Ryedale – new village

I explained my idea for building a new village in Ryedale in my letter of 2018 to the RDC Head of Planning, Mr Gary Housden.

Today, as a member of the Ryedale District Council Planning Committee and Local Plan Working Party charged with the task of revising the Local Plan, and in my role as RDC member representative on the RDC Malton Air Quality Steering Group, it is disheartening that ‘time constraints’ brought about by the transition from District Council to the new unitary authority (North Yorkshire Council) means that, whilst we are revising the Local Plan, we are not able to consider a new village or town, irrespective of the huge long-term benefits this would, in my opinion, bring. We are told that this will or would be something for the new unitary authority to consider [but most likely bury].

Meanwhile (as of 5th April 2022), North Yorkshire County Council is still planning to introduce traffic changes in Malton and Norton that (by its own admission) will result in a deterioration of air quality in Castlegate. The NYCC scheme forecasts that the proposed traffic priority changes will result in an increase in the concentration of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) in the Malton Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) to illegal (harmful) levels. Only North Yorkshire County Council could devise and progress a traffic scheme for Malton that is both unlawful and will cause harm to the health of the people who live there. More amazing still is that, despite its own modelling and air quality change predictions, it still intends to trial the project to see if the scheme will actually kill people! It reminds me of the testing of nuclear bombs in the 1950s. Yes, NO2 kills people but NYCC will carry on, just to see for itself! You couldn’t make it up.

Lake side dwellings, IJburg, Amsterdam

Head of Planning
Ryedale District Council
Ryedale House
YO17 7HH
16 May 2018

Dear Mr Housden,

Malton and Norton: Proposals to reduce congestion and improve connectivity:

Please find below my additional comments on the answers I provided on the tick box questionnaire / consultation response form on the RDC website. Before I expand on the proposed interventions in the consultation, I want to share with you my idea for a new town or village for Ryedale. I know Mr David Lloyd Williams has long held similar views and, whilst our approach and our tastes differ, I think the basic idea and principal is not only sound but also essential.

My ideas link my reading of an old book about Pickering town (The Evolution of an English Town by Gordon Home, 1905) and a visit to Amsterdam. In recent years I have taken a keen interest in the flooding issues in Ryedale (for obvious reasons) and also have spent several hundred hours researching the problem of air pollution in Malton. The following suggestions bring all those subjects together in a way that I believe would help address and resolve many of the big issues.

Several years ago I stayed in a B&B on the island of IJburg in Amsterdam. You may already know this but IJburg is a new, man-made, island just outside the city that was constructed by depositing layer upon layer of sand into the water, and then allowing it to settle before construction began. IJburg is also home to some spectacular floating homes, and the entire place is connected to the city of Amsterdam by a new bridge and tram and, of course, bicycles. The floating homes are a minor tourist attraction in their own right but not the main cause of my enthusiasm.

The IJburg development is a mix of social and privately owned housing, with rents for the social housing set at a similar level to market rents payable in Ryedale. Many of the homes, like the B&B in which I stayed, are self-built. The island has a school and, being surrounded by water, enjoys the recreational use of the water i.e. there are sailing dinghies, rowing boats and young children can be seen diving from a small foot bridge and swimming in the water, whilst their parents enjoy a drink or snack at a waterside café.

IJburg did not happen overnight, and was not without its problems and detractors, but it exists as an exciting example of what can be done where there is the will and the vision. In complete contrast to modern developments in Malton and Norton, and Ryedale as a whole, the houses on IJburg are a mix of contemporary styles and, in many instances, a riot of colour.

One of the most inspired examples of joined up thinking, re place and communications, was printed on the reverse of my ticket to a concert at the spectacular Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ in Amsterdam. The cost of the ticket included a free tram ride home. No worries about drink driving or parking the car or booking a taxi. It is such a simple incentive and easy to take the greener option.

The experience of this vibrant, cool place, and the ease of movement between the new town and the centre of Amsterdam, has fueled my thinking about the pros and cons of building a new town on the floodplain in Ryedale. Most people choke at the mention of building houses on the floodplain until I tell them about IJburg!

This would not be the first lake-dwelling community to live in Ryedale, just the first for several thousand years, as this extract from the book ‘The Evolution of an English Town’ shows. (‘Being the story of the ancient town of PICKERING in Yorkshire from Prehistoric times up to the year of our Lord Nineteen Hundred & 5’ by Gordon Home, reprinted by Blackthorn Press).

“A most interesting discovery of lake-dwellings was made in 1893 by Mr James M. Mitchelson of Pickering, but although the relics brought to light are numerous, no one has yet been able to make any definite statement as to the period to which they belong. The Costa Beck, a stream flowing from the huge spring at Keld Head, on the west side of Pickering, was being cleaned out for drainage purposes at a spot a little over two miles from the town, when several pieces of rude pottery were thrown on to the bank. These excited Mr Mitchelson’s interest and at another occasion his examination revealed more pottery and mixed up with the fragments were the bones of animals. Some piles forming two parallel rows about 4 feet apart were also discovered crossing the stream at right angles to its course.

