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Planning report

Essex Bridge, Great Haywood Essex Bridge, Great Haywood Bob Bray

Planning Report


In my darker moments I’m reminded of the cri du coeur of Kenneth Williams in “Carry on Cleo” – “Infamy! Infamy!  They’ve all got it in for me!

2012 can’t help but leave that impression!  Hard on the heels of the abortive proposals for privatisation of Britain’s forest estates (comprehensively rejected by popular clamour) there followed the ill-fated NPPF – National Planning Policy Framework – which although desperately-needed as a simplification of a cumbersome planning system was seen as weighted too far in the direction of a free-for-all “open sesame” for greedy developers.  The subsequent campaign saw CPRE allied with the impressive force of the National Trust – and the Telegraph newspaper – in securing welcome modifications in defence of the countryside, and the environment.

At the same time battle-lines were drawn over highly-contentious proposals for HS2 (High Speed Rail).  The first stretch from London to Birmingham – and beyond to Lichfield – of this 225/250mph railroad attracted highly-motivated and resourced opposition to inter alia its routing through Green Belts, the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and its choice for an interchange outside Birmingham in the much-cherished Meriden Gap which the ensuing road-rail interchange would have urbanised.

Within Staffordshire the line’s trajectory would penetrate and dominate an Area of Special Landscape Value at Hints, and passing Lichfield would be raised on a 50ft high long viaduct across the Trent Valley slashing across the approaches from the north to Lichfield and views across to Lichfield Cathedral – the “Ladies of the Vale”.

Arguments still rage over the basic justification for HS2, and are given extra force with the recent (February 2013) publication of a consultative preliminary route map for the next rail length through the full length of our County.  This illustrates forcibly a route which while skilfully chosen by the railway engineers to avoid most towns and villages, is constrained by its almost dead straight alignment to plough uncaringly through or close to many farming and individual properties.  Staffordshire’s steeply-folded landscape, a source of much of its landscape beauty, has exacted its toll in the major earthworks needed for the rail project – cuttings, embankments and tunnels and, a lesson hard-learned from the Norton Bridge rail cross-over project, the matching need for road diversions and bridging exacerbating the rail’s landscape impact.

CPRE’s reaction will be to support to the extreme the case against the perceived need for the HS2 solution.  We shall, in parallel, be illustrating the extent of landscaping works needed to assimilate HS2, and mitigate its impact, works in scale with the physical and cost demands of this huge project.  The possibility at least exists of imaginative solutions to some landscape and environmental impacts, if not of other pressing property and compensation concerns.

This prologue to the Technical Officer’s Report on the year’s “planning” work would not be balanced if our concerns over proliferation of wind turbines were not headlined.  As with HS2 the case for such structures is dubious in the extreme, producing only sporadic power (when the wind blows, i.e. 25% of the time) and at great cost to the consumer both directly through subsidies and by the wasteful need for uneconomic back-up by conventional power stations when the wind doesn’t blow.  The countryside case is, in short, against the alien intrusion of monster (up to 400ft high) engineering structures wholly disruptive to landscape qualities.  Our concern is not only with wind “farm” clusters but the increasing proliferation of individual wind turbines on farms, still up to and exceeding 200ft high.

CPRE must express our concern that all the above major environmental issues originate from ill-judged governmental initiatives.  We can only draw satisfaction from the apparent willingness of government to also acknowledge (ultimately) its mistaken direction of travel, and change course.  We hope to assist this process.


The planning system has two main threads, 1) producing plans and policies guiding the future of individual planning areas (usually District or Borough Council area), and 2) “controlling” development by individuals or organisations.  In a very English way there is an exception. Mineral working (quarries) and Transport are the province of the County Council because, by their nature, these subjects have wider ramifications than Local District areas.

