Local Plans Reviews

East Suffolk Council’s consultations on ‘Local Plans’ Reviews

INTRODUCTION.

Our district councils, as planning authorities, are consulting us about the issues we face and the options the authors perceive.  They draw on an ‘evidence base’, which notably includes Objectively Assessed Needs (OANs) for new housing, jobs and services.

The consultation document aims to generate debate in hope of reaching a ‘consensus in respect of future growth.’    We have until end October to comment, perhaps answering some of their 144 questions, which range from the philosophical ‘How do we build successful communities?’  to the precise ‘Which sites do you consider appropriate for future consideration by the Council?’

The SCDC consultation asks, ‘What is the vision for the Ipswich Housing Market Area and its Functional Economic Area?’  (i.e. Ipswich, Suffolk Coastal, Babergh & Mid-Suffolk), then sets out why it is asking, outlines its evidence base and lists it’s what it feels are key social and environmental issues.    SCDC’s ‘vision’ is to “Maintain and sustainably improve the quality of life for everyone growing up, living in, working in and visiting East Suffolk;” and continues “The vision will be achieved by adopting a three-pronged strategy” of: ‘1) Enabling Communities, 2) Economic Growth and 3) Financial Self-Sufficiency.’

While a commendable example of democracy in action, I am reminded of criticism that army generals are always planning to re-fight the last war; likewise, the councillors and officers seem to envisage continuing in the direction we have been going for the last 25+ years, rather than debating where we wish our great-grandchildren to find we have taken them.   Present visions and opinions on strategies doubtless range widely, therefore, it seems we consultees need to debate our hopes and aspirations, before we can answer the SCDC questions coherently.   So, here are two contrasting visions of Suffolk Coastal 33 years hence.

Extrapolated Current Trends Scenario in 2050 CE.

The Rushmere-Ufford-Felixstowe Triangle has risen from 35,700 homes to about 37,640 with residents having some 50,000 cars.  For local recreation it has four young country parks, each rather smaller than Ipswich’s Chantry and Holywells parks: they are well used albeit by the active minority of the new and old communities between the Rivers Orwell and Deben.   The A12 and A14 were complemented in 2025 by an Ipswich Northern By-pass past the new Ipswich Garden Suburb.  Traffic flows almost endlessly along those trunk roads throughout the day, so crossing them bike or on foot must be over a bridge or via a small number of crossings with computer controlled lights interrupting traffic flows for minimal times.

While the most of the 73,500 residents that Triangle – i.e. 60% of the Suffolk Coastal population in 15% of its area – say they live in such-and-such a community, town or village, only the elderly tend to know the names of their immediate neighbours and only the third-agers serve on their parish, town or ward council.    Most parents with young children tend to commute to work by car with some continuing by train from Ipswich, Felixstowe or Woodbridge; their partner copes with the school run, often on the way to their job.   A substantial minority of parents work from home, enabled by super-fast broadband, 3D printers and swift delivery of their on-line purchases and groceries.   At weekends and on many evenings, those parents ferry their children to sports and clubs fitting in around their own recreation.

Meanwhile the third-agers, who are still living in town, use buses and tend to walk about twice the average distance annually that villagers of the same age walk.   Many villagers – often having migrated out of town – are utterly dependent on their car for shopping, health-care and their leisure pursuits, because rural buses became uneconomic; a few are so addicted to their cars, that they even drive to their village hall!  Sadly, significant numbers in this age group, suffer late-onset diabetes or obesity due to a sedentary working-life, and so are now there are increasing numbers of mobility scooters on pavements, cycle-ways and even minor rural roads.

Life expectancy gradually rose in the first half of the 21st Century to over 90 years for men as well as women, but in all too many cases this has resulted in a twilight period of

morbidity   The NHS had been compelled to discharge ‘bed-blockers’ for economic reasons and A & E became recognised as the worst possible place to die.   So those in the seventh age of man, either go into a care-home or by staying on in their own home, tend to find life lonely and depressing.

The care homes sprang up in the late 20th century are mostly in towns to get sufficient staff, but that often means they are far from family and established friends.  Besides care home fees have risen considerably over the years with demand, statutory standards and wages.   In 2016/7 the Government considered how elderly care might be part-funded from wealth invested in a ‘family home’ but critics derided it as ‘Dementia Tax’ and so the elderly’s choice of care homes has been severely constrained by finance.

And longevity means the children of the many are now third-agers and often live miles away, so even if they are willing to visit their parents regularly, they must cope with frequent traffic congestion as well as motoring costs.   Suffolk’s large ‘adult care’ budget can only stretch to comparatively short visits by carers, who therefore have no time to offer companionship – even if they have the inclination to do so.  Whereas a hundred years ago, most communities included a substantial proportion of less-wealthy people living in inexpensive homes, there was trend in some villages to add extensions or build bigger houses; this made them unaffordable to the C3 Team, who must therefore come by car from relatively poor to richer communities.   This has rather questionably been called ‘ghettoization!’

Digital Revolution Scenario for 2050 CE

Following Brexit in 2019, our UK economy gradually adapted to its new trading arrangements with both the EU and the Rest of the World.  They have been challenging years; free trade’s tough competitiveness made us realise that our welfare state’s many benefits must be earned by society, but the UK tackled its problems of low productivity, traffic congestion, obesity, mental health and the aged society unexpectedly well.

