Open letter to all councillors - just say no to housing plans

Dear Councillor,

As a resident of Erewash I would urge you to use your vote in the upcoming January Council Meeting to veto the plans to make sites at Ilkeston West (Manner Floods) and Quarry Hill available for building.

There are many and varied reasons why this veto is necessary, some of which I will try and make clear in the following document.

Consultation:

As has already been stated by Councillor Corbett in open chamber, the consultation process has been very badly handled by Erewash Borough Council from the outset, I think to a point where the democratic process has been impaired considerably.

Furthermore I feel that the council have acted in bad faith by disguising its true purpose which is to build over 4,000 new homes in Ilkeston by effectively separating the sites in question from the planned Stanton redevelopment and the further land already rubber stamped for 1,300 homes within Ilkeston.

I feel sure that had the residents of Ilkeston been asked if their town could take such a huge number of new homes the backlash would have been far greater for the council than currently felt, especially in light of the lack of infrastructure upgrading to coincide with the house building.

I also feel that for a true consultation to take place, a variety of sites/options should have been available for discussion, rather than just the two we were offered. This has been the case in all the surrounding authorities who offered numbers generally between 5 and 11 sites for consultation.

While on the subject of consultations, during the recent design day, Steve Birkinshaw (head of planning and regeneration) stated that land at both sites had already been consulted on back in 2008 in the ‘Tribal Study.

The insinuation from Mr Birkinshaw was clearly that this has been an open consultation as he used it to deflect criticism that ‘we’ do not know enough about the council’s plans for our land.

The fact is that the Tribal Study’ was a closed process where no elected representatives were consulted or members of the local population. This is the kind of sleight of hand which does the council no good in its dealings with the general public.

Process:

It appears from the outside that the decision to build such a huge number of homes in Ilkeston rather than throughout the Borough has been taken entirely by unelected and unaccountable council planners.

It would then appear that this idea has been sold to a few senior Conservative councillors, whom have decided to make it council policy with what appears to be little knowledge of their council colleagues as far as I can tell from discussions with various elected members.

More importantly the process to include the sites at Ilkeston West and Quarry Hill has been rushed just to meet housing target obligations Erewash Borough Council had made in conjunction with various Nottingham councils, and, I might add, only because the council does not accept Saint-Gobain’s assurances that their site can deliver 2000 homes in total as he ‘believes’ the true number will only be 1,500, hence the need quickly for a 500 home site.

Steve Birkinshaw has also stated that the two green field sites in question, Ilkeston West and Quarry Hill, are needed due to the fact that it is imperative that building can/will be started within one to five years to meet targets – this is a red herring and tantamount to scare mongering as no home builder is going to build hundreds of homes on these difficult sites to then sit empty in the difficult financial climate we now face.

This is especially true of the Ilkeston West site which is a mixed development of housing and industrial units.

The sad fact is that Erewash Borough Council does not need to rush through this whole process to meet the 6200 home target is has set itself, as this figure can be lawfully amended lower to encompass only less contentious sites under powers recently given to Councils under the Localism Bill.

This would allow proper consultation and planning that the Erewash residents deserve – perhaps though this is not what the planners and Council members want?

Infrastructure:

During discussions on a recent design day held by Erewash Borough Council, A representative for Derbyshire County Council’s transport department made quite clear that no new roads are planned for Ilkeston – to put this in context, the full allocation of 4,000 new homes planned could increase the population of Ilkeston by between 10,000 – 15,000 (ten to fifteen thousand) without any modifications to the road network.

To further compound the increase in already high traffic congestion, the site at Ilkeston West is highly unlikely to be serviced by bus due to the poor single road access to the site from Manners Avenue.

It should also be noted that Manners Industrial Estate would also double in size if the council plans are accepted, therefore one could reasonable argue doubling the amount of HGV’s running into the site via King George Ave/Bristol Rd and Manners Road.

This should be of great concern to residents of Ilkeston, especially in light of disclosures from a Derbyshire County Council’s Environmental Health representative, at the same design day discussions, that air pollution in Ilkeston was already at maximum levels in various parts of the town due to traffic and that these levels would worsen! The disappointing answer to this as given was to state that Ilkeston would just have to ‘put up with more traffic’.

He also confirmed that the council would not be pro-active in making transport plans for the land they are promoting nor would they be seeking to identify how much traffic the local road infrastructure can support as a way of reverse engineering our housing plan to suit actual conditions. It is also interesting that the Tribal Study which Mr Birkinshaw quoted from in the design day meeting, strictly states that for development to take place, new roads are in fact needed.

