Date Published: 04 June 2018
By Councillor Oliver Hemsley, Leader of Rutland County Council
The consultation on the future of the St George’s Barracks site has now reached the halfway point and some key issues and themes are emerging from the feedback that we have received so far.
As we have said from the start, we want to be open and honest with residents. Most of all, we want to make sure we continue to communicate and engage, as we have done so far.
There are questions about why 3,000 homes are needed, what the benefits are for Rutland and how the County will cope with an influx of new people.
These are all understandable and legitimate issues and I very much welcome the debate. I know that people care passionately about the County’s future and want the best for it. On that point we can all agree because that is the reason why every single councillor at Rutland County Council sought election, including myself.
The Council’s role here is to try and secure the best deal for Rutland and our communities. We need to balance the need for new homes and investment in public services with development that is sustainable and right for the county as a whole.
We cannot simply turn our back on development on this site, the likely result of which would be the loss of a very expensive planning appeal, loss of control and loss of our ability to plan for the services and infrastructure that Rutland needs. The ultimate consequence of that would be many more homes built than is currently planned. You only have to look at other developments such as the former RAF Oakington site in Cambridgeshire to see an example of this, where 9,500 homes are planned on a 490-hectare site (the St George’s barracks site is 300 hectares).
Instead I believe that we need to use this as an opportunity to make this work for Rutland – not for ourselves because some of us won’t be around when the development is finally complete in 30 years’ time, but for our children. Just like our predecessors had to think about this 50 years ago when the county had half the current population, we need to look 50 years into future to think about the type of housing, schools, healthcare, public transport, jobs and roads that we need.
The MOD have made clear that no development, or returning the land to farming as some have suggested, is simply not an option. Not when you consider the requirements of National Planning Policy, the requirements of the Government to tackle the national housing shortage (something that has political consensus across Westminster), and the requirements of the Ministry of Defence to maximise best value from the site to reduce the national deficit.
Rutland also has to continue to do its bit to help solve the national housing crisis. We are required to build 160 homes per year as an absolute minimum. Instead of looking at piecemeal development across the county without the ability to really invest in infrastructure and public services, my hope is that we can make this work for Rutland and secure the best deal and the best investment for our children.
I firmly believe that development at St George’s barracks would create the investment that the County needs in transport, schools, healthcare, affordable housing, green space and business/employment growth. Which of these do Rutlanders not want?
People have expressed strong feelings to us throughout the consultation and we know there are some serious misgivings about the possibility of a sizeable development taking place on the St George’s site. We are grateful to everyone who has taken the time to share their thoughts and concerns so far, and we will use the feedback to inform our discussions with the Ministry of Defence and local Parish Council representatives. This is the reason why we are holding an informal consultation at this early stage.
All of the feedback from this first, informal consultation will be analysed and published after the consultation is complete and there is no doubt that changes will be made as result of what we have heard.
Key points so far
The following key points have been raised by a number of people as part of the consultation so far:
Why do we need development at all, or could we accept far fewer homes?
The St George’s Barracks site belongs to the Ministry of Defence, which is required, under the National Defence Review, to relinquish the site and secure the best value from it. The Ministry of Defence has been set a target of securing £1 billion from land sales while contributing to the Government’s wider target of delivering 160,000 homes by 2020. Rutland County Council has chosen to enter into a partnership with the Ministry of Defence because we want to see sustainable development that compliments Rutland’s character with significant open space, a buffer with existing villages and appropriate investment in public services and infrastructure.
If we opposed development or sought substantially fewer homes, the Ministry of Defence could sell the land to a developer, the result of which would probably be a planning application coming forward for many more homes.
If there were substantially fewer homes it would hinder viability and our ability to secure the investment that the county needs in schools, public transport, roads and healthcare. It would also not secure the return that the MoD would find acceptable under the terms of the National Defence Review, potentially resulting in a land sale to a developer.
What is the benefit of development to the local community and Rutland as a whole?
We believe that Rutland needs sustainable, controlled development to protect and preserve the quality of life in the County. There is a significant shortage of affordable housing across the county that is hampering the ability of younger people to live and stay here, and raise their own families. We want to ensure that development at St George’s contributes to the investment that the county needs in roads, public transport, schools, healthcare and business growth. Without growth, vital village services, such as shops, schools, pubs and transport links will become vulnerable.
Where will the money come from to pay for the infrastructure that we need?
We are only at the very earliest stages of the master-planning process because we want the community’s involvement in what public services and improvements are needed and where they should go. We fully recognise the need to improve road links, public transport (including the long-term possibility of providing a railway station near North Luffenham). These issues are at the front of our thinking and no development will occur without investment in public services. That is one of the reasons why Rutland County Council is through to the final stages of a bidding process to secure part of a £3.2 billion government investment fund that would help to pay for new infrastructure and could be recycled again and again in future. The quantity of development planned will also help to pay for the improvements that are needed.
Informal consultation on the very early proposals for St George's Barracks will continue right up to 15th June. Visit the St George's website to find out more.