The recent clash between High Peak Borough Council (HPBC) and Tom Levitt is of particular interest to Keep High Peak Green because it demonstrates the usual weaknesses in Tom Levitt’s arguments.

HPBC’s position is that the saturation point has been reached with housing. The Council has been meeting new onerous housing quotas for as long as living memory, and having decided enough was enough imposed a “moratorium” on new build except for affordable housing. They consider the latest ratcheting up of target figures by the Government of the East Midlands as incompatible with preserving the character of High Peak. Anyone who cares about the environmental quality of this area would certainly agree.

Tom Levitt claims more housing is wanted to meet the housing waiting list but he appears to refuse to look at empty housing in the borough though there is plenty enough to see. This suggestion is repeatedly made yet he shows no signs of looking at the option. The welter of unoccupied properties undermines his argument. He gives the impression of only being interested in new development and happy to see housing stretching into the distance and the future as far as the eye can see.

When he condemns the Council’s concern at targets imposed until 2026 and then soon after to 2036 for over 300 new houses per annum (excluding windfall sites) the MP’s position is that they are selfishly failing to recognise the local housing needs of the Borough. However the truth of the matter is that the government quotas are based as much on projections of inward migration to the area as they are on meeting local need. So this is a cynical distortion of facts to apply a false moral pressure on the Council whilst they are simply recognising that planning should not exclude factors such as quality of life and the environment.

Additionally we wonder how the list represents verifiable current need, and not just past data. Is it regularly reviewed and updated by Mr Levitt we wonder, or simply trotted out to keep recalcitrant councils on board for more housing.

Worse still, the Government, supported by Mr Levitt, hands out taxpayer cash incentives to the Council to find land for this excessive housing, which means effectively that planning applications are not decided through a balanced consideration of the issues involved but are rushed through to secure this financial bounty. How can this be other than an abuse of planning process? Yet in the last financial year, Council Planners gained a government pay-off of £250,000 by railroading through applications in the teeth of furious local opposition. They even issued a self-congratulatory Press Release on the subject.

What an extraordinary way to “plan” the environment; but really who in High Peak can see much evidence of “planning” as opposed to wholesale running after short term gain whatever the consequences? But it is the government supported by Tom Levitt that is responsible for this.

Typical of Mr Levitt’s approach is his refusal to concede that people need amenity space to simply live, that there is more to living than being crammed into little boxes without social space. For example at Lambgates, Hadfield, Tom has been vociferous in criticising a Village Green Application that simply confirmed that land designated for amenity should remain as such and not be reallocated as a high density housing block, placing intolerable further demand on overstretched local services and infrastructure.

On this occasion, irrespective of the Planning Department’s no doubt financially incentivised support of Mr Levitt’s position , the Development Control Committee unanimously threw out the application with very good reason. The public recognition by the current council that enough is enough, and that the area has shouldered more than its fair share of the housing burden in current years is also welcome.

The problem remains with Tom Levitt’s one dimensional approach to housing and planning, where money is placed between an application and the fair consideration of the issues involved. This is perhaps characteristic of his masters within the Labour Party, with their interest in reforming Planning with a new Bill to exclude the public from a say in major infrastructure decisions. This narrow, almost blind approach to a sensitive issue can only do irremediable harm, and the fact that it very much government policy backed up by publicly acknowledged financial pay-offs to local services only makes things worse, and shows what a grim situation we are in.

Keep High Peak Green will give every support to the Council in its resistance to these measures to impose excessive housing in an environmentally fragile area that borders a National Park. The consequences for our national heritage otherwise can only be disastrous. Mr Levitt and his peers must be made to think again and justify their position more carefully.

If you care about the future of the High Peak now seriously under threat and want to know more about KHPG you can contact us at our website.

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We have today written to the Glossop Advertiser in response to an article published last week about residents in Hadfield fighting unnecessary development. The article was a response to a previous press release issued by Tom Levitt MP, who had criticised the use of Town and Village Green applications in the High Peak:

We refer to Tom Rowsley’s article in your 8 October edition on Josephine Osborne’s opposition to the development of the Brookside Bungalow site close to where she lives on Lambgates Lane in Hadfield.

