Protest against Green Belt development in Castle Point, is definitely not the sole domain of Canvey Islanders.
Whilst we feel we have more to protest about than most, despite being considered to be “not living in the Real World”, even by some of our own representatives, it cannot be argued that issues facing Canvey Island are not unique.
Whether it be the fact Canvey Island is the most densely urbanised part of the Borough, the removal of Canvey’s Rapid Response Vehicle, the 3rd access Road saga, the broken drainage system, the Roscommon Way Racers, lack of street lighting on unadopted roads, or living alongside 2 major Hazardous Industrial sites, concerned Canvey residents are often greeted with a “them again?” luke-warm welcome!
But that is not to exclude our mainland neighbours who are equally willing to object against planning issues where Green Belt and other supposedly worthy development proposals are concerned.
Now it appears it has been recognised that the majority of those willing to get involved in the planning process are of a certain age group.
“Currently, the majority of those who engage in planning are over 55 years. Response rates to a typical pre-planning consultation are around 3% of those directly made aware of it. In Local Plan consultations, this figure can fall to less than 1% of the population of a district. Yet planning decisions are based upon this sample.
Well-managed consultations start early, seek a more balanced engagement and encourage the ‘strategic’ thinkers to engage, but they too frequently fail to engage with the younger age groups – yet we are planning their future. What other organisation would base important decisions on this level of response without checking to see if it was ‘representative’. Yet this is what happens in planning decisions.”
So says Sue Manns, the Regional Director of national planning consultancy Pegasus Group, in an article for the Royal Town Planning Institute. Pegasus being the planning group involved in the Jotmans Farm development Inquiry.
The article appears to suggest that through the lack of engagement with a “younger” consultee audience, modern development plans struggle to be adopted through the objections from those more senior amongst us residents.
“We need to start a nationwide conversation around the spatial impacts of technology change, embrace young and dynamic thinkers and those who see change as exciting, and let’s rebalance the objection-driven engagement culture which has dominated planning over the past 50 years.”
Whilst Canvey residents may not be considered by cpbc, and perhaps Sue Manns, to be dynamic thinkers, they would be wrong in their assumption to consider us as not recognising change when it is exciting, as long as it is realistic!
The cpbc promise of the grandly titled “Canvey Island Town Centre Regeneration Masterplan” is a case in point. Unfortunately scepticism was well founded, as the lack of tangible progress alongside the failure to incorporate the proposed Dutch / seaside architectural features into new proposals, has led to blandly designed and cramped Flatted and Retail developments to pass approval!
Building materials to reflect the overall palette, drawing on the Dutch, Coastal Town and Art Deco influences to create a scheme with a unique identity.
Colours should be vibrant to establish the new retail area as a destination. Shop front improvements along Furtherwick Road should be designed with the distinctive features of an English Seaside Town.
With prose being used, similar to that above, to encourage support for aspirational design schemes, it is hardly any wonder that Sue Manns has identified a failure of the industry to engage with a younger audience in planning consultations. The lack of younger generation involvement may be true, but that is not a reason to support the thought that adult and senior views should be ignored simply to support any particular development plan that may indeed, not be suitable for a particular area.
We on Canvey Island have seen the value of “local knowledge” within the Plan making process!
When the 2009 cpbc Core Strategy attempt at a local plan was published the Canvey Green Belt Campaign, through “local knowledge” recognised the attempt to mislead the Examining Inspector with its “inappropriate housing site selection” policies, which “commits to Green Belt release in an area of potential high flood risk”, as well as it being obvious he would not be “convinced that maintaining the current distribution of development across the Borough is justified given the existing constraints”.
This despite cpbc officers being party to the clear intent of the mainland lead group to allow themselves to be influenced by, and produce a local plan driven by, what the Inspector politely described as “Local Factors”!
In this light, of course we HAD to get involved, despite being within the age bracket that Sue Manns and her planner colleagues have an issue with!
Committing to attending a 2 week Examination following production of a lengthy consultation submission is not achievable by all, however when your own local authority have schemed and approved such a discreditable document, it must be challenged and exposed for what it was. Not everybody is in a position, or willing to commit to taking part in plan making process, as it bound to require taking unpaid leave or using holiday periods. Something those with young families for instance may be unwilling or unable to commit to.
Perhaps Planners and developers would prefer that no residents, whatever age bracket they fall into, take part in the planning process? One thing we did find was that the Examining Inspectors appear to welcome local input!
The feedback from our Referendum equally challenged Sue Mann’s assumption that a younger demographic would automatically give the different response that she and her planner colleagues would hope for, by achieving “a more balanced engagement and encourage the ‘strategic’ thinkers”.
Castle Point council gave evidence, indeed if it can be considered of value, that they extended their consultation to specifically target established groups of youngsters as part of the Core Strategy consultation.
What the Canvey Green Belt Campaign witnessed however, was perfectly clear. By calling on residents at their homes and putting to them our Referendum question, it was absolutely clear, that the loss of yet more Canvey Green Space to the Borough’s Housing Need was indisputably opposed across generations!
Planners may begin to achieve the respect they crave if they were more driven by an local area’s actual needs. Aspirational architectural computer imagery with green spaces screening dense urbanisation deceive nobody.
Equally the promises of Affordable Homes, later challenged as being unviable, is a deception we are getting more and more familiar with, especially in the light of Green Belt release and sky high housing prices.
RTPI and Sue Manns, nice try, but must try harder!
ps Lets not feel too much sympathy for the industry: “The chief executive of housebuilder Persimmon has insisted he deserves his £110m bonus because he has “worked very hard” to reinvigorate the housing market.” (Guardian)
A link to the Canvey Island Town Centre Regeneration Masterplan can be found HERE.
The full blog post by Sue Manns can be found via this LINK.