Villagers’ fears of planning ‘free-for-all’

A village scene in Twyford. An outline application to build homes at the back of a property in Main Street - a site outside the village envelope - was approved on appeal by a planning inspector in July.'PHOTO: Tim Williams
A village scene in Twyford. An outline application to build homes at the back of a property in Main Street - a site outside the village envelope - was approved on appeal by a planning inspector in July.'PHOTO: Tim Williams
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Fears have been raised that rural communities across the Melton borough will be more vulnerable to a housing development ‘free-for-all’ after a council decided to scrap village envelopes.

Village envelopes effectively define areas within which development would, in principle, be acceptable, and conversely areas outside town and village envelopes where development, in principle, would not be supported.

But now, following the results of its new Local Plan ‘Issues and Options’ consultation, Melton Council has decided to drop village envelopes as it now works towards preparing its preferred options (draft local plan).

One of the questions within the council’s consultation asked people what they thought about how village envelopes should be taken forward through the Local Plan.

An option - supported by 36 per cent of people who answered the question - was to ‘review some villages where development is likely to take place and have criteria in places where less development is likely to be encouraged’.

A second option - to undertake a review of all village envelopes - was backed by 34 per cent of respondents.

A third option - to replace village envelopes with a ‘criteria-based approach’ - was supported by 30 per cent of respondents.

At a full council meeting last Wednesday councillors debated whether to move onto the next stage of the Local Plan preparation process without undertaking a detailed review of the borough’s village envelopes.

Prior to the meeting, Burton and Dalby parish councillors had expressed their serious concerns that scrapping village envelopes would ‘significantly reduce the protection offered to villages’ and would ‘subject all villages in the borough to constant harassment from developers and lead to hotch-potch development across the borough.’

Councillors had mixed views on the importance and relevance of village envelopes and whether a detailed review should be carried out.

Council leader Byron Rhodes referred to recent planning appeals (concerning sites in Melton, Asfordby Hill and Twyford) where one of the reasons the council refused outline planning permission for developments was that they were outside the village/town envelope.

But planning inspectors had overturned the council’s decisions as they felt the sites were sustainable and should be approved.

Mr Rhodes said: “A significant percentage of the 5,000 new homes will be in the villages but it won’t be many houses per village and these homes will be built over a 20-year period. I don’t think the change in policy of not continuing with village envelopes will bring about a massive free-for-all building programme in villages. I doubt very much that will happen. I think this new policy will be an improvement.”

But councillor Pat Cumbers said: “I believe a review of village envelopes is absolutely vital. I think they’ve served an important purpose, they’ve worked and been fair and I believe without them we’re more likely to have free-for-alls. Sensible envelopes will ensure villages won’t develop an urban sprawl and residents and developers know where they stand.”

Gaddesby ward councillor Janet Simpson, who represents six villages, also voiced her support for a review.

Joe Orson, borough councillor for the Old Dalby ward, said: “I like village envelopes and, more importantly, residents like them. I represent many rural villages and I know their strength of feeling. Village envelopes give them a clear guide where developers can’t build.”

Councillor Pru Chandler, who represents the Bottesford ward, said: “I believe it’s an illusion that village envelopes give protection and I think they’ve come to the end of their useful life.

“The best way forward for villages and areas of the town that feel they could be in jeopardy from developers is to do a neighbourhood plan.”

Councillor Matthew O’Callaghan added: “I believe village envelopes were the death warrant of many of our villages. Our villages have to grow. Part of the housing has to go into the villages and the village envelope was getting in the way of that.”

After much debate a proposal was made to support a recommendation to move forward with the Local Plan preparation process without carrying out a detailed review of village envelopes.

No councillor was able to put forward an amendment to the proposal as Melton Mayor John Wyatt said the debate had been closed.

Councillors voted 14-9 in favour of the recommendation.