Strategic Sites

On 15th August, Much Wenlock Town Council met to consider its response to Shropshire Council’s Strategic Sites proposals as part of its Local Plan Review consultation. This rolls forward growth plans to 2036.

This follows the Preferred Sites consultation that took place in the spring, and which saw Much Wenlock Town Council endorse Shropshire Council’s preference, ahead of other suggestions, for a site accommodating 80 houses between Hunters Gate and Bridgnorth Road.

Shropshire Council introduces “Strategic Sites” as “large sites of more than 25 hectares in size, which are not associated with meeting the growth needs of any particular settlement and contribute to achieving the aspirations of the Economic Growth Strategy for Shropshire.” They may meet growth (housing, employment etc.) in the long term but there will still be further reviews of the Local Plan to ensure that it is up to date. If the Local Plan is not up to date, then it would be open to challenge at appeal by developers, and Shropshire Council might then be poorly placed to object to unwelcome planning applications.

There are three Strategic Sites being advanced – Clive Barracks at Tern Hill for 750 homes, RAF Cosford becoming an increasingly important resource for the Defence College of Technical Training, and Ironbridge Power Station for around 1,000 homes. It can be seen that Tern Hill and Ironbridge will account for 1,750 homes over and above the outstanding requirement of around 10,500 by the end of the Plan period in 2036.

The owners of the power station, Harworth Group’s, emerging proposals for the site would involve “a mixed-use development, including around 1,000 dwellings; around 6 hectares of employment land; a retirement village; the provision of local services and facilities within a village centre; leisure facilities; a nursery and primary school; a park and ride; a railway station; and significant areas of green infrastructure (including allotments and sports pitches), as part of a new settlement.”

Among the key issues and opportunities identified by Shropshire Council are the need to ensure that redevelopment is comprehensive, and delivery of necessary infrastructure, the local centre, housing and employment are linked (site phasing). They see the provision of a new nursery, primary school and community facilities/buildings as essential. Discussions are underway with the relevant Clinical Commissioning Groups regarding access to medical services. If needed, a medical centre should be provided. Critical is ensuring appropriate accesses are provided and necessary works to the highway network undertaken. And many will welcome the opportunity to provide a railway station and re-use the existing rail link from the site.

Shropshire Council has set out site guidelines including “access points to the site may need to be upgraded to ghost island right turn and/or roundabout junctions as determined through appropriate modelling and engagement. Any additional access points should be appropriately designed and constructed”.

They call for a comprehensive heritage assessment which addresses the site’s relationship with designated heritage assets including the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage site, Buildwas Abbey, the Severn Gorge Conservation Area and two Grade II Listed Buildings. Surprisingly, there is no mention of the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty which includes The Wrekin and borders the A4169 on the west of the power station site from the Buildwas river bridge south towards Homer and onwards on Wenlock Edge.

The northern tip of the AONB

Following the Town Council’s chairman’s introduction I highlighted these points and then touched upon the key issues as I see them.

I believe it is inevitable and necessary that the Power Station site be developed. It is not inevitable that this will harm Much Wenlock and the surrounding area, if strong arguments can be advanced about the negative impact the development could bring.

I note that the demolition haul routes are on the A4169 towards the M54 motorway, and that the emerging agreement with Network Rail means that much material will not be transported by road at all. I trust that in submitting the mixed use and minerals planning applications the highways management plan and haul routes will again avoid the sensitive small settlements nearby.

My principal concern is regarding pressure on local roads once homes are occupied and the commercial etc. buildings are commissioned. I assume that 1,000-plus homes will be constructed over time. I make the further assumption that this is likely to equate to some 2,000 private cars. Whether or not my assumptions are broadly correct, there will be a significant increase in vehicle movements. These will be for a variety of purposes including employment, schools, leisure, shopping etc. Employment and schools are likely to concentrate vehicle movements to the morning rush hour and a longer period of time in the afternoon/evening with probably less impact.

Some vehicles will head towards Telford, Wolverhampton and the rest of the West Midlands conurbation. Many, however, will be heading towards Shrewsbury, Bridgnorth, Dudley, Kidderminster and the M5 motorway.
Taking Shrewsbury-bound traffic first, the shortest route will be on the B4380 via Buildwas and Leighton, meeting the A5 at Atcham. This is a winding road for the most part, passing through two 30mph stretches and including Buildwas primary school. It is possible to drive some of it at close to the legal 60mph limit. As a number have found, the twist and turns can catch out the unwary, and every year there are at least a handful of vehicles that breach the roadside hedge and end up in a field. In 2018 there was at least one resultant fatality.

Other vehicles heading for Shrewsbury, and for Bridgnorth, Dudley, Kidderminster and the M5 motorway may choose to use the A4169 route through Much Wenlock. The proposed access point opposite Buildwas Park and Hill View Farm is on a stretch of the road that is fast and where, once again, there have been serious accidents. I believe there’s been at least one fatality in recent years. I am very familiar with the A4169 and it is, once again, a winding road heading uphill through the Farley valley and is prone to speeds higher than the 50mph speed limit. The residents on this road have enough difficulty gaining egress from their properties already. The proposals will potentially make them prisoners in their own homes.

The A4169 passes William Brookes School, where there is significant congestion in a weekday/schooltime morning, and then drops into the town along Sheinton Street which is very narrow at one point. Traffic lights were installed by Shropshire Council at this point to ease the problem of passing HGVs, buses and agricultural vehicles coming to a halt as they struggled to pass one another. Any significant increase in traffic will exacerbate a problem that has largely been relieved – and may cause traffic back-ups to William Brookes School and towards the Gaskell Arms.

