Ashwell Neighbourhood Plan Regulation 16 Submission
8.1 The early prosperity of Ashwell came from farming and, in the medieval period, from twice-weekly markets and quarterly fairs. From the sixteenth century growing barley for malting became increasingly important. The Maltings fed two breweries in the village, both of which have now closed. The period from the late eighteenth century to the end of the nineteenth century saw the rise and fall of straw-plaiting for hat making, and then coprolite digging for the fertiliser industry was an important local industry from 1850 to 1890.
8.2 Agriculture is an important part of the local environment and rural character but now provides less employment than in previous generations. Changes in agricultural practices have meant that some farm buildings have been converted to business premises or housing, while small areas of farmland are used as caravan parks or in association with the husbandry of horses. The village still retains a dairy herd which is one of only two that survive in Hertfordshire.
8.3 In the last 30 years, the increased use of private cars has meant that people can now travel further afield for work and can also visit shops elsewhere. As a result, a number of shops in the village have closed and some traditional industries have disappeared.
Incubator/flexible start-up business space
8.4 A rising number of people commute to Cambridge, London and further afield. Surveys have shown that only 16% of the population still work in the village and, of these, two-thirds are self-employed. 18% work in nearby towns, but 20% work further afield. Records show that the village has always had a spread of occupations that would normally be associated with a small town rather than a village. Ashwell today is still remarkable for the number of shops, trades, businesses and services it continues to support.
8.5 To remain a viable centre for business and an attractive place to live, Ashwell needs to sustain a healthy and thriving community. Support and encouragement are needed to ensure that local businesses and employment are sustainable. A Working Group should be established to explore ways in which additional support can be provided to attract local businesses and help all businesses to survive and flourish.
8.6 The ANP Working Group undertook a survey of local businesses in 2016, which revealed the following:
- One third of businesses employ no-one apart from the owner. On average each business employs 1.8 people apart from the owner, but fewer than one person (0.7) from the village.
- Ashwell residents provide only a small proportion (29%) of total trade. One quarter of businesses supply, or are supplied, by other Ashwell businesses. There is no clear evidence that an increase in housing or population would directly benefit local traders.
- Trade appears stable but is not growing. Ten per cent of businesses do not believe their business is viable at its current level.
- Although Ashwell is considered a place that attracts tourism, only one quarter of businesses claim to derive any benefit from this. Of the events run in Ashwell, those that are considered to benefit businesses most are: Ashwell at Home, Ashwell at Christmas, and the Ashwell Show.
- 55% of businesses believe greater promotion of tourism would not benefit their trade.
8.7 The factors that businesses considered would be most helpful to improve them were:
- Improved public parking provision.
- Ensuring adequate broadband speeds are available.
- Access to a more local workforce.
- Lower business rates.
8.8 For the retail sector, there is a risk of retail outlets becoming less financially viable. An additional concern is that premises are considered to have a greater value as residential rather than retail properties and there is a risk that more retail premises may be converted to residential.
8.9 Residents have strongly indicated that they would prefer to work locally, with many choosing to work from home. This has the added benefit of reducing the level of out-commuting necessary. Support for small and start-up businesses fits well into the existing local economy and social fabric and can provide the best strategy for increasing local employment within an existing and growing skills base.
8.10 In order to provide flexible start-up space, it is necessary to find appropriate buildings which can be rented out at sufficiently low rents to attract their use by business start-ups and existing home workers. A potential source of such space is vacant units within the village centre, which could either be converted on a permanent basis if they are no longer viable for retail use or on a temporary basis; similarly, the refurbishment of old B1 class space (E use class from September 2020) and redundant agricultural buildings.
Policy ASH13 Incubator/flexible start-up business space
- Proposals to provide incubator/start-up business space on flexible terms will be supported through:
- conversion of existing buildings across the Parish; or
- provision of new buildings or conversion of existing buildings within the settlement boundary.
- As appropriate to their scale, nature and location proposals for new workspaces should demonstrate the way in which they can be incorporated within their immediate locality without generating any unacceptable impact on the amenity of residential properties and on the capacity and safety of the local highways network.
