I called in on one of those walk-in planning sessions where Hambleton planning officials rehearse their opaque management speak and try to explain to the general public what they have in mind for meeting house building targets.
When the government eased the planning laws in an effort to meet its new housing targets, it presented developers and landowners with a heaven sent opportunity to fill their boots. Anyone with a spare piece of land suddenly became more than happy to listen to the siren calls of the developers. This has caused planning applications to pour into the District Council.
We know there is a serious housing shortage in this country, a fact the government has somewhat belatedly now recognised.
The problem as I see it, is that all this extra house building is paying little regard to the infrastructure needed to sustain such expansion.
Take the market town of Stokesley, for example, where it is thought an additional 500 houses could be accommodated, increasing the present population to something like 6,600.
Of that total it is a fair bet that each new household would have at least one child and one car. It is also a given that sooner than later a fair percentage will require some form of health care. Stokesley has just one overburdened chemist, and a Health Centre that also caters for nearby villages.
The local school already has an intake of around a thousand pupils and serves not only Stokesley, but also Great Ayton and the communities in the surrounding areas.
Parking is at a premium in and around the high street, a problem certain to be exacerbated by the addition of an extra 500 cars.
So it does not take a genius to conclude that established small towns and villages such as Stokesley, Great Ayton, Great Broughton, and Hutton Rudby to name just a few, cannot absorb new housing development without a concomitant supporting infrastructure – a classic case of the chicken/egg syndrome. On the one hand more houses generates more rateable value for cash-strapped councils and helps them to meet government targets, but improved infrastructure comes at an unaffordable price, especially at a time when councils cannot even afford to fill in our pot holes, and in Stokesley’s case, have to close down the town’s library to save cash. Developers and landowners might be licking their lips as council planners drive for housing growth but any financial reward is likely to include the destruction of the very ethos of a rural town or village.
I am not suggesting for one moment that these appointed planning professionals do not take their decisions without due diligence and regard for the areas under consideration, but I would like to hear more from Hambleton’s elected representatives who do seem somewhat muted when it comes to controversial planning matters. Public consultation is all rather pointless if decisions have already been agreed in the council chambers.
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Peter Cook – Editor-in-Chief