The Coalition Government is committed to “radically reform the planning system to give neighbourhoods far more ability to determine the shape of the places in which their inhabitants live”. Working with the civic movement, Civic Voice has identified four important areas for reform which will strengthen the role of local communities in shaping the place where they live:
¥ Reform of development plans so they are based on a truly grassroots, collaborative and neighbourhood based approach. The desire for neighbourhood input will vary and Civic Voice believes it important that universal efforts are made to encourage participation while recognising that different techniques may be needed and that it will take longer to achieve in some areas than others.
¥ Introduction of a community right of appeal against the grant of development in conflict with the agreed local development plan. The current position where appeal rights only exist for applicants is perverse and unfair and will become even more so as the measures for collaborative planning produce Local Plans which truly embody the views of local communities.
¥ Stronger enforcement based on the principle that action will be taken against breaches of planning control. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link and there are too many instances where the planning system is being bypassed and unauthorised development is proceeding without enforcement action being taken. This not only damages the local environment but also discourages people from getting involved in community activity.
¥ New powers for communities to protect local shops and services from being lost by changing the use of buildings without requiring a planning application. Civic Voice believes the planning system should play a more supportive role in protecting essential local shops and services and giving communities more of a say over what happens in their High Streets and street corners. Currently a local greengrocer can become another multinational coffee shop without the need to apply for planning permission. We support the introduction of a new category of essential shops (such as bakers, greengrocers and butchers) and services (such as pubs and post offices) so that express planning consent would be needed to change use.
The above is a very brief summary of Civic Voice’s campaign on planning reform. For further information, see their website: www.civicvoice.org.uk.
Anyone who followed the saga of last year’s Planning Inquiry could be forgiven for thinking it was all over. The Secretary of State for Environment ruled in favour of allowing construction of up to 12 massive wind turbines on top of Crook Hill (the big hill above Calderbrook which dominates the Littleborough – Rochdale skyline). This was despite all the opposing evidence provided by local residents, Rochdale, Rossendale and Calderdale Councils, and many others. I was part of a group of local objectors – “Friends of the South Pennines.”
However the story did not end there. The Secretary of State also needed to be satisfied on matters of land use as it affected interested parties – in simple terms this required a further examination known as a Common Land Inquiry. This refers to the ownership of the lands in question and the effects of building turbines on anyone using the moor. This includes all sorts of recreational users – mainly walkers and riders – and importantly the effects on farmers with rights of common grazing, mainly for sheep. There are several dozen such farmers and others with commoners’ rights. Historically the ownership of the actual land lies with the Lord of the Manor (Lord Byron in the early 19th century), and for the last hundred years or so, since the manor was last purchased, with the Dearden family. The present “Lord” is a Mr. Jeremy Dearden , a citizen of New Zealand. He it is who is happy to grant permission to Coronation Power to exploit the moors and build turbines – for which of course he will draw a handsome rent – albeit from 12,000 miles away.
The Common Land Inquiry took place in Rochdale from the 13th to the 23rd of July this year, 2010, with an appointed government Planning Inspector conducting the proceedings. Evidence was taken from the developer, the councils and other groups or individuals who expressed concerns and interests. Coronation Power and the two Councils were represented by barristers.
From the outset, the inspector made it clear, as he had to, that this Inquiry was only concerned with Common Land issues. To opponents of the so-called ‘wind farm’ this was of course very restrictive, although we understood the legal reasons for it. So we were unable to raise again all the legitimate concerns of heavy construction traffic on Calderbrook Road, noise effects on dwellings, wide landscape concerns and all the other issues raised at the first planning inquiry. At this same inquiry the common land issues of building turbines above Bacup at Reaps Moss were also considered.
The case against granting permission this time – protecting the upland commons – was made primarily by the Councils and by Friends of the South Pennines. The Friends case during the two weeks was led admirably by Sarah Pennie of Todmorden who with her colleagues had worked tirelessly to prepare for the Inquiry. The Inspector invited any other groups or individuals to present evidence, and several people took the opportunity to have their say.
