I would like to start with a few remarks about the framework within which we are making what we are calling our local plan because, in spite of the rhetoric of Localism, we are fact severely constrained not only in terms of the amount of land we need to set aside for housing but also in terms of the framework within which we can plan the use of our local land.
The document tells us that we must adopt a presumption in favour of sustainable development. In case we might seek a socially or ecologically robust interpretation of what that means it goes on to define it for us: ‘development’, we are informed, means ‘growth’. This leads you to wonder why the framework was not originally labelled as sustainable growth, but perhaps that is because the internal contradiction would have become even more painfully apparent than it is in the phrase ‘sustainable development’. Because continuing growth within a finite planet is an impossibility, and even the rate of growth we have at present is forcing us into an ever more intense ecological crisis.
There is not time here to challenge the presumptions that lie behind the NPPF, but it should be said that as Greens we have an entirely different vision of what human well-being entails, and how we can use our local environment to contribute to that. Our focus is on the quality of human lives lived within a landscape rather than on the quantity of economic activity that takes place when that landscape is exploited. We welcome the approach in the local plan towards increasing the resilience of our local economy, but we would emphasise that the protection of the local and global environment must come first because, without it, neither we nor the species we share the planet with will be able to flourish.
This brings me to some of the aspects of the draft Local Plan that I particularly welcome.
The first is the strong commitment to support for renewable energy developments, the most important contribution we can make to tackling climate change. Para. 87 makes clear that
‘The District’s current capacity for renewable and low-carbon energy generation is insufficient to effectively reduce carbon emissions’.
Of course we are not alone in that but, as a council with a leadership role in the area of sustainability, we should give a lead by supporting the strong support for renewable energy developments in policy ES2.
The requirements in terms of sustainable construction techniques have been strengthened under Policy ES1, with a progression to Code 6 by 2016, are also welcome, and I am wholly supportive of the way this focus on the technical improvements required is linked to the importance of creating inclusive, diverse communities that provide for well-being as well as reducing our carbon footprint.
I am also pleased to see the continuing commitment to creating jobs within our local economy, through the provision of live-work units, thus reducing the need for energy-intensive commuting. Similarly, I welcome the commitment to supporting more efficient modes of transport than the ever-dominant car and the implicit support for the re-opening of stations in the district found in the prohibition of development on potential sites for such stations at Stonehouse and Hunts Grove.
To conclude, as the Green Group we are part of the Green scene that is mentioned in para. 69 as being a unique feature of the district, a fact of which we are very proud. I hope the country’s first Green mayor, John Marjoram, who is still a councillor after 27 years, will join me in welcoming this Plan and supporting its progress to further consultation.