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Communities Not Concrete!

November 13, 2018 6:34 AM
By Nick Eden-Green

A number of the major housing developments in Canterbury'stragically flawed local plan have now been passed by the planning committee. Local residents have frequently argued against them with both passion and logic on their side but they have not been listened to by the majority of councillors who have voted these developments through.

We can see a new Canterbury emerging. The city will be surrounded to the East, South and West by huge housing developments on the urban fringes. These will increase the population of the city by 40-50%. Imagine the jams on the ring road.

Recently* Transport for New Homes, supported by the RAC announced that the scramble to build new homes is producing communities where cars are the only form of transport. It goes on to bemoan the lack of shops, community centres, cafes and pubs. In Canterbury walking and cycling from our proposed out of town estates is not an option for most people. They are uphill and miles from the city centre.Imagine what the traffic pollution!

So the challenge now is to ensure we try to create successful, sustainable communities out of the concrete.

So far most of Canterbury's developments have what is called outline planning consent. This broadly covers the number of houses, industrial areas, schools or community buildings, infrastructure and road changes etc. Many have not got detailed consent which refers to the exact layout, the types of houses and their design, car parking etc.

So there is still a chance to avoid faceless housing estates which sadly can turn into unpleasant and antisocial places to live in.

If you look at the glossy plans developers produce for their new housing you will see pictures of groups of happy people playing, walking or cycling amid trees and grass. There's usually not a car to be seen and indeed they often don't even show any houses! This is the sylvan dream developers sell so we must try to achieve that in reality.

The Victorians and their 18th century predecessors realised the importance of urban parks and urban open and community spaces. We have the benefit of a number in Canterbury from the magnificent Westgate and Dane John Gardens to the equally loved, if less well known Solly's Orchard or Greyfriars Gardens.

These places are treasured. They are protected. They are important in themselves as places where people can meet, picnic, socialise, walk, talk, throw a Frisbee or just enjoy trees or grass for their own sake. The fight over Kingsmead Fields showed how passionately people value urban open spaces.

So this is the challenge for the major new city fringe estateswhich the local plan imposes on us. We must insist the developers create new urban open spaces. Build houses round a square or public garden. Banish the motor car to the rear or to one side only so children can gain easy, safe access and car pollution does not spoil the atmosphere. Put in benches, shelters, bandstands, sculptures, public barbecues, ponds, fountains, flowerbeds, any points of meeting or interest to create a welcome place for people to socialise.

All too often developers offer public open spaces on the fringes of their new housing estates which merely reduce the impact on the surrounding countryside. These not generallyuser friendly and don't promote community use and spirit. We need car free or car reduced central gardens, squares and play areas right in the middle of the housing.

If these urban community spaces are created together with local shops, community halls, doctors' surgeries, formal sports facilities, schools etc then we have a hope of creating sustainable communities where happy families will want to live rather than faceless housing estates for disconnected unhappy individuals who have to resort to their cars for every one of their daily needs. I want Canterbury to be an even better place to live in and that's what I will be looking for.

This is not rocket science. It's very basic urban planning. It's far more cost effective than creating crime ridden faceless housing estates. It's something anyone who cares about people or cares about Canterbury should insist on.

* The announcement was made on 24 Oct 2018