Author: Huw James is a North Somerset Councillor and a young person's champion within the district, you can get involved in the Local Plan Consultation here: www.n-somerset.gov.uk/newlocalplan (Stage Two Ends December 14th)
North Somerset Council are working on creating a new Local Plan. A policy document that provides people across North Somerset the opportunity to tackle the issues that affect us daily. The Local Plan will shape how North Somerset grows between 2023 and 2038. It’s a document that decides the future of North Somerset. The first stage of Local Plan consultation focuses on the challenges we believe we face in North Somerset and the issues the plan needs to address. You can read the full Challenges consultation document here.
This year, the Government announced that they intend to place even greater importance on the Local Plan, effectively turning Local Plans into the primary route for community engagement with planning policies and development. This is regrettable but shows how important it is that communities actually engage with the policy process.
For the local plan to work, it needs to tackle the issues and problems faced across communities – my main priority is for local plans to address young people’s concerns, such as housing, employment, the Climate Emergency, and Environment, as informed by young people.
Homeownership is becoming out of reach for most young people in the West of England, while rents are spiralling out of control. Housing is unaffordable, with house prices costing ten times an annual salary in Bristol and South Gloucestershire, and eleven times a yearly salary in North Somerset and Bath and North East Somerset.
Housing affordability is getting worse. As a result, there is simply no choice for most young people from our towns and villages. They must stay with their families, or to move where it is cheaper, namely, across the bridge in South Wales.
The Government have set housebuilding targets for each council in England. But many Councils have complained that these targets are too high and that they are unable to deliver the number of required houses, including North Somerset Council.
Whilst North Somerset has long had one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, a large number of residents work outside of the authority. Those that work within the authority receive much lower wages than those who work outside. The coronavirus pandemic will create a looming shadow of unemployment, and this will affect young people the hardest. We know from the 2007 crash and the unemployment crisis that followed, that unemployment crises can be catastrophic for young people starting off their careers and that the long-term effect of this may be felt for years if not decades. This is why it’s important for North Somerset Council to build back better within its Local Plan – to consider how it can improve access to jobs (within and beyond the local authority area) for its residents, and how it can attract and retain employers in North Somerset.
The Climate Emergency
North Somerset Council have declared a climate emergency, stating that they aim to be carbon neutral by 2030. The most significant contributors to UK emissions are our energy supply, transport, and heating residential and commercial buildings. The council’s local plans are vital in making sure responding to these declarations through actions – encouraging green housebuilding, with access to active and low-carbon forms of transport.
New developments and houses can be built on greenfield land (land that is not developed on) and on brownfield land (land that is developed on). All decision-makers wish to prioritise building on brownfield land. Still, the fact is there is not much brownfield land that has not already been earmarked for development. Some of this greenfield land is in or around urban areas.
Building houses more densely in urban areas can improve efficiency and value for money for infrastructure and service. But this lockdown has highlighted how these urban green spaces allow urban communities to breathe and holds a considerable amount of social value to our communities. Local Plans could prioritise building on greenfield areas that are around our towns and villages. This would stop neighbourhoods from being so densely packed and create new homes that are easily accessible to existing developments. These green spaces can be precious to communities. Many of these spaces tend to flood or be suitable land for farming.
The Bath-Bristol Green Belt is heavily protected from development. This land is undeveloped land that has been protected to prevent the ‘sprawl’ of Bristol and Bath into Gloucestershire and Somerset. The preparation of the local plan makes it possible for the council to unlock green belt land in exceptional circumstances. Such circumstances are where communities can justify that there is a good reason to build on the green belt rather than other available brownfield and greenfield land.
So, how can we help decide where it goes?
What is clear is that houses have to go somewhere, and the local plan must justify which of our green spaces are most valuable to protect. Decision-makers must get this right. The previous Joint Spatial Plan for the four councils in the West of England failed to pass planning inspections last summer. This gives us a fresh opportunity to revisit the plans in North Somerset.
Historically, the voice of white, middle-aged men is vastly disproportionately represented through Local Plan consultations. That is why it is essential to mobilise underrepresented groups are informed and heard during the creation of such an important set of documents for the future of the North Somerset. Inclusive and sustainable development must seek to address challenges and problems across society, rather than the form fillers.
Good decision-making comes having been informed by a diversity of viewpoints. You can guide North Somerset’s approach to development in your area by reading up on their plans. You can respond to online consultations, and contact councillors and council officers to learn more and to promote the Local Plan that you would like to see.
The online consultation runs until 14 December 2020 at www.n-somerset.gov.uk/newlocalplan.
To take part go to www.n-somerset.gov.uk/newlocalplan