Last week I was supporting Torfaen Friends of the Earth at the developers’ Appeal against the refusal of the South Sebastopol planning application (some of the sessions at least), until the snow curtailed it on Friday. If you don’t know this, it is unnecessary vandalism of a large are of open countryside, a buffer between Cwmbran new town and the older Valley communities, with 1200 houses. After years of fighting, and recently losing a crucial Council motion to save it by ONE VOTE, we’ve probably lost the battle, the bad guys (Councillors and planners) have forced it through – ridiculously deciding to abandon the original Council decision to refuse the planning application.
What a dysfunctional Council process this has been –
• promoting unnecessary greenfield development (and abandoning the New Town plan)
• refusing to recognise the imminent WG legislation on the value of ecosystem services
• deciding to delete the development from the LDP
• then reinstating it
• refusing the application,
• then turning round and backing it

Who thinks this development is a great idea? The developers, for the profit; a few Councillors; a few planners; maybe a few WG officers promoting ‘growth’ anywhere, anytime.
Who is against it? All local residents who have expressed a view; almost half the Torfaen Council members; local Community Councils; all the local environmental groups; CCW; etc etc
So unless we have another reprieve, we lose
• a vital green buffer between two distinctly different existing communities
• a ‘green lung’ amenity for Cwmbran and Sebastopol
• the rural character of a rare canal-focussed conservation area
• a valuable ecological area and a vital species corridor
• any pretence that this Council has a policy based on sustainability, or that it listens to its residents
• one more area of non-renewable beautiful Welsh countryside
But of course there are also some gains:
• a large housing estate with mostly expensive houses for Bristol & Cardiff commuters, very little affordable housing, and no community facilities.
• regular gridlock on Cwmbran Drive and A4042
• rat-run roads through neighbouring communities
• substantial additional storm water run-off to who knows where
• a blot on the landscape
We at CPRW are very grateful for FoE instructing a consultant to represent the joint objectors at the Appeal. (They are FoE, CPRW, Pontypool Community Council, and ‘several hundred’ local residents – an under-estimate, I believe). Our stance at the Appeal has had to be damage limitation, arguing against some development areas and for retention of more green space. We hope that we have demonstrated to the Inspector, who seems most perceptive, that the proposal constitutes over-development, and should at the least be reduced.
There is one more day of the Appeal, yet to be announced; if you can, go along when it is reconvened, if only to observe the way countryside is still being attacked by those who think short-term growth is all-important, and ignore the consequences for our future generations. And if you have time, catch up with the WG Planning Bill consultation; I have responded to this, putting the case for a proper democratic planning process, instead of this ‘hole in the corner, secretive, development-friendly, growth-driven process.
But the fat lady hasn’t sung yet – we thought we had lost this war six years ago, but nothing happened and they had to start again. Do they really think they can sell houses in this recession? We live in hope for a miracle to save this large and vital area of countryside.

Environmentalists in Torfaen are pleased and relieved that the Council meeting on 21/7 voted against development on a de facto green belt north of Cwmbran with 1200 houses. Well done to the majority of Councillors who agreed with us, and almost all the local residents, that it is just not necessary (forecasts are that the Torfaen population will decline) or sustainable. This is six years after a similar packed council meeting voted narrowly in favour, and we thought we had lost the battle. Never give up! It is indeed heart-warming that many of our elected representatives in Torfaen are sensitive to the wishes of local residents, and recognise an unsustainable and inappropriate proposal when they see it. No doubt there will be an appeal though, this is not the end of the story.

And many thanks to Torfaen Friends of the Earth, and Corrinne in particular, for presenting my contribution to the Council meeting when I was tied up at the Royal Welsh Show. CPRW and FoE are working together very well on most environmental issues.

In my view the whole planning process needs review - much of the strategic planning, which allocates areas for development, is carried through with minimum consultation, so that residents do not realise what has been decided for their area until the developer applies for planning permission, when the planners response is ‘you should have objected five years ago, it’s too late now’. More democracy, community consultation, regard to sustainability, please.

And if you live in Torfaen, you have very little time to do anything about the draft Local Development Plan – we are currently in a 6-week consultation period on ‘Alternative Sites’ proposed during the recent (now closed) consultation on the whole draft LDP. I have had one concerned resident contact me on a proposal for a large housing development at Tranch. This particular consultation ends on 10th august – contact TCBC if you want to know if there are any development proposals near you (01633-647328)


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