‘York Press’ column – Housing development must protect York’s natural heritage
February 19, 2019
Two weeks ago I hosted senior Treasury Minister Liz Truss in Poppleton, visiting the Pavers Shoes head office to see the £10 million investment they are making, which will create 50-100 new jobs. Liz is very vocal on the need for government to back business to create opportunity, and the need to rapidly expand housebuilding to allow people to get on in life.
While I am also very clear that our city has to be an attractive and affordable place for young people to live, I feel it is important that the level of housing development preserves the character of the area and the quality of life of residents.
Residents are familiar with their area and are all too aware of the ability of local services to cope with the demand placed on them. They also hold a special appreciation for local countryside and wildlife sites. Most people recognise the need for housing provision to keep up with demand, but they also know that certain sites are clearly unsuited to development, and that planning laws exist to conserve these sites for future generations.
Earlier this month I visited one such site, the Askham Bog Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) where I met Rob Stoneman, the Chief Executive of amazing regional charity the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. We discussed his concerns about proposals to build up to 516 properties on greenbelt land to the north of Askham Bog, which over 7000 people have signed a petition to oppose. Mr Stoneman explained that the site had been gifted to the trust by Arnold Rowntree and Francis Terry in 1946 and is one of the most biodiverse sites in Yorkshire, if not the UK. He also explained how the land on which the development is proposed plays a critical role in the unique ecology and hydrology of this fragile environment and that the development and drainage of surrounding land would have a direct impact on the SSSI.
I have therefore written to City of York Council expressing my opposition to the proposals, based on these environmental objections and the added pressure that an extra 500 homes would put on our local transport network. As residents will no doubt be aware the Moor Lane/Tesco roundabout is already extremely busy at peak times. It is not unreasonable to expect that developments on this scale should go hand in hand with infrastructure improvements, without which we will just end up with more road bottlenecks and pollution from idling engines.
That is why I have also been supporting the local bids for £67 million from the Government’s Housing Infrastructure Fund for infrastructure funding to ‘unlock’ the York Central and Clifton Gate development sites through road improvements. I have also been encouraged by announcements from the Department for Transport regarding the Major Road Network funding for the dualling of the A1237 outer ring road to the north of the city. These infrastructure improvements will help to mitigate the impact of York’s growing population on our transport network.
At Askham Bog, I also discussed how new laws in the pipeline for when the UK regains full control of its environment and agriculture policy post-Brexit can support the maintenance and recovery of nature in North Yorkshire. One such measure is the draft Environment Bill, which I have been subjecting to formal scrutiny in my capacity as a member of Parliament’s Environment Select Committee. This would create a legal requirement for the government to have a plan to improve our environment, and puts into British law a clear statement of environmental principles to guide the government in policy-making, which have previously been expressed at EU level. The Bill also replaces EU environmental protection regulation with a new UK Office of Environmental Protection to hold the government to account on protecting the natural world.
As residents of North Yorkshire, we are all incredibly privileged to have the distinctive landscapes of the Vale of York, the Dales and the Moors on our doorstep. New housing development must always reflect the need to preserve what makes our part of the world so special. People want to live in the York area because of the pleasant balance between urban and rural, and it is our solemn duty to preserve this for future generations.