Conformity reference: NP Objectives: 2; Saved Plan 1996: 36, 37; Emerging Local Plan: SP4; NPPF (2019): 83, 84
8.12 The modern economy is changing and increasingly needs good communications infrastructure as a basic requirement. Ashwell has a significant number of self-employed people, many of whom work from home and these people require computer access to a good broadband connection.
8.13 Broadband provision in Ashwell was improved during 2018 and 2019 due to the installation of fibre optic cabling to a number of new cabinet boxes sited in the village. However, the final supply to homes is still via traditional copper cabling between the street cabinet and homes. This technology is termed Fibre To The Cabinet (FTTC). This has typically increased speeds to between 20 - 80 mbps depending on proximity to a cabinet. This is still well below the Government's 'full fibre to home broadband' trial, which can provide data at speeds close to one gigabit per second (Gbps).
8.14 BT has an obligation to provide a landline to every household in the UK and developers want to facilitate high speed broadband provision as a marketable feature. But there have been instances where developers have not contacted BT early enough for fibre and ducting to be laid. Again, they may have a national agreement with a cable provider but one that is not active in this area, and fail to deal with this - leaving new housing developments with poor connections.
8.15 A joined up approach between different authorities and providers is essential. The ANP supports a coordinated approach.
Policy ASH14 Broadband provision
- All new residential, commercial and community properties within the ANP area should be served by a superfast broadband (fibre-optic) connection.
The only exception will be where it can be demonstrated, through consultation with Next Generation Access (NGA) Network providers, that this would not be either possible, practical or economically viable. In such circumstances, sufficient and suitable ducting should be provided within the site and to the property to facilitate ease of installation at a future date on an open access basis.
Conformity reference: NP Objectives: 2, 4; Saved Plan 1996: 36, 57; Emerging Local Plan: SP10; NPPF (2019): 80; 81(c); 81(d), 112
Ashwell village centre
8.17 Ashwell village centre lies on level ground within approximately 200 metres of St Mary's Church, and reflects the historical residential centre of Ashwell. It includes the main retail services (butcher, baker, village store, pharmacy, hairdressers and pubs) plus key buildings that have historically provided meeting places (Church, Parish Rooms, School, Museum, URC Hall) for the community. The village centre is also within easy walking distance of the Springs which formed a key natural attraction to human settlement in Ashwell from pre-historic times and since.
8.18 As the population of the village grew in the nineteenth century additional housing radiated out from the centre, but mainly to the East and West with the main through-road of High Street, plus Lucas Lane and West End (respectively forming easterly and westerly extensions of High Street) forming the principal axis of development. The village centre with its shops and meeting places still provides a vital focus for both spontaneous pedestrian interaction, as well as organised community events, all of which contribute to the pleasure of living in a thriving and historically significant rural village.
8.19 The local engagement process indicated that there is real concern among parishioners about a decline in support for local shops and services. In the last few years, the village has lost its permanent post office and a takeaway food outlet. Local people are concerned if further shops close this will result in the diminishing of other services, for example the pharmacy. The pharmacy supplies many over-the-counter medicines and goods and is an important source of advice and support to local residents. Its closure would represent a considerable loss to the community.
8.20 The policies in this section seek to reinforce the shopping offer while seeking to support retail in the village centre as part of a wider mix of uses so it remains a place for community interaction.
Policy ASH15 Ashwell village centre
- Development proposals that provide a balance of uses - retail, leisure and community, commercial and residential - will be supported subject to compliance with all relevant development plan policies.
- Proposals which result in the permanent change of use of Classes E, F1 and F2 to other uses will only be supported where the applicant has demonstrated that there is no reasonable prospect of the site or premises being used for ongoing retail or community uses. Applicants will be expected to demonstrate that the existing use is no longer viable and that the site has been marketed for a reasonable period of time - 12 months - for alternative retail or community uses.
- The reuse of historic buildings within Ashwell village centre for activities that will enhance its vitality and viability is supported. Any alterations to historic buildings will need to be sympathetic to the historic and architectural significance and character of the building.
Conformity reference: NP Objectives: 2, 4, 5, 7; Saved Plan 1996: 36, 37, 38, 42; Emerging Local Plan: SP4, SP10; NPPF (2019): 83, 91, 92