Darren Woodiwiss of Transition Market Harborough reports on the group’s attempts to influence development in their town, which have focused on the one remaining undeveloped site in the town…
“Market Harborough is a picturesque market town situated in South Leicestershire nestled up against the Northamptonshire border. It is a relatively prosperous town on the Midland mainline and as such has a large and growing commuter population.
Market Harborough was listed in the top 10 happiest communities in New Economics Foundation’s happiness survey a few years ago and also in the Halifax Building Society’s “Top ten most desirable places to live”.
Traditionally, due to its placement at the head of the Welland valley and being surrounded by “strong pasture”, Market Harborough was a stop off place to fatten up cattle when being driven to southern markets. Last year I read in a news article that Market Harborough’s population grew by 8% (I presume a 2011/12 figure) and was the second fastest growing community in the UK.
Harborough District Council (HDC) has its housing targets to achieve, and within the district Market Harborough is by far the largest settlement, and so the council has elected to build a huge estate (at lease 1000, not more than 1500 houses or 10% increase) on the north west edge of town.
When the new NPPF came into force last year, HDC became one of the 45% of councils at that time not to have implemented a new Local Plan although it has carried over its policies from the Core Spatial strategy adopted in November 2011. Some of the policies carried over are out of date and not fully compliant with the NPPF so are currently being updated, a new Local Plan is due in 2017. As a result there is the risk that the NPPF’s primary directive “A presumption in favour of ‘sustainable’ development’ could be enforced if a developer appeals a decision.
Market Harborough has no direct political representation in the form of a parish or town council and so the Civic society has a group that monitor and respond to planning applications on the behalf of the town. HDC recently lost a planning appeal and the inspector found that the housing target for the district was too low, following a review by externally consultants a new target has been implemented which is now around 600 per year for the next 5 years (I am advised it is actually 4000 dwellings up to 2030). In an effort to speed up delivery of new developments HDC has removed the Affordable Homes Contribution Levy from small housing developments or 1-2 homes. Market Harborough is incredibly “inbuilt”, there are no scraps of land left as these have all been built upon… apart from one (more on this later).
TTMH has not campaigned against any development as we do not see it being our remit, however we did participate as individuals in the “consultation” into the Council’s Core Spatial Strategy.
The core strategy underwent a range of consultation processes and was subject to a sustainability appraisal at each stage, including an options stage. These consultations informed the whole process of development. It was also subject to full political scrutiny during its development by the Local Planning Advisory Committee. It was also subject to a full examination in public by a planning inspector and changes were requested prior to adoption by the council. Full details of the process are still available on the council website.
Although the leader of the council described the draft document as “woolly-worded and contradictory” and the multiple choice consultation paper was rejected by most that I have spoken to. The draft was voted in without, as far as I heard, a single word being changed.
Difficulties faced by TTMH
Access to land
When land does become available it is snapped up by cash buyers, from enquiries these seem to be equestrian-based purchases and from the traveling community who also want land for their horses. Traditional farmers also value the land, one of our group is a smallholder and has stated that she would not sell any of her land as she would not want to see the strong pasture lost.
As the community is growing rapidly, and there are no limits placed on the ultimate growth of the town, any land near the settlement is potential building land and therefore already has options on from developers or the owners will not sell deeming the land to have value as future development land.
In order for HDC to take TTMH seriously in our proposals we need to have delivered previously, as we have no access to land for projects this will not happen.
Being a small volunteer group, when we do gain traction on a project it is difficult to meet with officers as they like to meet during their working day… which happens to be our working day as well.
In an effort to find some good in the massive airfield farm development we have looked at the master plan which stated there would be the provision of a school, public house and shop. We have made the following proposals.
That we form a development trust and are allowed to build the school, public house and shop to passive Haus (Schoolhaus) standards with the profits going to the community.
That the community be allowed to form not-for-profit cooperatives to run the public house and store.
We are currently working with a local land holding charity with the view of planting a community orchard on a small field of theirs close to a nearby village. We are also working with stakeholders to see if we can upgrade a cycle path to include forage for wildlife and humans over a 1 mile section of the route as it exits Harborough.
N2 community farm project
We contacted HDC in 2009 regarding some derelict garages sandwiched between Newcombe Street and Naseby Square (hence the name – ‘N squared’) and the potential for a community farm garden. The initial result of this was that the council regaining control of the site from a private letting company and then demolishing the garages due to their semi derelict state and regular use by drug takers.
On the site is the remnants of a traditional orchard (BPAP list of priority habitats to preserve) and with the help of local residents we have held two moth-trapping events to evaluate the areas wildlife value with some interesting results.
The plan for this site has not been finalised yet but we would probably look to preserve and extend the existing orchard area, create space for biodiversity (ponds, wildflowers etc.), potentially have an apiary, create space for the community to come together and for children to play safely and last but not least to have a shared growing space. It would be nice if we could do this within Permaculture principles.
Last year the Council finally made the decision to sell the land for housing and advertised it as suitable for 20 homes even though the site has limited access which according to County Council guidance documents would mean only 5-6 houses potentially being allowed on the 1.5 acre site. The bidding for this plot closed in May and we have had it confirmed that there were bids received for the site. As part of this process the community was offered a small grassed area (about the size of two allotments) for our proposed use.
At a meeting a few weeks ago regarding this grassed area, we heard that the offer on the site was disappointingly low and the Council invited the community to submit a proposal on how we would use the land, how the community will be engaged and how we would raise the money.
To raise the kind of money needed (in six figures) will certainly be a challenge for the group in this current climate of austerity, we are currently writing our proposal, reviewing grant giving organisations and we have the support of the lovely people at the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens. The site is not big enough to earn enough revenue for debit finance so it looks like we will have to be creative in how we approach this hurdle and we would be very interested in hearing how other Transition groups have managed this.