Introduction to the Neighbourhood Plan and a vision for the area
Neighbourhood Plans, once passed at a local referendum, will form part of the local government land use planning system and help inform all future planning applications in our area. This plan identifies where building or physical services like roads are needed, controls what development can take place, and influences what building developments should look like. It also identifies where natural and historic features affected by development should be protected and conserved. The policy statements which set this out are the core of this plan.
Readers should therefore remember the land use focus of the plan. There are many important aspects of local community life which fall outside the land use planning orbit. Whilst those with some land use, building or transport implications may be touched on in passing, active policy provision can only be made in the plan for two categories of land based factors. Firstly, new developments like new housing or space for employment and associated infrastructure which clearly need to be facilitated by appropriate land use policies, and secondly, measures to protect landscape, environment or heritage features.
Our Neighbourhood Plan area is part of a wider, relatively remote, rural area of south west Devon characterised by heavily protected and beautiful hilly countryside, estuary and coast but with poor road and transport communications by 21st century standards. South Hams District and Devon County Councils define Kingsbridge as the market town hub for the nineteen rural parishes which surround it and together make up a significant proportion of the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Several other village parishes within this area and Salcombe town have already produced, or are in the process of producing, a Neighbourhood Plan.
Kingsbridge Town Council was keen to facilitate the production of a Neighbourhood Plan and offered to work with surrounding parishes which hadn’t yet got a plan. West Alvington and Churchstow took up this offer and have similar characteristics and needs to many of the other ’hub group’ parishes, so this grouping has been mutually beneficial. It has also allowed detailed consideration of important shared issues like safe cycle and footpath linkages between the villages and the town.
The process which was followed to gather the necessary data, consult local residents, businesses and community organisations. The outcome from this enabled the Steering Group, with help from many others, to arrive at a shared vision and set of policy objectives to make the vision a reality.
The complete document comprises the descriptive background and planning context for the geographical area covered by the plan, and the evidence which supports the rationale for the policies. It also has numbered subject themed sections providing the detailed rationale for the related policies, and the related policy statements. These are designed to help deliver the vision and achieve the overall result required for our area.
This document has been written to reflect the needs of a wide readership. For example, in its final form it becomes part of the statutory planning documentation used by professional planning officers and elected councillors to make development decisions for our area, so some of the technical language may seem unusual to some readers. For other readers we have therefore included a glossary and list of acronyms to help. Similarly, some of the descriptive material is well known to planning officers but is important for residents wanting to understand the issues facing our community and what is being proposed, in preparation for voting on it
Initial analysis of local issues
In the early stages of the plan development Steering Group members and the community at large were invited to identify the issues and characteristics particular to the plan area. This SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis has been regularly updated through the community engagement process.
The overall planning policy priorities emerged principally from this SWOT appraisal. The policies all feed into, and flow from, the vision statement that the Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group has adopted to reflect these priorities and to provide a planning focus and a starting point for readers.
The vision statement emerged from a variety of sources including the outcomes of the earlier extensive community development project of 2003 and initial discussions with a cross section of local community organisations and individuals initiated by Kingsbridge Town Council in 2017. The six planning themes were then identified from this to provide a logical structure for the plan itself. Local residents’ responses to the household questionnaire were used to gauge the priority order in which these themed areas were seen by the majority of people.
The six themes (in order of priority)
There is a full analysis of the current situation for each of these theme areas, and remedies for issues of concern, set out in each themed section to underpin the relevant proposed planning policies (click on the blue links above). The most pressing development priorities are provision of genuinely affordable housing for purchase and for rent by local people, and smaller properties for older residents wanting to downsize. Also identified as needs are enhanced leisure provision for certain groups, especially 11 to 18 year olds, measures to help diversify the economy and local transport and road safety improvements. Protection of green spaces and heritage assets is also seen locally as a priority.
Our Vision Statement for the Neighbourhood Plan as a whole emerged from this analysis.
In light of the local implications of the Covid19 pandemic that we are experiencing in 2020, this vision and the relative priorities were reviewed, and the vision statement added to in order to reflect this.
