Photograph: Canal scene in the snow

Canal scene in the snow

Photograph: Iain S Gerrard

Proposals for Changing the Planning System

Front cover of D.E.T.R. document

The Green Paper consultative document "Planning - Delivering a Fundamental Change" was published in December 2001 and interested parties had until the 18th. March 2002 to send in their observations, comments and views.

The essential conflict, which exists between developers and other interests, is expressed in the foreword to the document thus:

"Business complains that the speed of decision is undermining productivity and competitiveness. People feel they are not sufficiently involved in decisions that affect their lives.

"So it is time for change".

The use in the document of the words "speed", "time" and "deliver" in their various forms is significant. The overall impression is that speed is to be seen as the overriding priority and that "Business" must be given a greater advantage than available through the present planning process. A number of significant changes is proposed for easing approval for development.

  1. Simplifying the planning system by replacing structure plans, local plans and Unitary Development Plans with Local Development Frameworks - statements of core policies that will "need to take account of the land use relevant to the community - education, health, waste, re-cycling, environmental protection and how it can assist in the delivery of these and other economic, environmental and social objectives. In planning jargon it would be much more of a spatial strategy". These statements of core policies would need to be continuously updated to take account of the latest Regional and National planning strategies!
  2. "Mediation" - a process of consultation and negotiation would be used to reduce the need for appeals against planning decisions.
  3. The rejection of the principle of "Third Party Right of Appeal" whereby people who have views about a planning decision would be able to challenge it because of the issues raised, though they are not directly affected by it. Developers have this right; why not those who wish to raise an objection?
  4. Planning Contracts.
    "Bigger" applications would be dealt with at the outset by local authorities and developers agreeing a timetable for delivering a decision. This would be set out in a contract or undertaking reached between the local authority and the developer. Sanctions would be applied if an application was not decided by an agreed date without good reason. "Either party should be able to refer the application to the Planning Inspectorate for a "fast-track" decision". Legal arguments might be foreseen arising over interpretation of the "contract" and the nature of any "delay". The "contract" might prove more threatening to a local authority then the present financial implications of fighting and losing an appeal where applications are turned down.
    What is meant by "bigger"? Is this merely a matter of size? What about the wider effects of a relatively small but significantly ground-breaking application? Who would decide whether a contract approach could be invoked?
  5. The Public Enquiry process for major development projects is to be done away with. This would mean scrapping the painstaking, careful and of necessity, time consuming and expensive examination of the impact of proposals to build e.g. new road schemes, new airports, extra runways and to build new or refurbish existing nuclear power stations. In future it is proposed decisions of this type will be taken directly by Parliament.

To sum up, the Green Paper proposals are put forward with the intention of resolving or at least reducing the conflict between those in favour and those against or who wish to modify a particular planning application. On balance it would appear that the proposals if implemented would significantly widen the gulf between the developer and the "community" and other interested parties while at the same time weakening the ability of those who oppose the plans for whatever reason, to challenge planning proposals.

The paper refers to a confusion arising from the hierarchies of plans: structure, local and Unitary Development, but makes it clear that the new Local Development Framework would be subservient to Regional and National strategies. Yet another instance of greater centralisation. With the stern injunction laid upon these frameworks to be continuously modified what chance one wonders, would local communities have in challenging Regional and National policies that would seriously affect the Local Framework? All the various types of "structure" plans in existence have evolved from a lengthy but worthwhile process of negotiation and consultation among the parties involved at local level. These are apparently to be swept away. Sensible planning cannot be achieved based on issues which are in a constant state of flux. Instability is totally inappropriate if worthwhile long-term decisions are to be arrived at. Again the process put forward seems skewed heavily in favour of the developer.

Some good ideas

A. Community participation. A much greater degree of public involvement in the planning process is proposed. This would form part of the means by which Local Development Frameworks are determined and reviewed. A measure of negotiation might result from this to the ultimate benefit of both the developer and the public.

B. Twin Tracking. It is proposed to ban the tactic by which developers submit two identical applications and use the threat of appeal on one as a lever while negotiating the other.

