the noise from the two trains that I observed was less intrusive and shorter in duration than I had expected, those trains were shorter and travelling more slowly (140mph for the local service and 180 mph for Eurostar) than is predicted for HS2 (250 mph). Local campaigners said that while noise barriers did work pretty well, out in open country with no noise barrier the impact was much greater. To my mind this reinforced the need for detailed and reliable noise maps to be available for study and comment before any final decision is taken on HS2.
I saw a cut and cover tunnel at the edge of one village. Visually, I would not immediately have known that there was a tunnel there had I not been expecting it. The village road had been reinstated over the top of the tunnel and the depth of the topsoil layer meant that oak trees were now growing on top of the structure. However, the parish councillor from that village said that construction had meant disruption, temporary road closures and diversions and a lot of dust over a couple of years. He also said that compensation had been ungenerous and taken far too long to get settled. Kent County Council briefed me about rescue archaeology along the route and on how some historic buildings had been dismantled and relocated.
In terms of lessons learned, Kent CC said that with hindsight they would have engaged earlier over the issue of overhead gantries, which were visually very intrusive, and tried to get the DfT to waive its normal rules about safety barriers on bridges. It was the inflexible imposition of these rules that had left a number of country lanes looking permanently suburbanised, when there was no objective need for large concrete barriers in such locations. One of the things that had worked well was the establishment of an environmental fund, financed by central government and administered by an independent trust, that could give local groups grants to finance local environmental projects.
What came across from all the conversations I had is that that people in Kent, whether officials, councillors or grass-roots campaigners are happy to share their experiences with colleagues in Buckinghamshire. They too had to go through the experience of learning very quickly about a range of technical issues and drawing on their knowledge may help Bucks constituents in their campaign.
This study was mentioned in a lot of this morning’s broadcast media but was not, when I checked, available on Network Rail’s web site. However, a journalist has kindly emailed me a copy which I have posted here.