The NPPF referred to above, besides consolidating and simplifying planning policies, introduced the concept of “Neighbourhood Plans”.  These small neighbourhoods would be able to influence development in their own localities.  CPRE is willing to give such plans a “fair wind”, whilst expressing some concern at their potential to split, rather than unite, local communities.

However NPPF also has provisions for giving builders a large degree of freedom in promoting development widely across the countryside where a Local Plan is not in force. Such development is qualified by the term “sustainable” – i.e. “sustainable development” – but this in practice is meaningless and CPRE is pressing for a clear definition of the term which we can support.

The effect of NPPF has been to induce local councils to speed up their plan production (one of the intentions of NPPF!) Each “plan” has many stages and several lengthy parts.  The time given for reply, whilst perhaps adequate for individuals regarding one property, or developers with one building project, is unreasonably demanding for CPRE where 13 councils’ plans are in various stages of preparation.  During 2012 we responded to 10 Local Plan consultations (or their equivalent), each response running to 10-15 pages.  These responses covered Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire Moorlands, East Staffordshire, Lichfield, Tamworth (Centre), Cannock and South Staffordshire (part) districts.  Stafford Borough is currently out for consultation.  Although each district has its own character and problems, some common themes have been developed in our responses.

We query sincerely the “Vision” chapters which seem to ignore global influences on our future – depletion of mineral, land and water resources; increased world population; enhanced trade competition especially from developing nations, global warming and economic and political restraints.  All these we envisage as well-signalled factors not to be ignored in “local planning”.

“Sustainability”, the over-arching (but poorly defined) bedrock of the NPPF, appears to command only lip-service, e.g. the basic element underpinning sustainability must, as we see it, be the land itself – they’re not making it any more! and once built upon is never available again for food production and feeding our growing population.

We question then the wisdom of seeking “growth” status to justify more housing than basic “national growth” demands.  Pursuing our concerns we seek justification for further dispersal of population outwards across the countryside inadequately served by (sustainable?) transport services, and remote from the choice of employment opportunities and shopping and service facilities which modern family life demands.

The list goes on, and on, and solutions are in short supply.  Every facet of modern life is interlinked with all others, and we seek integrated solutions.


Local Plans are intended to provide some certainty to developers and individuals as to the framework into which their own proposals slot.   The planning application system should provide this and offer the “level playing field” balancing individuals’ ambitions against other alternative outcomes, including the wider public interest.

CPRE participates in this process by responding to consultations and seeking to ensure that the countryside and its landscape, perhaps the finest environmental asset we possess, is protected and enhanced to the greatest possible degree.  We look at perhaps 50 to 100 applications in a year, often responding to cries for help from individuals and groups.

The scope of the applications is vast.  Looking back at 2012 it covered large housing schemes, and even larger gravel workings, chicken farms, holiday lodges on the scale of small villages, caravan sites, wind turbines, drilling for gas, housing “infill” in villages or house rebuilding in our Cannock Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – not to mention stabling and horse exercise areas, former workers’ cottages etc – the list goes on and on.  We don’t “second guess” the local authority planners and their democratic rôle, but we can raise issues and their possible consequences that haven’t been in the forefront of their minds, and recommend solutions.  We can often clarify for local people the issues and enable them to present their own reactions coherently (and often be surprised at their own level of expertise!).

A continuous thread running through our involvement in the planning process is our persistent call for better design quality in schemes that are approved.  Despite “high quality” design as a requirement written into every planning document for the last 60 years, our assessment is that improvement in housing design has been minimal at best, and totally lacking at worst.

We feel no shame at our persistence, and for our reminders of the example set by our historic villages and university town.  Lessons are there to be learnt.  Countless millions of tourist pounds are spent by people seeking out and enjoying for two weeks in the year what could be theirs for 52!  We plead for housing schemes to be “compositions of great architectural beauty” – they should be nothing less.


We, in the office, serve the wider subscribing membership.  In this rôle we value any input or views from members – or indeed help!  We must reflect your views; let us know what they are.

Phil Goode Technical Officer

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