The Bickerstaffe Record
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Bickerstaffe Thoughts, Leisure and culture, Planning applications, The world beyond West Lancashire

The politics of tarmac

08.25.09 | Comment?

As part of the relocalisation strategy now being vigorously  implemented at the Bickerstaffe Record, here’s coverage of  a small piece of proposed tarmac at the Parish field.

I recently battered together the ‘greenbelt special circumsntances case’ for the Parish Council’s application to extend the car park slightly in view of the increased demand for space over recent years. 

While the document’s main aim is to convince the borough council that the small piece of tarmac is justified in social and enviromental terms, I think it also reflects, I think, a wider sense of confidence about both the role of the Parish Council as ‘place shaper’, about which it could teach the Conservative borough council a thing or two, and of Bickerstaffe sense of overall ‘community spirit’.   It also reflects my ability to be utterly pedantic about policy detail, and the fact that that’s actually quite useful from time to time.

For a different approach to planning issues, which involves having a really good moan in the Guardian about stuff ,without really engaging with democratic processes because you think you’re above them, you might want to refer to George Monbiot.

Oh damn, and I really thought I’d keep this post totally local.  Now I’ll have to alter the post categories to inlude ‘world beyond West Lancs’.

Anyway, here’s what I wrote:

Special Circumstances Case

1. Introduction

This forms the Special Circumstances Case for our application for the extension of Bickerstaffe Parish Council car park from 19 spaces to 38 spaces, and is additional to the information about current usage, and the support for our proposals, set out in our principal submission and accompanying correspondence.

In brief, we contend that the both the particular location and scale of this small parking extension scheme, and the social, environmental (including safety) benefits of the scheme, significantly outweigh on this occasion considerations regarding maintenance of the greenbelt (which the Parish Council supports).

2.  Scale and aspect of the proposed scheme

Most obviously, this scheme does not include any building work, but is merely the provision of a hard surface to a small area of the Parish field.

With this hard surface largely concealed from the outside by the hedge, and with it being an extension to existing hardscaping rather than a new feature on the Parish field, we contend that the loss of greenbelt ‘perception’ is in itself very small.

3.  Location of scheme at heart of village

It is important to set out the broader locational context for the proposed scheme.

As we set out in the correspondence with our initial application, a number of groups of residents and non-residents wish/need to park their cars in and around the area of the Parish field, ranging from people accessing the school and church through to cyclists using it as a starting point for their rides. The three foci of this area –school/nursery, church and Parish field/football club make it the de facto ‘centre’ of Bickerstaffe parish, which is a thriving and active community, albeit one scattered over a wide area as a result of the topography and its farming history.

In normal circumstances one would not expect to see a village centre identified solely as ‘greenbelt’ within the local development plan, and while it is understandable how this has arisen (and indeed the Parish Council has no objection to this status), it is our contention that this ‘village centre in greenbelt’ anomaly demands a certain amount of flexibility of the type requested in this application.

4.  Social and environmental benefit

By far the most important benefit from the proposed scheme will be improved road safety for both adults and children accessing the Parish field, the school/nursery and the church. We contend that this benefit is, of itself, enough to outweigh due greenbelt consideration.

As noted above, the area is used by a number of different groups of the community, and there is often an overlap in this usage. For example, Sunday mornings see usage for church, usage for football club training and also for cyclists preparing for their rides. Likewise, weekday evening often see dual or triple demand on the current car parking spaces.

Perhaps most importantly though, the growth of the number of children attending Bickerstaffe C of E Primary School and its pre-school have increased demand significantly on weekdays. From a school roll of 51 in 2005/6, the roll is projected to be around 80 in 2009, with an an additionalk 20 children also attending pre-school. While the school’s ‘Bickerbikers’ project, where children ride with their parents to school, has had some impact, the increase in vehicles at peak times is noticeable to all, with the car park full and cars lined up down Hall Lane well past the entrances to Bickerstaffe Hall Farm.

Such increases should be seen in the context firstly of the improved and popular childrens’ playground at the Parish field, which draws children across the road both before and after school, and more particularly the large number of Heavy Goods Vehicles which go down Church Road and swinng into Hall Lane en route to, amongst other places, the silage premises on Sineacre Lane, to farms for the collection of produce and (in spite of the HGV ban for vehicles en route to Simonswood Industrial Estate) a good number of large lorries destined for the cold storage units at Fredericks’ Dairies.

These vehicle movements, combined with traffic parked along the narrow Hall Lane for more than two hundred metres past the school and the need for children to cross the road amongst parked cars, create an ever present danger. Further, despiter years of request for a lower limit, there remains a national speed limit on this stretch of road, and no immediate prospect of a resolution.

It is worth noting, we suggest, that an application for a nursery to be established on Intake Lane (New Vicarage) was refused on highways safety grounds, and the application which was successful (on the school site) was opposed by the County Highways Division on these same grounds.

This application is an attempt to resolve at least some of these problems, and we contend therefore that road safety concerns, very real but also perceived by users of the area as very significant – warrant granting of the application.

Even aside road safety concerns, however, we would contend that providing discrete parking on the Parish field will provide for an enhanced environmental aspect to the area, and thereby enhance rather than detract from the greenbelt. Any casual observer looking at the current scene when parking demand is high (see above) will note the general ‘messiness’ of the area, with an unattractive roadscape detracting generally from the otherwise attractive surroundings. In our submission, taking a number of these cars away from the roadside and into a discrete off road area concealed by hedging will be a step forward for the greenbelt, rather than a step back.

Finally, the social benefits of the scheme should not be underestimated. As noted above, the area around the Parish field is de facto the village centre. As such, it warrants a certain level of ‘busyness’ and vitality. Should car parking continue to be a problem, there is a risk that people will start to think again about using the area for their various activities, and this will have a negative impact upon the vibrancy and ultimately the sustainability of the community activities which do so much to enhance the life of the village. For a lack of adequate car parking, there is a risk that people will go further afield for similar activities (including the school) and this will actually increase car use in and around the area, as well as having a long term negative impact upon the social cohesion and the now well-developed ‘community spirit’ of the Bickerstaffe area.

5.  Conclusion

Taken together, it is our contention that the benefits of the proposed scheme outweigh the already small impact upon the greenbelt. We believe this is reflected in the unqualified support we have received from local organizations and individuals for the scheme, and indeed by the fact that the Parish Council, as applicant (clerk to Parish Council is formal applicant) are making something of an exception themselves in putting forward a scheme for development on the greenbelt.

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