Action-packed Penistone ready to fight

6th Feb 2015

Bowling clubs are a great example of what planning should be able to do for us, but can't. As well as providing recreational opportunities for their members their club houses also make ideal venues for all sorts of community events - but there has to be enough people living close to them to make them viable and the way that land-use is planned and prioritised needs to ensure they're well-protected from being sold off for housing. That's why you usually find them in the middle of older, densely-populated neighbourhoods, but rarely in low-density, sprawling suburbs where the idea of 'community' has ebbed away.

It was therefore a pleasure to attend Penistone Bowling Club for a packed public meeting organised by Community Action Penistone. This is quite a new group, set up to campaign against the loss of some important Green Belt sites around the edges of Penistone to housing developments. The group's reach is growing rapidly through their enthusiastic use of social media, and you can find out more about that at https://www.facebook.com/groups/nohousing/. What was especially impressive was that several other community groups from around Barnsley Borough were also there, which means there are the makings of a strong, collaborative approach to tackling shared concerns.

This is the kind of motivated, local level campaigning that complements what CPRE can do: we bring our wide knowledge and experience to bear in influencing the planning system, but only people who actually live in a place and care about it personally can express why development decisions really matter there. Communities in and around Barnsley are becoming angry, because they don't feel the consultation processes for the new Local Plan have been good enough; and they feel disenfranchised when they see questionable documentation, such as the very poor Green Belt Review report (which we have strongly criticised) being given so much more weight than their own concerns in the shaping of the Plan.

It's clear that the people affected by proposed Green Belt losses in Penistone, Hoyland, Mount Vernon and Barnsley West are ready for a long fight, which is why central Government has already come unstuck in thinking it can speed up the planning system by making consultation harder and giving developers a stronger hand. Community-level action is like a stubborn old sycamore - the more you cut at it, the more vigorously it sprouts.