Much of the evidence was concerned with loss of parts of the moor to construct the turbines and to build long roads up the hillside. A controversial question was the Developer’s proposals to provide replacement land area for that lost to construction. Problems for animals and grazing were also covered, as were the effects on open air recreation. Much time was spent listening to experts from both sides on the ecological issues – particularly on the effects on peat beds and drainage. My own evidence included reference to the recently built turbines at Scout Moor (Knowl Hill) above Rochdale, and the clear and absolute damage done there by building roads and turbine bases in such a sensitive environment. Much of the disturbed land at Scout Moor is not recovering.
The end of the Inquiry included a comprehensive walk over the whole of the Crook Hill site – the Inspector being accompanied by three representatives from each side of the argument. This was to see, on the ground, all the issues such as peat and erosion that had been thrashed out indoors.
I think, at the end of the Inquiry, we all felt that within very strict limitations we had been given the opportunity to state a reasoned case for protecting the moors as we know them. We now await the Secretary of State’s decision, sometime this autumn.
Have you looked up at the sky lately? At night? Both the Civic Voice and the Campaign to Protect Rural England have been concerned for some time with the spillage of light from our towns and cities. On a clear night you can (almost) see the Milky Way; almost but not quite. The reason is so obvious and common that the majority of people probably don't even think about it.
I once saw the Milky Way. I was in deepest Wales and many miles from even any small communities. I came out of the house where I was staying and looked up and there it was, spanning much of the sky like a scattering of minute diamonds on black velvet; truly stardust! It was so thick that it, partially at least, swallowed the familiar constellations. Once you would have been able to see this anywhere in the British Isles but not anymore. It was many years ago and I wonder if even that area is still clear of the pollution of light.
And it is pollution!
Anything can pollute when it spoils or destroys what is already there and light does just that when it is allowed carelessly to spill upwards into the night sky. It's not much use up there so why waste it?
I said that on a clear night it was almost dark enough to make out the Heavens, that is without the Moon of course, because our satellite can obscure the stars in just the same way. Somehow though its not the same, is it? We all like to see the Moon and if it does take away some of the magnificence around it, it's only for a certain amount of time when it's at its brightest. Not with the artificial light spillage! This spoils continuously. If you haven't noticed when you're in the country on the edges of Littleborough, when there are plenty of clouds in the sky, it is light enough to walk unaided because of the light from the Manchester conurbation reflecting from the underside of the cloud layer.
When new lighting was put on Halifax Road recently following the extensive roadworks I wondered if these might give a nod to the problem. They appear to do so in comparison to the older units adjacent so there is some apparent progress, but there is a long way to go.
If you view the south Lancashire area from the White House Inn it is laid out like a bed of fabulous jewels, but pretty though it is, it is also devastatingly destructive.
There seems to be no collective will to tackle the problem and it is frequently exacerbated by individuals who put up so-called security lighting. Not satisfied with directing the lights onto their own patch they see nothing wrong in allowing it to spill outside their personal area creating unwanted light areas beyond. Worse, some of the lights are so bright the only satisfactory description would be to call them searchlights. I can say from personal experience that parts of the canal towpath, which used to be blissfully dark, are now so brightly lit that not only is the softness of the night spoilt but also the ability to see where you are walking; not a good thing when you are alongside a canal!
It really is past the time when we should be protesting about such conditions; we should have some form of statutory control in place to ensure light spillage is stopped. I dislike the idea of more legislation but when people are so careless and ignorant about the effect their selfish actions can have, then it is the only option.
It has been suggested by one of our new members that in view of the poor relationship that Littleborough has had with Rochdale over the years we should try to revert to Urban District Council status. An intriguing idea, I thought, and not without merit in principle.
The lack of support and consideration for our town by Rochdale, other than basic maintenance, has been the hallmark of our relationship since the demise of the Urban District Council in 1973. We are regarded as a 'better off' part of the Rochdale Metropolitan Area and as a consequence not in any great need of help. This does not result in a lessening of the rates however; to a considerable extent we subsidise Rochdale.