C. Repeated Applications. Repeated applications to wear down opposition to undesirable proposals would not be allowed. Once an application has been refused or an appeal turned down no substantially similar application would be accepted.

D. Better enforcement. A simpler faster system is to be created to prevent the system falling into disrepute. Providing local authorities with effective resources to enforce decisions and check infringements would be fundamental to the success of any change.

Don Pickis

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Trees, Rail Station and Other Matters

Many of our readers will have been reading in the Rochdale Observer about the setbacks (cutbacks!) concerning trees in the centre of Littleborough. Here's a bit more background information.

There are two sites in the Square, which is a Conservation Area, where we have lost trees.

tree destruction tree destrucion

Corporate Vandalism? Should this be allowed to occur in the town centre? The first picture is from the top of the car park ramp and the second from the ramp itself looking towards the road.

One was on land maintained by Arriva Trains on the embankment below the Station. There had been complaints about the vandalism on the Station itself and in the car park below. So the British Transport Police were summoned. They came on one day, not knowing the area, and made a list of eight recommendations. One of these was 'to cut back on all vegetation in the car park so that lines of sight and luminance levels are improved and areas that could be used for hiding in are removed.' Now Civic Trust members, especially those who travel regularly, and all who are keen to see conditions on public transport improved, are as keen as anyone else to have security and shelter improved. However, to send a team simply to cut down bushes and trees without any consultation with local residents was not helpful. Further, without discussion, it is very unlikely to achieve an end to vandalism.

What has been achieved is the loss of attractive ground cover, the loss of well grown trees which cannot be replaced overnight. Trees don't grow overnight except in fairy stories. Further trees were cut down which could neither shelter vandals nor take away light. We are thinking here of the elder on the corner of Station Approach and the Square. If elders were rare, with their abundance of flowers in spring and berries in autumn, they would be much prized. Most of us delight in them anyway.

The Civic Trust have made a strong plea that before there is any cutting down or large scale pruning of trees and shrubs, particularly in sensitive areas, that local residents are consulted.

We also noticed a second site on which the shrubs and trees had been cut down on public land near the so-called public toilets (is this an amenity which is ever used?). This surely could not have been because they hid vandals.

Convinced this was not the work of vandals doing the cutting, we started a trail of enquiry. We were at first told that this had been done by an RMBC team (not our local RMBC gardeners) who are responsible for 'street services'. But we later found, after help from local residents, that this was not believed to be the case. The perpetrator is known but we have insufficient proof of their culpability.

One of the trees cut back, which could do no-one any harm, was a prized medlar. The ‘pruning’ is so vicious that it is unlikely to survive. It was planted by our then MEP, Glyn Ford, on Lancashire Day, 27th November, 1997, along with a winter-flowering cherry planted by Lorna Fitzsimons, MP. The medlar had been brought specially from Italy by Glyn. The cherry was soon vandalised, but the medlar flourished and was protected by the surrounding bushes. It had pretty white saucer-shaped flowers in spring and fruits in the autumn; there are very few in the whole Borough. Four and a half years growth, against all the odds, has now been cut down! What can we do to stop such thoughtless behaviour?

There is one positive aspect of all this in that Alan Jones of RMBC has found a replacement medlar for us. However we do need to find a safe place to plant it. Does anyone have any suggestions?

We also ask you, our members, to let us know of any trees you particularly want to keep. If the trees are on private land, we can look to Tree Preservation Orders; if they are on public land we can alert the authorities so that they can make sure there is consultation and all possible is done to save them. And of course, keep letting us know about sites for new plantings. We have had several positive responses since the last newsletter.

For some more good news on trees, see Talking Points.

THE RAIL STATION

Members will be interested to know that the British Transport Police in their report (mentioned in the article above) on vandalism and car crime at the station made some interesting recommendations.