The diagram given here [not included] shows the position of the piles as far as they were revealed in one of the excavations. It also shows their presumed continuation, but no reliance can be placed on anything but those actually dug out and indicated with a solid black spot. The piles were made of oak, birch and alder, with very rough pointed ends, and they measured from 6 to 10 inches in diameter. Three other rows cross the Costa in the same neighbourhood separated by a few hundred yards and as they lie at right angles to the stream, which there forms a concave bend, they appear to converge upon one point. This would be what may roughly be termed an island between the Costa and a large drain where water in ancient times probably accumulated or flowed.

There can therefore be little doubt that the island was the home of prehistoric lake-dwellers who constructed their homes on rude platforms raised above the water or marshy ground by means of piles after the fashion of the numerous discoveries in Switzerland, and the present habits of the natives of many islands in the Pacific.”
[And IJburg, Amsterdam in 2018]

Principally, my interest in the concept of the building of a new town in Ryedale (or a new large village) is spurred-on by the fact that Malton has, to all intents and purposes, an immovable historic road network that, beyond minor tinkering at junctions, is fixed. It is congested today, and the chances are strong that it will be worse tomorrow as new developments are built out.
Malton and, Norton and Old Malton are also prone to flooding and stinking sewers. Malton may boast the status of Yorkshire’s Food Capital, yet the sewer running through Newbiggin and Wheelgate turns the air foul from Boyes’ Store to Butcher Corner. And this is unlikley to change. The drainage in Malton and Norton is ineffectual and there seems to be no will, either politically or otherwise, to force its repair or renewal. I receive complaints from my accountant on Yorkersgate about the putrid smell. The owner of Streekz hairdressers stops me in the street! Why they complain to me I have no idea! The Arup report of recent years made recommendations but nothing has happened.

It is clear to me that the benefits of a new town are considerable and unique. It would not only help to fulfill the identified housing need but would help resolve existing problems in Ryedale in terms of flooding, traffic congestion and air pollution. It would do all this without putting additional strain on the already stretched and failing infrastructure. I can only see gains for Ryedale people and the towns of Malton and Norton and Old Malton in particular. I have outlined a few of them below.

I would like to see a new town built on the floodplain (in the vicinity of Espersykes / Brambling Fields) for the following reasons:
1. Floodplain land is less productive and less valuable than prime agricultural land. Moreover, it is the natural location to store and contain water.
2. It could be fully utilised as a floodplain to relieve the pressure on Malton and Norton (and villages up stream) in times of sustained heavy rainfall. It would create a natural reservoir / lake that would rise and fall depending on the need for water retention. (I support Mike Potter’s Slow The Flow initiatives, but as Mike and I both know, in certain locations it is important to speed up the flow to enable dykes to drain effectually into the rivers).
3. It would allow for the construction of brand new and effectual drainage and sewerage infrastructure, and transport-wise would connect directly to the A64.
4. It would connect to Malton by a new tramway and, at certain times of the year, by river taxi, allowing people to travel from the island to the railway station without having to use the car or find a car parking space.
5. The island could follow the lead set by Costa Rica and be fossil fuel free. All solar and wind powered. All houses would be ‘passive haus’ construction and built either on stilts in the water (floodplain) or on the newly constructed island. There could be floating houses that rise and fall depending on the level of the water (like the floating houses of IJBurg).
6. The island would be a mix of social housing and privately owned and built with ‘contemporary, colourful, innovative’ as the standard. Self-builders would be prioritised, and the artistic community would be actively encouraged to live there (I don’t think the many artists I know would take much persuading). In fact, I think people would fall over themselves in the rush to live in such a vibrant and exciting, carbon neutral place. Cars could be electric only with subsidies given to make the option affordable).
7. Electric bikes and scooters would be available 24 hours at both ends of the new and lit cycle route to the Railway Station and at the mid-point in Norton.
8. The new cycle route would incorporate a spectacular new cycle / footbridge over the railway station proposed by Eden Blyth.

My hope is to see a new town developed in Ryedale: a town or large village that is not car dependent and has properly working infrastructure and green living as its priority. Air quality would be good and supermarkets would deliver by electric vehicles. The island would become a holiday destination and the lake used for recreation by the residents of the whole of Ryedale, like our sister town of IJburg.

A new New Malton – Twinned with IJburg, Amsterdam. Build it and they will come.

Malton and Norton: Proposals to reduce congestion and improve connectivity:

Ryedale has self-inflicted problems of traffic congestion and poor air quality and must resolve both issues. In both instances, I believe Ryedale District Council and NYCC have previously relied on bad information and advice and have got their joint approach and their facts wrong. This is not in a good place from which to start.

