WAG’s open public meeting at Whiston Village Hall on Friday evening (02 Nov 2012) attracted over forty members of the public, not only local residents but people from villages throughout the Churnet Valley and other parts of the Staffordshire Moorlands, demonstrating wide ranging interest in concerns raised by WAG. An opening statement emphasised that WAG’s rigorous evidence based approach is intent on passing on conclusions based on facts – not opinions or gossip. Presentations were given by several speakers on a variety of issues, the most contentious being the Core Strategy Submission; Village House Building Proposals; Laver’s failure to restore Moneystone Quarry in accordance with the legally binding restoration plan, and public health concerns regarding the contaminated site at the Old Bolton Copperworks.
The District Council’s Core Strategy document, consider by many to be neither legally compliant nor sound, is currently being considered by the independent Planning Inspectorate. The inspector, Mr Patrick Whitehead, is to hold a Pre-Hearing Meeting at 10am Tuesday 11 Dec 2012 at the Bethel Suite, Tape Street, Cheadle, where he will set out the procedure and arrangements for his formal examination to be held in February of next year at Leek Council Offices. Anyone who made representations about the Core Strategy is encouraged to attend.
The Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA), submitted as a last minute addition to the Core Strategy, raised many eyebrows. The document, compiled by SMDC officers in liaison with only landowners and developers, identifies and prioritises specific plots of land with housing potential in and around many villages in the Staffordshire Moorlands. Both during and after the meeting numerous attendees expressed their dissatisfaction with the complete absence of consultation by the District Council on this important issue. The document has been submitted with the Core Strategy without public input.
On 11 Sep 2012 Laver Leisure circulated a letter to households in Whiston, Oakamoor and surrounding villages stating their intention of submitting within two weeks proposals to Staffordshire County Council to change the longstanding and legally binding requirement to restore Moneystone Quarry to farmland. No such application has been submitted and consequently, in the absence of any further communication from Laver to residents, a state of uncertainty exists within the community as to Laver’s future intentions.
The audience was surprised to learn that the Old Bolton’s Copper Works site is not recorded on the District Council’s contaminated land register, despite the council’s own specially commissioned Taylor Young Report identifying high levels of contaminants and a serious public health risk. In addition, a portfolio of evidence gathered from ex-employees pointing out precisely where contaminants are buried has been submitted to the council, who can have no excuse for failing to act. However, it is perhaps re-assuring that following representations from the Foxt Action Group the concerns have now been registered with the Environment Agency, with an investigation pending.
On a more positive note, there was considerable support for WAG’s Quiet Lane initiative, aimed at overcoming some of the tourist related traffic problems of increasing numbers of vehicles inappropriately using the Churnet Valley’s narrow country lanes. WAG has already received supportive comments from Karen Bradley MP, and now County Councillor Mike Worthington has been nominated by the Highway Authority to deal with the matter. WAG’s public survey of 100 road users demonstrated unanimous support from both residents and visitors. WAG’s proposal for a pilot scheme along The Red Road between Oakamoor and Alton, with suggested funding from Alton Towers monies committed as a condition under their last planning consent, is currently under consideration by Councillor Worthington. The pilot scheme would be a first step in achieving a network of Quiet Lanes in the core of the Churnet Valley, so that cyclists, horse riders and walkers could safely share our narrow lanes with slow moving vehicles driven with care and consideration.
Overall, a high level of enthusiastic support was received from attendees and after the meeting, Harry Blood, Chairman of Whiston Action Group, commented:-
“I was very pleased with the turnout, particularly the interest and support shown by newcomers, as we continue to challenge inappropriate decisions that will affect our communities in the Churnet Valley for years to come. The importance of keeping locals in the picture on future plans for the Churnet Valley is exactly what the Government is expecting local councils to do. Sadly that message is largely ignored by SMDC. WAG is clearly filling a local need which is why the meeting went so well.”