Monday, 14 March 2016

Preserving the View from Here

One of the reasons I chose this house was the open view from the back bedroom across the adjacent farm fields (used for grazing horses) and over farmland out towards the Preselis to the north and Freystrop to the east. There may be a general lack of garden birds, but those taking advantage of the closely-grazed and lightly-poached fields provide daily interest, especially the gulls as they do a little dance, stamping their feet to bring worms to the surface. At the start of February, a flock of nearly 200 Lapwings swirled in, glittering in flight as their dark iridescent wings contrasted with white breasts, and settled for a while. I happened to see them while I was doing some housework, so took a photo - the only way I could count them as they moved across the field. I know some come in at night, too, as I hear them calling, although it could just be one or two vocal individuals trying to locate others in the dark.

Last September, I was rather alarmed to learn that there was an outline planning application for housing on the fields between my close and the farm. The application had been made in July, which was why nothing came up when I had my survey done, which showed that the fields were outside the Local Development Plan (LDP) and therefore (theoretically) safe from housing development. However, 'affordable housing' is a hot topic, and can be used as justification for development on an 'exception site', which is the case here. Not that my neighbours and I were copied the planning notice, as we were deemed non-adjacent and therefore not directly impacted, (huh!). This may be the largest village in Pembrokeshire, but it is a village, with two or three generations of families born and still living here, and people are generally friendly and talk to one another. The phrase much used in the Welshries 'mae pawb yn nabod pawb' - everybody knows everybody - is true here in Little England Beyond Wales too. Interestingly, although the need for affordable housing is supposed to be based on known local requirements, nobody I've spoken to knows anyone who would be a candidate.

Looking at the documents available against the planning application online, you would think that it's unlikely to go ahead, with potential issues over whether existing mains sewers and drainage systems can cope with the output and rainfall run-off from additional properties and an objection from Highways over the access to the site. However, local gossip is rather more worrying and the rumour mill has been whirring away. The site access was an issue because in order to be wide enough, the developers would need to purchase some garden from one or both of the bungalows flanking the entrance. If both sets of owners stayed put and refused to sell, it would stop the development, but apparently one set of owners has been so upset by the potential for development that they have sold up ... and their property has been bought by someone with a stake in the development. The bungalows have quite small back gardens, and would be quite overlooked by the proposed two-storey houses and flats.

The land is currently used for equestrian grazing, so it is of low biodiversity value, although there are protected species such as toads, grass snakes and slow worms present (although not found by the ecology 'survey', which was just a quick snapshot). From everything I've read, equestrian grazing is greenfield land, but people have been told that it's a brownfield site, which is harder to defend from development (although the biodiversity value of some brownfield sites is quite astonishing). The proposal to create a new hedgebank on the northern site boundary would actually increase the biodiversity value. The site plan shows the boundary for the 'Phase 1' of 25 'dwellings', but also shows a 'Phase 2' area which would extend to my back fence, without further details and with only an implied boundary on the north side. If Phase 1 goes ahead, there will be nothing to stop Phase 2. Having built on the land, there would be nothing to stop the land becoming part of the local development plan when it is revised in several years' time. And rumour has it that enough land has been bought for there to be a Phase 3 adjacent to Phase 2, which will require a second access road, the obvious place for which will be at the end of my bit of road. There are currently garages owned by the Council, but they could agree to demolish them. Our road is already used for parking along one side and driving along it can be something of a dance, neighbours giving way to each other to proceed or park. It would be impossible if also used for access to another close of houses, besides which, where would all those who currently use the garages park their vehicles? There may be more public transport here than where I was before, but if you want to get to work on time or have any sort of evening activities, you still need a car. I note from the planning application that there is provision for parking for each new dwelling, although you might expect someone needing affordable housing might not necessarily be able to afford a car.

The local development plan includes a couple of other areas for housing development, which would include some affordable housing. There appears to be no progress on those sites. A new local primary school is currently being built on land on the other side of the farm (which was outside the LDP), including additional spaces based on the LDP proposed housing, but not for any additional children from this new proposed development (although most of the new dwellings are one-bedroom, therefore unlikely to need child places). Of course, there is no proposal for expansion to the existing healthcare services at all. Nor is there any plan to cope with additional traffic in and through the village; getting out of the side-roads onto the A road which bisects the village can be a nightmare, requiring patience and luck as you wait for a gap to appear in the almost continuous flow of traffic, or a driver to take pity and let you out.

The problem with the planning system is that it only shows the required applications and reports for the planning application in hand. The objection letters are supposed to be available to view, but I never see them on the online planning portal, possibly because mostly they just contain opinions. Although there are standard requirements for reports from highways, water and drainage, biodiversity and archaeology, there seems to be little consideration of local infrastructure such as healthcare and public transport.

As for gossip and rumour, they feed a hysteria which has given rise to proposals to pay someone expert to speak on behalf of the residents to defend our wishes for the development not to proceed. But gossip and rumour are heresay, and for anyone to defend us effectively, they will need to have hard evidence of the sort that anyone with a vested interest in the development would try to ensure was not publicly available.

So, despite my sympathy for those needing affordable housing  and the theoretical potential to build a more prosperous and thriving community, I am a NIMBY*. If I'd wanted to be overlooked on all sides, have my view of the sky occluded by buildings and my ears assaulted by the sounds of other people's daily lives and heavy traffic, I would have lived in a town or city. Instead, I want to be able to see the horizon and hear the voices of Lapwings in the night.

*Not In My Back Yard, thank you so very  much!

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