The pandemic has emphasised the relative remoteness of the area, increasing the need for a larger measure of local self-sufficiency. So the key added factor is that there is now a pressing need for a robust and proactive strategy to sustain and develop a number of aspects of Kingsbridge town and its resident community as the market town hub for the wider rural area. In particular, affordable housing for key workers, a more balanced labour market and some significant transport infrastructure and service provision developments have become more urgent needs.
So as to base this additional set of aims on clear and commonly understood terms the following definition was taken as starting point:
Definition of a Market Town
‘a small town in the countryside, especially in Europe, that has a regular market and acts as a business centre for surrounding farms and villages’ Source; Cambridge Dictionary.
With this in mind, and to keep Kingsbridge and the surrounding parishes fit for purpose in the post pandemic 21st century, we have therefore adopted the following vision for the town and the surrounding rural area:
- The surrounding countryside, water and farmland are celebrated as the natural setting for the town and villages, a source of produce, recreation and biodiversity.
- Development is supported where it helps sustain the settlements and does not compromise the area’s historic and natural assets.
- The town and surrounding villages are equally welcoming to residents and visitors, the principles of ‘respect our unique natural environment, shop local and use local services’ are communicated to all.
- Healthy lifestyles are promoted with easy local access to recreation and health care for all ages and requirements.
- There are locations for permanent and temporary seasonal markets that promote local produce and crafts. These should be flexibly planned and are complimentary to local shops and businesses.
- Local supply chains are encouraged and developed to serve the local markets and businesses.
- A broad and balanced resident population by age and occupation is fostered to maintain the much valued, rounded and all-year-round resident community, which is also needed to sustain the capability of the town to provide services for the whole area. This is facilitated by pursuing a promotional strategy to encourage higher added value businesses based on higher level craft skills and intellectual property to locate in the town using access to superfast broadband, and thereby extending the range of salaries on offer locally.
- Small/ micro businesses are encouraged, on employment sites, live work units or working from home.
- Service businesses and infrastructure are developed to support efficiently the new and existing employment uses, for example supplies and servicing of materials, equipment and high quality IT and communications.
- The town centre is re-imagined as retailing evolves; vacant retail units and other properties are redeveloped for employment, residential and community use.
- Provision of a range of affordable housing stock by size, tenure and price band is facilitated through partnerships between the local authorities, housing associations, a charitable community land trust and community minded landowners, brokered by the local authorities. An important aspect of this is to enable key workers to live locally rather than commute into the area.
- Sustainable low carbon modes of transport are developed to interconnect the settlements and to link to transport, service and business hubs (Totnes, Plymouth, main line railway and A38) this can include; safe cycle and walking routes, electric cars (with infrastructure), car shares and community buses. Where possible inward commuting by car should be reduced.
- Future changes, whichever body proposes them, are supported locally through full engagement of the community. Community spirit and voluntary endeavour are supported and valued.
An overview of land use in the three parishes
Each themed section contains a detailed analysis of the land use factors which underlie the issues in question and need to be taken into account in setting policies. However, as they are clearly interlinked and impact upon each other, a top level analysis follows to provide a feel for the key factors underlying the plan as a whole. See Parish Boundaries.
Landscape and topography
The landscape and topography of the Neighbourhood Plan area is typical of the South Hams area of south west Devon. It is entirely composed of largely unspoilt rolling wooded hills, some with steep gradients, and deep valleys, studded with rich farmland wherever the gradient of the land allows. The head of the tidal Kingsbridge Estuary reaches into modern Kingsbridge town, to the foot of the high street (Fore Street). West Alvington parish borders the same estuary further seawards. Churchstow parish borders the Avon Estuary, the next tidal valley westwards.
For clarity, whilst the Avon Estuary is fed by a significant river, the Avon, there is no major freshwater outlet into the Kingsbridge Estuary and it is therefore properly described as a ria or drowned valley like a fjord.
Because of this setting most of the Plan area sits within the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) designated in 1960. The Estuary margins are included in the wider South Devon Undeveloped Coast protected area. The Estuary (ria) itself is heavily protected under both the AONB and Site of Special Scientific Interest designations. Its’ tidal, almost wholly sea water, rather than sea and fresh water mixed, environment contains a number of rare plant and animal species. The landscape and countryside are therefore heavily protected by law.