Clearing the broken glass was one and this has now been done. Close Circuit Television was another to give coverage of the station, platform areas, subway, bus interchange and car park. Also, it stated, 'consider re-instating a late turn member of staff whose presence will deter the types of incidents being experienced and which will also help to raise the level of passenger perceptions'. Not quite sure of the meaning of the latter phrase, but three cheers for the suggestion. We might even then get reliable information about the trains, instead of misleading Tannoy announcements. But what are the chances of these recommendations being carried out? It’s cheap and relatively easy to chop a few trees down. And speaking of our rail station whenever will we get 'shelters' which actually do that; that is, keep waiting passengers warm and dry???

Rae Street

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Thoughts on the Last Three Months

Cartoon: John measuring his length

Cornered by our indefatigable secretary, who has done so much to make the Newsletter a readable and lively magazine with added illustrations, and faced with the situation of writing something about the last three months work for the Littleborough Civic Trust, the usual blank panic set it. Look in my diary seemed to be the answer.

The first big event seemed to happen early in January when ‘out of the blue’ a very pleasant man rang up from the Environment Agency. He said he wanted to come out and measure up and inspect the area of land that is roughly described as between the Cricket Club Car Park and the allotments and the land along the side of Town House Road down to the edge of Hare Hill Park.

He was interested because last summer we had examined it as an area which could be considerably improved, cleaned up and made into an attractive addition to the central area of Littleborough – we had named the project the HARVEY project after our Mr Harvey (of Fothergill and Harvey) who did so much for Littleborough some 80 years ago. I turned out to meet him on this early January morning and after saying hello, and making small talk, he dived into his car and produced a device with a wheel and a long handle which was bright yellow. Having been a land surveyor myself I realized immediately what my function was: you push the wheel along and it records fairly accurately how far you have gone. Now you know what we do in the Civic Trust! Last time I used one was at the School of Military Survey in Berkshire some fifty years ago.

The project is currently ‘on hold’ but money is said to be allocated for 3 years from now. Apart from that agreements are needed with the owners of the bits of land should the various promises become realities.

From this point onwards the diary is increasingly filled with cryptic notes, phone numbers and times for meetings for our currently most active project the Town Design Statement for Littleborough.

In this project we had committed to actually sending a letter to every household in Littleborough – estimated as 4500 houses. It seemed a non-technical job with no great complexity until you start to do it. At the heart of the matter is WHAT DO YOU WRITE ? I really believe people earn a living doing some such job since we rapidly became ankle deep in possible answers and as quickly as you sort out one issue someone thinks of something which would clearly improve it ----.Versions proliferated , approaches costed and found to be miles beyond our modest budget. Even when we had the ‘right’ version of the letter, who and how do we go about getting it distributed. And then the worst question of all: who folds up two A4 sheets of paper and stuffs them in a precise way into an envelope. All four thousand five hundred of them and then another 500 when the distributor finds he has the figure wrong!

Solving all this took two months, but it all seemed so rewarding when, with the help of four local shops (Dearnley Newsagents, the Roundhouse Newsagents, Summit Newsagents and George Kelsall’s bookshop) as well as my own home, acting as local post boxes, we started to get bunches of replies from all over Littleborough.

Two exciting things we found are the range of abilities, talents and skills we have in our community and, on the evidence we have of this, the fact that many of the responses appear to be from young people and families. These really are the people who will benefit most from the project – so perhaps we did get the right format for the letter!

In the middle of all this excitement we also had our official Consultant come to run an initial course to teach some members of the Civic Trust and a number of others who were already engaged in the process, about how you start the practical side of the business of doing such a project.

She it was who first wrote the books, for the government of the day, on the design concepts of a Village Design Statement, and she gave us a hands on, dynamic, interactive and really enjoyable day.

It has not all been so good, but now and then you have to fall back on ‘the guy who ain’t made any mistakes ain’t made anything’.

I had wondered about what else we had been doing in the first quarter but can say it also included a visit to Ilkley, where they have taken nearly four years to finish a Design Statement for their community and which taught us another lesson – each statement is peculiarly and totally related to the community it was created for.

