Babergh’s Core Strategy, which sets strategic parameters for planning policy throughout the District, took a further step forward yesterday.
At yesterday’s full Council Meeting at Babergh councillors voted that the document should be submitted for external examination. This is one of the last steps before it can be adopted as part of the Local Development Framework.
The Strategy is really quite revolutionary in that it seeks to permit some proportionate growth in housing in certain villages where previous Local Plans have vetoed most development. This is a long overdue change. Many settlements have shrunk in size in the past, and cannot maintain local services such as pubs and shops. Transport links have also been affected since there are simply not enough people to make bus services viable. Small parishes are, as a result, in danger of becoming the preserve of the wealthy elderly, with younger and less well-heeled people having little choice but to move to larger places, or to suffer isolation and deprivation.
Clive Arthey, long term member and former Chairman of the Development Committee, provided councillors with some fascinating statistics in this respect. Looking at population figures from 100 years ago he showed how many settlements have shrunk dramatically in size. Whereas Acton and Great Waldingfield for example have grown from 558 and 662 souls to 1720 and 1420 respectively, villages such as Little Waldingfield have fallen from 412 to 360, and Kersey has dropped from 604 to 330. Most extreme is Little Wenham which has fallen from 95 to just 10! Lavenham has much the same population count as it had a century ago, although of course the people are rather more widely distributed; demonstrating that the fall in the number of people per household has also been an important trend.
As far as rural businesses are concerned, I recently read a report which stated that before the War Bildeston supported as many businesses as Lavenham, but now where Lavenham still has more than 40, in the main due to its attraction as a tourist destination, Bildeston’s local businesses now number less than 10.
Will Babergh’s change in approach to development reverse the decline being seen in rural areas? Of course times have changed and the advent of car ownership for many means that it is unlikely that there will be a massive revival in village stores for example and it will be an ongoing challenge to make public transport viable. The situation may be prevented from further deterioration however, and if a better balance of people can be helped to live in country settlements this must be a good thing.
Let’s hope the Inspector who will now examine the plan , agrees with us!