One of the great things about blogging is that you can experiment. It’s a safe place to play. An example is to write a piece from an other person’s point of view or to play Devil’s Advocate
After the meeting in the week about the Housing Consultation I came away enthused with the interest and the passion shown. My only concern is that we don’t just say “no” or that we automatically look on this as a bad thing – that we are going to be invaded by 400 households we don’t want.
Ashbourne’s population has always fluctuated over the years. The excellent http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk offers historical data for Ashbourne taken from censuses. The Local Government area shows a steady population during the 20th century of around 10,000 and then a dramatic increase of around 2000 from the mid 40s through to the mid 50s. This was presumably, and ironically, driven by the two airfields at Ashbourne and Darley Moor. The current population is around 10,500.
Although there are 400 new houses to be built under the Housing Consultation, this has already excluded developments already planned – e.g St Oswalds. The total requirement in Derbyshire Dales is 4,400 new houses and the consultation indicates that Ashbourne and district will carry 35% of this i.e. 1540 with approximately 1370 for Ashbourne itself. These days an average household in the UK holds around 2.4 people and so we could be talking about 3285 new residents of the Town at a rate of 205 per year. As the statistics show we have had similar growth before and we’ll have more in future. Indeed, over the last ten years we have seen major developments at Hilltop and on the airfield estate already with more planned. In the last 10 years we’ve had well over 300 new houses built and not noticed the difference. One thing to observe is that not all housing development results in an increase in population. With all the new housing developments in the last few years you would have expected Ashbourne’s population to have skyrocketed but actually there has been a thinning of housing density and actually there will have been a resulting improvement in quality of life for many families as children have been able to move out into their own house rather than living at home. I know from responses to this blog and from the comments of parents at the meeting how expensive rental is in the town.
In 2007 PACEC produced the Ashbourne Economic Assessment which looked at the local economy and the housing needs: http://www.derbyshiredales.gov.uk/images/documents/A/Ashbourne%20Economic%20Assessment%20Part%201.pdf
There’s quite a lot of interesting stuff in here which is still relevant and puts the current Consultation in context. A key for me is their SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) Analysis which is the image at the top of this post. What it means to me is that we should look at the new housing as an opportunity to address the weaknesses and threats while taking advantage of the opportunities without losing our strengths.
New housing and new people bring money into our local economy. We have seen with the Sainsbury’s development, love it or hate it, that the Town Council can negotiate with developments to get improvements to the surrounding area as conditions of planning permission and the same ought to apply here. In addition the building of the houses creates jobs for local contractors (provided the planning is managed correctly) and brings new people into our local economy too (how many shopkeepers would not vote for a potential additional 15% footfall in their shops each week). Employers looking to grow their business currently won’t set up in Ashbourne because of the lack of available labour. We are in a period of stagnation at the moment due to the economic downturn and the resulting budget cuts. We have been stuck with the same weaknesses since 2007 and here is an opportunity to address them.
This may seem an overly optimistic view on life – people in the Town Hall meeting expressed concern about the “type” of people who would be arriving. The raw facts of the matter are that, if Ashbourne digs its heels in, someone else will see the opportunity and exploit it while Ashbourne continues its steady but charming decline.
So here’s my manifesto for the new housing:
1. The Town needs a Town Team to spell out exactly what we want to resolve the weaknesses of the town. We are too unfocused on this and so when the opportunities come along we dither over a range of options and potential investment is lost. As an example, the problem of traffic congestion has been discussed for years with options floated for a new one-way system, completion of the bypass etc. We just need a clear statement that says the solution to the problem will be . When opportunities arise to complete parts of the solution we take them. A part-completed bypass is much better than an unstarted bypass.
2. We need to improve the relationship we have with the DDDC and get them working with us. The tone at the Town Hall was that DDDC are our opponents whereas they are our servants who need to understand how they can help us. They are under constraints but as a town we need to be easy to work with. Councillors Steve Bull and Alan Hodkinson get this but they need our support to give them clout with some of the less-flexible councillors at DDDC. They must get frustrated at the apathy from the Town followed by complaints that they get in response to any decision. They need a clear and exciting big plan and we need to give them a clear mandate – the Town Hall meeting was an excellent example of how this could work. In an ideal world our representatives on the DDDC would be leading the DDDC. The reason we need the support of the DDDC is that they can help us set the power-balance in the negotiations with building firms over planning – “we want you to build in our area but we know exactly what you have to give Ashbourne before you lay a single brick”
3. We force the pace of development. We map out exactly what we will need at each stage of development. We know the tolerances of the infrastructure – healthcare, traffic management, parking, policing, education, flood defences, sewerage, refuse collection – and work out exactly what needs to be done first. If we don’t do this the developers will build the houses first to collect the revenue and we will be continually renegotiating terms of planning in the same way we have with Waterside Park.
4. We promote and relish the growth in population. If we promote our way of life and what Ashbourne offers we will attract the kind of people we want in our community. The danger is that we let the housing developers do the work and destroy the way of life through selling to anyone who will buy. For our own self-esteem it would be great to have a queue of people wanting to live in Ashbourne rather than just wanting a house anywhere.
That’s enough for now – I feel a supplementary blog coming about how we could address the SWOT. Would love to hear your comments