We currently expect to contact all who responded to us within at most a week or two and announce a major release meeting for Littleborough’s project during March to take place, say at the end of May. It will take a flurry of hard work to create this and I would again make an appeal to all members that any help will be welcomed.

John Street

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Zion Chapel, Whitelees Road

Zion Chapel from the Caldermoor Inn

Zion Chapel from the Caldermoor - pity about the lamp standard!

Photograph: Iain Gerrard

Even today, well into the 21st Century, it is hard for anyone living in Littleborough to be unaware of the great explosion in building of Non- conformist churches in the 19th century. The buildings were an expression of belief and many of them were built literally by the congregation themselves. Sadly some of the finest were finally demolished and, even worse, there are some ugly remains where for whatever reason the clean up of the area was never completed.

However it is a delight to record the completion of a conversion of one of our smallest chapels which was originally built because of the personal leadership of an individual and his family. Such chapels have often disappeared, usually when the family died out or moved away.

Such a one was the Zion Chapel at the crossroads of Hare Hill road / Shore Road with Whitelees Road and opposite the Caldermoor Pub.

When you are passing it, spend a few seconds to look at it. It is an excellent conversion of a building which, prior to its present use, had for many years housed a joinery business. Locally we have watched the conversion and partial rebuild (one wall was clearly starting to move) and today we have an attractively refurbished building.

New date stone on church

Photograph: Iain Gerrard

The rebuilt part has been done in matching stone by people who care and, now structurally secure, it means we have a working building which still celebrates what it has been but with a new life ahead of it. A new date stone announcing “The Chapel. Built 1881, Restored 2001” has been added as a proper and warranted finishing touch.

We are, incidentally, rich in date stones in Littleborough. Let us know the earliest that you are aware of and we will cover them in a later issue.

John Street

 

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Talking Points


Iain Gerrard reports on topics discussed at Committee Meetings and other relevant issues

Ben Healey Bridge

The bridge on Hollingworth Road should be completed for through traffic (both ways and under and over!) by mid-April. It is intended that this event is to be celebrated by a trip boat making the journey from Sladen Lock down to Littleborough and, hopefully, under the new bridge.

Photograph: Pikehouse Lock where the tree is to be planted

Pikehouse Lock where the tree is to be planted

Photograph: Rae Street

The organisers, Littleborough Action Group, have suggested that our Society celebrate this event by way of a commemorative tree planting. The broad idea is very much in our thoughts at the moment with the drive to get trees planted wherever we can. In this instance, however, it would be a particularly special occasion, as it would commemorate the time when Littleborough Civic Trust instigated the renovation of the canal.

Almost thirty years ago to the day, members began the clearing out of the lock at Pikehouse (No. 45) and this is the location where we hope to plant the tree. British Waterways have been approached and are in favour of such an enterprise although the precise position has yet to be agreed. The ceremony will be carried out in the presence of Lorna Fitzsimons, our MP, Chris Davies, one of our Euro-MP's and our Mayor, Councillor Irene Davidson, all of whom have shown and maintained an interest in the Canal over the recent past.

The tree, a Malus (a Crab Apple to you and me), obtained for us by the Council's Ground Maintenance Department, will be a substantial one i.e. not just a twig which wouldn't be noticed for some time or which might be lost amongst any future planting. Its very size will mean it will require special care for the initial planting and over the next few seasons while it establishes its new roots. We have been promised help from the good folk at Hollingworth Lake Visitor's centre both in an advisory capacity and, we hope, physically on the day.

Come along on Sunday, 14th. April and help us to celebrate on the results of our early efforts. It's a nice stroll along one of the most attractive parts of the canal and guaranteed to clear your head: Bring the dog(s)!

A small plaque has been suggested to add to the tree's position afterwards. Any ideas as to what it should say?

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The 'Bus Station' seat

We still await official confirmation from the Pennines Township of its generous grant towards the refurbishment of the seat. Hopefully this will come through soon as our concern is mounting that any more delay will result in our original estimates of cost being inadequate. Prices always go up don't they?

