Next Month West Northamptonshire will launch its issues paper on the joint plan the forthcoming West Northamptonshire Authority will produce.
Since the winding up of the New Town Development Corporation Northampton has struggled to find its strategic role. Traditional industries has declined and distribution has grown enormously. Its growth was considered ‘disappointing’ and the MKSM programme followed by the arc sought to boost it, however the town fought off major growth proposals in the South East Plan. It has also been somewhat politically dysfunctional. Considered the ‘lowest of the low’ in terms of local government performance a development corporation was granted – amazingly with DC powers but with no powers to plan for the towns expansion. It was a great success in joint planning but as soon as the joint plan was agreed the joint planning unit was abolished and the town refused the first urban extension application to come its way. Now progress on urban extension has been slow, partially because of slow progress on a ring road (compare with Bedford for example) and following an appeal at Roberstbridge South Northants and Daventry no longer have a five year supply. They relied on the joint core strategy splitting housing targets between Northampton and the rural areas, however the NPPF of course defines the target by district. Amzingly neither Daventry nor South Northants have published SHLAAs making them years behind in plan making. Similarly the collapse of the county dominated local political thinking making West Northants years behind Oxford or Cambridge in terms of how they fit into the arc.
The draft issues paper is almost a good example of ‘soft’ strategic planning – that is something trying not to upset anybody by discussing where housing of specific numbers might go. Almost but not quite as it discusses key factors in determining where housing should not go, and key factors in supporting where housing might go. As such I feel it is grasping for solutions to long term strategic growth locations, something that, publicly, none of the other groupings in the Arc have yet to get down to.
Prior to the abolition of structure plans the County proposed many possible locations for strategic growth which were all knocked back, Long Buckby, Blixworth, Milton Mansor, Quinton. A key factor restraining growth was seen as the severe capacity problems of the M1 and the need to avoid ‘junction hopping’. The M1 was seen as the southern limit of the town. Now with two DCO SRFAs proposed south of the M1 and major junction and road works associated this will transform the geography of the town. The M1 is no longer the barrier in the same way it is no longer the barrier in Milton Keynes.
Another major constraint in the Nene valley SPA effectively ruling out major growth within 3km.
Also HS2 will release major capacity on the WCML. There is potential to restore a station at Roade and just over the border in Bucks at Castelthorpe, where a four platform station stands as a ghost. A key DCO proposal is to dual the A508 (all the way to MK) and build a bypass around the western part of Roade, as well as upgrade junctions 15 and 15a.
Assuming these go ahead it creates a major potential opportunity. Imagine a major link road south of Blixworth between the A43 and the Roade bypass. This could enable new town sized growth with an alternative east west route that avoids the M1. Similarly imagine a new link going east from road bridging over the M1 then looping back to the A45 south of Wooldale Road. This could enable development south east of Northampton, outside the SPA buffer that would be in effect a mirror of the New Town phase of growth to the North West of the town.
It could be served by either rail more likely BRT in the short term along the route of the former cobblers line from Northampton to Bedofrd. Which similarly at the eastern end facilitate Garden Town scale growth west of Bedford.
I suspect though the thinking of the issues paper is trying to avoid the political fallout that discussion of growth South East of Northampton has always attracted.
Hence it discusses potential growth along a ‘North-South Rail’ formed from restoring the Northampton-Market Harborough line. Only 13km and in good nick. The talk though of connecting to East-West Rail suggest also restoring the cobblers line though this isnt clear. This would create a new North South Rail Path enabling direct services from Euston to the East Midlands.
There are two and only two potential strategic growth locations on this route. Not discussed but they are obvious. At Blixworth, and where the restored line would cross the A14 at Kelmarsh. An almost empty area of estate land where (unlike Blixworth in the past) no body lives to protest. the Site of the Battle of Naseby is a couple of miles to the West but the topography means the visual impact could be contained, and you could easily fit 20-30 thousand houses plus a major centre for distribution direct to the East Coast ports via the A43.
Given lead in times and build out rates West Northants will need several strategic growth locations of such a scale. By being bold about rail restoration they have a real opportunity to make them all zero carbon transit based urban hubs.
Finally the issue about growth in small town and villages. Here there needs to be a real review of their settlement strategy. Proximity to towns in Northamptonshire is a factor, but not to towns in adjoining counties and authorities which is ridiculous. Hence there is now growth planned in the allocation plans for Kings Sutton or Deanshanger for example which is ridiculous.