The Plan area has a population of 7000 with 6100 living in Kingsbridge. The area population has grown from 5000 in 1981, almost all of it in Kingsbridge. See census.
The parishes and the three settlements in the area covered by the plan have a long shared history, with Kingsbridge gradually emerging as the main centre during the early middle ages and providing civic and commercial support for a wide rural area which extends well beyond the Neighbourhood Plan area from that point on. Kingsbridge is now recognised by the local planning authorities as the market town or hub for the nineteen remote rural parishes surrounding it, supporting a total population of nearly 18,000. See the Settlement Boundaries for Kingsbridge, West Alvington and Churchstow.
The oldest built up areas of the town and the two villages sit on hill ridges where the ancient route ways ran and where there was some flat land to build. They were also safe from flood risk. The settlements gradually extended down the valley sides, and in the case of Kingsbridge towards the Estuary as well, where significant areas of development grew up on reclaimed land at the head of the Estuary where quaysides grew up to support trade.
There is housing stock from all periods from the late middle ages onwards in the area, but only limited development in the villages, and surrounding countryside. Two extensive areas of housing were built between the mid 1960s and the early 1990s on the steep valley side to the east of Kingsbridge town centre, largely within the AONB boundary which surrounds the older part of the town.
Readily available local stone, often rendered, slate or tile hung against the weather, is the traditional building material. This architectural style complements the landscape, and as many buildings are visible from some distance because of hilly locations, has largely been retained for modern development.
Commercially, the area’s economy revolves around retailing, tourism, professional and care services, property maintenance and vehicle trades. Employment is buoyant but relatively low wage. Because of the industrial past there are significant redevelopment opportunities of brownfield sites enabling some diversification of the economy.
Leisure activities, mainly outdoor and sporting are moderately well catered for but there are some gaps in provision which need site allocations.
As with the rest of the West Country coast, any current or potential house building site with a view of the tidal water is rising inexorably in value relative to the general housing market, and this effect is increasing where there is easy access to the water.
The area is thus highly attractive for open market housing at the expense of affordable housing provision. For some years there has been tension between developers and the Planning Authority due to the clear need for affordable housing for local people, provision of which is a condition of market development being approved. This is a major factor in there having been no large scale new housing developments built in the plan area in the last ten years, despite several hundred units being allocated in past Local Plans.
Transport and communications
The settlements of the plan grew up around key routes at the head of the estuary. In areas where roads were poor, convenient navigable waterways were an additional transport route especially for heavy goods and for longer journeys. One of the unique facets of the Neighbourhood Plan area is that the upper Estuary was navigable until the 1920s for sizeable boats. Kingsbridge was historically a port and the town and surrounding villages benefitted greatly until the early 20th Century from water borne trade and transport connections.
The water based commercial transport link to the area has gone, as has the branch railway line to Kingsbridge from the West Country main line at South Brent, which closed in 1963/4. The closest rail access is now at Totnes.
Whilst we enjoy beautiful landscape, the topography and constrained routes do not lend themselves to modern transport or levels of traffic, a significant issue when good transport links are vital to modern settlements. The Kingsbridge area is remote from, and poorly connected to, the strategic transport network of the region. The road network is still essentially a mixture of narrow, deeply sunk medieval lanes overlaid with a basic network of narrow, winding Victorian turnpike roads, which are now designated “A” roads. Many of the latter are little wider than the older lanes in places and similarly unsuited to modern traffic, especially the increasingly large and heavy goods vehicles and agricultural contractors’ equipment.
This relative remoteness and difficulty of travel has kept the area quiet and attractive to live in outside the main tourist periods, which is much valued by local people, but is an economic constraint for the longer term.
Public transport provision is relatively small scale and expensive so car usage is high.
The implications of current land use for the future
When considering potential development sites for housing, community or employment use or for the upgrading of infrastructure, the following have an important bearing on land availability:
- Robust protective AONB policies (broadly supported by local people to safeguard the attractive nature of the area).
- Sites within the “setting of the AONB” visible from the AONB, also informed by AONB policies.
- The steep gradient of many sites makes development either impossible or expensive because of the technical constraints.
- Flood risk in significant areas which are identified by the Environment Agency.
