Firstly, a confession. I never really understood ‘Planning’ as applied to the large house builders since I first sat in this chair. I didn’t understand it before then either but I wasn’t too involved at that stage. If we look at what I might consider a typical example, the Northern Fringe, it might go some way to explaining my frustration.
The Ipswich Society has been involved with this proposal for twenty years; various members of the Executive (mainly Mike Cook) have sat on committee after committee arguing for what we almost all agree are the necessary components of the planned estate: a country park, physical separation from Westerfield, primary schools and later a secondary school, a district shopping centre which will provide basic necessities within walking distance (including therefore a small supermarket), medical facilities, a community centre, a transport plan that doesn't rely on the motor car and so the list goes on.
This is all well and good but, with the exception of the schools, the decision to open some of these facilities is not taken by the developer. It is up to Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group to decide if they want a medical centre there; neither the developer, nor the public can choose which supermarket runs the store, if any. And none will commit until they are sure that there are sufficient customers to make it worthwhile.
We can discuss with the developer the provision for cycling, for footpaths away from the highway and for sufficient off-road parking spaces so that the bus isn’t hindered on its journey across the estate (that’s one we won’t win, householders will own enough cars to fill all of the spaces available – and then one more!). We can discuss with bus companies incentives to run a bus from whenever the first houses are occupied, but we can’t expect them to continue running a service if the buses aren’t used.
My real bugbear, however, my bottom line of not understanding, is the design of the actual houses. Pressure groups get very uptight about developments of this size – here in northern Ipswich and in the villages across south east Suffolk or north Essex. They argue about the concept, about the numbers and about the increase in traffic the proposed development will create. But they don’t consider the quality or the design of the finished product, because they can’t!
None of the applications submitted so far is actually from the house builder, but rather from one of their carefully selected planning consultants who are expert at getting proposals through, traffic consultants who produce endless reams of traffic counts to convince the local authority nothing needs to be done off-site, community strategy consultants promising the earth and landscape architects with their fancy colouring pencils enhancing simple street scenes.
The national house builders don’t commit to the house type when their first application (for outline planning) goes in. They don’t commit when they submit details as Crest Nicholson have just done for the country park, for the drainage, or the access onto local roads. They perhaps commit when they decide to build the first few houses but these plans are reviewed by the planners as reserved matters (and here Ipswich Borough Council have appointed a dedicated planning officer just for this development).
Eventually, they do have to submit an application for the detailed architecture and appearance of the dwellings they build. But by this time, we're bored and exhausted and a dreary set of bog standard designs are presented which the big builders say are the ones which sell. Of course they are because they're the only ones on offer. The house types will change, as the market changes, flats or detached, two storey or more, three bed or four, how big is the garden, how many with garages, and how many of the 1,100 will reflect the Suffolk vernacular? At least I know the answer to the last point!
I record with some sadness the passing of two former Executive Committee members since the start of the year, Tony Hill is remembered elsewhere in this Newsletter, Teresa Wiggin was a former Minutes Secretary and an excellent one. She was able to translate the constant gabbling of the committee and particularly the incoherent, disconnected garbage coming from my mouth into an accurate, readable and complete set of minutes. Teresa also had a comprehensive knowledge of the past events that had taken place in Ipswich and an enthusiasm for the Society and its activities. She will be sorely missed.