More houses – meetings, meetings, meetings

On 3rd January, I chaired a public meeting at Priory Hall for a presentation of Shropshire Council’s Local Plan Review. The room was packed with standing room (and not much of it) only.

Adrian Cooper, Shropshire Council’s Planning Policy & Strategy Manager, set out the need for the Local Plan Review and the background to the current consultation.

A number of sites for housing development had been suggested through the “call for sites” process during 2018. The site between Hunters Gate and Bridgnorth Road had been selected because it is claimed to offer the greatest benefit to the town – flood alleviation and a roundabout on Bridgnorth Road. There followed about 1¾ hours of challenging questions from dozens of attendees; I was scribbling down names and my scrap of paper bears 38 – there may have been more.

In the two hours he was on his feet Adrian answered questions carefully and as fully as his knowledge of Much Wenlock allowed. The tenor of his presentation was rewarded by sincere applause when I wrapped up the proceedings at 9pm.

As to the content of the public meeting, yesterday (10th January) I spoke at Much Wenlock Town Council’s well-attended (by local residents) monthly meeting as follows.

“I understand that the Town Council will be reviewing the consultation documents at an extraordinary meeting next Thursday [17th January]……. I’d like to make some observations now, which go further than reviewing the documents, in order that you have a little time to think about the following.

“The Neighbourhood Plan defines a community vision for how the parish of Much Wenlock will develop in the coming years. It was clear from Thursday [3rd] that, whilst the community discussion accepted the need to update and adapt the Neighbourhood Plan in the light of the need for 150 houses by 2036, it isn’t happy with the preferred option. Adrian Cooper appeared still willing to revisit the Town Council’s approach to a refresh of the Neighbourhood Plan.

“Over recent weeks a number of residents have communicated with the Town Council  and with me. I’ve received a wide range of opinion, varying from the urgent need for eighty houses to support the High Street, through to no houses required because the infrastructure can’t cope with what we’ve got. Clearly, in between those two poles there are more nuanced views, for instance about affordable housing, about the capacity of the doctor’s surgery and about the impact that more houses in Cressage would have on Wenlock.

“The Local Plan is being reviewed to provide certainty about development in Shropshire through until 2036. Not necessarily through a planning application this year, nor next year. There would need to be some confidence that the allocation would be delivered, if an allocation is needed, but that could be in ten years time, or over a phased period. Would the builder’s yard still be trading from New Road in, say, 2029? Wouldn’t you expect to see some development on the Smithfield Works site? What about the Bridge House site on Stretton Road? According to Shropshire Council’s Evidence Base, the indicative capacity of those three sites alone, all within the development boundary, together could provide 46 dwellings. I presume that the indicative capacity has been based on a mixture of detached and semi-detached two storey houses. The Neighbourhood Plan’s Policy H2 says that housing developments will also be expected to include an element of single level dwellings and to meet the needs of the elderly and people with disabilities. This does not necessarily mean bungalows – it might mean apartments. Many more units, of a type for which there is a demonstrable need in the town, could be provided in this way.

“I believe I’m correct in saying that, whilst a roundabout might be deemed necessary to gain vehicular access to the preferred site on Bridgnorth Road, it’s not a measure that has been advocated through the Place Plan as necessary by the Town Council or through the Neighbourhood Plan without that development. The preferred site is said to provide the opportunity to create flood alleviation measures. This has been neither quantified nor costed.

“You might decide that future development on the power station site, including hundreds of houses, is likely to impose such a significant burden on Much Wenlock’s infrastructure as to require no commitment from this community until more is known.

“The preferred site has an indicative capacity for 114 dwellings outside the current development boundary, and your response to the consultation may conclude that this is where new housing should be in Much Wenlock. The other sites outside the development boundary that comprise the Evidence Base for Much Wenlock total an indicative 1,300 units, so there will be plenty to chose from….”

I then went on to invite further discussions outside the meeting. I have heard nothing from the Town Council yet, but plenty from local residents. I urge you to attend the Extraordinary Town Council meeting on 17th January – 7pm in the Guildhall. The agenda is here.

The closing date for the Shropshire Council consultation has been extended by a week to Friday 8th February in recognition of the time lost during the Christmas shut down. You can find the consultation here. Paper copies are available in the library.