Martock Neighbourhood Plan – A chance to have your say in our future

From Bob Horton, Chair, Martock Plan development group.

Published in the Leveller
Many of you will be only too well aware of the proliferation of new housing developments now being planned or, indeed, approved in the areas surrounding Martock. This is primarily the result of changes in national planning guidelines that are detailed in a Government document called the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). In effect, these new rules are very much in the favour of developers and land that would, hitherto, be considered as a “no go area” for housing is now deemed to be fair game provided that the applicant can prove that the proposed development is “sustainable”. Exactly what sustainable means is open to interpretation as this is not well defined in the NPPF document. The overall result is that the green fields surrounding villages up and down the country are now subject to predatory land grabs by developers who may not have the best interests of local residents at heart.
Although we will probably be faced with a barrage of housing applications around our village, we do have an opportunity to at least have a say in what we want and where we would like it. This is by the construction of a Neighbourhood Plan (NP). NPs form an integral part of the Government’s planning policy and they were first introduced in the Localism Act of 2011. Whilst the NP is not a solution for all issues, it does provide the opportunity for a community to define how they want their settlement to grow and, in some way, influence the nature and character of their neighbourhood in the future. In effect, we have a choice, either, we can keep the status quo and simply allow the developers to continue building where and when they want and accept the adverse consequences this may have on village life; or, we can formulate a plan for the whole community that will help to temper the rate, size and location of future developments. Once drafted, the NP would be subject to a neighbourhood wide referendum and, if accepted, it will have statutory powers.

I should point out that a NP will have no effect on existing development applications; it only applies to the future because the plan will take circa 18 months to be accepted. Additionally, the NP is not a “no development” document. We must accept that any community will have a certain amount of expansion and this is healthy because all communities must be allowed to thrive and grow. The importance of the NP is that we, the people of Martock, have a say in what is allowed. It is also worth stating that the NP must comply with the requirements of national policy (the NPPF) and the South Somerset Local Plan.

Martock Parish Council have decided that it is in the best interests of our community to formulate a NP and, as such, they have established a working group to achieve this important objective. The NP will cover the entire Parish area and its primary objective will be to provide a sustainable and controlled development of our community into the future. This includes the protection of our green spaces, identification of suitable housing areas and hopefully addressing some of the current infrastructure issues. Before you ask, no, this will not solve the traffic problems in North Street and Bower Hinton. Unfortunately, these issues are beyond the remit of the NP. We have only just formed our steering group and the task in hand is quite involved. With this in mind, I would be very grateful if anyone would be interested in joining the group. All local people would be welcome, in particular, those with a knowledge of rural/urban planning, flood control and drainage, urban design, energy conservation, environmental conservation and land use would be of huge value. If you feel that you might not have the time for a full commitment to the group, we would still be very happy to invite you to attend on an ad-hoc basis.

National guidelines indicate that any NP must be constructed by canvassing opinion of the people affected by its implementation and community involvement is an absolute priority. With this in mind, we intend to hold an open day on Saturday 12th March 2016 from 1000 to 1500. We will be delighted if you would come along to the Market House where a team of volunteers will be on hand to explain what the NP is all about and also to ask you what you would like to be included. We are very keen to hear your views on all issues including:

•    Do you want the character of Martock to be preserved in the future?
•    What is it that makes Martock unique?
•    What rate and type of expansion would preserve Martock’s identity?
•    Should we concentrate more on business development to provide better employment opportunities?
•    What do you like about living in Martock and what would you like to change?
The above list of questions is not exhaustive and it is very important that we are allowed to gather a full understanding of the needs and aspirations of the community. Without this sort of information, it would be impossible to draft a document that meets the majority viewpoint. With this in mind, please consider attending our initial open day. This is your first opportunity to have a say in our future.

In order to facilitate community involvement in our NP, we will be using Social Media (Facebook) and also a link to a dedicated web page will soon be in place on the existing Martock On Line site. All of you can access these sites where we will do our best to keep you up to speed on what is happening. Additionally, leaflets and questionnaires will be available in the Post Office and Library for ten days after the first public event on 12th March.

Facebook page: Martock Neighbourhood Plan (we need friends!!)

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