CHRIS TAYLOR from the successful StopVeolia campaign looks at the next challenge for the Long Leys community.
With the successful campaign to halt the expansion of the Veolia waste site, Long Leys residents now have an important decision to make. Should we acknowledge the benefits that have come to us through the campaign and attempt to build something positive from the experience? Or do we just wait for the next crisis, and hope we can win again?
What are these benefits? We now have a real sense of community, willing and eager to work together. We have the ear of our elected representatives and, through them, of the authorities whose guidance and support will help us. We know how to communicate, and have a good team to coordinate our efforts in everything from leaflet distribution, through fundraising, to administration and negotiation. We also have some funds to help things along.
One idea for Long Leys is the concept of an ‘Urban Village’. We’ve talked a lot about this, indeed we used the term as some form of mantra in our successful fight against Veolia. But realistically, that Village doesn’t exist in anything but name. Perhaps now is the time to change that.
Let’s start with the history. Twenty years ago, as St George’s Hospital started to release land it no longer needed, Lincoln was writing its vision for the future – the City of Lincoln Local Plan (1998). New homes were needed for an expanding city, and many of the ideas came together on Long Leys Road.
Recognising the importance and special character of West Common and the Burton Ridge, the City decided Long Leys Road should not be allowed to become just another suburb, or worse yet, an industrial estate. Long Leys was to become a special policy area, called an ‘Urban Village’, combining the benefits of proximity to the shops and services of the City, with the attractions of being surrounded by protected green areas, where children could play, walkers (with or without dogs) could roam, and residents would feel closer to the countryside than the City.
Nothing ever goes according to plan. The City recognised the presence of business and industry, positioned appropriately (for that time) at the very margins of Lincoln. But that was 20 years ago, and it was assumed these businesses would develop, outgrow the site, and move elsewhere. But the appetite for business expansion has faded in the last decade and more, and this hasn’t happened.
Meanwhile, the residential development on the St George’s site, and across Long Leys Road adjacent to West Common, has matured and the 450-odd new houses have become family homes – extending the built-up boundary of the City outward. The commercial activity however has not moved away, but neither has it expanded: so instead of being bounded by countryside, it now forms a commercial enclave surrounded by public amenity land, residential homes, and areas of natural and historic interest. (Essentially, this was why residents opposed Veolia’s plans so strongly.)
There were also problems with the ‘Urban Village’ concept. While provision was made on the St George’s development for shops, retailers were reluctant to take on new premises. It took a while for these to be occupied, and even then – and still today – no sign of a food store or a newsagent.
So could we still realise this dream? To achieve this, we need answers to many questions. For example (you’ll think of more), do you want an Urban Village – and if so, what does the term mean to you? What defines such a Village? What are the key elements you’d expect (maybe a village office, or a meeting room, or a shop), and where should this be? What do we want that we haven’t got? And how can we make what we have better? Would you be prepared to devote time and effort to help this happen? The more answers we can get, the more likely we are to reach the goal.
One thing seems sure. We need to act now, before the memory of the StopVeolia campaign fades, and the sense of community becomes a distant memory. We can have our ‘Urban Village’, but we have to do it ourselves, and we have to do it now. Together, let’s build Long Leys Urban Village!
A version of this article was published in the Lincolnshire Echo on Thursday 8 March 2018
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