As the effects of coronavirus take hold on our economy, it is vital that two issues are addressed to ensure young people who want to make a life in Shropshire are able to do so - namely, a job to ensure the security of a regular pay-packet; and enough homes at affordable prices.
As more people look to live in the countryside and work from home, I expect housing demand in Shropshire to continue to grow. So it is timely that Shropshire Council have just published the draft Local Plan Review, through which the main areas of land across the county potentially available for development for the next 15 years will be designated.
I have not sought to become directly involved in local planning policy, since this is properly within the remit of elected Shropshire Councillors. I have engaged with the Leader and Shropshire Cabinet, local Shropshire Councillors and local Town Councils, where appropriate. But at first look, there are two widely contentious elements in the current iteration of the Local Plan proposals.
These are the scale of development around Bridgnorth, and the scale of development and weighting given to the Local Neighbourhood Plan in Much Wenlock.
I recognise the need for local development, for the reasons outlined above, and the decision by Shropshire Council to opt for a higher growth forecast plan is understandable, given the relative lack of building in South Shropshire over the past 15 years. But this needs to be manageable and acceptable to local communities.
We have significant transport bottle necks, limited public transport, pressure on GP surgeries as our population ages, and a need to build in an environmentally sustainable way. I have used this column before to argue against building new houses which later have be retrofitted to meet higher EPC standards - both because it hinders progress to net zero, and raises bills for young families looking for affordable homes.
I am very concerned by what appears an entirely opportunistic approach by a major developer to add a massive 30% to Bridgnorth’s housing stock over the next 15 years (including the existing SAMDEV plans for 500 more homes over the next 5 years) in open countryside, to the west of town, whereas the jobs for those who live there will be on the other side of the River Severn.
This is too much and I hope Shropshire Council’s Cabinet will tell their officers to think again, as all Bridgnorth’s local Shropshire Councillors and the Town Council have demanded.