Hands on Middlesbrough Environment is a not for profit organisation set up for Middlesbrough residents to encourage creative and interactive engagement with local heritage sites, green spaces, woodland and conservation areas and a source of information for heritage and green space at risk. We will also give communities the relevant online tools to object, support or comment on planning applications and be a resource for people who want to have a say in how the town develops.
We will promote Middlesbrough as a sustainable, historic and aesthetically appealing living environment to help promote thriving, healthy communities. We will encourage communities to get involved with small scale projects, particularly centred on heritage and conservation.
A proposed new Bill was introduced as part of the Queen’s speech on 25 May 2010, “to devolve greater powers to councils and neighbourhoods and give local communities control over housing and planning decisions”.
According to the Government, the main aims of the proposed Bill are to:
- Empower local people;
- Give local communities a real share in local growth; and
- Provide a more efficient and more local planning system.
Due to changes in recent planning laws, and increased pressure on local government due to severe cuts, listed buildings and conservation areas are being sold off at a rapid rate. Local people feel powerless to stop assets being sold for short-term monetary gain and are concerned about the long term effects the current building-frenzy will have on local communities and future generations.
Hands on Middlesbrough aims to be an online “Middlesbrough community”, informing residents from all areas in Middlesbrough about planning proposals effecting heritage and green space and promoting localism.
- We will compile a Local List of heritage and green space and present to MBC for their consideration
- We will inform Historic England of Heritage at Risk
- Council owned Heritage sites gardens, earthworks, monuments in Middlesbrough without listed status yet identified by the public as worthy of listed status, Hands on Middlesbrough will inform Historic England.
- We aim to promote Middlesbrough’s heritage and green space by forming links with local heritage & conservation groups, community groups and cross promoting events
- We aim to collaborate with community arts groups, local musicians, film-makers, poets, photographers, writers and artists and engaging creatively with communities by facilitating creative projects which will feature on our website.
- We will host community task days where people work together on small scale restoration or conservation projects
National and Local Policies
In 2011 the coalition government passed the Localism act which allowed for:
- new freedoms and flexibilities for local government
- new rights and powers for communities and individuals
- reform to make the planning system more democratic and more effective
- reform to ensure that decisions about housing are taken locally
This has meant that a new Local Plan has set out a vision for Middlesbrough in which extensive housing development is paramount to our town’s future success.
The Local Plan has led to more flexibility, allowing planning decisions to be taken at a local level. This now means that:
- The land which surrounds Listed Buildings is at risk from development, as this is often regarded as the only way to fund restoration of the building itself
- Conservation areas are at risk from development due to local government demand for more housing (particularly higher band tax housing)
- Green space is at risk as greenfield locations are preferred by developers
- Diminished relevance of Listed or Conservation area status, including tree preservation orders
- English Heritage recommendations can be ignored by local government
- According to The Local Plan 56% of development is to be on greenfield sites
When preferred development status was authorised for Acklam Hall in 2009, planning laws had not yet been relaxed.
The Development Framework Core Strategy Jan 2013 indicates that due to the economic downturn, cuts to regeneration funding and a decrease in population, development of good quality housing is the only way to face the challenges ahead.
However, in finding viable land to build “good quality housing” MBC sometimes bypass their own policies, for example:
- Since Greenspace is virtually irreplaceable, the basic principle of policy is to protect Greenspace in the urban area from development where it has any significant value or potential as open space to meet existing or future needs, unless absolutely compelling public needs or benefits are provided by development.
- Great importance is attached to the retention of open space in the urban area, since the loss of such spaces to development is irreversible.
- The Council has a statutory duty to preserve or enhance the character or appearance of Conservation Areas, and controls on development are stricter than elsewhere. Consent is needed for the demolition of buildings in Conservation Areas, and there are fewer rights of ‘permitted development’.
- Since development must respect the objectives of conservation, in which design details are important, outline planning consent will not normally be granted in a Conservation Area.
Exceptions will only be made for development which complements its function, or is of over-riding benefit to the community as a whole and which would not result in the significant loss of open space which is:
- Within a Conservation Area (policy E41)
- Part of or suitable for a wildlife corridor or nature space (policy E17, E18)
- Of significant visual or landscape value, in its own right, or as a setting for existing buildings, or forming part of a significant view or vista (policy E30)
As a group we are concerned that the changes in planning laws have created a short-term solution for local government and a single-minded approach that more houses (particularly Higher tax housing) means more wealthy professionals will flock to Middlesbrough. MBC are planning to build 6,970 homes within the next 15 years. Stockton plan 11,000 homes, Hambleton district plan 3,000, Redcar & Cleveland 4,500 and Darlington and Durham council’s plan on building thousands of “aspirational” homes within the next 15 years so what will make Middlesbrough so special and attract people in when it will be much the same as anywhere else.
Our group advocate good quality, sustainable development with a “less is more” approach to retain a better quality of life for everyone including those who already live here. We hope the council will start to effectively consult and actively engage with the general public about how residents want Middlesbrough to develop. We hope this will create a sense of pride and understanding of our living environment and over time, this may encourage people to stay in Middlesbrough, contribute to the local economy, invest emotionally in our town and contribute to the local community and cultural identity.
Hands on Middlesbrough have also carried out a number of filmed interviews with local people. We have found that people would like:
- Better consultation (particularly young people and hard-to-reach groups)
- Better communication with council planners (particularly online presence and social media)
- Restoration of heritage sites, looking at alternative uses other than development
- Protection of conservation areas from development
- Provisions made to protect archaeology
- Provisions made to protect trees and wildlife
In Middlesbrough we have a number of buildings on the Local List, regarded as having cultural and historical significance. Some of Middlesbrough’s most historically significant buildings on the local list have fallen into disrepair.
By improving public access to information about planning, we aim to encourage localism and community led planning, through online interaction and community projects. We will facilitate debate via social media about how residents want Middlesbrough to develop, and encourage a “hands on” approach to protecting & promoting heritage and green space in Middlesbrough by organising small scale regeneration & conservation projects and other free community events.