The Harston Residents’ Group has evolved from a gathering in May 2014 in response to the Parish Council's call for volunteers to create a Village Design Statement.
We are an informal group, with just under 20 people who are actively interested in its goings-on, but with a wider communication network. I see us as something of a rebel sibling to the Parish Council – fiercely independent and not feeling constrained by process or a need to maintain neutrality!
After several meetings it became clear that we didn’t just want to talk about Village Design Statements or Neighbourhood Plans and we have agreed four principal aims:
- To protect and enhance Harston's heritage and character;
- To communicate village information;
- To enable campaigns on village issues; and
- To deepen the sense of community in the village.
I’ll touch briefly on each of these areas.
First, To protect and enhance Harston’s heritage and character
We spent a lot of time considering whether a Village Design Statement or a Neighbourhood Plan would be worth the not-inconsiderable effort required. The group doesn’t claim to represent the views of everyone in Harston. Nor does everyone in the group have the same aspirations for the village. We concluded that, even if we could create a Neighbourhood Plan that is adopted by the majority of local residents, it would not give Harston substantially more protection than it already has under national and local planning guidelines. With the help of some consultancy advice, we agreed that we wouldn’t create a Neighbourhood Plan.
As we kicked off the process of considering a Neighbourhood Plan we undertook a general (perhaps too general) survey in the village, to gain residents’ views on what they like and what they think can be improved. We had a fairly low return rate with just over 80 responses. Answers were open and unprompted.
The main “likes” were, in order of preference, the village's amenities, the countryside & local environment, and the sense of community & neighbours. Also liked were Harston's proximity to Cambridge, its access to transport links, the Recreation Ground, Orchard and School.
The main areas of improvement, again in order, were traffic volume and speed, followed by a demand for more amenities and recreational facilities as well as concerns about how well the village is maintained, cycling and walking facilities, and Public Transport.
I doubt any of these will be a surprise and to me they feel broadly representative of local views.
Members of the Residents’ Group considered their own aspirations. They include such things as
- Championing planning applications that prioritise affordable houses (including first time buyers and people downsizing but wanting to stay in the village);
- Reviewing the possibility of opening a train station;
- Re-siting the doctors’ surgery; and
- Protecting the village’s rural heritage such as the water pumps, livery stables and houses with gardens.
The A10 dominates many a discussion and is an issue that touches everyone in the village. Most of us grudgingly accept that we cannot prevent the volume of traffic through the village but we are concerned that there is no visible attempt to manage the traffic, particularly with planned developments such as the Foxton level crossing, Hauxton Meadows and Hauxton Park and Ride which will all, to use the Transport Planners’ term, “improve access” along the A10 corridor from Royston to Cambridge. The cumulative impact of decisions made in isolation can only lead to more grid-lock and to reduced safety. Something Must Be Done! We need safe cycle ways, we need safe pavements, we need gaps in the traffic flow so residents can get onto the road, and we need safe places for children, and adults, to cross the road. Alongside this we would like planners to consider whether new cycle ways and pathways could join up more parts of the village and move people away from the A10.
I don’t quite know how we make these wants into reality but decision makers need to know they are top of residents’ priority lists. We need to find a way of moving from talk to action and maybe it’s time for the politicians to take the lead on this.
Secondly, Communicating Village Issues
Other than the Church and Village News magazine and the odd sign staked by the side of the road, we felt it wasn’t easy to find out about Harston and what’s going on in our village. This is an area where we felt that Something Could Be Done.
We have created a village website (harstonvillage.uk) which has some general information about the village, links to local groups and facilities, and a “what’s on” calendar. The website has had over 3,500 visits with over 10,500 page views. I had ambitions for the website to be a one-stop-shop for the village but the Parish Council and the Local History group are creating their own sites and so we will instead focus on the areas where we can be most useful. We need to be careful that we don’t create more websites than we can cope with keeping up to date. Ours already occasionally falls behind.
We have built an emailing list of just over 200 people and so far we have sent 12 newsletters. These are occasional and are being sent as there is news, rather than on a regular date.
And finally we’re in Social Media. We have a Facebook page which has over 100 “likes” and our top post reached over 350 people.
I’d hope people would agree that the Communications side of things is our success story so far. One of my success criteria was that people would come to us asking for their events to be promoted and this has started to happen in a small way.
The Residents’ Group took a position of opposing the application to turn the old Saab garage into a supermarket. We arranged a petition with over 620 signatures against the original application and arranged an electronic survey against the latest application. Of the 135 responses to the survey, 10% supported the application for a supermarket, 77% objected to there being a supermarket in the village at all and 12% wouldn’t object to a supermarket but objected to the proposed location. The main concerns were about traffic volumes and congestion, and the viability of the Post Office. 88% of respondees agreed that there needs to be a coordinated approach to managing traffic density either through traffic management or rerouting.
I wouldn’t claim victory over the supermarket application (it’s the battle not the war that’s been won) but I hope at the very least we’ve contributed to making them think twice – or is that thrice?
I think all three of these areas will, in the fullness of time, contribute to our fourth aim of deepening the sense of community in the village. Harston is a good place to live and with more pulling together we can make it even better.
I’m grateful to everyone who has supported the Residents Group in word and in deed and hope that we can continue to be a part of doing the Something That Must Be Done and not just talking about it.