Helping shape the planning process: Transition Chepstow
By rob hopkins 22nd October 2014
Chepstow is a small Welsh town with a population of about 12,000. It is a border town located on the River Wye where it flows into the Severn Estuary. Although it does have some local industries it is now mainly a commuter town with motorway access to Bristol, Newport and Cardiff. Many people will know Chepstow for it’s impressive Castle and nearby racecourse.
Chepstow is located within the administrative boundary of Monmouthshire County Council (MCC). MCC was required to produce a Local Development Plan for the county to identify suitable land to meet housing allocations as set by central government. MCC identified land within the town, presently occupied by an engineering company (Mabey). This land was identified as a result of the company wishing to relocate to an industrial estate to the south of the town, adjacent to the Severn Bridge. The company already has a presence at the site manufacturing large wind turbine towers.
The A48 road passes through the town which can become heavily congested as it is a commuter route from the Forest of Dean to Bristol and Cardiff. At one point the air pollution exceeds European safe limits. The town has a railway station and passenger numbers are growing. Recent representations by groups such as Better Trains for Chepstow (supported by Transition Chepstow) have succeeded in increasing the number of trains stopping at Chepstow.
The Mabey site, is 16 hectares in size and is located between the railway and the River Wye. The site has a rich industrial history. At the beginning of the 20th Century a cattle market was located there and an adjacent Malt House, now a listed building, was built in 1851. During the 1914-1918 war the site was chosen by the Government as one of three site for National Shipyards. The shipyard was subsequently bought by Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering specialising in bridge construction. Eventually the company became, Mabey the present owners of the land. See images below.
Several years ago, a neighbouring piece of land on the riverbank was sold for development. The site, which was also an industrial site, was cleared but no development has taken place. See below.
Transition Chepstow (TC) made representations to the MCC during the local development plan (LDP) process during 2011/2012. While TC does not see itself as a campaigning group it did express the view that the redevelopment of this potential brownfield site was preferable to greenfield sites adjacent to the town.
In our initial LDP response, we also expressed a concern that that the plan presented development in a ‘business as usual manner’. We felt it did not adequately address sustainability and resilience in the face of future climate change, peak oil and economic uncertainties. We posed several questions:
- How will the development reduce/minimise its carbon footprint and its dependence on oil?
- How will the development make use of renewable energy resources to provide power?
- How will the development deal with on site recycling facilities/composting /waste etc.?
- How will the building designs and the layout of buildings and open spaces minimise environmental impacts through effective protection of the environment and prudent management of resources? In particular The Ecological Connectivity Assessment in Monmouthshire, May 2010 Report by Gwent Ecology identified the Mabey site as having opportunities to extend habitat connectivity.
- Where is the provision of allotment land or growing space for residents to grow their own food?
- How will the need for travel be reduced?
- How will a large increase in vehicle traffic onto an already congested road system be avoided?
- How will the site be made resilient to flood events, given the threat of rising sea levels and more frequent very heavy rainfall events?
To counter the growing feeling of Chepstow becoming a dormitory town for Bristol, Newport and Cardiff, we asked to see;
- stronger and more specific proposals for developing public transport so that it provides a real, viable, alternative to the car
- development of a thriving town centre which can cater for the majority of local needs including shopping, recreation and the arts, retaining more local income and reducing reliance on the car;
- active promotion of appropriate employment opportunities. We welcomed comments regarding support for homeworking but feel more could be done to encourage this, for example a video-conferencing centre.
- a more demand-led, less formulaic, approach to affordable housing so that those who work locally can afford to live here.
The local development plan was produced and examined in public by a planning inspector where all representations were taken into account. It was subsequently adopted in February 2014. This meant that any future development within the county should be judged against the proposals set out in the plan.
This September, Mabey held a public exhibition of its proposals to redevelop their site. Mabey have some bold and encouraging aspirations for the site. They state that their vision is to create a new neighbourhood that is ‘as connected to the ecology and riverbank as it is with Chepstow itself’. Their vision is to achieve a ‘sustainable and high quality development that leaves a positive legacy for the people of Chepstow’. A significant number of Transition Chepstow members attended the exhibition and many provided individual responses to Mabey on the day.
The next stage is the submission of an outline planning application. It is hoped that a high quality Mabey plan will be the framework that will comprise the planning application. A November meeting for Transition Chepstow members has been called and it is our intention to further scrutinise the plans and make representation to further influence the development.