Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Civic Pride and common sense restored

I wondered if I would be writing a positive blog tonight-one tends to be a bit cynical about developers and councils, but I have to say I am delighted that I can!

The Planning committee of Barrow Borough Council showed great resilience, wisdom and foresight in their decision to refuse planning permission for Story Homes to build 38 houses on the green field site on Manor Road. We have fought a public campaign for a year and its been a hard slog. We are an eclectic bunch-a range of ages, backgrounds, politics-but with one common cause-we all love and believe in the preservation of Furness Abbey. This one fact united us... and upwards of 3000 other people across Barrow, Cumbria and the world! Literally! This upsurge of public opinion could not fail to impress even the recalcitrant Story Homes and the council actually stated that it was not the normal response to planning applications in the borough. In fact it was uncommon and had certainly influenced the committee. This is not surprising -after all the committee are elected servants of the public and really ought to listen-but the impression is often that they don't!

I am proud of our democratic system today and of the council! They were unafraid to stand up against the developers and risk going to appeal. Charles Wilton the Planning Officer countered the abusive and aggressive attack on the committee and the Planning Officers by Story Homes; which was unworthy and unprofessional. He justified the refusal with two main points- heritage and setting! This reason is more powerful than any other because the setting and heritage are sacrosanct and unchangeable. Once gone they cant be brought back and restored! This is too important to be ignored and the planners and committee saw the validity of this argument!

Some of the issues which have arisen have surprised me. The procedural and structural issues which these things are governed by. For instance- the comment that English Heritage could have/should have done more. I accept-I initially believed that they would ride up "knight in shining armour-like" to help. I knew they cared about the abbey-after all-they have spent £2 million on holding it up. We at Furness Abbey Fellowship work with them and they frequently visit-indeed I had the pleasure of meeting Simon Thurley their CEO at the abbey! So I admit I was furious and devastated at their lack of action. 

However, after an initial barrage of ire via social media, we arrange to see the chap who had made the report. He was a very balanced, educated and knowledgeable man-who has spent many years visiting Furness Abbey and genuinely cares about it. We even viewed the field and discussed at length, the wall, the gateway and the heritage approach. He explained that it wasn't as easy as saying "No-its too near the abbey". In fact all kinds of structures were in place to stop him-the line he walks is strictly governed by a framework. This being so he can't comment on flooding, traffic etc because these are other agencies departments! The heritage he is concerned with is the actual abbey precinct-the peripheral wall and gate and approach have in fact been protected -because Story Homes had to amend plans on numerous occasions before EH would accept them. What they were left with were plans for an estate which they could not say would cause harm-but neither could they say it wouldn't! They can't make claims which can't be upheld in law! Therefore they are in a difficult position-they have had to settle for allowing plans which "might" do no harm. This seems ridiculous but they can only do what is allowed! Ideally they probably wouldn't want the houses but can't refuse outright.

In the same vein the Cumbria Highways Department do us no favours. They too are limiting their judgment to the actual estate-which doesn't seem too harmful. However, someone needs to look objectively at the traffic issue-because its not good! Any Barrow resident knows that Rating Lane is a nightmare and is an accident waiting to happen-which this or any other similar development would exacerbate. We the public can see this-but in the red tape world of procedure, this is apparently impossible. Similarly, the flooding evidence is not strongly upheld because of predictive maps and graphs. Yet we see floods over the last few years-and we have photographic evidence!

So this very strange state of affairs is obviously why we all believe the planners and Councillors aren't listening to us! Its because they are all so tied up with regulation and red tape that they can't. This is where we need to look! We must somehow get rid of this chess game-it does us no favours and it allows people to manipulate the system. The basic rights and wrongs are forgotten in place of process driven rubbish! Today Joe Public has spoken and been listened to. The council have stepped out of the box and haven't been swayed by fancy words and big business. They have done the right thing! I hope that this is the final chapter-but if its not-trust me-we will go on! We will continue to fight-against the odds-until the day is finally won for good!


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