Well done Ashbourne! I knew you wouldn’t let me down. I opened the door in the Town Hall to be confronted with a full house – around 70 people – and the ever-sprightly Jeffrey Phillips beginning his presentation.
The evening’s topic was housing and employment. Darren Archer discussed Housing and Lucy Green discussed employment.
Darren opened his discussion with the challenge to whether the Housing in Ashbourne is a done deal that we can’t influence as some people seem to believe. He thinks the Draft Derbyshire Dales Local Plan lets down Ashbourne by focusing just on numbers. He exploded the myth about Affordable Housing. As it stands there is a danger that the housing built will not get to the people that need it. One alternative would be to get the developers to provide serviced plots and then allow a local group to build and control building the right plots using Section 106 money.
He also challenged the quality of build being proposed which runs the risk of being out of date and not future thinking. He suggested that the Neighbourhood Plan could determine that all new houses were built to Passivhaus standards which are more efficient and cheaper to run.
The physical environment needs to be protected. We need to ensure that the infrastructure is adequate to support it. Transport and traffic is already an issue and we need to make sure we don’t overload what we have. We can’t say no to the housing but we can insist we aren’t adversely affected by it. The implication of the Local Plan is that the population of Ashbourne could grow by 20-25% which emphasises the strain which could be placed on services.
The audience was shocked to hear that the District Councillors on the Town Council deny that the millions of Section 106 money exists despite representatives of the Town Council having letters confirming it. Derbyshire Dales Planning were invited to comment but didn’t reply in time for the meeting. This money could transform the proposition for housing at a stroke.
A gentleman from Clifton spoke to challenge Neighbourhood Plans in general. He felt concerned that the elected District Councillor’s views were being overridden by an unelected local team. This was challenged back by the panel by arguing that the Neighbourhood Plan requires consultation and is up for review every five years. The Local Plan is one page with regards to Ashbourne. The Neighbourhood Plan will be much more detailed and engaging. Lets face it – the current planners haven’t done a great job by allowing the current Local Plan to lapse in the first place.
Lucy Green discussed Employment. The concern is that with 800 new houses coming will there be sufficient jobs to employ them or is there a danger of Ashbourne becoming a dormitory town. The Airfield is the main employment area in the whole District Council area. The District Council want to set aside 8 hectares for employers but no-one had bothered to talk to the employers already there about what they needed. Whitehouse, Moy Park, Vital Earth, Hangar 4, Lunar LiftOff and many others are already doing well. Many employers in the town centre are looking for low skilled and low paid staff. Ashbourne is an affluent town and so the assumption is that the people living in Ashbourne are not generally working in Ashbourne. Can the people who do work in Ashbourne afford the houses in Ashbourne if they have low-paid jobs? The planning applications coming in are for the larger houses which, by definition, will have to be bought by people working outside the town. There is a limited amount of people working in the town with full time permanent employment.
The Neighbourhood Plan team asked all QEGS students about employment. While the majority of pupils have a Saturday job and do work experience in the town only around 10% of respondents expect to work in Ashbourne when they leave. Less than a quarter were aware of opportunities and around the same number thought there would be suitable employers. They felt that local employers weren’t possibly engaged. They stated that they were looking for jobs in teaching, engineering, technology, self-employment and the armed forces. The strong message was that, like us all, they wanted a well paid job that they would enjoy.
Lucy went on to discuss how the Neighbourhood Plan could focus on making vacancies to all levels of school leavers and attract the right types of employer. It needs to consider the implications of housing to retain the right type of employee. These ideas were echoed by the students themselves. Another possibility is the development of an enterprise centre to assist linking employers and students.
The subsequent discussion ranged over the QEGS students’ attitudes to Ashbourne, the crossover between the different topics in the Neighbourhood Plan and the need to consider linkages with other local towns.
The speakers were well-prepared and thought-provoking and triggered a debate that was robust and intelligent and it really added colour to the topic of a Neighbourhood Plan. The next Public Meeting is on the 6th August and this will cover traffic, education and identity. I think it is very disappointing that the audience did not include a representative from either QEGS or the District Council given the subject matter. Maybe they will consider it for the next time.