In the first of a series of articles, Alfred looks at how the Neighbourhood Plan, the new development blueprint, could shape Shaftesbury’s future.
Today we examine how the Neighbourhood Plan addresses our town’s current and future climate change issues.
In February 2018, a group of eight local residents started researching and writing the town’s Neighbourhood Plan. After hours of meetings, consultations, discussions with hundreds of locals and online and face-to-face surveys, the group is preparing to release the first version of its plan for public feedback and comment.
Since the volunteers started their work, environmental issues have gained prominence internationally and locally. Campaign groups, Planet Shaftesbury and Extinction Rebellion Shaftesbury, have formed. And earlier this week, Shaftesbury Town Council declared a ‘climate emergency’.
Neighbourhood Plan volunteer Rachel Bodle has highlighted some of the policies in the plan, which aim to address environmental issues. “We have gone through the previous thinking and policies to highlight those things that have implications when you look at it from the perspective of the climate emergency,” said Rachel.
Shaftesbury is the last Dorset town to embark upon the Neighbourhood Plan process. Some residents might question why they need to read the document, seeing as the town has functioned without one in place. Residents might want to flick through the plan. Rachel says that the policies do relate to many aspects of local life.
“There will be some people whose lives will be unaffected by the fact that we have a Neighbourhood Plan. But there are people who are interested in Shaftesbury as a living town, a town that has a history and a town that needs to have a future. They might be interested in how it is shaped as the future develops,” she said.
Rachel says her colleagues have been mindful that people often have little free time. “I hope that, because of the care we’ve taken to provide options for people who want to do a quick read, as well as offering the detail, each person with their different interests in Shaftesbury will find it possible to engage with the plan in a way that meets their particular interests.”
For anyone interested in climate change, the Shaftesbury Neighbourhood Plan offers a range of policies. Many focus on trying to maximise the choice of facilities on offer in town, so people don’t need to make car journeys. One policy asks planners to reserve the land south of the A30 for employment uses, rather than for more housing.
“As we go into the future, more people will be not commuting. They’ll be able to work closer to home. They may or may not need a vehicle, but they will not be making such a long journey,” said Rachel, who has steered the green infrastructure part of the plan with fellow volunteer Lee Hennessey.
The Neighbourhood Plan proposes planning rules that could be used to keep the High Street vibrant and reduce the need for residents to drive away from town for shopping.”We want to make sure those people that make the decisions keep the High Street as it is. We don’t want shops turned into offices. We don’t want shops turned into houses. It’s about having simple guidelines and policies in place to protect the High Street,” said Brie Logan, the Shaftesbury Town Council officer who has been supporting the Neighbourhood Plan volunteers.
“If all of our shops in the High Street became offices or residential properties, the town centre would actually feel very different. Local jobs and our town’s economy could be affected,” Brie added. Shaftesbury’s High Street features many independent shops. Their local ownership can help encourage sustainability and bring climate change benefits. “Independent local shops are much more likely to get their produce from local suppliers,” Rachel said.
When people grow their own fruit and vegetables, that also reduces food miles and the carbon footprint. That’s why the need to ringfence allotment space features in this plan. “We can’t make land where land doesn’t exist, but we can say that in any future development, the developer should make sure that adequate provision is made for allotments and we can highlight any shortfall. We can encourage the Town Council, Dorset Council or other agencies to try and find more opportunities for us to have access to allotments,” said Rachel, who adds that the team has statistics to support their call for more provision.
“There are national policies about the expectation of how much allotment space should be provided for a given number of people in the population. We don’t have our due allocation of space for food growing in Shaftesbury. If you look at where our allotments are, they’re concentrated to the west of the town, where most people are over to the east,” said Rachel.
Many of Shaftesbury’s services have developed in the west of the town, where the town centre is. Not everybody can walk or cycle to facilities. The Neighbourhood Plan team is aware that the eastern side of our town has fewer community resources.
The plan has looked at the town as a whole and Rachel wants eastern development residents to feel confident that their needs have been considered. “I don’t think anybody should be in any doubt about the importance that the community to the east of the town brings to the town as a whole. I don’t think any of that has been forgotten in the work that we’ve been doing for the Neighbourhood Plan.”
Rachel says it has been important for the Neighbourhood Plan team to consider the needs of people who don’t always use cars for their travel around town. “There aren’t that many safe, obvious routes for people on bikes. Where there are, they are not necessarily identified as cycleways. If they are safe cycleways, all of a sudden they tend to stop and there’s no way to get across the road and to get to where you actually want to go,” said Rachel, who says that the Neighbourhood Plan also assesses this green form of transport.
“There are things that can be done to improve prospects for cycling around the town. The hilliness of Shaftsbury is an issue, but it is possible to go from Wincombe Lane, down to Shaftesbury School, for example. It isn’t the hills that get in the way. It’s other things that make the cycle route tricky. They can be tackled,” Rachel said.
“If a developer was thinking of putting houses on a road which we have identified as an important cycle route, then the Neighbourhood Plan would document the reasons why we should not be accommodating additional vehicle traffic, along with those important walking and cycling routes.”
Another environmental policy in the plan addresses unnecessarily bright street lights and lighting outside homes and businesses. It makes recommendations about the appropriate level of illumination, to combat glare and light pollution. That’s because the adjacent Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty hopes to achieve Dark Sky Status. Discouraging bright lighting where it is not needed not only saves power, but it also helps wildlife and could help create tourism employment.
“If we work to keep our night skies dark, then Shaftesbury’s economy could benefit from astro-tourism. Stargazing visitors have helped boost the tourism economy of Exmoor, which is also very dark. Dark skies are also better for animals and for birdlife. Wildlife can become confused and stressed and suffer disrupted sleep patterns when they mistake artificial light for the sun,” said Brie.
As you might expect, parts of the plan go into detail about sustainable building techniques and provision of electric vehicle charging. The Neighbourhood Plan proposals need to be broadly in line with government and North Dorset or Dorset Council strategy.
“Generally speaking, our policies have to be consistent with, and sit within, those at a level higher up. The expectation is that we are going to be net-zero in carbon emissions nationally by 2050 and that policies will be in place that help us to adapt to or reduce the impact of climate change. If, in our Neighbourhood Plan, we have policies that are more stringent than the higher level up, but within that overall objective, they are enforceable,” said Rachel.
And the keyword is enforceable. If locals back the Neighbourhood Plan, someone needs to make sure that the policies are being followed. “Enforceable means that there are some people who will stick their neck out and fight to maintain them against a developer who might be quite aggressive. That would mean people on the Town Council or in the Local Planning Office, who will stand up and defend our Neighbourhood Plan against a developer who’s determined. It might be something that we’ve been lacking in the past,” said Rachel.
And she says that the Neighbourhood Plan could give civic-minded people a tool to fight the big boys. “Yes. If we aren’t getting that type of support from elected councillors, then we need to chivvy them,” she said.
Shaftesbury residents will be asked for their views on the town’s new Neighbourhood Plan, starting on the 1st August. The document will be posted online with hardcopies to read at the Library, Town Hall, Arts Centre and at a special High Street pop-up shop. The pop-up shop at 37 High Street, the former ‘Fork And Flowers’ shop, opens between 10am and 4pm on these dates:
- Monday – 5th, 12th and 19th August, 2nd and 23rd September
- Wednesday – 7th, 21st and 28th August
- Thursday – 15th, 29th August and 26th September
- Friday – 20th September
- Saturday – 31st August and 21st September
There’s more information at www.shaftesburyplan.co.uk.
Further Alfred articles will follow on the Neighbourhood Plan’s policies concerning housing development and the town’s heritage.