1 Nov 2011

Are Ruscombe, Randwick and Callowell fields threatened with development?

So where will all the houses go? Are Ruscombe, Randwick and Callowell fields threatened?

Photo: Fields in Ruscombe Valley by Mike Gallagher

This brief report for the Randwick Runner and this blog, is only my first impressions in response to the latest proposals regarding new developments in the District. It is an attempt to answer some questions from residents about possible local developments. However I would urge those interested to read the full reports available on the District Council's website. These set out in detail the timetables and reasoning behind current proposals. There is also a useful 70 page report that weighs the different factors of each site identified regarding development. See details here.

First it is important to note that national changes to the planning process are not helpful. Developers already enjoy huge advantage during the planning process and, like the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England and the National Trust, I have serious concerns about the Government's planning proposals. There is a presumption in favour of development. It seems that local communities and local councils will have less, not more, control over what gets built in their area. It is however true we desperately need more homes. Stroud now has a housing waiting list of over 3,000 - but restrictive planning laws are not to blame. Developers are already sitting on prime land with planning permission for at least 300,000 homes, waiting for prices to rise. Many people have real concerns that the planning changes will mean more pressure to develop greenfield sites which are much cheaper to develop than brownfield.

So what happens next locally?

Well, as noted, the details of proposals as to where housing and employment might go are now available online. These take into account a whole host of factors including the previous public consultation.

The proposals go to Cabinet on 9th November and Full Council will consider them on 24th November. They include 600-1,000 homes and 2,000 jobs in the Stroud Valleys. While Hunts Grove may get 500-750, West of Stonehouse 1,000-1,500 and North-East of Cam 750-1,250 homes. As the District is a net exporter of jobs there is an aspiration to create 2 jobs for each new home built. This would reduce dependency on the surrounding areas and cut our carbon footprint. However further consideration will be given to the details and indeed other sites - and also in the future, consideration will need to be given to any developments proposed by Neighbourhood Plans. So this is not the final plan.

The proposals in the Cabinet papers have 'preferred' sites for development and 'alternative' sites for development. However even in this there is flexibility. It is of course easier to see where housing should NOT go, than to argue where it could go. At first impressions the draft proposals for preferred sites fit relatively well with what many of us have been arguing. There are still some sites that I want to visit again to get a more comprehensive picture. However this is still early days. I suspect the process is not going to be easy with many protests and campaigns across the District.

What about Ruscombe, Randwick and Callowell?

Sites in Stroud in the preferred location for growth are mainly valley bottoms including Wallbridge, Fromeside, Cheapside, Lodgemore, Fromehall, Dudbridge and Brimscombe Port/Mills. Indeed officers note in the report regarding the Stroud Valleys that, 'development would be focussed on brownfield sites but some greenfield development may also be necessary, dependant upon the viability and availability of each individual site.'

When we turn to the 'alternative locations for growth' then there are various sites listed in Ebley, Stonehouse, the Nailsworth Valley, Rodborough and perhaps of greatest concern locally, 'Edge of Settlement' sites. Many of these sites are small so the report suggests that going for larger sites might be easier. Grange Fields (near Tesco/Stratford Park) and Callowell Farm are specifically listed as larger sites, but I must stress they are not in the preferred options in this report.

Callowell Farm. It was originally suggested this could take 830 but the report suggests 200-300. While this site is outside AONB it is very conspicuous in the landscape and would seriously impact on the character of the approach to Stroud. Many of us will continue to reject this as an option.

Ruscombe Fields. This is described as the 'Land behind Farmhill Lane' and it is listed as taking a possible 100 homes (see photo). This is better than the 392 (plus 196 more after 2028) originally proposed. It also at least notes that only a small part of site might be suitable for development.  The site is within AONB and as many people have argued locally would completely change the character of the valley which is visible from large parts of Randwick. Those of us in the Ruscombe Valley Action Group have long campaigned against developments on these fields and it maybe that we need to relaunch the group to protect this site?

Fields in Randwick. A while back these fields were also listed as possible development sites. Many of us campaigned against this as they were wholly inappropriate for many reasons. It now seems these have been removed from the preferred and alternative strategies. Good news!

What do other councillors think?

Amongst the reports is one that lists the views anonymously of the 28 councillors who responded to the consultation. I do find it odd that 23 councillors did not respond! Anyway there have been many views expressed. There are councillors who have argued strongly in the Chamber that housing should be dispersed so that smaller communities take more housing. Others who see larger settlements as more sustainable. I was however disappointed to see 9 out of the 28 councillors who responded, ie 35%, saw the North and East of Stroud as an area for development despite it being in the alternative rather than preferred strategy.

Next steps

In December/January there will be a public engagement on housing numbers and locations. This time will be key to make your views known. There will be some further public engagement on some aspects. The final report is expected to go to the Secretary of State in September next year. Do please contact me if you want to discuss these issues further.

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