In November 2018 Shropshire Council announced its “preferred sites” for more housing in Cressage and Much Wenlock, including 80 dwellings at Bridgnorth Road. Shropshire Council’s Local Plan Review requires around 150 new houses in Much Wenlock by 2036. Around 45 are already built or have consent, leaving 105 to find.
On 31st January, Shropshire Council received notification from the promoters of the site that they want to substitute around 130 dwellings instead – a 60% increase. This, they claim, will solve the flooding issues at Hunters Gate estate, which was built in 2003.
The newly-proposed larger boundary advanced as part of these proposals has the capacity to develop considerably more than 130 dwellings. I am sure that once we see the background to this substantial change we will hear about viability of the site and the cost and benefit of the proposed works. The benefits claimed, but not yet quantified, are in terms of flood management in Much Wenlock and traffic calming on the A458.
An exhibition of the proposals – now reduced to 120 houses (but still 50% larger than the proposals that attracted widespread rejection in January 2019) – took place at Priory Hall on 26th February. Despite no publicity from Shropshire Council or the promoter’s agent, it was attended by a good crowd. If it had been publicised properly, doubtless Priory Hall would have been full for the duration of the evening event.
A few issues immediately come to mind:
- Without a detailed analysis of the scale of the flooding challenge in the lower part of Hunters Gate estate and the fields proposed for development, how is it possible to quantify the cost of flood attenuations etc., and therefore justify the housing numbers?
- Shropshire Council’s housing growth guideline for Much Wenlock was agreed at 150 through the “Preferred Scale and Distribution of Development” consultation, which closed in December 2017.
- Shropshire Council still has to offer its verdict on this revised proposal but, if this site is to be 120, and we’ve already got 45 houses either built or consented, will it commit to no other development in the plan period?
- The fragile Much Wenlock infrastructure is already threatened – with 1,000 homes planned for Buildwas, and 60 more for Cressage, medical and education facilities are stretched, and highways will be under the cosh. Consider the impact on the Gaskell Arms five-ways junction and the consequent rat-running through our narrow streets.
- The “Preferred Sites” advanced by Shropshire Council went out to consultation in November 2018 for 12 weeks. The people of Much Wenlock and, indeed, the Town Council and I expressed differing views on the 80-dwelling, single site, proposal over twelve months ago.
- I am far from convinced that housing in this location will benefit the economy of Much Wenlock. There is no footway on Bridgnorth Road south of the Primary School. The distance is sufficient for many residents of these houses, if constructed, to drive into town, piling more pressure on our narrow streets. Moreover, once in the car and despite Wenlock’s excellent range of independent traders, many may feel that it’s more convenient drive to Shrewsbury, Bridgnorth or Madeley for a supermarket shop.
Shropshire Council is carrying out a brief consultation on this revised proposal. The Town Council posted the proposal on its website on Thursday 19th March. I pressed for a much longer period and for contact with those who had already commented – unsuccessfully. Because of a delay in starting the consultation, and the distraction cause by the coronavirus pandemic, I managed to get this extended to Friday 3rd April. To my mind this is unacceptable on so many levels, where a proposal that flies in the face of the Neighbourhood Plan policies and Shropshire Council’s own guidelines is slipped in at this late stage.
I am all for controlled development which may stimulate the town’s economy and employment levels, and I am supportive of measures to reduce flood risk, but not at any cost. This turn of events is not policy-led, this is developer-led.
Meanwhile, the recent flooding spurred an outcry from those directly affected, prompting the Shropshire headline: “Residents outraged at homes plan”