A reversion to an Urban District however is in reality not a possibility. It would be impractical to try to turn back the clock without government approval and that simply won't happen, will it? Where would it all lead if one district was allowed to secede from the rest and to go its own way?
There is another practical problem of getting things done if we were separate from a larger authority.
Back in 1973 I was in agreement with the idea of putting the smaller authorities in with larger ones. I worked for local government at the time and I had seen the impossibility of small authorities employing staff of sufficient ability and quality to carry out the necessary works required by them. It wasn't that the district couldn't afford such staff, they simply didn't have enough work, year on year, to keep them occupied on a permanent basis. Consequently the staff they had were either inadequate for the job or moved on to other jobs fairly quickly.
So when the changes came I felt it would improve this situation. Unhappily this did not work out in practice. My concept was for the individual district, town or village to retain its own identity and control, but to be able to call on the larger authority to carry out whatever work was required and for which it would pay out of its own budget. Instead the larger authorities took complete control, relegating the smaller ones to the 'arm or leg' status. (That is where the small town is regarded by the large one as an arm or a leg to the main body: itself; very useful, but not to decide anything for itself).
That is why the present situation is so unsatisfactory.
There is another way to get much of the control back from Rochdale and I would suggest it is already in process. Mind you it's slow and will not go as far as it should without a degree of pushing.
We have our own councillors who ought to be controlling what goes on much more than they presently are allowed to do. This could be changed by giving them autonomy over the money collected and spent locally and which should be ring-fenced from Rochdale's budget. It would also of course give the electorate in Littleborough much more say on what we want that money to be spent on!
I think that some progress is being made along this road already but we need much more. It is possible that the much-vaunted government idea of handing power back to local people will help the process along, but again this will need constant support from ourselves.
It could be that the interesting idea proposed in our meeting could eventually lead to something good; better than we have now, at least.
I understand that communities secretary Eric Pickles and transport secretary Philip Hammond have written to councils to ask them to reduce the amount of highway signage in urban and rural areas.
Signs upon more signs - this is clutter with a capital C
This move to “cut the clutter” – which aims to reduce unnecessary signs, railings and bollards in a bid to make streets tidier and safer – has been welcomed by the Campaign to Protect Rural England which has been campaigning on the issue for nearly 15 years.
Ralph Smyth, senior transport campaigner for CPRE, said: “Clutter needs to be tackled in both rural and urban areas. With every local council in England drawing up new Local Transport Plans this welcome move by Eric Pickles and Philip Hammond could not be better timed. Clutter is not just ugly - it’s expensive and distracts drivers.”
CPRE believes that the greatest potential to cut clutter is on minor country roads and residential streets. Due to a one-size fits all approach, these are often treated the same as main roads, despite different needs.
In 2006 a survey by CPRE Hampshire of a seven-mile section of the B3006 in the South Downs National Park revealed there were on average 45 signs per mile. (Sound familiar? Count the signs from the boundary with Yorkshire on Halifax Road down to the centre of Littleborough).
This sign is not needed for most of the year. It could be replaced with a temporary sign, erected when necessary.
This sign may not be redundant but it might as well be...
All local authorities in England outside London are required to produce new Local Transport Plans to come into force from April 2011.
Mr. Pickles says that many traffic signs and railings are put up in the mistaken belief that they are legally required. Although some signs are required by law, Government advice is that they are most effective when kept to a minimum.
Eric Pickles said: "Our streets are losing their English character. We are being overrun by scruffy signs, bossy bollards, patchwork paving and railed off roads wasting taxpayers' money that could be better spent on fixing potholes or keeping council tax down. We need to ‘cut the clutter'.
"Too many overly cautious town hall officials are citing safety regulations as the reason for cluttering up our streets with an obstacle course when the truth is that very little is dictated by law. Common sense tells us uncluttered streets have a fresher, freer authentic feel, which are safer and easier to maintain.