The consultation background notes list a number of factors that are already contributing to congestion, and suggestions that will only make the bad situation worse if the brake is not applied to further development in the twin towns.

‘Natural growth in traffic’:

I don’t know what the word ‘natural’ means in the context of traffic but the growth in traffic in Malton and Norton directly corresponds to the increase in number of houses built. RDC and NYCC should shift the focus of development away from Malton and Norton and allow more organic growth in development across the district. The artificial idea of Service villages, and the notion of a ‘Principal town’ is an RDC construct that is the root cause of the increased congestion and air pollution in Malton and Norton.

‘Historic, space constrained, transport network, particularly local roads in the towns’;

I agree, and that is why the focus of development should widen out from Malton and Norton to the whole of Ryedale. I advocate the building of a new town or village.

The pattern of land use and on-going development’;

The Ryedale Plan, and ‘the pattern of land use and on-going development’ IS the cause of the problem you are trying to solve. It is commonly known as ‘shooting oneself in the foot’ and ‘shutting the door after the horse has bolted’.

Location and provision of car parking;

All car parking should be free.

The towns’ status as Ryedale’s Principal Town, which attracts trips, for employment and services, from the wider district;

The idea of Malton as ‘Ryedale’s Principal Town’ (once referred to by Linda Cowling as “Ryedale’s Capital”) is is an artificial construct of RDC and of no relevance to man or beast except that it is has encouraged over-development in the town that has made a bad situation worse. Millions of pounds of Ryedale council taxpayers’ money have been spent on projects that have brought no gain or improvement to traffic congestion or poor air quality.

A high number of short internal trips (that don’t leave the two towns) made by car;

It seems to be beyond the understanding of the officers and elected members of both councils that the increase in number of new houses = the increase in car trips = increase in congestion = increase in air pollution. If that fact cannot be accepted by RDC and NYCC, we are doomed!

High levels of Heavy Goods Vehicles using the towns’ local roads;

RDC, in partnership with NYCC, blocked the early implementation of the Brambling Fields complementary measure to restrict HGV movements over the level crossing in Norton. The junction upgrade scheme was approved based on flawed and misinterpreted data and the entire project was pushed through to open the door to further large-scale housing development in the twin towns. However, the claimed future reduction in traffic volumes passing through Butcher Corner was wrong and the error was not spotted. The Brambling Fields scheme will never deliver the outcomes that the officers’ report to members claimed it would deliver. It will, however, disperse HGV movements and traffic onto other local roads, many of which are unsuitable.

Limited use of public transport; and

What is public transport? I live in a small village in the Ryedale countryside.

Seasonal traffic travelling through the towns during the summer months.

Ryedale District Council and NYCC invest a considerable sum of money each year to attract tourists to Ryedale and North Yorkshire. Inevitably this investment will have a negative impact on, and to some extent negate, the measures introduced to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality. I do not think the councils can have their cake and eat it. Electric shuttle buses from an accessible Park and Ride might help. The vicinity of Brambling Fields’ new town is the logical place on the A64.

Summary of interventions – my notes on individual suggestions below:

Intervention A – Bus Service Connectivity Improvements

Good idea. A daily return bus service through Brawby, Great Barugh and Great Habton to Malton would reduce the car dependence of many people.

Intervention B – Behaviour Change Measures targeting local businesses, schools and new residential developments

Good idea – but firstly, it is necessary to stop increasing the problem by approving additional large-scale housing developments in Malton and Norton.

Intervention C – Walkway and Bridge etc.

Very good idea if linked to new cycle routes from Norton to station and from Malton to station.

Intervention D –

As C above.

Intervention E – Car Parking Strategy for the Ryedale District

This intervention is actually a series of interventions and there are some interesting points. The final paragraph suggests a major shift in thinking:

“Car parking improvements could also encourage more trips into the towns from further afield, promoting its position as a local service centre and visitor destination, with positive implications for the local economy.”

This idea contradicts the Ryedale Plan concept of ‘designated service villages’ that were supposed to encourage and foster greater use of public transport. A quick glance at the near-empty service busses would suggest that the idea was, and is, ‘Pie in the Sky’.

The proposed new car parking strategy shifts the emphasis away from encouraging greater use of public transport in preference to attracting more cars into the town from further afield.

If RDC and NYCC are successful in attracting more trips into the towns from further afield, how do they propose to simultaneously reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality? Help me on this one… I am completely baffled by the contradictory messages and lack of clear objectives!

Intervention F – Internal Junction Improvements and Traffic Signal Strategy

I strongly recommend that RDC and NYCC members and officers re-read the officers’ report to members re Brambling Fields about the planned changes to the timing of the lights at Butcher Corner for another shining example of what went wrong (and another so-called complementary measure that bit the dust). This change was billed as an important measure to improve pedestrian safety. Clearly it was not that important because it was never implemented!