- The challenges of upgrading access to sites because of the landscape and cost constraints.
- Many potential sites are in private ownership and brownfield sites are in multiple private ownership and may or may not be made available by the owners if identified for development.
- Poor transport connections strongly suggest the need to discourage additional commuting into or out of the area and are a significant economic and employment constraint, especially because of the limited current public transport.
- Climate change and environmental sustainability issues are also important factors.
Once these factors are taken into account there is very limited land both available and suitable for development. Such land is therefore enormously valuable for the community’s wellbeing and the future economic sustainability of the Plan area and the wider rural hinterland.
Providing necessary supporting infrastructure for any development will also be very challenging.
Decisions about this precious resource therefore need to be taken with great care and with medium to long term sustainability in mind.
Terms of Reference
1 Basis for the formation of the Group
- The combined 2014 – 2034 South Hams, West Devon and Plymouth Joint Local Development Plan is in the final stages of Government approval now. The 2011 Localism Act allows parish communities to research and write a Neighbourhood Plan to provide parish level detail to complement the district level content in the Development Plan and, once approved, has legal force in guiding parish local development. The relevant town or parish council is the body identified in the Act to lead this process.
- During 2017 Kingsbridge Town Council decided to initiate the production of a Neighbourhood Plan to fit in with the activation of the new Joint Local Development Plan. The original Steering Group members were the individual local residents and business people (in some cases both) who volunteered to work in concert with the Town Council after a public meeting called to assess interest in developing a Neighbourhood Plan.
- These original members of the Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group were appointed by Kingsbridge Town Council in January 2018. The Group operates under its delegated authority, and that of West Alvington and Churchstow Parish Councils.
- Some of the interested group who were willing to help with particular tasks but did not wish to become Steering Group members agreed to continue involvement as supporters.
- The Steering Group agreed with the Town Council at the outset that the four parish areas immediately surrounding the town were likely to share many of the same land use and planning issues and should be invited to participate in a joint planning process to produce a combined plan. As a result of this Churchstow and West Alvington Parish Councils accepted the offer and the planning process is proceeding on this tripartite basis.
- The membership of the Steering Group includes representatives of the Town Council and the two Parishes, nominated by those Councils.
2. Steering Group Purpose
- To carry out the necessary data based research, and to consult widely across the local community, to include individuals, businesses and community organisations, to establish local land use and development planning priorities.
- To formulate policy proposals as the basis of a Neighbourhood Plan based on this research and consultation, to enhance the wellbeing of the community and the long term sustainability of the Town and two parishes, within the framework provided by the Neighbourhood Plan legislation.
- To write a plan document to include these planning objectives and policy proposals which are shown through further consultation to be widely supported by the community at large, sufficient to be approved by the formal plan assessment process and the referendum required by the legislation.
3. Geographical area covered by the Neighbourhood Plan
- The Kingsbridge Town Council area plus the civil parishes of Churchstow and West Alvington.
4. Steering Group membership
- The group membership comprises Chair, Secretary, Treasurer, (nominated by the original group from amongst their members), the coordinators of any agreed working groups, up to two nominees from each of the three local councils, and general members of the group up to a maximum of twenty members in all.
- The group may co-opt additional members as it feels it appropriate provided the maximum of twenty members is not exceeded.
- Supporters may attend meetings whenever relevant or whenever a subject of interest to them is on the agenda. Other observers may be invited at the discretion of the Chair.
- The Secretary will maintain an up to date list of members and supporters and their attendance at group meetings.
5. Steering Group operation
- The members of the Group will generally meet monthly to identify and organise the carrying out of the necessary tasks amongst themselves, manage the process and assess the implications of the statistical research and community feedback, then agree how these should be translated into policies and project plans.
- Members will also work as part of task groups agreed where necessary to pursue the detail of specific areas such as housing or transport. They will be helped by individuals (supporters) who have particular skills or contacts in these areas. (As at July 2018 three groups have been established each with a coordinator: Publicity and website development, Community consultation, Data research and analysis.)
- The group will identify where and when publicity material and public meetings requiring use of the available funding are appropriate and allocate agreed funds accordingly.