"Organisations like Civic Voice, (Wow, we've got a mention!) Living Streets and 'fixmystreet' can help councils provide a Big Society solution – local people carrying out street audits will bring power and character back to neighbourhoods."
As we've been concerned with this for many a long year we can only welcome such a common sense approach which is sorely needed.
The Flower Tub and acknowledgement sign.
Iain Spencer Gerrard
Following a request for help from the Friends of Littleborough Stations we agreed recently to donate £100 for the provision of a flower tub for the station platform. This is now in position and has a sign on the side acknowledging the contribution from the Trust.
Going, going... An Old Boiler is Removed
From Hare Hill Mill
Coming Down... Demolition of former council home for the elderly off Hare Hill Road
Photographs: Bernice Clifton
One Wednesday at the end of July we went to Bury Market. Utilising our bus pass it took about forty minutes. We got off the bus near the Market, as did almost every-one else it seemed. Anyway, we went through the underpass and up into the now famous Market, and it was packed. We were beginning to think we had arrived at a stall with a big sale on, but no, it was busy all through the Market, so we wandered round, got what we came for and then started to look around at the variety of stalls, some repetitive, some unique, as with almost any market anywhere, but there are more of them in Bury.
After a light lunch in one of the cafes, we decided that, after seeing and hearing about it in the press and on T.V., to go and see the new shopping precinct for ourselves. That seemed busy too; in fact the whole place was buzzing, all through the arcade type precincts that have been there a while, and out on to the street people were going about their business. The Rock, most of which has now been pedestrianised, was much the same as it was when I used to visit customers there. Quite a few of the older shops and businesses that I used to know are still there, which is good to see. However, further up The Rock is the new shopping area, also called The Rock, and quite nice it is too, and this area was also busy, as you would expect in a new shopping precinct, with everyone coming to have a look, just the same as we had in fact. But what surprised me, apart from the number of people, was the variety of shops: the well off are catered for, with a Debenhams and a Marks and Spencer, but there are also value for money shops like Primark, and B. and M as well as designer type shops. This kind of diversity, if you think about it, is likely to attract consumers of all kind: single parent families, discerning teenagers, the more genteel shopper, and others in between.
So ended our day in Bury — we got what we wanted on the Market (which, incidentally, we hadn’t been able to get in Rochdale) and we also got a few bargains besides. We were pleasantly surprised at how busy it was, in fact, you wouldn’t have known that we were in the middle of a recession at all.
Which now brings me to the point of my story. A week later I was at a meeting, and one of our R.M.B.C. Councillors turned up, so I mentioned to the 'duly elected' my recent experience in Bury, intending to explain just how successful it was likely to be, and I was going to go on to say that Rochdale could learn a few lessons, and even maybe follow suit, but I was cut short: it was explained to me how their tactics were a complete failure; they had created empty shops, because some had moved their businesses out to go in the new premises; it was no good at all. Well I was quite taken aback, and the first thought that came into my head was that I only wish Rochdale could be so unsuccessful! Is it any wonder that our town is in the state it is when our Councillors are so blinkered, so set in their ways so as to not to even contemplate that there might be another option.
Nobody can deny that we in Littleborough pay high rates — where does the money go? We see money being spent in Middleton; we see money being spent in other parts of the borough; but what about Littleborough? When are we going to get our High School back? And what about a public swimming pool that we have been asking for, all these years? And are our local Industries, what few we have left, about to be offered grants to move to that new wonderland that is the Kingsway Industrial Estate? This would have the effect of depleting our number of employed persons, or force more cars on to our already heavily congested Littleborough roads.
So, to sum up then, Bury has got a multi-million pound, state of the art new shopping precinct, and what is Rochdale getting? A multi-million pound Bus shelter and new offices for the council office workers. Now doesn’t that just make the blood boil?
We used to joke about the lunatics running the asylum, but when it actually happens, it just isn’t funny anymore.
Editor: Brian Walker