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Village Clusters

The ‘Village Cluster’ plan, is a new idea included within the Greater Norwich Local Plan which I first heard about when I visited a parish council meeting several months ago. On first hearing I was concerned as it seemed somewhat alien to the spirit of what our villages are all about. Or was it perhaps just a bad title? Norfolk villages and hamlets are very individual. They are rightly proud of their own identities through historical development and do not welcome any official dilution. Seeing it currently relates to the housing development planning 2026 to 2038, what does it mean?

‘Clusters are to be based on primary school catchments which provide a proxy for social sustainability’. That’s the official reason (GNLP Consultation Policy 7.4 para 341). Para 342 is also worth a read. ‘Provision of several relatively small allocation sites …….. also has the benefits of supporting small-scale builders’.

Wave the local business flag if you wish but frankly I’m more concerned about the impact on our villages. So how big are these sites?

‘Whilst the majority of sites will be in the 12 units to 1 hectare range, there will still be circumstances where a slightly larger site may be the most appropriate option…..’ (ref SNC Agenda Report Item 5 for meeting 18 February 2020) . However, in the same report it states, ‘The call for sites is particularly focussed on sites for at least 12 units, up to 1 hectare, which in the rural context of most villages will equate to 20 – 25 homes. That doubled quickly?

Ok, so what about villages which do not have a primary school but are within a Cluster? Well if you refer to the GNLP Consultation, section 7.5, SMALL SCALE WINDFALL HOUSING DEVELOPMENT, it states the following, also supported by what the District Councillor reported. ‘Development of up to a maximum total of 3 dwellings within each parish during the lifetime of the plan will, in principle, be permitted on sites adjacent to a development boundary or on infill sites within a recognisable group of dwellings’. The plan lifetime is until 2038 although it has been said the present housing allowance up until 2026 under the JCS (Joint Core Strategy) will remain and will add to these later allocations. So this means 3 houses for the Cluster village with the primary school plus the large site allowance of 12+ and all other villages (without a primary school) get 3 houses.

A concern is that a village like Bunwell of circa 450 houses is surrounded by villages with primary schools, so Bunwell along with those others are individually classified as Cluster Villages and potentially could get a substantial new house allocation each. It’s bad enough to envisage the building site traffic thundering through the area but if you look at a map of the cluster villages, this over clustering is not unique to Bunwell and its neighbours.

Another big concern, which was expressed at a recent meeting at SNC by someone from a village facing 3 new houses 2026 – 2038, was that with no real housing growth what will happen to the village and local services? Growth will be minimal while others with the schools will thrive according to the plan objective.

So are clusters a good idea? Thoughts:

1. Cluster development sites are to have ‘good access to a primary school and a safe route to school’. Is this to minimise car use? If it is, are there going to be that many walkers and cyclists going to school and in all weathers? Maybe we should encourage the return of the horse and cart for transport. Don’t laugh, a lovely young family did exactly that in a pony and trap until the kids grew up and joined the High School 5 miles away and that was the end of that. And what happens when the kids leave the primary school? If we are to be logical about this, why not include secondary schools in Cluster plans? Currently a large village with a High School but no Primary School will only get the 3 new houses. Does that sound right and logical?

2. Many mums and dads living near primary schools have jobs and other responsibilities and drop the kids off from their cars and collect them later or use a child minder close to the school. And bad weather, another reason to get the car out, or after drop off, go shopping or down the gym, or seeing a friend or need to get back home quick. It’s great for mums and dads to walk to school but work, time and money are important and part of all our daily lives and very often affect parents with young children more.

3. I don’t accept this is about ‘promoting social sustainability’ either. You can still have that in a village with smaller developments spread around the school and centre, without herding young families together and are these 12 plus developments going to be exclusive to young families?

4. Are we really happy with this segregation of villages depending upon whether your village has a primary school or even a shop for that matter? I fail to understand why this broad brush approach is right or fair. Surely each village must be examined on its own merits and not lost at the first hurdle because it doesn’t have a primary school. Much of this I suspect is about taking the car out of it but the fact is it won’t. We also don’t all want to live on small estates, so offer a balanced housing policy where villages are examined for their individual benefits and potential with houses allocated accordingly.

I’ve lived in cities, suburbs and villages and loved every house and location including 2 up 2 down, bungalow, terraced, semi, detached, back to bungalow, semi and more. I loved the buzz of the city, the culture, shops and the people but I love living in the country too. The difference between them is the way of life. In the city and suburbs you expect ongoing housing development, sometimes where you’d rather not but provided they are done well and are sympathetic to surroundings it’s not a problem. Similar in a way is a town. It’s a hub, but, in a country village, you move there for something different. The community doesn’t want or expect large developments and it’s wrong when landowners and developers selfishly reek havoc in a village to line their pockets at the expense of spoiling the quality of life and enjoyment of those that live there. It’s sad when someone has lived in a house for

70 years and the clear landscape before them is devastated and blocked out by first a building site and then the development housing. This, when often there are other less intrusive alternatives available, even if spread over two smaller sites.

So please, look again Greater Norwich Planners and particularly South Norfolk Council (SNC) at this doubtless contentious subject of Clusters and its focus on primary schools in and around Norfolk. I’m pleased, however, that SNC is now asking Parish Councils for information on services and employment opportunities in our villages and perhaps a more general approach will be taken on matters such as hospitals, schools, medical centres and supermarkets, allowing surrounding small villages to continue development in a balanced way suiting the village demographics and business structures.

In the autumn of 2020 SNC is scheduled to announce a consultation on this important subject of housing development for small villages in South Norfolk 2026 - 2038. It’s important to us all!

Alternatively, meanwhile, why not speak to someone at your parish council if you have any questions?

Note: For this and other reasons I decided to apply for membership to Bunwell PC and was accepted at the February 2020 meeting.

Phil Gledhill

Thursday 14th April 2020