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St. George’s Garden Community

November 14, 2019 10:54 AM

Thoughts from Lib Dem Gale WallerCllr Gale Waller

If anything is designed to raise hackles it is local development. Rarely is any scheme proposed but someone thinks it is in the wrong place, the wrong design or simply not needed. Accusations of nimbyism abound and whilst this might be the case in some circumstances there is generally some substance to the objections. Consider housing developments. Of course everyone deserves an adequate, and for them affordable, roof over their head but location is as important as bricks and mortar. In the earliest days people settled around sources of water and food and communities were self-sustaining. Later, trade, whether for necessities or desirables, grew and so people began to produce more than they needed to undertake this trade. Later still, fuelled by early technological developments, fewer people were needed to produce food but more needed to produce goods and this was most efficiently done on a larger scale and so our towns developed based on factories supporting industrial need. In more modern times, as the population grew, we developed garden communities and new towns but these had employment at their heart. You could not secure a house in the new town of Stevenage, for example, without having a job locally and the town was designed with comprehensive cycle ways to get you to work. And whilst towns like Stevenage now house commuters, due to an improved A1 and railway to London, it wasn't built to be a commuter town. Indeed, at no time did we build towns simply to be dormitory settlements yet that is what Rutland County Council is proposing for the St. George's Garden Community next to Rutland Water.

The proposal for this 30 hectare site is to build a new town, larger than Uppingham, Rutland's second town, on just over one third of redundant Ministry of Defence owned land. The other two thirds are to be reserved for mineral extraction over the next 50 or so years. The proposal is for this new town to have a primary school on its edge (a relocation of an existing, underutilised, primary school), a doctor's surgery and a shop. The hope is that the school will also provide for community use. It is also hoped that jobs will be created on the site at the rate of one job per house. Note the word "hoped" because these jobs include those created by the school (how many teachers live near their schools?), the shop (likely to be predominantly part-time) and home based workers. These are not guaranteed jobs and the greater likelihood is that significant numbers of the new residents will commute to towns which offer high quality employment and commuting does not encourage the creation of a community but the creation of a dormitory town.

But what is the problem with a commuter town? Commuting isn't conducive to a good home/life balance for the people doing it and does not sustain a good quality of life. Commuting from St George's will be harmful to the environment as there is no convenient railway station and precious few buses so it will be by private car. The roads around St George's are country roads and are not designed for large numbers of cars let alone the large vans and lorries which will be necessary to bring the on line purchases to the people who live on this development.

So why is this development happening? Is there a shortage of housing in Rutland? No, there isn't, and the nationally assessed housing need for the County is no more than 160 homes a year, a figure the Council has achieved year on year for a number of years. Are employers crying out for staff, staff who might move here if there were more houses? Not really. The businesses who do have difficulty recruiting are those offering minimum wage and Rutland is an expensive place to live where even "affordable" houses (as nationally defined) are too expensive for those on a minimum wage. So why is this happening? It is simple. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is off loading sites and St George's barracks has buildings which are expensive to maintain and not fit for purpose. It is therefore surplus to requirements. The MoD has to maximise the benefit it receives from the site and as only a third can be built on in the short to medium term (because of the minerals) they see it necessary to cram as many houses as possible on the site and Rutland County Council's Conservative controlled administration has acquiesced. We Liberal Democrats are not against development. We are not even against development on the St. George's site. But what we would want to see is high quality employment as the basis of the development with a Rutland scale village supporting that employment and suitable leisure and recreational facilities to compliment Rutland Water. It is quite possible that leisure and recreation and high quality employment are one and the same thing!