Community Focus - Key areas
Resilient and empowered local communities
As a result of the localism agenda, there has been a major shift in emphasis from top-down imposition of policy and strategy, to devolving more decision-making and responsibility to local communities. This is reflected throughout the Management Plan with the core value of engagement being a key influence on how the Plan will be delivered. A number of initiatives are being taken forward to give communities the lead in identifying how their areas need to develop and change in future, including through pilot Neighbourhood Plans and master planning. There is also a much stronger emphasis on supporting volunteering, and involving more local people in how the National Park is managed and monitored.
A community-led approach will also build resilience and help to increase self-sufficiency; for example, through local production of food and energy generation. This has the combined benefit of potentially mitigating the impact of global price increases and helping the environment.
Help meet identified needs for local affordable housing and other services
The significant cuts in public funding have had a major effect on how services are delivered throughout the country. This creates particular challenges within the National Park due to the issues of an ageing population, rural isolation and vulnerability. There is a much greater emphasis on how the public and private sectors can work together with the voluntary sector and local communities to meet identified needs, such as affordable housing, transport, or care.
Affordable housing is a particular issue in the National Park, with the combination of high house prices and low wages in some sectors making housing unaffordable for some local people. The Local Plan prioritises the delivery of affordable housing to meet identified local needs, focusing development in eight 'Local Centres', with development for local needs in 34 'Rural Settlements'. However, delivery of affordable housing is currently constrained by cuts to public funding and a suppressed housing market. During the lifetime of the Management Plan, supplementary planning guidance will be produced on affordable housing to support the delivery of affordable housing in the National Park.
The Local Plan also supports the maintenance of local services and facilities, such as shops, post offices, pubs, banks, and so on. These services are particularly important in rural communities where alternatives are not always readily available, and help to maintain the vibrancy of local communities. Local communities also now have powers through the Localism Act 2011 to identify assets of community value, which would provide the community with possible further opportunities to purchase these in the future.
Development which enables communities to thrive, whilst conserving and enhancing the National Park
Dartmoor's communities are growing and changing, and there is even more significant growth in areas surrounding the National Park. Such changes are a natural part of life and are important to support vibrant communities and local economies. However, change needs to be carefully managed to ensure that it does not detract from the qualities that make Dartmoor special, including impacts on the National Park’s setting from development in surrounding areas.
Concerns over threats from inappropriate development affecting the National Park and its setting was one of the top issues highlighted by the consultation. These pressures included the landscape impacts of equestrian development, large modern agricultural sheds, electricity and telecommunications infrastructure, renewable energy technologies, and military infrastructure, as well as concerns over the erosion of tranquillity from military use, extraction of minerals, and light pollution.
Development in the National Park is guided by planning policies set out in the Dartmoor Local Plan, within the context of the National Planning Policy Framework. This seeks to ensure that development enhances the attractiveness and local distinctiveness of the built environment, including through good quality design and construction as set out in the Dartmoor National Park Design Guide. Pre-application discussions can also help to ensure that development is appropriate within the National Park context and to increase the likelihood of approval.
Some of the impacts on the National Park and its setting are from development outside the National Park boundary, and these cases are determined by neighbouring local authorities, or the County Council (depending on the type of development). All the local authorities surrounding Dartmoor have policies in their Local Plans to protect the National Park. There are a number of initiatives to reduce impacts on the National Park, including reducing light pollution through part-night lighting to protect Dartmoor's dark night skies, and the production of Devon-wide guidance to reduce the landscape impacts of renewable energy proposals (Devon Landscape Policy Group Advice Note No. 2:Accommodating Wind and Solar PV Developments in Devon's Landscape). Visual intrusions into the landscape setting of Dartmoor will be resisted by the National Park Authority. Overhead cables also impact on the landscape character of the National Park, and opportunities to underground these will be supported where appropriate.
Encourage low carbon communities
All communities face challenging times ahead, whether from the global effects of climate change, or more local factors. Dartmoor’s exposed nature and the isolated nature of many of its rural communities make them particularly susceptible to extreme weather events and the potential to be cut off more frequently . The importance of strengthening community resilience in the face of these challenges has been highlighted by recent extreme weather events including drought, flooding and snow. A multi-action approach to develop community resilience further, including building on the work of Devon County Council in promoting emergency parish planning, community snow wardens, and the development of a robust rural broadband network will help in alleviating these impacts.
Promoting low carbon communities and supporting the development of appropriate renewable energy is an important part of mitigating climate change and developing a more sustainable and resilient economy and society in the National Park. An analysis of current energy use across communities in south west Devon estimates that there is a broadly equal split across the non-domestic, domestic and transport sectors (South West Devon Strategic Energy Study: The Evidence Base, University of Exeter 2013). However, on Dartmoor this pattern is not replicated; 45% of energy consumption is used for transport, 34% for domestic purposes and 20% for business, with a total annual cost of £95.8m.
Initiatives driven by central government policy are likely to reduce overall energy demand, although rises in energy prices could offset some of these benefits. Much can be done locally to reduce energy demand, particularly in relation to buildings. The Local Plan encourages high levels of energy efficiency in new buildings. The stock of historic buildings on Dartmoor provides opportunities to reuse existing buildings and therefore make the best use of embodied energy. There are also opportunities to develop exemplars which demonstrate how to make historic or listed buildings more energy efficient or to install renewable energy technologies sympathetically, avoiding damage to their significance, fabric or character. Similarly, the promotion of renewable energy technologies, including connections to the grid, also needs to be carefully balanced with protection of the National Park's special qualities.
Although transport is the largest consuming sector of energy on Dartmoor, it is also one of the most difficult to address due to the rural nature of the area, the high dependency on private car use, and the costs of public transport provision. Solutions to some of these issues will be driven nationally, including the improving efficiency of vehicles and fuel types. In the meantime, opportunities to encourage sustainable transport including walking and cycling, local community initiatives, and individual behavioural change will all contribute to reducing emissions.