The independent Government Inspector, Mr Patrick Whitehead, has at long last provided residents with the first genuine opportunity to have their say on the future of the Churnet Valley.
During a three day hearing this week at Moorlands House, Leek, the Inspector scrutinised the Staffordshire Moorlands District Council’s Draft Core Strategy Document to see if it is fit for purpose. The inspection was rigorous and follows an avalanche of public criticism of the Council’s plans during the consultation phase, when thousands of comments were made by local residents, the main issues being the so called “tourism corridor” and housing development allocations.
The scale of public interest was so great that the packed public hearing had to be moved to a larger room at one stage. The Inspector heard evidence from Whiston Action Group representatives challenging excessive and unsustainable proposals for tourism development at Moneystone Quarry and other locations. The hearing heard about the inadequacies of the road infrastructure to cope with existing tourism problems stretching from The Roaches in the north down to Alton in the south. The scale of development proposed by the Council was considered ill thought out, inappropriate and unsustainable. Witnesses argued that better tourism, involving encouragement for small locally based businesses is required, not large scale tourism developments by outside commercial interests. The Peak District National Park is already suffering from an excess of unsustainable tourist numbers and wishes to off load that excess to the Moorlands, despite the serious risk that the Churnet Valley will fall victim to the same problem. Calls for the Council’s proposals to be scaled back considerably to a level that the area and residents can cope with were listened to with evident sympathy by the inspector who has taken the significant step of inviting objectors (mostly represented by WAG) to re-draft the key Churnet Valley Tourism section of the Council plan (Policy SS7), discuss their ideas with the District Council to achieve agreement if possible and then for him to review progress with a revised policy in two weeks.
WAG welcomes that recognition of its concerns and those of other objectors and is currently in the process of coordinating views to arrive at a revised draft policy for discussion with the District Council before responding to the Inspector’s invitation.
Over the next few weeks, the Inspector has said that he will be reviewing his proposed modifications to the Core Strategy before deciding whether the changes that he would wish to see can be incorporated satisfactorily or whether they are of such significance that he must return the Council’s Core Strategy for complete revision.