East Meon Village Design Statement. Article in South Talk, Issue No. 59, Dec. 1999, pp 16-17
Michael Blakstad Chairman of the VDS Steering Group.
The East Hampshire village of East Meon published its Village Design Statement on October 10th 1999, the result of fifteen months’ work on the part of its Steering Group, and of lively debate and participation on the part of the villagers.
Like all Hampshire villages, East Meon knows that it will have to cope with the building of new houses; like most, it has suffered from careless or even cynical development in the recent past. The purpose of the VDS is to state clearly how we, the villagers, want future development to be controlled and our present situation improved.
Copies of the East Meon VDS can be obtained from:
Anella Parker Martin
3, The Old Stables, East Meon,
Phone 01730 823 007
Please include £5 per copy plus £1 postage and packing
East Meon Village Design Statement
Democracy – nowadays known as community participation – is a difficult force to harness and the VDS proved more complex than most. The purpose of the exercise is that both the District Council – East Hampshire – and the Parish Council adopt the VDS recommendations and that future planning decisions be taken with our views in mind – indeed, the first subsequent ruling by EHDC to affect East Meon abided closely by our recommendations.
To assure the Councils that the VDS would represent the views of the entire community, we embarked on a process that made the writing and design of the document much, much harder than it would otherwise have been …. if other villages are planning to write their own Design Statements, be aware how tortuous is the path on which they are embarking.
As any professional knows, design isn’t just about aesthetics, it also concerns function. A picture book village which doesn’t work, in which there is no economic or social life, is not well designed. We started by setting up four small working parties, each addressing a separate aspect of the environment and life in East Meon – the subsequent chapters were headed ‘Surrounding Countryside’, ‘Buildings’, ‘Open Spaces’ and ‘Village Life’.
These groups reported their findings and preliminary recommendations to a meeting last October in the Village Hall which was open to anyone in the parish – and around 100 came and debated vigorously. We were also able to report on the results of a questionnaire which had been circulated to every house in the parish, and on projects conducted by the village primary school.
On the basis of the views expressed, the working parties went back to work, often involving outside agencies. One example was the River Meon, which in the view of many villagers had been brutalised by work carried out in the 1950s; the engineers had succeeded in their primary purpose of preventing the flooding which had ravaged the village every forty years, but in the process had built concrete culverts which removed all natural flows and wildife habitats. The ‘Surrounding Countryside’ group invited the Environment Agency to advise on ways in which the river could be returned to its natural state, whilst preserving the flood-prevention measures.
The Christmas holiday that year provided me with the opportunity to write the first draft of the VDS based on the reports prepared by the four working parties, and a second workshop in January allowed the villagers to debate in detail the main issues and recommendations we had prepared. Again, democracy was seen to be at work – the village football team appeared in force to argue that it was more important to build a decent pitch than preserve the hedges which defined an ancient Glebe Strip.
Following that exercise, a third Workshop was held for the residents of an outlying settlement where the Ministry of Defence was about to sell off the remains of a Naval Communications station, to solicit their views on the kind of use to which that land would, in their views be put. And finally, in March, we submitted what we optimistically called the ‘final draft’ to the Parish Council.
At the same time, confident that our job was almost complete, we briefed a designer and printer to prepare layouts and budgets for the book which would contain photographs, maps and drawings of the village, as illustrations of the issues we were raising and the recommendations which were by now fully formulated. This is where we had miscalculated –two very heated meetings of the Parish Council very nearly rejected our recommendations, and forcibly requested changes to some of our key recommendations. This was village politics raw in tooth and claw, and the Steering Group stood its ground – buoyed by the fact that the Village’s Annual Parish Meeting wholeheartedly endorsed the work we had done!
Nonetheless, small changes were made – to the dismay of the designer, who had already set the text. Then came a presentation to the Planning Committee of the East Hants District Council, and a couple of ‘negotiations’ on what to us were minor points – but more changes to drive the designer to apoplexy! Moral – don’t think your work is done until the elected bodies have their say.
East Hants published its District Plan a few weeks after our publication, including its recommendations for building more housing in East Meon. Outline Planning Permission would be given for fifteen new affordable homes to be built in the most sympathetic (or least damaging!) spaces within the Village Policy Boundary; in return, the Council is insisting that the developer build the football pitch on the site which we had recommended – and the planners agreed that the VDS had been fundamental in helping them reach their decision.
Another small success is that the printed VDS is proving a popular gift which villagers are sending this Christmas to their friends and relatives outside East Meon – they are proud that the character of their village has been captured in words and pictures in an elegant little booklet. Which is just as well since, at £5 a copy, these sales are helping us claw back the overspend caused by the late changes and additions by our lords and masters!
In retrospect, it has been a fascinating exercise which has taught all those involved a great deal about the village in which we live – even if it has taken three or four times the amount of work any of us anticipated at the outset.
This article was originally published in South Talk, Issue no. 59, December 1999, pp. 16-17.
© Michael Blakstad