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Town Design Statement

The Steering Group referred to in the Winter Newsletter has now been formed and had its first meetings. From it we have listed a number of groups which will be created, each to cover the work to be done in a particular area, although there will be some overlap.

A list of these is given below:

  1. Ealees, Durn and the canalside project
  2. The Central Conservation Area
  3. Recreation, Leisure, Tourism and Access to the Countryside
  4. The Landscape, the Built Environment, Ecology and Nature Conservation
  5. Education and Youth Activity
  6. Employment, the Local Economy and Regeneration.
  7. Housing and Shopping
  8. Transport, Traffic and Car Parking
  9. The Public Launch Meeting
  10. The recording of the history of Littleborough

One such group, the Public Launch Group has already started because of the urgency to complete the necessary arrangements for the Launch Day, which as mentioned elsewhere in the Newsletter, is on Wednesday, 8th. May 2002.

We have sent out a further letter, to all respondents to the original circular letter, asking them to state their preferences as to which of the groups they would wish to be involved in and replies have been received for this.

The next stage is to set up the groups under their own individual chairmen or chairwomen. We feel they should be 'up and running' before the launch day.

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Litter

We have had a number of discussions over the last year with various officers within the Local Authority on the problem of litter. These have been quite fruitful in that we have discovered that a number of ideas which we thought were our own were being considered and even acted upon within the Authority.

Having previously taken part in a 'litter pick' event myself, and seen the noticeable short-term but negligible long-term effects on the area chosen for it, I can't say I was particularly enamoured of the idea, proposed by some, that we should have another one!

The practical side of me said that our efforts were not achieving anything worth while; the gesture was - just that! and was lost on the population at large. It was felt that the problem, rather obviously, lay with the very same ‘public at large'. Who after all drops the litter in the first place?

I find that the most presentable and law-abiding people do it and seem to be oblivious to the fact that any litter dropped by them, while negligible in itself, adds to the massive amount already around our feet. It is clear that much of it is dropped by children and our 'youth'; this from the fact that most of it is in the form of crisp packets, lollipop sachets, cigarette cartons, lager and beer cans and the other paraphernalia of our generally throw-away society which is purchased and consumed in the open by them. But why do they do it?

I can't recall doing this when I was younger. Admittedly there was nowhere near the amount of excessive packaging that there now is, nor did I have the ready money so obviously now available to young people which allows them to purchase the items in the first place, but we don't think this is the whole of the problem. Rather it is felt that the parents of these youngsters do little or nothing to instil in them a sense of civic pride nor do they put to them the obvious question of what happens to something after it is casually discarded. Even they may not be totally to blame in so far as the attitude that 'it's someone else's problem' seems to have grown over the last two or three generations and maybe their mothers and fathers were less diligent than they should have been.

Cartoon: People planting trees

We felt that the parents should take far more responsibility for their children's actions but that it would be a long process of training - of the parents! In the meantime we felt that work needed to be done from an early age with the children at school.

Yes, we know! The teachers have more than enough to do as it is and why should we consider taking away the responsibility which is rightfully that of the parent? Well as I related above, much of the problem is the parents and we felt they, poorly trained in such matters by their parents could not be relied upon to operate the necessary controls. The children, on the other hand, having received appropriate instructions on the matter of pride in their community could train the parents! An added advantage of this is that they see all their friends getting the same information and we hopefully don't get the reply to 'Don't drop that, Johnny,' of ' Fred's mum doesn't bother or make him pick it up.'

The Council appears to be taking all this on board, indeed in some respects it’s ahead of us. Part of the new curriculum covers such matters and hopefully in the not too distant future maybe, just maybe, litter-picks may be a thing of the past.

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Noise

One or two of the Committee members mentioned over the New Year period that, while they had been walking the Pennine Way, they had been disturbed by the noise of motorised hang-gliders. These are the annoyingly slow and noisy type which despite having an engine can seem to 'hang about' for ages. If, as in this case they go around in circles, then anyone out for a walk simply cannot get away from them.