The site was the subject of a planning application [HPK2008/0369] that was turned down unanimously by the Development Control Committee in August. The application involved surrendering part of ‘Roughfields’, an area of public land adjoining the site, to the developer. As Roughfields is designated as ‘major protected parkland’, it is astonishing that the Planning Office ever recommended it to the Committee for approval. Needless to say, people have had to ask themselves to what extent can High Peak be trusted to preserve our public open spaces and countryside. Nor is it surprising that Jo Osborne has now submitted a Village Green application on Roughfields.

Tom Levitt records on his website that he has complained directly to the Secretary of State for Planning, Baroness Andrews, that Village Green Applications in High Peak are thwarting the Authority’s plans for more housing. In his meeting with the Baroness, he was accompanied by the Strategic Director for Planning and Regeneration from High Peak and Kay Riley from Derbyshire County Council [DCC]. As Assistant Secretary to Derbyshire, Kay Riley is one of the most senior officials in the DCC hierarchy. By accompanying Tom Levitt on a mission to the Baroness to argue against Village Green applications she signals that Derbyshire itself is also opposed to such applications. This puts Derbyshire in a difficult position. It is the registration authority for all Village Greens in Derbyshire and has responsibility to decide whether Village Green applications are accepted or rejected. This obligation requires that it maintains a strict impartiality in the matter of such applications. However in supporting Tom Levitt in his opposition to them, Derbyshire throws away any appearance of neutrality. It declares its position as prejudicial to Village Green applications and thereby disqualifies itself from sitting in judgement upon them.

Our MP, along with a number of High Peak Councillors, believes the convenient myth that Village Greens are backed only by small groups of nimbys prepared to put the their own self–interests before that of the majority. This is far from the truth. Support for Village Greens is widespread and an expression of an increasingly prevalent feeling that more than enough of our unique Peak District landscape and open space has already been surrendered to development. The land claimed in applications is a part of our natural heritage and provides recreation, enjoyment and escape from the man-made world for large numbers of residents and visitors. Its value to ourselves and to future generations is inestimable. It should not be given up to meet some perceived short-term exigency or to qualify High Peak to receive financial carrots dangled by central government. Least of all should it be surrendered to feed the greed of developers.

Again Tom Levitt wants to be thought of as a ‘green’ yet does not appreciate the fundamental change of heart that becoming ‘green’ requires. He thinks that the existing Village Green legislation should be rescinded and the creation of Village Greens incorporated into the process of strategic planning. In other words, he wants to take away from people the little bit of power given to them by the Commons Act of 2006 and hand it back to the soulless bureaucrats and system-servers who run local government. And why ? Because he believes that if the goal-posts get in your way then it is OK to move them irrespective of what damage it may result in to the environment. This belief is but a facet of a more general misconception that Man can somehow find peace of mind and happiness for himself at the same time as trampling all over the rest of nature. Think again, Tom.

If you are thinking of objecting to a planning application – whether for the first time or not – then you could benefit from viewing a new page we have created here.

The page is useful for anyone who has never objected before, as it takes you through the way to draft an objection and the details you need to consider including.

For those who may have objected before, it gives some useful information and tips you may not have thought of.

Last night, Councillors on High Peak’s Development Control Committee stood up for both the interests and well-being of Hadfield’s residents and the environment. In the past the committee has been accused of simply rubber stamping recommendations put before them by the Planning Department. Not this time though. The Planning Department was looking for approval for a scheme to replace Brookside Bungalow on Lambgates Lane in Hadfield with a twenty-unit apartment block. To their great credit, Committee members rejected it unanimously.

The scheme involved surrendering supposedly protected public parkland to the developer, Johnnie Johnson. To make way for the development, many beautiful mature trees would have been felled, the bungalow demolished and the site covered by a three-storey building and a car park destroying the peaceful, rural character of the area forever. Even the illustrations produced by the developer of how the finished scheme would appear were a complete turn-off. Only one phrase came to mind to describe the proposal – as ugly as sin.