- Where the group considers that paid professional help is needed it will define, on the advice of the Treasurer, the specification for the task and agree the terms of engagement and the allocation of the required funds from the funding available.
6. Steering Group procedures
- The Group will operate on the basis of consensus decision making to reflect its duty to take the fullest account of the output from public consultation and input from all other relevant and interested parties.
- The quorum will be six members with voting rights, to include for continuity purposes, two of either the Chair, Secretary, Treasurer and the Working Group coordinators. Voting rights will be available to all members who have attended at least half of the meetings in the preceding six months.
- Should finely balanced decisions need to be taken, for example on what to include in the plan, a simple majority vote will be taken at the Chair’s discretion amongst the agreed full members of the Group in attendance at the meeting in question.
- An Annual General Meeting will take place in February each year for the life of the plan process. This will comprise a report on progress with the Plan, confirmation of membership and election of officers. A brief special general meeting will be held before a routine group meeting should an officer resign between AGMs.
- The Treasurer will agree a budget with the group based on the one-off grant made available by the Government body which provides funding for the provision of professional help with technical issues where necessary. They will issue contracts for this work and monitor the use of the grant and the contractors’ output.
- The Group will follow normal public service rules in declaring any personal or business interests wherever this is relevant. The Secretary will record this as appropriate. Individuals should discuss any concerns with the Chair and agree an appropriate way ahead before the relevant meeting or activity.
- All those involved in the Steering Group, both members and supporters, will conduct business with each other and the wider community in a spirit of openness, collaboration, trust and mutual respect. They will also treat everyone with courtesy and respect regardless of their age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, ability, or religion and belief.
ABOUT YOUR AREA
The three civil parishes covered by the plan all have very long histories much of which is shared. Brief historical and current profiles of the three areas may help residents to visualise how a prosperous and sustainable future for our area might be constructed.
The modern town includes the two ancient ecclesiastical parishes of Kingsbridge and Dodbrooke. Each had, and still has, its own medieval parish church. Whilst the town as a whole has been known as Kingsbridge since it was first mentioned in a Saxon royal charter of A.D. 962, Dodbrooke functioned locally as a separate place in certain respects until well into the 20th century, being sometimes referred to as a borough in its own right after being granted a market charter. Dodbrooke had its own livestock market and the quayside on the east side of the estuary was known as Dodbrooke Quay.
The earlier history of the area is similarly unusual. West Alvington was the earliest settlement to be recorded in royal documents around 700 A.D and its original church was the mother church for a wide area to the west of the village. West Alvington and Chillington were royal manors, held directly by the king, in a wider area of royal land holdings which were parcelled out by successive kings of Wessex to thanes and local lords of the manor appointed by the king to administer them. So the whole area around Kingsbridge had royal connections.
At that time, before Kingsbridge expanded onto reclaimed land at the lower end of Fore Street, the estuary high tide line extended up the current Mill Street and Lower Union Road to the west and up the lower end of Church Street to the east. The road from Alvington to Chillington passed on a bridge or causeway over this tidal area and the streams which still run down both the east and west valleys into the original head of the estuary. The lower end of Church Street from the King of Prussia south is still called Bridge Street. It appears that because of the link to the two royal manors it became known as the Kings Bridge, lending its name to the settlement which was growing up alongside.
Kingsbridge was established on the hill ridge between the two stream valleys with houses and other buildings lining what is now Fore Street. Their ancient smallholding burgage plots are still visible in many cases marked by the gardens of the current versions of those houses and shops. The two streams were diverted to power the Town mills, running parallel to Western and Eastern Backways, which some historians believe may also mark the line of Saxon town defensive walls. A number of Saxon era towns like Totnes on sea coasts and estuaries were specifically set up like this to counter Viking raids.
At some point after 1136, when the old Saxon abbey at Buckfast was recolonised by French Cistercian monks, the Domesday manor of Norton which included Churchstow and Kingsbridge was given by the Norman king to the Abbot of Buckfast. In 1219 the abbot was granted a market charter for Kingsbridge allowing him to exploit its prime location which led to it starting to develop into the commercial centre for the central South Hams. The Abbot also ran the town mills and kept a banqueting hall in the town as a base when in the area. By 1238 the Town was given borough status and was the main centre in Stanborough administrative Hundred for the legal systems for controlling trade and collecting taxes.