Green space:

Erewash Borough Council has in place a document called the Green Space Strategy, within the document lies the provision for making green space available to residents of the Borough for their leisure needs.

Within this document it clears states that the people of Ilkeston do not enjoy the amount of green spaces their numbers dictate, this will be made far worse if the Council allow building upon the beautiful and vitally important natural resource which is used by many local inhabitants of the surrounding areas

Add then the expected population growth and it is difficult to understand where our green spaces will then come from, Councillor Corbett was asked this very question by Christopher Hendrick recently and his written response was not very encouraging,

“If the site was developed for housing and employment purposes, existing and new residents would still have access to extensive green space within and surrounding the Ilkeston area including Rutland Sports Park, Victoria Park, the Nutbrook Trail, Pewitt Carr, and Straws Bridge, etc”

For the record, Rutland Sports Park is exactly what the name states and I’m sure they would not appreciate dog walking, mountain biking and horse riding at their venue,

The Nutbrook trail is a path and not a wide open space (soon to be made worse if the two sites are developed and the trial runs through both), Pewitt Carr is a woodland nature reserve and Straws Bridge is manly a body of water. Granted Victoria Park does comply with the council’s strategy but as a tiny park it surely cannot be accepted that it will be sufficient for the existing local population, never mind the thousands of extra inhabitants soon to be found in Ilkeston. I am unsure after this, what the ‘extensive green space’ is the councillor spoke of.

Solutions:

Throughout this process it has been levelled at any person or organisation who opposes development, that rather than saying ‘No’ we must give solutions, as lay people this is not always easy but by studying council literature I feel there is scope for Erewash to look for alternative housing solutions rather than just building huge developments which can only have negative effects on traffic, services and air quality etc .

In fact, I believe that as a borough, the Stanton regeneration should be the last large scale house building project allowed as long as traffic issues can be resolved!

Empty Homes – despite Councillor Corbett’s choice of statistic in recent session, the total number of empty houses in Erewash has been identified at around 800 (Source - Erewash Empty Housing Strategy). Obviously not all these could be brought back to satisfy housing needs but it should be realistic the council could look at a figure of round 500 without the need for further powers.

Small Scale Building - The Erewash Housing Strategy 2011-2016 notes that as a Borough we are lacking in affordable homes with the more rural of our communities.

I would suggest that if each village took between 20-50 dwellings the impact on traffic congestion and local services would be minute.

Although contentious, some building may be necessary on green belt to meet this need, however if planned correctly and in conjunction with local wishes such developments could be designed to minimise impact

I would state though that reading through the SHLAA documentation, there should be many opportunities for small sites on brown field sites before green belt would have to be considered.

Although the council, according to Steve Birkinshaw, do not favour small scale building projects they have definite advantages over large scale builds, firstly because national building companies would not be able to build in such small numbers, It would also likely have the added benefit of supplying work to our local building companies thus protecting local jobs.

Furthermore, such small developments would be in higher demand to any potential buyers which should increase chances of good sales.

Finally it would give good opportunities for more young people to live in villages which can only have a positive impact when age ranges are so typically high.

These are obviously my own thoughts, I am sure there would be many more better ideas if local people are consulted fully.

Employment:

A main justification for this proposal being peddled by the council throughout this process has been the one stating that these developments would in some way provide local employment.

This local employment would also have the added benefit of removing transport from roadways with people being able to work close to home.

This in my opinion is a fallacy. The fact is that Ilkeston is already an area of high unemployment which will not be reduced significantly with the small amount of employment created by the Manners Industrial Estate extension.

On top of this we then have a huge increase in population who will have to travel outside of the locality to find work.

Furthermore, if large developments are permitted a large percentage of these will be set aside for social housing needs which one could expect to mean housing for people who are already unemployed from other areas.

In Closing:

I trust this letter will give grounds to revisit this issue before the council vote in January.

I also hope that you will get the opinions of your constituents and will vote in line with their wishes rather than to suit party lines – remember, we have time on this issue and no harm will come if we take our time and allow the people of the borough to be treated like adults and consulted properly on such an important issue!

Please, on our behalf, push for the council to lower the number of houses to be included in our core strategy to allow this process!!

Yours faithfully

Paul Scully

Manner Floods Action Group Member