A planning consultant speaking for local residents drew attention to the ludicrously high effective housing density figure entailed in the scheme, actually some five or six times the maximum you would expect in a suburban area under government guidelines. Furthermore, the proposed access to the development, to be achieved by making up the existing gravelled lane into one-lane but two-way road, would simply turn into a ‘rat-run’ for impatient motorists. Councillor Pearson added that the access was completely inadequate for large vehicles, such as removal vans, council refuse wagons and particularly Emergency vehicles. Councillor Peter Kay pointed out that, on top of all its other faults, the proposal didn’t even provide what first-time buyers wanted which was inexpensive housing, not apartments.

Given the obvious failings of the scheme it is difficult to see why the Planning Department backed it in the first place. As Councillor Harrison said, “Affordable housing, yes – but not at any price”.

Keep High Peak Green assisted residents in opposing this development. If you would like our help, please get in touch.

We would like to draw to the attention of High Peak residents a planned housing development that we think has wide and far-reaching significance.

The Johnnie Johnson Housing Association has applied to High Peak Borough Council to build a 3 storey complex of 20 flats on land occupied currently by one home in Hadfield. The plan comes before High Peak Borough Council’s Development Control Committee next Monday (11th August), and planning officers – including the head of planning Adrian Fisher – have already recommended approval.

People in the Hadfield area are probably well aware of this scheme by now, but people in the rest of the High Peak may not be. We feel that it concerns all people in the Borough as it is typical of the Council’s present approach to planning. It is prepared to sell public land and endorse development on greenfield sites and countryside at very high densities in order to meet targets set by central and regional government, irrespective of the damage it causes to our urban or natural environment or local opposition.

It is ironic that the borough is prepared to blindly sacrifice our heritage to meet essentially arbitrary targets set for affordable housing when much of the current ‘shared ownership’ housing in Hadfield and elsewhere in High Peak is standing empty, unable to find buyers.

Furthermore, the residents affected by this scheme have many important concerns about the effects on their lives, as well as others in the community. They are concerned about traffic because of the construction of a new roadway, the loss of amenity in the green spaces being claimed by this project, the loss of mature trees, and the effect upon a protected species – Pipistrelle Bats – that roost in the current property.

Although the formal deadline to object to the plans has lapsed, it is possible to object right up until the deadline. We encourage residents of the whole of the High Peak, not just those living within the immediate vicinity of Hadfield, to object to these environmentally damaging proposals.

This can be done by e-mailing the planning officer Anne Jordan, quoting reference HPK/2008/0369, at annej@highpeak.gov.uk or writing to her at:

Planning and Development Services
Municipal Buildings
Glossop
SK13 8AF

Raise any questions you have about the application by calling 0845 129 7777 and asking for extension 3714.

We are keen to hear from anyone in the High Peak who requires advice and assistance on unwanted and unnecessary development, either large or small.

We’d like to remind everyone that the deadline for responses to the “Shaping the Future of High Peak” consultation is this Friday. The deadline was already extended from last year, so this really is your last chance to respond to this important document. For more details, please read out earlier post.

Today, we are calling for all those concerned about development in the High Peak to respond to the ‘Shaping the Future of High Peak’ policy consultation document. The deadline for making your views known is Friday 25th July 2008.

The document is crucial as it will determine how High Peak decides to pursue development projects in future years. Those who love the unique character of the Borough need to respond to the consultation. It needs to be made clear to the Authority that the designation of any more countryside, greenfield or garden sites for development in any future plan is unacceptable. Furthermore, the Council should refuse to collude with any central or regional government objectives that cannot be achieved without violating this principle, irrespective of any financial carrots that are being dangled by central government to obtain its cooperation.

‘Shaping the Future of High Peak’ can be viewed online in a number of formats here. You can respond to it by the usual methods, but also online using a special form which can be found here.

However, it is not just greenfield sites that concern use. We have seen sites such as Rossington Park and Bridge Mills in Hadfield spring up, and although these were Brownfield sites, they are clear examples of types of development that are inappropriate and clearly not wanted by local people. We are also opposed to the seemingly widespread policy of squeezing large housing developments into relatively small parcels of land. Such schemes are proliferating all over the Borough and need to be checked.

We welcome requests for help and information from concerned residents. Some of us have skills, knowledge and expertise in opposing unnecessary development and we are keen to hear from people who want to learn what we can offer them.