 Employment

The UK’s use of information technology, artificial intelligence and robots for manufacturing, certain services and agriculture has blossomed.  Here in Suffolk Coastal, we were reasonably successful in looking ahead to new patterns of life and the communities, homes, work, play and infrastructure needed for them.

Many ‘white-collar’ parents now work from home or near-by enabled by ultra-fast broadband and high quality on-line conference calls; relief from the drudge of daily commuting has increased well-being.    There are lots of skilled, craft and repair jobs in the small and medium sized enterprises around the District, employing many of those who had been replaced by robots.  Those SMEs are competitive due to efficient deliveries of on-line orders, 3D printing of parts and less stress from commuting.

The Paris 2015 Climate Change agreement to reduce CO2e emissions led gradually to many mechanical products being designed for repair and replacement vice the 20th Century’s ‘throwaway society.’ That trend has led to many local R3 (Repair, Reuse & Recycle) workshops and several disassembly units that are economic due to the costs of virgin commodities, especially metals, and zero-waste regulations that escalated the costs of discarding – even of plastics!

Agriculture on Suffolk’s fertile soils, embraced the digital revolution and nowadays draws on essential support from agronomists, engineers, hauliers and the rest of the food chain.   There is also an army of smallholders, gardeners, foresters, craftsmen, carers, artists, many being former ‘white collar’ workers enjoying the ‘good life’ after toils in offices; and the tourist and hospitality sector is strong.  The old days of just one ‘job for life’ are now ‘history’ for most people.

Road Traffic & Car Dependence

50 years ago, most people relied on their cars for even short distances, reportedly using them more than other Europeans; bus services dwindled especially on rural routes, and cycling tended was regarded as dangerous and eccentric.   The old highways ‘predict and provide policy’ was discredited as traffic increased to fill new road space and congestion in Ipswich and often along the A12 & A14, notably over the Orwell Bridge, was intolerable.  The East Anglian Daily Times of 2017 asked rhetorically however, ‘Can you live in rural Suffolk without access to your own car in the 21st century?’  The author opined ‘no’ as he pointed out that villages had become dormitories, from which most people drove to work, shops, school and recreation.   While that was true for most adults, children and even third-agers however, it overlooked non-drivers and especially the elderly.

Nudges and pleas in early decades of this century from health and highways’ authorities urging people to walk or cycle more, were largely ineffectual; but technology came to the rescue.  Electric cars replaced petrol and diesel models and proved well suited for robot drivers.  So nowadays villagers and residents of suburbs use their mobile phone to summon a robo-car from a nearby ‘pool.’  This has significantly reduced congestion and car parking space both around passengers’ destinations and homes, since most households make do with just one family car to go on longer trips.  So, robo-cars now enable elderly and non-drivers to live in rural Suffolk without access to their own car.

That major reduction in car ownership and hence manufacturing caused a rumpus like the last century’s elimination of coal mining.  Consumers had however, come to recognise the falsity of TV advertisements showing cars on remote highland roads or empty streets with free parking right beside your destination!

Health and Community Well-being

That reduction in road traffic, especially along Suffolk’s delightful network of rural lanes, encouraged many more to people to walk and bicycle regularly.   All communities now benefit greatly from ‘green exercise,’ thanks to easy access to well-kept public rights of way and tranquil spaces within range of home or convenient robo-bus stops.  Suffolk County Council’s walking and cycling strategies of 2015 gradually developed its potential to be England’s Premier Walking & Cycling County.   That not only met its ‘Greenest County’ ambition, but helped through improved physical and mental health to constrain its adult care and public health costs.    Evidently the social ‘meeting and greeting’ between fellow walkers and cyclists from towns and villages, which had been impossible for those cocooned in cars, markedly reduced loneliness and depression and enhanced the senses of community identity and well-being.    Furthermore, the reduction in car traffic led to savings in Suffolk highways’ maintenance, the UK’s carbon emissions and most importantly, reduced noise and air pollution in Ipswich and Coastal.

Successful & Sustainable Communities

Besides those improvements on what life was like around here a generation ago, our District managed to conserve its unique Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the distinctive rural character further from the sea.   Growth in homes was accommodated mainly among historic rural communities and a few new settlements that foresaw the changes due to the Digital Revolution.

This dispersion avoided a ‘Greater Ipswich’ stretching out towards Felixstowe and Woodbridge that might have seriously harmed the AONB’s special status; some 210, 000 persons with about 124,000 cars living within a just a few miles of the coast between the Orwell and Deben would have been bound to impact the area’s beauty and tranquillity.

Instead the 100 + parish and town councils, invigorated by the English Localism Act as well as by Brexit, accepted two thirds of the growth so their communities now comprise all age and socio-economic groups – other than the young who have gone to seek fame and fortune in the wider world.   This reverse of the industrial revolution’s migration in to towns, has been helped by improvements to the railway between Lowestoft and Ipswich with stations readily reached by robo-cars from surrounding villages.   Also, pubs, community halls and historic churches now provide a healthy range of activities usually organised by volunteers from among the middle-aged who work from home plus some still-vigorous pensioners.

Neil Winship                                                                               Monday 16 October 2017

Leave a Reply