Home Page Planning, distant or in-your-face, can put the wind up you 05/04/13

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Hart of the Matter

It’s been a week of planning matters, which might sound rather boring, but is enough to start a series of hares and get everybody arguing about what is best for Haverhill.


Sometimes planning can be very academic and only hold interest for experts and nerds. Vision 2031 has ended up going down this road because, although there was a lot of public interest at first, with exhibitions and consultations going on, the process seems interminable and people just forget about it.


Two years ago there was a lot of argy-bargy about where massive new development should go and what facilities and infrastructure we will need. Now it has just died down to policies contained in a document few can understand or be bothered to read.


But planning can also be very immediate. Take the residents of Nosterfield End who found a letter on their doormats the week before last telling them about a proposal to site a 250ft wind turbine in a field opposite their homes.


Unsurprisingly, they turned out in force to Haverhill Town Council’s planning committee meeting and enlisted members support in objecting vigorously.


The ironic thing is that, even with such an in-your-face (literally) planning situation, the final decision-makers will still be distant. The planning authority is St Edmundsbury Borough Council, which is distant enough, but in the end the fate of the plan will probably turn on the view of an organisation called National Air Traffic Safety, representing Stansted Airport.


Luckily for the residents the site is within an area where it can cause a ‘flicker’ on air control radar systems so, at the very worst case scenario, such a development could potentially result in an aircraft crashing in Haverhill, so it seems pretty unlikely to get the go-ahead.


A similar plan for Chilton Street between Hundon and Clare was due to get approval this week, because it falls outside any influence on Stansted.


In between these two extremes of distant vision and immediate effect, we have the continuing battle over the Burton Centre. All sorts of considerations surround the future of this building, but for once this week the focus has been purely on those which fall within the remit of the planning authority.


Poor old Haverhill town councillors! In the middle of deciding on legal action against Suffolk County Council over the process by which it was decided to hand the Burton Centre over to St Nicholas Hospice for an outreach centre and not to them for a youth centre, they had to mull over the hospice’s planning application for changes to the building.


Hospice representatives told them how it was by far and away the only suitable building for what they desperately need in Haverhill. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the county’s decision, it’s tough for town councillors to fight against such a need without appearing to be uncaring.

How do you decide between facilities for the terminally ill and facilities for the town’s young people - our future?


Members have obviously been keen to say at every opportunity how much they support what the hospice is trying to do, however much they wish it was somewhere else, but they are still objecting on grounds of loss of amenities.


And then, over the other side of the town, there has been another big new plan going through, for the River Of Life Church. Next to the little square in Chapelwent Road, they plan to build a church and community centre with an auditorium for 350 people..


It will, of course, be the second brand new church built in Haverhill in the last couple of years, which must be something of a record in this reputedly Godless age.


Nevertheless there were lots of people objecting to this as well. One wouldn’t have thought it was quite on a par with having a wind turbine opposite your house, but it has raised quite a stir in that new and still rather peripheral part of town.


Tuesday night’s town council planning committee saw around 15 residents attending to object to the wind turbine. Yesterday’s borough council development control meeting was told of 45 letters of objection from neighbours to the church.


Some of the grounds of objection were curious. One said increased activity there would lead to an increase in crime and vandalism. That is the first time I have heard such activities being put down to having a church in the area.


However, they might be onto something. After all, three hotspots for anti-social behaviour in Haverhill are the market square, the high street and the churchyard and St Mary’s is bang in the middle of all three.


I have not personally seen congregation members coming out from evensong and shouting abuse to passers-by or getting into fights, but you never know...


But to be serious, it shows how ludicrous planning debates can become. People don’t like change around where they live unless they are living somewhere they don’t like because they can’t afford anywhere else.


For most of the great British property-owning democracy the status quo within sight and sound of their home is fundamental. This means that almost anything new can produce objections, however ridiculous and far-fetched they may sound.


Loss of light, light pollution, loss of amenity, too much amenity, loss of view, intrusion into view – all these can, at some time or another, be put forward as grounds of objection. What cannot often be put forward is community value – a subjective and often immeasurable element in the debate.


However, this is changing. The Government is making it easier for developers to get planning permission. There may no longer be a presumption that you are entitled to your view, or your privacy, if the need of the many is considered to outweigh your personal comfort.


In the case of the Chilton Street wind farm English Heritage pretty much said to the council: You weigh up the economic benefits and cultural disadvantages and make your own decision.


If that is the way it is going, at least people ought to be compensated financially for their discomfort or loss of value to their property. Otherwise it’s just another rip-off on the altar of the business sector.

David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
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