Like many others in our village, I was initially delighted to see that the surveys, carried out during the summer, have already begun to morph into a concrete first draft of our Neighbourhood Plan. I really do hope that this itself continues to evolve, though, as is promised – “to reflect the ongoing feedback we receive from further consultation” – before a final version is issued; and that the opportunity is taken to reflect more of the three Tysoes’ special character, arresting qualities, distinctiveness and realities – their true “spirit of place” – rather than producing something almost generic: that could apply to any such group of hamlets, anywhere in the country, as it currently stands (well, apart from self-righteously demanding that “All new dwellings must contain an element of local stone” – which is, of course, impossible, as I have stated before). I also hope that, in its final form, it will pay more than lip service to environmentalism and sustainability – especially with regards to energy and its generation – and not continue to be so proscriptive.
Before I go into these issues in more detail, I do think that one of the two most obvious problems with the Plan, as it stands, is that it only captures – as with most modern voting systems – the views of a minority of the parish’s residents; and it would be worthwhile, I think, therefore, to use the street champions in one of the rôles they were originally created for – that is, going door-to-door – to discern the views of people who didn’t respond to the survey; as well as perhaps ascertaining why they didn’t respond. This may also help to gain stronger ownership of, and investment in, the Plan (if that is what people want); and, subsequently, to deliver a more substantial and decisive vote in the referendum – scheduled for early next year – which decides whether or not villagers accept its recommendations, and allow it to come into force as a statutory instrument.
The second major issue is how much meaning – presuming it actually gains a majority vote – the Plan will have; and for how long. As the current draft states (on page 4): “…all Neighbourhood Plans must be in line with… local policy, in particular Stratford [sic] District Council’s Core Strategy.” But how can this be? In all probability, the Plan will be completed well before the Core Strategy sees the light of day (if it ever does). And I remain to be convinced that the Localism Act (which this Neighbourhood Plan is derived from) will ever hold much sway, anyway – in a political climate where the goalposts seem to have discovered how to thwart the impossibility of perpetual motion – especially when previous surveys and plans produced by the Parish Council have been superseded again and again (through no fault of their own). I am concerned that this could just simply be yet another time- and money-consuming exercise: designed to keep us “plebs” occupied, and therefore from being able to interfere in, or protest against, Tory diktats.
Under Getting Around, on page 5, the draft states that “The Plan… looks at a wide range of issues, including: encouraging Tysoe to become a ‘greener’ village [and] how we should protect our natural and built heritage assets” – but I don’t see much evidence of this, even under Environment & Sustainability (on page 13). For example, on page 7, it says: “Now, being one of the most remote settlements in the county, residents have to rely heavily on private motor car usage” – but I do not see much in the draft that addresses this. It even mentions, on page 8, that “Cycling is possible…” – and yet it was strongly argued, when fighting Gladman’s proposals for Oxhill Road, that cycling to local employment was almost impossible because of the distances and gradients involved: something I would concur with. We are not all Bradley Wiggins or even Lance Armstrong!
I also find it astonishing that the draft states that “Wind turbine generators that require planning permission will not be permitted unless it is possible to demonstrate minimal impact on the amenities of the village of Tysoe” (repeated on page 22). Why so draconian and narrow-minded? What are the reasons for this: when it has been proven that onshore wind power is one of the cheapest and most sustainable forms of energy; does not impact nearby house prices; and can be used to create meaningful UK-based employment? How are we “to ensure that developments which include affordable homes do not contribute to future fuel poverty; given Tysoe has no mains gas…” if we do not consider all forms of power? When we are supposed to be drastically reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, this seems extremely short-sighted and prescriptive. I presume, under these rules, that Tysoe’s most famous landmark – evidence that wind power is also quite reliable in this area – would never have been allowed? We are no longer living in the 17th century… – but perhaps the authors will change their tune when we suffer from frequent and regular power cuts. (Wind power could also provide the village with great financial returns, as well as cheap electricity, were we to invest in modern equivalents to the windmill – as I have previously written.) This, to me, smacks of politics and authoritarianism, rather than aesthetics or common sense; and is in direct contravention of the draft Plan’s own “Objective ES2: Encourage energy efficient and sustainable development”.
It is also stated, in this section, that “Residents can access the local services by walking. The services are within an acceptable walking distance of the majority of dwellings.” So what is to be done to dissuade people from – or penalize them for (as this is where we really need a little proscription) – driving half a mile (or less) to the shop, to collect their morning paper or a loaf of bread; from driving their ill-exercised children short distances to the school or pre-school; or even, astonishingly, from transporting their dog in their 4x4 – which I have witnessed far too many times – to a nearby field for a short walk (and so that their pet can defecate all over some poor farmer’s crops, as well as the local footpaths), as they currently do…? I am quite badly disabled, and yet make the effort to walk – albeit much slower, and in much more pain, than the “average person” – far beyond the distances outlined on page 20 of the draft: including regularly from Upper Tysoe to Lower Tysoe and back.
Money’s too tight
Under the Housing objectives (page 12), I do not see any mention of affordable housing (although it appears, in passing, under Environment & Sustainability, on page 13; and again on page 19) – either as defined by law, or – preferably – as defined by local salaries. Prioritizing “1, 2 and 3 bedroom dwellings to encourage younger households to locate in Tysoe” is all well and good – but our local house prices are well above average for the region; and certainly not truly affordable to young people who would wish to stay here. (I know that the previous, superseded, Housing Needs Survey showed that there wasn’t much demand: but that is, I believe – from talking to residents with older children – only because they are conscious of the fact that “affordable” is a label, and does not reflect their, or their children’s, financial reality.) Do we not want to encourage local families to stay together? Surely the Town Trust could set an example, here…?
Stone the crows
In Development Strategy (on page 15), the draft states that “All new dwellings must contain an element of local stone”. Why? The current village contains a wide mixture of building media; and such variety is a big part of its aesthetic and vernacular. Again, I state that “We are no longer living in the 17th century” – and modern building materials can be much more environmentally-friendly and cost-effective than stone; as well as ensuring that the village does not end up full of unimaginative, identikit buildings (which is the direction it is currently heading in). They can also “contribute to local character by creating a sense of place appropriate to its location” – providing, of course, that we think of “sense of place” much more widely than the materials delivered on the back of a lorry from the local builders yard.
What is “an element”, anyway? Will a foundation stone, suffice, or a doorstep? And what is “local”? The nearest ironstone – as I have written before – now comes from over the border, in Great Tew.
Finally – although going back to the Foreword, on page 3 – the draft states that “The development of the Tysoe Neighbourhood Plan, being led by the Parish Council, started back in February 2014.” This is not correct: as the initial meeting with regards to the establishment of Tysoe’s Neighbourhood Plan was between a representative of the Tysoe Residents (Neighbourhood Planning) Group and “Fiona Blundell and Simon Purfield at SDC”, and was held on 14 November 2013 – as part of that group’s sterling work (which also included, of course, defeating Gladman Developments at the initial planning hearing). But this, to me, is just another attempt to disassociate the perceived success of the still-nascent Neighbourhood Plan from Keith Risk’s Tysoe Residents (Neighbourhood Planning) Group – which, as I say, kicked the whole process off… – an act I think both sad and unnecessary; and which speaks volumes about its purveyors. It would seem that not only do the draft’s authors seek to write our future, but that they also wish to rewrite our past.