PLANS to build hundreds of houses on land next to the village of Shottery - very close to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, one of the most famous historic buildings in the world - have always been riddled with ironies.
Now that a scheme to develop up to 800 homes on the site has been given official government backing, the proposals are entangled in the biggest irony of them all—the fact that they cannot go ahead as approved without the co-operation of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, the owners of the Cottage.
Some years ago the trust—as custodian of the houses associated with the world’s greatest playwright—bought some land next to the Cottage for the sole purpose of protecting the building from future development. In other words, as long as the trust owned the land, nothing could be built on it...unless the trustees agreed to sell it.
Now that Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, has given the go-ahead for the massive £100 million scheme, the trust finds itself in an invidious position. Does it defy the government by refusing to make its land available, or does it “go with the flow” and sell the land—and in the process make millions of pounds?
One incontrovertible fact is that the scheme cannot proceed as envisaged unless the trust’s land is released to the developers. The land is needed so that the new road—the so-called western relief road—can be built to link Evesham Road with Alcester Road. And the road is critical to the overall project.
Not only is it needed to accommodate traffic flow from the new development, but it will be paid for by the developers as part of what is known as a Section 106 Agreement—where additional, much-needed community facilities are financed by the people behind the project as a condition of them being granted planning permission.
Since much is being made of Mr Pickles’ decision flagrantly ignoring the government’s own much-vaunted emphasis on “localism”, it would be inconceivable for Warwickshire County Council, as the highways authority, to slap a compulsory purchase order on the trust’s land to make way for the road.
It would be even more inconceivable for Stratford District Council—whose planning committee unanimously rejected the Shottery scheme— to support such a last-ditch measure. After all, local opposition to the development has been loud and relentless for several years.
But the ironies do not end there. The very fact that the land was initially identified as a location for potential housing development is an irony in itself—given its proximity to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage.
Local authorities, however, are required by the government, every now and then, to show that there is a sufficient supply of land for housing development in their areas to meet anticipated need. Back in 2002 the land west of Shottery fell into that category.
It was there, and it was clearly available—so it would be difficult to pretend that it wasn’t. However, all that Stratford District Council was doing was showing that it could fulfil its statutory duty by playing the numbers game. The idea that this stretch of land so close to a monument of international significance would actually be built on was not part of the script.
From the moment that the land was identified for possible development local residents formed an action group called Residents Against Shottery Expansion (RASE). Developers were also swift to respond by coming up with various housing schemes—which included the provision of a vital western relief road.
In 2005 the controlling Conservatives on Stratford District Council put the land at Shottery into “strategic reserve”. The Tories argued that this protected the location from development for years to come, but obviously not forever. The opposition Liberal Democrats always maintained that the very fact that Shottery had been earmarked for development made it vulnerable and called for it to be taken out of “strategic reserve” and out of the local plan altogether. The Tories disagreed. The Lib Dems are now saying, in the light of Mr Pickles’ decision: “We told you so.” The irony here is that despite seeking to protect the location from development, the site’s continuing inclusion in the local plan kept it at high risk.
Underlying all this is another problem. Stratford District Council is still at least a year away from finalising the core strategy of its local
development plan. The fact that it has an “emerging” strategy seems to count for little with either the planning inspectorate or the government. In fact, the government has actually made the point, in explaining its backing for the planning inspector, that the “emerging” strategy carries little weight. It is the completed strategy that counts, and in the Stratford district there isn’t one—yet.
This means the district continues to remain vulnerable to developers—a situation not helped by the planning inspectorate’s view that 11,000-12,000 new homes in the dustrict between 2008 and 2028 is a reasonable target, not the 8,000 favoured by the district council. It all adds up to a very nasty headache for local politicians and planners for quite some time to come...
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