Currently, the direction of Ashbourne for the next generation is being decided by people who are least affected by it. Worse still, it is in danger of being steered by people worried about house prices and personal business interests. That can’t be right.
Ashbourne Town Council has submitted an application for designation of Ashbourne as a Neighbourhood. In turn this will lead to the town creating a Neighbourhood Plan which will inform the direction of the town for more than a decade.
Law gets less and less specific the closer it gets to you. At the moment national plans are broken down by County Councils and District Councils into policy which governs our lives but is insufficiently detailed to protect us from things we don’t like.
For anyone studying at QEGS at the moment, the Neighbourhood Plan will have an impact on your life. It will influence whether you can, or want to, stay in the town. It will affect where you live, where you work and the quality of the life you and your family lead. That’s assuming the plan is a good and comprehensive one. The weakness of the current District Council Local Plan is its lack of detail. It is very vague and so it can be interpreted however the next developer chooses: it’s no kind of carrot and it’s certainly no kind of shield. But then how could it be? Hardly anyone was involved in the process except the same old faces and the same old opinion.
The most recent detailed input the District Council received was from a consultation it held on the evening of 5th July 2011. Just 17 people turned up and this is typical of the history of consultation in Ashbourne – as many people turned up in Cromford and they had to limit attendees in Hulland award and Doveridge! In total over 300 people contributed across the whole Derbyshire Dales area. It seems the sacred Bakewell did not need to be concerned with such trivia!
The current Local Plan began with general information requests which gave the Council the impression that we are obsessed with traffic, we need a bypass and we don’t want any changes to the centre of town until we have one. Interestingly their report also indicated back in 2011 that we felt the town was more suited to development than other places due to the amount of brownfield land. The Draft Local Plan was summarised for those attending the Ashbourne meeting in a booklet and the objective of the meeting was to review this and prioritise items in it. Here is the booklet Ashbourne Consultation Briefing booklet.
Well done to those 17! The District Council is not great at giving sufficient notice or emphasising the importance of its consultations. The Town does not help itself either- we have a history of apathy and leaving others to do the work…and then complaining afterwards of course. What we always fail to realise is that these meetings are ticks in the box. The Plan cannot be adopted if there hasn’t been consultation and non-attendance to a Consultation is always interpreted as compliance. Even if three people attended their views are held as representative. In this case even the DDDC made a note that 17 attendees from a population of 7,500 (0.2%) was “rather low”. Ashbourne represented less than 6% of this District-wide consultation which is still trotted out by the Council when making policy changes.
So 17 brave souls turned out as Ashbourne’s representatives. The demographics in the report show that just only one attendee was under 30, none were under 18 and five were over 65. Only five had children under 18. 12 were already involved in local groups including the Town Council!
The input they gave was generally, by definition, an older, traditional, view of what Ashbourne is and should be. According to the report we should be proud of QEGS (if only the younger people had been asked about that a lot earlier!) and the way to engage young people with the town is through Shrovetide, the Firework Display, The Arts Festival etc.
The biggest thing they disliked, by some margin, was traffic and the roads. Really? The thing which brings tourism, trade, jobs etc to the town is the main thing we want to eliminate? Would that really be a young person’s perspective above lack of job prospects and lack of things to do? Loss of heritage including paving stones was the second most disliked thing. There was a note to say that there was a discussion at the meeting saying that perhaps we should work to improve the evening “pub culture”. Surely our Town Councillors who attended would not truly believe that the answer is to keep strangers out and keep those trapped inside drunk? The problem with a small group is that it really isn’t representative and it creates an opportunity, for those with an axe to grind, to grind away. Suffice to say that the District Council goes away with the impression that our recovery plan for young people is to reduce the traffic to minimise the opportunities to escape and then get them into the pubs!
By contrast there is some really good stuff, which could form a really good basis for a Neighbourhood Plan, in the “What Should Change” section. For the first time the document gets away from fossilising the town and starts to look at some more radical ideas. It does begin with labelling the town as Historic Ashbourne but then moves on to discussing opening up the Henmore for waterside development, highlights the need for brownfield development of new homes (the need to discuss sites was raised at this meeting in 2011 and the DDDC completely botched the planning process going forward), and discusses developing a pedestrianised market place.
Amazingly, “due to time constraints” How Do You See Your a Town In The Future did not get covered. You can see the full report of the evening’s discussions here Ashbourne Community Conversation Report.
I know that my children are not represented in this document or in the Local Plan. Like many of our young people in the town they don’t see a future here. There is nowhere for them to work which would fulfill their ambitions and skills and they don’t see a vision which they could be part of. I also know that I can’t represent their views with any real truth. I haven’t read anything which even closely resembles the views of the many great young people we have in the town. They aren’t ‘tourists’ who need to be entertained and they are certainly interested in a lot more than drinking.
My plea would be for anyone under the age of 21 to get involved in the Neighbourhood Plan consultation process because it will address the shortfalls in the Local Plan. It wouldn’t take many of our young people to make a real difference to the output given the track record of Ashbourne public participation. It’s really easy to put your views forward as it uses the same format which DDDC used – what do you like, what don’t you like, what would you like to keep and what would you like to change? And it’s online at Ashbourne Plan Response Form.
If you have children please discuss it with them and encourage them to take part because they will be the ones most affected by it. If they don’t take part they will have to rely on the opinions of old farts like me!