It is believed that Churchstow was a very early Christian church site like a number of others on the south west coast and it was acknowledged as the parish church for Kingsbridge. It was not until the late 13th or early 14th century that the town was allowed to build St Edmunds church and become an ecclesiastical parish in its own right. Dodbrooke church may well be older.
Dodbrooke is on a very ancient west to east road following the high ground from Modbury and Churchstow towards Chillington, Stokenham and Dartmouth via Washbrook, which means it may have also had an early church. It was in Coleridge administrative Hundred and was a separate manor to Kingsbridge. Dodbrooke was granted a market charter in 1257 and treated as a borough by 1319, but never grew as much as Kingsbridge. Its current church, St Thomas’s, was built in the 15th century.
Both Kingsbridge and Dodbrooke grew steadily in late medieval times. Kingsbridge in particular was well established as the commercial and social centre for the whole surrounding rural area by the Tudor era, and had a market arcade by 1586 and then the Grammar school by 1670. (Both buildings still surviving.) The two towns between them established over the ensuing 200 years all the necessary businesses and trade skills to support the area. Alongside large livestock markets they had tanneries, breweries, an iron foundry, metalworkers producing agricultural tools and machines, mills and agricultural feed merchants, banks, numerous inns and hotels, secondary schools and professional practices in law and medicine. In the 19th century one mill converted to large scale woollen cloth production.
The town was a route centre for turnpike roads, and goods and people moved in and out by horse drawn carts and stage coaches. As mechanisation arrived motor engineers, buses and goods transport businesses appeared and provided extensive support for trade and travel in the area. As a thriving port before the estuary silted up in the early 20th century, large quantities of agricultural and quarry produce were shipped out and coal brought in for fuel and later gasworks use. Sailing ships, and later steam ships, of up to 500 tons, including the famous fruit schooners were built at boatyards on the upper estuary, and local families like the Balkwills were major shipowners alongside those in Salcombe.
When the 19th century Poor Law obliged parishes to provide for the homeless and unemployed, a union of all the surrounding parishes was formed and the Union Workhouse was built in Kingsbridge providing for more than 300 people when full. This did not finally close until the 1930s.
The railway line was built from South Brent opening in1893, (and closed in 1963) principally for trade purposes but enabling tourism and holiday homes to start growing, and signalling the change of the area from purely agriculture and marine business to the varied commercial and tourism profile we recognise today.
Kingsbridge Town – current profile
Kingsbridge, including Dodbrooke, in 2019 is a community of about 6000 residents living in just over 3000 households. (And owning between them about 6500 cars!)
Devon County Council identifies it in its planning structure as the market town for the surrounding 18 parishes in an area bounded by Slapton, Salcombe, Thurlestone, Loddiswell and Woodleigh. This catchment area represents about 18000 residents who all rely on, at least to some extent, services located in the town.
Much of the attraction of modern Kingsbridge as a place to live lies in it being a year round community, retaining many of the local commercial and community services lost in some other small holiday area towns. This has been reflected in it retaining a more balanced population profile than many West Country tourist towns of similar size, and also remaining very much the market town for a large rural area, some of it relatively remote in light of recent reductions in rural bus services.
Some of this population stability has been due to it being a desirable retirement location for the relatively affluent because of its level of local services set in a very beautiful natural environment. However, this has also meant it being a magnet for second home owners and those buying houses as holiday lets, so it also has a significant transient population. As the shopping town for this part of the South Hams this tourist visitor influx is a significant part of the economy, especially for the summer six months.
The economy is much broader than just tourism, although this adds much custom to the retail, marine, catering, hotel and entertainment businesses. Agriculture is still a major contributor along with construction, both new build, refurbishment and property maintenance. Professional services and motor and transport related business are also significant, the latter especially important because of the high dependence on cars, (which also complicates parking issues).
The full time retired residents have bolstered the settled feel of the town and kept local businesses alive to a significant extent, but have inadvertently contributed, along with the second homes and holiday lets, to the strong housing market and consequent high property prices. Average house prices are way beyond the mortgage ceiling of local young people wishing to stay in the town if their salaries are at or below the average local wage. Rental costs are similarly high, restricting the ability to save for a deposit for house purchase. The attractive steeply sloped topography also affects this. Land remaining which is suitable for building is in short supply pushing up prices for that brought to market.
