Working towards our future while protecting the past

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We thank Leader-Times Newspapers for your recent coverage of our protest regarding Pendle’s Core Strategy and would like to comment on some of the issues raised.

We understand it took two planning officers seven years to complete the housing and employment sections of the strategy (there are eight additional sections), yet the community has had only six weeks to respond to the strategy in its entirety.

The “extensive engagement with the community” appears to have entailed a few drop-in sessions; in 2013, four of these sessions were attended by a total of only 34 people. The council’s main method of advertising the consultation seems to have been public notices in the Press but many people do not read these.

The documents themselves are not user-friendly and involve large amounts of paperwork, with lengthy and complex referrals to legislation beyond most people’s constraints of time or understanding.

We fear that unless individuals submit their comments or objections within this framework of “tick boxes” and have the ability to cross-reference them to current legislation, their concerns are simply dismissed as invalid.

Indeed, if past representations in the pre-submission report are studied, it is clear most of the comments from members of the public are merely “noted”.

Rarely, a few points of minor detail are considered worthy of an amendment, but no major alterations are made. In effect, the public is asked to comment on decisions that have already been taken.

We feel an active campaign to involve all members of the community through posters in local venues, local radio involvement, flyers through residents’ doors, public talks (clearly advertised and illustrated with relevant maps and photos, with facts presented in plain English) would have done much to engage all areas of the community at the planning stage.

Sadly, this has not happened and we find people feel alienated and discouraged by the process.

There is a wide perception that people have been excluded, and they are powerless to influence decisions.

Our experience, when inviting people to sign our petition, was that many residents were completely unaware of any proposed allocation of greenfield sites and were shocked at the sheer scale of the plans.

They were very worried about the detrimental effect they could have on Colne’s semi-rural identity and the beautiful surrounding countryside. It was also widely felt the proposals would have a very negative impact on tourism. There was a unanimous agreement that building on brownfield sites was the best option.

Many members of the community care passionately about protecting our countryside for the enjoyment of all. According to the National Planning Policy Framework, local communities should be able to identify for special protection green areas of particular importance.

We intend to propose that the Lenches area is nominated by the community as their designated green space and actively encourage other members of the community to nominate their own special green spaces.

We have had a lot of support for the petition and thank everyone who has signed it. It has performed its main function of alerting local people to the proposed developments and encouraged lively and active debate on issues which affect not only Colne, but the whole country.

We recognise the council is under pressure from the Government to set aside an unreasonable amount of land for the Local Plan. We appreciate the importance of good housing, jobs and investment in Pendle. We do not feel, however, this should be at the expense of the local green fields, which are the very fabric of Colne’s character, heritage and beauty and make it such a special place to live in. Other options must be considered.

The Core Strategy should legally comply with the National Planning Policy Framework, which states: “planning should be genuinely plan-led, empowering local people to shape their surroundings ... not simply be about scrutiny but instead be a creative exercise in finding ways to enhance and improve the places in which people live their lives”. This has clearly not happened. We believe the report should not be submitted to the planning inspector until a genuine public consultation has taken place.

We look forward to collaborating in partnership towards Colne’s future, while protecting its past.

Sheila Smith, Lorna Barker, Paul Howarth, Dr Caroline Palmer, Malcolm Redford, Pam Smith

Colne