This is in addition to the nuisance created by the off-road motorbikes and the so-called quad bikes which often foul the countryside in a similar way; some of which apparently made an appearance on the same day as the fliers. Our walking friends had a really good day out!

The essence of a walk over the moors is surely that of quietness. Sometimes it is possible to find a spot where there is almost literally no noise whatsoever of any kind. Not often I'll grant you but they are there for the finding. Even when absolute quiet is not attainable the sounds you can hear are those of the wind in the grass, the sheep or the curlew calling a warning or the trickle of water in a stream. These are things to be valued. They are why people take the trouble to travel miles, first by transport, but then by the power of their own legs, just to get away from the sounds of modern life. Think then how this is ruined by the thoughtless few despoilers who see no further than their own pleasure.

We are not sure who we might approach to begin an attempt to curtail this sort of activity. Anyone with ideas on this should contact one of our Committee members; or perhaps you don't agree and feel that a policy of ‘live and let live’ should prevail? Let us know.

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Planning Approvals

Most of you will recall the unfortunate outcome of the planning application by Redrow Homes to build a large amount of houses on the Stubley Mill site. The unsuitability of their proposals, in our view, has all been gone over a number of times and I won't repeat them again.

However, the Inspector who came to listen and adjudicate at the appeal against the original refusal of the application, made certain recommendations and laid certain requirements upon the builder when he finally granted the appeal.

As is often the case, when a builder gets approval, it isn't long before he is found making attempts to avoid having to carry out one or other, or some, of the requirements of that approval. So it was in this case.

Drawing of a pond

One requirement laid down was that an existing pond be retained as part of the development. In the event that this was not possible, then an alternative position should be found and the pond 'moved' to this.

The builder decided that he didn't want the pond where it was, and so, into the Authority came an application to put this requirement aside.

Our initial annoyance at what appeared to be a flagrant attempt to avoid his obligation turned to dismay when it was discovered that the original pond was gone, destroyed!

Legally this left the alternative option of repositioning the pond in another location on the site but what was the point? The original pond was presumably felt to be worthy of protection otherwise why did the Inspector mention it at all? Clearly if the pond was to be moved, the new position would need to be identified and set up first and then all the pond life moved to it before the old pond was touched. I say ‘clearly’, but it would appear that this logical thinking occurred to neither the builder (surprise? surprise?) nor the planning department who are supposed to ensure compliance with all the terms of any approval.

The builder has been let off with a poor second best from our point of view. He's going to build a copse of trees! Personally, I'll believe it only when I see it and I should live that long! After all, who will ensure he complies with the latest requirement?

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Wireless Aerials

These ever-increasing items in our landscape seem to arouse considerable concern with a number of people. I suppose, like the wind turbines we have fought against in the past, they are a threat as much because of the potential numbers we might eventually get all over the place, as they are for their individual presence. There is also the matter in many peoples minds, as yet unresolved, as to their potential for damage to people living nearby them.

The recent application, yet to come before the Pennines Township at the time of writing, to erect some dishes on an existing electricity pylon on Blackstone Edge might seem a good idea on first consideration. Why not use an existing structure rather than build a new one?

There were other considerations to this particular application to which we objected, which were the need for a building to accompany the installation and the necessity of a hard surfaced road to reach it. This is often the thin end of the wedge. It begins with 'just a small building with a bit of road'. Then in a year or two maybe, there is a need to increase capacity due to heavy demand and before many years have gone by you end up with a large complex right in the middle of what used to be 'nowhere'.

But there was a further worry to us. We feel that it ought to be possible to look forward, in the not too distant future, to the removal of the electricity pylons themselves. The increasing cost of maintaining above-ground cables and the apparently reducing cost of underground transmission cables is making this a real possibility; may be not in every place but certainly in situations where exposure to the wildest of the elements makes maintenance expensive - like Blackstone Edge? If the revenue that undoubtedly would come from the use of the pylons is a useful amount it could well turn the balance away from the desirable removal of these ugly structures.

Iain Gerrard

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Editor: Iain Spencer Gerrard