Like everywhere else, on-line shopping has affected the retail centre of Fore Street in a big way, but many local businesses are surviving well by matching on-line convenience with good customer service. Fortunately the two major national supermarket branches are not out of town but within a few minutes walk of Fore Street, so the heart of the town has survived better than in many small UK towns. This positive picture is perhaps confirmed by the fact that, unusually, there are still branches of three major clearing banks in the town.
So far so good! But the town cannot be immune to the powerful 21st century economic forces affecting the whole UK and the particular ones apparent in the South West. The Neighbourhood Plan is an attempt to identify how best to future proof the town and sustain long term this delightful lifestyle for our children and grandchildren.
Information to follow …
West Alvington – History
The ancient village of West Alvington has undergone several name changes over the centuries. Like other South Hams settlements, it takes its name from its one time Saxon chief, being west of the old ‘Aelfwynn’s Town’, and was later part of the Royal Estates. Originally much larger, extending as far as the sea, West Alvington Parish is still sizeable, covering some 4.28 square miles. Standing strategically on the top of a hill and with plentiful water sources, this site has been occupied since around 700 AD and is recorded in the Doomsday Book.
The fine village church, All Saints, stands on a site dating back to 909 AD. The present church, with its imposing pinnacle tower, is a rather grand 15th century building built of green slate quarried at Charleton and brought up the estuary by boat. The interior pillars are made of hard sandstone from Beer. The church’s impressive ‘ring’ (set) of six bells and accomplished bell ringers became famous throughout Devon and beyond, helping to establish the village’s reputation in this field.
Bowringsleigh, originally built in 1303, survives as a fine example of an Elizabethan and Jacobean Manor house and is open to the public each year. Ownership passed from the Bowrings to the Ilberts, who were wool traders, in the late 17th century and they remained there until the death of Miss Margery Ilbert in 1984. West Alvington’s well known ancient woods form part of the Bowringsleigh estate although with public access these days. During the English Civil War the Butts field (on the left as you leave the village towards Salcombe) was used by the local yeomanry loyal to King Charles I to practice their archery.
West Alvington was one of the first Devon parishes to have gas lamps. A hundred and ﬁfty years ago the village was a thriving and independent business hub. It had blacksmiths, carpenters, masons, plumbers, a shoemaker, tailor, and a number of shops on the main road. It also had a Poor House which accommodated up to 30 ‘inmates’ at one time. Quay House in Kingsbridge, built by the Ilberts, was the trading post for West Alvington, receiving the goods delivered by ships sailing up the estuary. This gave the Parish a large degree of self-sufﬁciency. Historically, those wishing to travel from Kingsbridge to Salcombe took the old coach road, which is still there, running out of Tacket Wood. As the current main road developed, the village provided stabling for horses taking travellers to and from Kingsbridge, at Horseman’s Close, and clothes washing services in Lower Street.
West Alvington – Current profile
Today, although all of the Parish falls within the AONB, the village itself suffers – like others – from being linear, with no central green or square. Along the busy main road, due to the fortunate survival of a good number of original cottages and listed buildings, most of the village is designated a Conservation Area. We have a thriving pub, the ‘Ring O Bells’, and a well-attended Primary School. Set in rolling hills, the Parish is home to some of the South Hams’ most notable historic farmsteads such as Gerston, Longbrook, Woolston and Collapit. It also has a long stretch of pristine coastline to the west of the Kingsbridge Estuary. Once famous for its orchards and cider, swallows visit West Alvington each spring and the area is rich in wildlife. This is a special place.
In deciding to join with neighbouring Kingsbridge and Churchstow to create a shared plan, West Alvington Parish Council has made a commitment to the Neighbourhood Planning process. The hope and intention is that we will embrace this opportunity to bring people together to celebrate what we have and, most importantly, to build on this to make our Parish an even better place to live.
