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Call to people in Southwold - now is the time to help shape our town

PUBLISHED: 11:15 26 September 2014 | UPDATED: 11:15 26 September 2014

Southwold mayor, John Windell who has criticised the number of second homes in the town and the rising cost of house prices as a result

Southwold mayor, John Windell who has criticised the number of second homes in the town and the rising cost of house prices as a result

The people of Southwold are being urged to make their views known as part of a public consultation that will help to shape future development in the town.

Southwold Town Council is staging a community engagement event tomorrow as it draws up a neighbourhood plan and it wants local people to help decide what it should cover.

Once completed, the document will clarify “grey areas” within planning policy and set out a series of legally-binding guidelines for Waveney District Council’s officers to follow when making recommendations about applications in the town.

Town councillor Will Windell, who is leading the neighbourhood plan project, said: “If you care about your town, join in with this process because you can make a difference.

“By completing a neighbourhood plan, we can get something that we want for this town instead of what people think we should have.”

At tomorrow’s consultation event in Market Place, people will be invited to make their views known on planning issues in Southwold and say what they think the neighbourhood plan should focus on.

Proposed topics include: development design; preserving the town’s unique character and setting up a register of historic assets; extending the conservation area; infill; environmental impact, and the use of specific materials on developments. Suggestions on the day will also be considered.

Mr Windell said a neighbourhood plan was needed because, it was felt, the views of Southwold people were being ignored by Waveney planners.

“The feeling is that we’ve tried negotiating with Waveney and it isn’t working,” he said. “We really do need to press on with the neighbourhood plan because it is a statutory document that can’t be ignored.

“At the moment, planning department decisions are arbitrary and very subjective. They should be objective.”

Mr Windell said one of the problems was that many of Southwold’s old and interesting buildings were outside its conservation area and lacked protection from inappropriate development.

He said the town council’s neighbourhood plan steering group was keen to find out whether local people would like to see a register of heritage assets included in the plan to give added protection to buildings outside the conservation area.

“Another thing we will be looking at is satellite dishes,” he said. “The local cinema put in a planning application for a very large satellite dish on the front of its building. We refused it on the grounds it is a conservation area.

“Waveney’s own conservation documents say satellite dishes shouldn’t be installed on the front of a building and shouldn’t be seen.

“With that in mind, we refused it because the satellite dish is on the front but Waveney approved it because it was a business. They said business was more important than the conservation area, which is a first.

“Again, that is something we would like to see covered in the neighbourhood plan because it is a legal document. If it is passed by an inspector and clearly says ‘we don’t want satellite dishes on the front or top of buildings’, it will be law and we can’t have people in the Waveney planning department telling us anything else.

“It is the same with dormer windows. We’re not against them but we’d like them to be at the back of properties.”

Mr Windell said another concern about was the loss of gardens and courtyards to development, and the fact that small buildings were being extended by investors whose only aim was to make a profit.

He said: “Last week the town council’s planning committee had six planning applications. Three were for pruning of trees and three were for extensions.

“If they all go through, which they probably will do, that is another three courtyards that have gone in Southwold.

“That is the beauty of Southwold. You can walk around some of these cottages and find another cottage and a little yard at the back. What makes it uncomfortable is it is mainly down to profit.

“It’s not local families needing extra room because their children can’t buy a house; it’s simply that it is more profitable to get two families in to a holiday cottage instead of one.”

The town council will also be consulting architects and surveyors before making a bid for government funding next year and engaging consultants to help it produce its neighbourhood plan. It will then have to be approved by a government inspector before it becomes legally binding.

■The neighbourhood plan community engagement event is being held in a marquee in Market Place, from 10am to 1pm tomorrow. Members of the town council’s working group will be on hand to answer questions and hear people’s thoughts.

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