Strategy for Woodbridge must not forget our housing needs

Market Hill, Woodbridge 150 years back. Instantly recognisable. Will it still be recognisable in 150 years time?

These are the comments I sent to SCDC on the First Draft of Suffolk Coastal’s Local Plan, in my role as County Councillor for Woodbridge. (My comments are therefore specifically restricted to Woodbridge):

I fully endorse the District’s statement that Woodbridge “is an important retail and employment centre and provides a variety of leisure, medical, education and transport facilities which serve the surrounding rural settlements. The town is also popular with visitors and tourists who wish to experience the historic town, cultural attractions, riverside character and access to the rest of the District.

I add my concerns to those articulated in the Plan as to the likely impact of potential Ipswich Northern Bypass routes on the town, and in particular, to possible subsequent development west of the A12.  I support very strongly the Local Plan’s intention to continue a policy of restricting westward development ( eg to the western side of the A12) “until such time as further detail and justification is available“.

I note the Plan’s aspiration  that “ in order to maintain the vitality of Woodbridge, the need to improve links between the different parts of the town, namely the riverside, Thoroughfare and Market Hill will be supported by the Council over the plan period. The riverside and town centre complement one another and serve residents, businesses, visitors and tourists.” I would hope this will mean that the Council will do everything within its power – that is, both financially, and strategically –  to support the Woodbridge 20mph and associated calming plan, approved by SCC in February 2017 http://carolinepage.blog.suffolk.libdems.org/20mph-woodbridge/

I note the Plan refers (at 12.218) to the fact that the built up area of Woodbridge is  “constrained”, meaning development opportunities are limited.  However I question the wording later on in the paragraph. While technically true that ”development opportunities have come forward on previously developed land through conversions and reuse which has maintained a level of housing delivery in the town, or within the parishes of Martlesham and Melton which adjoin Woodbridge which has provided housing opportunities in the area, this paragraph does not adequately describe the limitations of the developments within Woodbridge which seem to be exclusively aimed at the ‘affluent purchaser’ market, rather than the balanced tenure referred to at the beginning of this Local Plan.

I therefore welcome the aspirations enshrined in section 5.2 of the Plan (the Local Plan seeks to diversify the supply of housing through delivering a range of different sizes of sites in a variety of locations, and ensuring that the mix of housing types and tenures reflects the needs of the District’s population. The East Suffolk Housing Strategy also sets out the ways in which the Council will continue to pursue a range of models for housing delivery, including through working with Housing Associations and providing support to community led housing initiatives”) and would urge the Council to ensure that this aspiration becomes a special priority for Woodbridge, because of past failures.

This would ensure that Woodbridge remains a viable and fully functioning town by ensuring a sustainable demographic mix ( by social, age-group, and employment background and status) , rather than one comprising the largely affluent and elderly who can afford the current high average house price of £408,000. 

This means that the priorities listed in 12.219 need to be more fully articulated to ensure that the Plan’s wording “Any residential development that comes forward over the plan period will be expected to target the ageing population and provide lower cost housing opportunities to meet locally generated needs” is fully disambiguated:

 Yes, housing needs to be provided for the elderly residents of Woodbridge wishing to downsize. It does not need to be built with the purpose of encouraging additional older people to move into the area. Instead, a concentrated effort needs to be made to ensure that young people, disabled people, key workers, (even poor people) are not forced to move out of the area!

As a county councillor I thoroughly endorse the retention, maintenance and protection of all parks, open spaces and playing fields within the Woodbridge area.  I totally agree that these areas provide recreational opportunities and promote healthy communities and well-being and it is essential they are retained and protected over the plan period to support the needs of the existing and future communities.

I acknowledge and endorse Section 12.221’s statement  “The Local Plan acknowledges the Air Quality Management Area and seeks to direct new development away from this area.” I find it hard to square this with the immediately succeeding statement:  “Where redevelopment opportunities come forward over the plan period, the impact of these on the Air Quality Management Area will need to be considered alongside other material planning considerations.” How can this be? If  one directs new development away from this sensitive area (where no Air Quality solution has been found since the problem was first identified), then what other material planning considerations can there be? The air quality is inadequate – no mitigation has been successful, and further development could only exacerbate the situation.

The whole paragraph 12.222  is unclear. You say, “The 2001 Local Plan had a number of area specific policies which related to areas of Woodbridge. A number of these are still extant policies (Policies AP236, AP249, AP250, and AP252) but over time Woodbridge has evolved and the objectives of the policies are, in some circumstances no longer relevant. However the principles of riverside character which seek to protect the area from inappropriate development whilst seeking opportunities to enhance the character of the area are to be retained within this plan period. Proposals in riverside locations however, need to be balanced against the principles of visitor management of the Deben Estuary, as outlined in the Deben Estuary Plan, and the Suffolk Coastal Recreational Avoidance and Mitigation Strategy,”  This is a distinctly woolly sentiment, lacking any clear focus or definition. What does “Proposals in riverside locations however, need to be balanced against the principles of visitor management” mean? Disambiguation of this entire paragraph is needed.

Looking overall at the draft strategy for Woodbridge (below*) I am specifically concerned that this Strategy for Woodbridge at no point acknowledges the inbalance of housing type within our town and the consequent demographic shift noticeable even over the last two decades.

I reiterate what I have said above. I welcome the aspirations enshrined in section 5.2  of this draft plan (“the Local Plan seeks to diversify the supply of housing through delivering a range of different sizes of sites in a variety of locations, and ensuring that the mix of housing types and tenures reflects the needs of the District’s population. The East Suffolk Housing Strategy also sets out the ways in which the Council will continue to pursue a range of models for housing delivery, including through working with Housing Associations and providing support to community led housing initiatives”) and regret that these aspirations are not currently followed through in the draft strategy for Woodbridge. I would urge the Council to ensure that these aspirations become a special priority for Woodbridge, because of past failures.

Caroline Page
Liberal Democrat County Councillor for Woodbridge

Policy SCLP12.28: Strategy for Woodbridge

The strategy for Woodbridge is to balance opportunities with the acknowledged physical and environmental constraints in order to maintain and enhance its role as a market town, an employment centre and a tourist destination.

Opportunities to enhance the historic environment and the riverside character area of the town will be supported where they bring economic and social benefits which do not have a significant adverse impact on the environmental designations.

Residential development will be expected to come forward on sites within the Settlement Boundary, consisting of infill or small scale redevelopments which make the most appropriate use of previously developed land.

The strategy, therefore is to consolidate a town that:

a) Retains the special quality of the built environment including Conservation Areas and Listed Buildings and the character of the riverside and estuary;

b) Retains the A12 as a firm edge to the town;

c) Enhances the links between the town centre and the riverside;

d) Enhances the town centre through the retention of national and independent shopping opportunities;

e) Actively manages traffic and visitors to the town and surrounding areas through the use of appropriate traffic management, suitable car parking and signage;

f) Promotes improvements to air quality; and

g) Supports the further provision of open space and recreational facilities to meet the needs of the town over the plan period