Those of us who volunteered in 2018 to join a Steering Group to help the three local parishes produce this Neighbourhood Plan did so because we felt great affection for the area in which we live, and were concerned for its future, whether we were born here or are one of the many who have chosen to live here because of its’ unique mixture of qualities.
The two village parishes are immediate neighbours of Kingsbridge town, and characteristic of the nineteen rural parishes which make up the Kingsbridge market town hub area identified by the District and County councils. They were keen to produce a Neighbourhood Plan and welcomed the offer to join the Steering Group and contribute to the shared voluntary resource, to achieve this substantial task. The Group’s work has confirmed the many shared issues and interdependencies that link the three areas and eased the task of assembling this complex document.
As we started to think about the Neighbourhood Plan process, we realised that the beauty of the location combined with the relative remoteness from major transport links were the reason for the area having remained so attractive. But it was also clear that they were major obstacles to the Neighbourhood Plan area, and Kingsbridge town in particular, being able to sustain itself and its surrounding rural area commercially in the longer term. It is clear from our subsequent survey that many residents value this last point.
Finding ways to help our area to respond to the growing opportunities and challenges of the online world and to climate change issues, with minimum harm to the environment, in a landscape which presents significant technical development complications, and at a time of public expenditure constraint, is the challenge for all who live and work here.
Fortunately for the Steering Group the significant number of residents and businesses who completed our household questionnaire largely agreed on the priorities for the plan. The local organisations and individuals with specialist expertise who helped us analyse the questionnaire responses, and Steering Group members themselves, have also supported this consensus. This has made our job simpler in formulating this plan. Whilst the Town Council and the two parish councils are sponsors of the process, and were directly involved, it is local people’s views and aspirations which must drive the Neighbourhood Plan, so we have a firm basis for the plan as proposed.
Several local factors have confirmed the need to get a plan completed swiftly. The implications of the long-term affordable housing shortage, and transport and community infrastructure shortcomings, have started to impact on resident’s and commercial life more severely of late. Under national policy Neighbourhood Plans become an integral part of the local plan process and once adopted allow a real ground level influence on defining what development is needed and what gets built. So now is the right time for our policies to help shape land use, housing, transport and community facilities for the next fourteen years and lay the foundations for the longer term.
In 2020 the community pressures resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic emphasised further some of the issues we had already identified and added some more around provision of health and social support services. In particular the housing needs of key workers, many of whom earn salaries at or below the regional average, have been thrown into stark relief. Policies to address these issues have been firmed up or added to the plan as a result.
Readers should remember that the policies in a plan of this nature will not automatically generate the developments we all support. However, they will provide a clearer guide for the local authorities, private landowners and developers about what is required locally, and what plans might be approved. They will also enable South Hams District Council planning officers to be clearer with planning applicants on conditions that will need to be met for plans to be acceptable.
Some policies are also aimed at supporting local authorities and other community organisations in safeguarding and developing desirable community buildings and transport facilities such as sports bases, public access to the water or safe cycle and footpaths. Other policies provide permanent protection to valued views, green spaces and historic parts of built up areas.
This document does not provide a magic answer to long standing development problems, but it is one with considerable potential influence for good in some tricky areas of community life. I commend it to all readers and encourage those who are eligible to support its adoption to do so when the time comes to vote.
I must finish by thanking the many people who have had a hand in producing the plan, and especially the small core group who have put in so much work over a long period to make it happen.
Chair, Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group. Autumn 2020.
Steering Group members
|Richard Benton (Chairman)||Steve Arblaster (Community Consultation)|
|Lis Smith (Secretary)||Debbie Board|
|Richard Smith (Treasurer)||Brenda Burnside (Publicity)|
|Cllr. Anne Balkwill (KTC)||Shelley Castle|
|Cllr. Martina Edmonds (KTC)||Norman Dilley|
|Martin Johnson (Town Clerk)||Rosemary Dunstan|
|Cllr. Roger Hind (Churchstow PC)||Robin Griffin (KTC rep)|
|Cllr. Lee Johnson (Churchstow PC)||John Kinch (Data research and analysis)|
|Sue Kinch (Web liaison)|
|Geoffrey Rossetti (West Alvington PC rep)||Peter Sandover (Advisor)|
|John Walster (West Alvington PC rep)||Grenville Taylor|