Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Green Belt wars: a developing front.

Around Long Ashton the developers, enthused by the prospect of the South Bristol Link Road, are lining up to challenge the green belt, and to make a quick fortune in the process.

Over on this side, around Stockwood and Whitchurch village, BaNES planners are also facing relentless bids to overturn the policies that protect the open space.

The attempt by developer Robert Hitchins to put close on 300 houses (and negligible supporting infrastructure) to fill the remaining gap between the two settlements has become a war of attrition. Twice the application has gone in; twice it's been refused, because it breaks all the agreed land-use planning priorities. On the first refusal, Hitchins started an appeal and then backed off. Now they're again going to Pickles and his inspectorate to complain that they've been badly treated.

You have to wonder what might have been said to make them think it's worth it.

Just across Stockwood Lane, you'd expect the neighbours at the rescue charity HorseWorld to value their green belt asset – that's why they're there. But for one reason or another (and the Bristolian offers his explanation here), they're having a hard time balancing the books .

Horseworld's Big Idea to secure its financial future is to scrap the existing Visitor Centre and the grazing around it, and put 120 houses there instead. This would, they hope, raise enough to build a bigger better Visitor Centre even further from the main transport links, to which lots of new people would drive ready to empty their purses and wallets in the cause of providing an income to keep the charity going forever.

I suspect that's not the most promising of business plans – but it is the foundation for the case for allowing 120 houses to be built on the present site, along with conversion of a number of listed buildings to residential use. That's why it's called an 'enabling' development. It's much like the way Sainsburys get permission for a new superstore, not on its own merits, but on the promise of a new football stadium. No-one, not even the applicants, pretends that this application has any merit per se – but the planning committee will be asked to judge it on the merits of the greater prize; more horses rescued = more jobs = economic growth. Except there won't be any more long term jobs.

Whilst Horseworld have been fairly upfront about their long term plan, they've been far less public about actually putting in the planning application, so few people outside HorseWorld's own email list are aware of it. The official closing date for comments is today Thursday, July 18th.

The major issue is using green belt land to build a remote housing estate with no amenities other than a service road (that even the developers admit would double as a rat run for a rat run), plus a big car park and some industrial scale sheds where, previously, the rescued horses grazed.  Even so, a few more oddities about the application.....

  • There's no attempt to mitigate the considerable carbon footprint of the new development. Not even the Horseworld's biggest product, manure, gets utilised to offset energy inputs. 
  • The huge arena roof expanses remain pretty much untouched by solar panels. 
  • The sole attempt to improve public transport access is to suggest that the 515 bus be diverted that way, away from many of us who benefit from it just now. 
  • An existing bus service, the single trip 636 Tuesday and Friday route, is claimed by the 'professional' consultants to provide a daily service to Horseworld's nearest public road. 
  • The same consultants use an 'apples and oranges' strategy, with different traffic measures to play down the increases in road traffic. 
  • Every possible excuse is used to avoid 'green' construction standards. 
  • Above all, the business plan seems to pluck future visitor figures out of thin air – and these are the figures that 'justify' the enabling development.

On balance, this is a shoddy, cheap, unsustainable and unjustified bid with high environmental costs, relying mostly on emotional blackmail that horses will suffer if the development is turned down.

We're not persuaded.


Todd said...


Anonymous said...

On good authority I have it that a significant number of the 'support comments' that have been put on the Bath NES council website for this Horse World application come from staff and even trustees, although they have not identified themselves as such. It is to be hoped that the council are not persuaded by these biased comments, although they do not seem to have much substance to them anyway.