City Planning ... Matters?

The regular annual meeting with District Council representatives on 22nd January broke the pattern of recent years with Councillor Neil Roberts - the elected member and Portfolio Holder for Planning [and much else besides] - joining us. Councillor Roberts gave a comprehensive and clear picture of his role; the role of the District Council and other organisations in the increasingly complex planning system and laid out a number of issues with which he and his team of officers is at present grappling.

The Portfolio of services for which he is responsible includes: Development Control; Development Planning; Building Control; Urban Design and Conservation and the Green Realm and Countryside. Additionally he has a number of positions on external bodies representing the District Council, ranging from membership of the Regional Planning Partnership [responsible for preparing the Review of the Regional Spatial Strategy] to the Cannock Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty management committee.

Currently the main issues facing Councillor Roberts include the annual budget preparation [and striving for value for money]; the RSS Review - and particularly Phase Two with its controversial, even contentious, housing numbers and the District Local Development Framework.

He explained that the West Midlands Regional Assembly, after lengthy preparation, had submitted its Preferred Option for the RSS Review to Government and made it available for public consultation for twelve weeks on 7th January [and this included proposed net housing numbers for 2006-2026 for the Region of 365,000], but at the same time the Government also published documents for consultation proposing an increased housing figure for the Region [of at least 40,000 more]. Councillor Roberts stated that this is causing great concern and delays with the RSS and also the Lichfield LDF preparation processes. Meaning full progress will await the resolution of the numbers issue.

In addition, although the LDF Core Strategy Issues has recently been subject to public participation, until a definite figure is finalised for Lichfield progress is difficult (at present it stands at 8,000 in the RSS submission to Government). Additionally there is confusion about the implications of any eco-settlement being accepted in the District by Government potentially increasing planned figures; thereby increasing the District's overall housing numbers.

Councillor Roberts sympathised with the views of the Society concerning both the RSS and the eco-settlement housing numbers and confirmed the District Council are fighting as best they can against unacceptable and inappropriate levels of housing.

He concluded his talk with a brief mention of future issues relating to his Portfolio including: an imminent start on the Friarsgate development; a revamp of shops and facilities in Market Street; the changes to parking controls with the District Council gaining powers of enforcement; the enhancement proposals for Beacon Park and Minster Pool; improvements to Burntwood retailing facilities; enhancements to Chasewater and the 50th anniversary celebrations of the designation of Cannock Chase as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Councillor Roberts then answered a dozen or more questions across the range of his portfolio, ranging from the effective enforcement of park bye-laws [in Beacon Park]; to issues relating to management of Section 106 agreements [Darwin Park]; to the balance of power between Government, Region, County and District in planning and the need for further Traffic Orders if all traffic were to be banned from City Centre pedestrian streets between 10am and 4pm [a popular view!].

At the conclusion, the Chairman thanked the speaker for his attendance and for providing a valuable contribution to the Society's understanding of various matters.

Mike Pearson
January 2008