An increase in traffic will make Much Wenlock, a town with a fragile economy and many visitors, less attractive and will markedly harm the air quality and make the street less safe for drivers and pedestrians.

As traffic density increases other routes will be sought, and we experience these problems when road works take place. Other than those heading to Shrewsbury it is quite possible for vehicles to turn left at Lawley’s Cross, head through Wyke (disclosure: this where I live) to Posenhall, turn left through Benthall, on through Broseley and thereon to Bridgnorth and all points beyond. The Wyke lane is single track for almost its entire length, runs through farmland and therefore carries agricultural traffic.

Those trying to avoid the Buildwas/Leighton/Atcham route on the B4380 and aiming for Shrewsbury, and finding that the A4169/A458 junction backing up, may try another couple of diversions.

Firstly off the A4169 at the top of Long Acre onto the lane that drops down Gleedon Hill, through Sheinton and hits the A458 at Cressage near the medical practise and the primary school. Parts of this lane are single track and in parts visibility is poor, or…

Homer, Much Wenlock

secondly, just after the 30mph sign on the A4169, above William Brookes School, vehicles will turn right and head through Homer. The road through the village itself is wide enough to accommodate two cars, but part of the approach is not, and many children walk to school along here. Heading out of the village, the lane becomes single track as it drops into Wigwig and then encounters a ford before meeting the A458 at Harley.

Both of the above lanes run through farmland and therefore carry agricultural traffic.

Those vehicles entering Much Wenlock may choose to use routes already taken by drivers – turning off the A4169 at either Sheinton Street or Queen Street, and then using St Mary’s Lane, Racecourse Lane or the narrow King Street to reach the A458. Increased use of these roads will not only affect residents, but also visitors to the medical centre and to Much Wenlock Primary School.

Queen Street, Much Wenlock

Here I have described the possible scenarios in a weekday morning. Clearly similar issues will appertain in the afternoon/evening. The roads though Much Wenlock are not capable of comfortably accommodating more traffic, The lanes through the surrounding settlements are patently incapable of safely taking any significant increase in traffic.

Other concerns include medical facilities and schools.

Much Wenlock is committed to 150 new homes over the plan period including the 80 homes on a single site preferred by Shropshire Council and endorsed by the Town Council. The balance includes several “windfall” sites – for instance infills on garden land and building conversions. There are many planning consents already in place in Much Wenlock which are yet to be built. Also, the site on Bridgnorth Road is large enough to accommodate over 100 dwellings. If the Local Plan Review inspector approves this site’s inclusion in the plan it does not mean to say that a subsequent planning application will be limited to 80 units.

Although the numbers do not contribute to Much Wenlock housing numbers requirement within the current development boundary, we continue to see barn conversions and rebuilds in the rural hinterland. We also have a residential caravan park that is growing at Presthope. These will inevitably place an additional burden on our medical facilities. Conversely, they may provide much-needed additional business for our shops and cafés.

What we will see is an additional 1,000 or more houses, built in stages over the plan period, but starting around 2022. It seems unlikely that the growth of the development will be matched by the development of employment and the facilities which have been listed in the masterplan.

If the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) determines that a medical practice is required I think it unlikely that will be built from the outset. So, surrounding doctor’s surgeries will bear the brunt of extra patients in the interim. We know how difficult it is to attract general practitioners – Whitehall Medical Practice in Monkmoor, Shrewsbury is closing simply because no one can be found to staff it. That is a matter for the CCG, not Shropshire Council, but that is no reason not to raise the issue in this consultation.

Shropshire Council is committed to the provision of a new (relocated) primary school on the Ironbridge site – again, it is highly unlikely to be opened before the first tranche of housing is completed, so pressure will be exerted on the surrounding schools – Buildwas primary academy, Cressage, Much Wenlock, Coalbrookdale. the two Broseley primaries and Barrow 1618 Free School.
Similarly, Shropshire Council calculate that further space will be needed at William Brookes whose roll currently includes a substantial number of Telford children. There will be much disruption as Telford schools have to find places for their primary output which is currently absorbed across the border in Shropshire.

Traffic associated with the demolition and construction phases concern me less than once the houses are occupied. The removal of up to 2m tonnes of sand and gravel, the removal of 850,000 tonnes of pulverized fuel ash and the removal of the demolition spoil is likely to be achieved using the rail line. If that proves not to be feasible, it will have to go by road, and the economics and timescale of the development might then be very different. So, the haul routes out and in have been and can continue to be, up the A4169 to the M54 motorway- but these are points worth emphasizing in the consultation.

So, Much Wenlock is set to expand over the plan period at the same time as a large new settlement is built three miles down the road. The proposed additional 1,750 houses, built at Tern Hill and Ironbridge will provide growth for Shropshire, will generate welcome Council Tax income, and may bring skills to the county. There will be wide benefits arising from increased economic activity.

There may, however be disproportionate pressure from Ironbridge exerted on Buildwas, Cressage, Coalbrookdale and Much Wenlock, and I believe we need to voice our concerns very firmly to Shropshire Council and maybe reconsider the amount of growth already provisionally allocated to Much Wenlock.

The consultation on Strategic Sites closes on 9th September. To respond to this consultation, you may use the questionnaire available on the Shropshire Council website at: www.shropshire.gov.uk/local-plan-strategic-sites-consultation Copies are also available at Much Wenlock library. Once completed, this questionnaire can be submitted by: Email to: planningpolicy@shropshire.gov.uk or Post to: Shropshire Council, Planning Policy & Strategy Team, Shirehall, Shrewsbury, SY2 6ND