Tales from a Small Parish – David vs Goliath…

Welcome back to Creeting St Peter, a small Parish in Suffolk’s Gipping Valley…

One of the more visible aspects of small parishes is the role of statutory consultee for any planning applications in, or affecting, the Parish. More often than not, councillors are asked to consider extensions, occasionally an outbuilding for a farm. They generally aren’t very controversial, and as planning controls have been relaxed in recent years, there are fewer of them it seems. And, as a councillor, you probably don’t need much in the way of technical skills to take a view on whether or not the Council should take a view.

There is training available if you’re lucky. In our case, the District Council offers the occasional half-day course, and the County Association of Local Councils also offers both support and seminars offering some basic awareness. But, for the most part, councillors in small parishes don’t take up the offer.

That isn’t to say that parish councillors don’t care about giving applications proper consideration. I’ve taken part in site visits where the impact on neighbours has been weighed up, where the plans have been examined closely, and a stance taken, even if it simply not to comment.

But, sometimes, you’re confronted with something that’s far more challenging. In our case, that’s the Gateway 14 project, a proposed business and development park on the edge of the parish, promising 2,000,000 square feet of office and warehousing space, with some retail and hospitality in the north-eastern corner. As you might imagine, a parish council with five members, a clerk who works for four hours a week and an annual budget of £5,500 per annum is at a bit of a disadvantage, especially when the developer is, effectively, the District Council, who own the land and have borrowed heavily to fund development.

Our task is not to oppose the project – the land has been earmarked for development of this sort for more than a quarter of a century – but to persuade the District Council to give us something in return for the disturbance. But what to ask for?

And that’s where the advantages of small scale localism kick in. With only 100 households, you can contact most residents fairly easily (at least, in “normal” times), and conversations can take place as you walk around the village. The challenge is to help people to make credible choices based on what is possible. We probably don’t want something in terms of an additional capital asset with ongoing running costs, unless there is an obvious funding stream.

So, we enabled a consultation process with the developers, first for Parish Council, so that we had a better sense of what their thinking was, and then for village residents via Zoom, allowing them to put their questions directly to the development team, so that both sides could discuss their concerns and ideas for improvements. A campaign group has been encouraged, on the basis that it has the freedom to do things that a Parish Council can’t or might not want to do.

And so, the next step is the hybrid planning application. It’s going to be a steep learning curve…

* Mark Valladares is the Chair of Creeting St Peter Parish Council and a member of the Liberal Democrat Voice Editorial Team.

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  • >Our task is not to oppose the project – the land has been earmarked for development of this sort for more than a quarter of a century – but to persuade the District Council to give us something in return for the disturbance. But what to ask for?
    Get guarantees written in blood that the necessary infrastructure will be in place before any construction proper starts on the business park.

    A big problem round here has been that construction on big housing estates has been approved on the understanding that link roads etc. would be put in place so that construction traffic doesn’t have to go through the centre of towns. Now nearly a year into construction on one site and still no sign of the link road or of any interest being taken by the District Council into why promises that were made aren’t being delivered…

    I suspect in your case a big factor will be screening and issues over the shadows caused by having 11+ metre high warehousing adjacent to housing.

    A second area to consider is one of added value – namely, what could this development allow us to do. Where I live (towards the northern end of the A14) we are fortunate that the landowner of a major housing development has decided that they don’t want to simply pay out the community monies (ie. monies for parks, schools, community centres, sports facilities) but actually want those facilities to be real assets and be used ie. pay their own way rather than become just another drain on public monies – it is the developer who has made the council approach local (sports) clubs, Sports England, FA etc., resulting in additional funding… so all being well we should be getting some really good facilities that will attract people into the area – as part of this the developer has swapped some designations around, so that an Olympic grade gymnastic centre can be built within the business park, where it will be among other 11+ metre high buildings.
    On the other side of town, a long standing relationship with a logistics company has got them thinking differently about some of its new developments. Warehousing needs an access/fire road, with a little consideration at the design phase, this can be converted into a cycle track etc. so converting what would otherwise be dead space into a community asset, which also increases the attraction of the ‘park’ to businesses…

  • Andrew Sosin 8th Dec '20 - 7:45pm

    Chelmsford City Council in Essex (a district Council) has a CIL in place –community infrastructure Levy. Parish Councils automatically have a share. however, I think there is a limitation to prevent a very small parish (e.g. Chignal) would get a large amount.

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