SRB address to council 20 July 2016

Save Rural Baldock’s address to Council  20 July 2016

Presented by Christine Watson

You are clearly under pressure to complete a Local Plan. Whilst you do need to ward off hostile planning applications it is not a reason to ignore some important practical implications about how the plan can be delivered.

It is disappointing, although not altogether surprising, to hear that it is still proposed to expand Baldock enormously across the farmland between Baldock and Bygrave.  Just short of 3,500 homes, a growth of 83%.

The questions from the floor at the councillors’ meeting last week showed that while the need for housing is recognised and its affordability is a major concern for many, residents of Baldock and Bygrave are very worried about the disruption and overloading of infrastructure that will impact all of our lives over 20 years or more. Specific concerns covered schools and the traffic they generate, the oversubscribed surgery and crowded trains as well as the congestion that already afflicts the roads that connect the very large North Eastern housing area to the town.

From many subsequent discussions there remains a view that Baldock’s character as a small market town will be gravely damaged by such rapid and extensive expansion.

There is also a widespread suspicion that improvements to education, medical, rail and road infrastructure will be inadequate at planning level and then subject to further reduction or cancellation to save money or keep developers sweet.

Dealing with these in turn:

The need for new primary and secondary schools is mentioned but the strategy for maintaining provision through the expansion period remains extremely opaque. The new secondary school will only become viable when most of the new housing is in place. Until then, how is Knight’s Templar, which also serves local villages, to cope?

The Doctors’ surgery is, by all accounts, full to capacity.  How will patients be treated during the period of such huge population growth, before the new surgery becomes viable?

The trains will just become more crowded unless they are longer and more frequent, and there will be further impact in the plan period from the improved connections at the London end generated by Crossrail 2.  Improvements are mentioned but not detailed – when will Baldock station accommodate long trains?

The road and parking arrangements are a serious concern, for the construction period and for both old and new elements of the town afterwards.

The only traffic analysis that we have seen is several years old and deals only with impacts on roads south of Baldock and around Stevenage.  The A507 and A505 and their junction at Whitehorse Street already suffer serious congestion, throughout the day, every day. This has not been properly documented to enable an inspector to assess the real situation. The northern link road could be made more effective by taking it all the way to Baldock Services as a bypass, and it’s difficult to assess how effective a “southern link road” would be as we haven’t seen it on any map.  Has anyone?  And access to the town for all the new housing on the North side will still be via the same traffic-light junction.

Over the plan period the age of the internal combustion engine may be coming towards its end but electric vehicles actually generate more particulates than conventional cars. It is well known that the Baldock Bowl concentrates the cocktail of exhaust pollutants with resultant danger to health. This would be a potentially catastrophic consequence of overdeveloping in the Baldock area.

Cyclists of all ages should be encouraged but the plan stops at the gates of Baldock.  There is an opportunity to develop an integrated cycle system for the whole of North Herts but it has been missed.

We need a strategy to attract employers to the town otherwise all our new residents will have to be commuters to other towns. How can this happen when there is no end in sight to the peak hour queues on the A507 and A505? What will the council do to attract new businesses and expansion of existing employers in the area? Without robust infrastructure they are unlikely to come.

So my question is, how can you give us confidence that you have a plan to fix the current infrastructure problems and then make sure that the 20 years of building activity do not have all the negative impacts that we fear?

Councillors, I appeal to you to vote the way you know your constituents would want you to vote if you are allowed!! This is your only chance to influence the local plan, as the final decision has been taken out of your hands as the Cabinet alone will be approving the Local plan in September.

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