Sunday, September 30, 2012

A good Brownfield Development

A couple of years ago Stockton Council held a design competition for the housing to be built on the North Shore site - at that stage still a very uninspiring dirty area.  The architects all produced futuristic designs and one was duly declared the winner.  Some months later the plans came to planning committee for the first phase of the housing, now looking a bit more traditional and constrained by what was sensible to expect from that site.  There were promises of housing that would be easy to maintain and low in energy demand.
Yesterday I went to look at what was actually being built, now that the second phase has just received planning consent.  The houses are varied - 2, 3 or 4 bedrooms, some with 2 floors while others have 3 floors.  Some have windows that are really enclosed balconies on the first floor with views across to the Cleveland Hills and the Infinity Bridge.  Others have roof terrraces with similar views.  The roofs incorporate PV tiles, there's rainwater harvesting, there's really good insulation.  I wouldn't mind betting that with care it's possible to use very little electricity for heating and lighting.  Unsurprisingly, when I've looked round them, they are selling well.  With a 10 minute walk into Stockton Town Centre or along to the barrage or the gym, 5 minutes up the road to the bus stop, cars aren't as necessary for every day use as they are in other places.
Developers are telling us that they can't afford to clean up and build on brown field sites because people won't buy them.  Yet here's a developer with people buying the houses before they're built, because they're well designed, well built, with low power costs to run and within easy reach of many amenities.  Talking to people there it seems that there's a bit of community spirit already, and children are actually playing out of doors!  I suspect that this will be a more sustainable development than any of the ones being proposed around Eaglescliffe and Yarm, and longterm a more desirable one too.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Would you develop here?

This was the view on the approach to the proposed sports development for Yarm School around mid-day yesterday.  Would anyone seriously want to put their sports pitches and pavilion there?  I wonder if the design calculations for the pedestrian bridge have taken into account the impact of this sort of flood on the foundations, or is it written off as a "one in a hundred year event" and ignored because it happened this week.
Others have shared photos of flooded fields where housing proposals are awaiting consideration.  There isn't a stream running through "Urlay View" or the Green Lane playing fields but they still had a significant amount of water standing on them earlier in the week.  Is it right to build houses where there's such a lack of natural drainage?  How much more pressure would that put on the ecosystem in the area?  And will the planning officers even take this kind of weather event into account, or will it be written off?  Only time will tell.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

September storms

Struggling to walk along the pavement safely between one meeting and the next over the last couple of days I was well and truly aware of the worst September storm for many years.  However, I don't think we had anything compared to the amount of rain that fell in parts of the North East.  Residents in Yarm and Eaglescliffe have sent me photos of the river, Yarm High Street, flooded fields where developers want to put hundreds of houses, streams where a day before it was a road.  It certainly isn't making the case for the developers any easier!
Meanwhile I could take every opportunity to make the point to ministers, advisers, members of the house of Lords, members of industry bodies and so on that we need proper ways of ensuring that if a builder has planning permission for a site and wants to renegotiate the Section 106 responsibilities they should be made to do it openly and transparently.  If it goes to appeal, the inspector can require the production of the costs for the site etc, so why can't the planning department do that at the beginning?  Why does the local council have to work with one hand behind its back?  Today, Lib Dem policy was made to include that transparency.  Now all that has to happen is to get it agreed in government!!  That won't be easy, but it'll be a great success if it can be achieved.
Add it to the idea of an additional tax on the land if the developer doesn't make a meaningful start on the development for which they've got planning permission and we'd have something really helpful.
And right up there in the policy, alongside these relatively small sections, were some big sections on making sure that tenants will have more protection against bad landlords, ensuring that local authorities are the arbiters of what's good in the area, and improving the ability of local authorities to act on the blight of empty homes.  A good motion, putting in place a good policy after an informed and passionate debate - that's conference at its best.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Conference roundup

This morning saw an unusual event for Lib Dems at the moment - a public Thank You!  Over two years ago Lib Dems committed to do our very best to stop the iniquitous practice of locking up children in detention centres like Yarls Wood which are just like prisons, when their only "crime" was to have parents whose application for asylum here had not succeeded.  The pledge was made in response to a very brave campaign by people who didn't have the advantages and privileges of  the parliamentary candidates who were being asked to support them.  This year, thanks to a huge amount of work by Sarah Teather and her in government and Citizens UK outside of government, there are no children in that kind of detention.  The new family detention centre gives them humane surroundings while all the necessary proceedings go on above their heads.  Today, Citzens UK came to say thank you.  But they also told the very moving story of the campaign and reminded us that although that campaign is over there are other problems yet to be resolved with regard to asylum seekers and immigration controls.  The next steps will be just as challenging if not more so.
At the other end of the day was a challenging debate on the UK power infrastructure - the need for renewal, the opportunities that brings but also the challenges.  With speakers from CPRE, the National Grid and the Distribution network as well as Ed Davey it proved to be interesting, challenging and hopeful.  It was one of those debates which could have gone on a lot longer if only the main protaganists hadn't had other appointments and the room hadn't been needed for another meeting.