West Suffolk Local Plan (Regulation 18) Issues and Options October 2020

Part 1 - developing a spatial strategy

Part 1. 2. Setting the scene - West Suffolk: background and context

Natural and built environment

Natural and built environment infographic

2.1. West Suffolk has a rich and diverse landscape much of it protected because these distinctive areas of land are home to rare and protected species and habitats. The area includes internationally, nationally and locally important nature conservation sites, special landscape areas, historic parks and gardens, and the unique stud farm landscape around Newmarket. In addition, there are a variety of heritage assets from cottages to Grade I listed buildings, ancient monuments such as the Abbey ruins in Bury St Edmunds, and a number of conservation areas across our historic towns and attractive villages.

2.2. The natural environment also includes elements such as water supply and quality, and the air we breathe, as well as the more obvious landscape elements from the nature of the soil and agricultural productivity, to the landscape character of different areas of the district and extent and nature of tree coverage. Some of these elements are clearly also impacted on by climate change and we will try to indicate where these areas align without repeating sections of text. Climate change has an impact on all of our environment, and we have focussed on this as a priority when considering the current and future context for planning in West Suffolk.

Climate change

Climate change infographic


2.3. In July 2019 West Suffolk Council set up a task force to research and recommend actions and initiatives to address the climate emergency and propose practical solutions, investments and actions the council can take to reduce carbon emissions. This work will build on current projects and will influence all aspects of the council's work.

2.4. Climate change affects all areas of life and the need to take action to reduce carbon emissions drives the aims of the WSLP. A new local plan provides the opportunity to develop policies that will facilitate, promote and ensure well-designed efficient homes and businesses in sustainable locations to enable journeys to be made on public transport, foot and/or cycle.

Demographic change - a growing and changing population

Demographic change infographic

  • From 2018 to 2038, the proportion of West Suffolk residents aged over 65 is predicted to almost double (97 per cent increase).
  • By 2038, the proportion of the population aged over 65 will be one in three.
  • Unemployment in West Suffolk is low, however, wage levels remain below the national average.
  • The proportion of residents with NVQ4+ qualifications in West Suffolk (23 per cent) is a little below the national average of 24 per cent and the proportion with no qualifications (24 per cent) is above the national average (22 per cent).
  • Average GCSE attainment in 2017 to 2018 in West Suffolk was below the national average.

2.5. Further statistical information about West Suffolk is available on our website.

Growth and infrastructure

Growth and infrastructure infographic

2.6. Residential and business growth and development in West Suffolk has, for the most part, followed the plans put in place by the two former local authority areas. Strategic developments around Bury St Edmunds and Haverhill are coming forward through allocations in the St Edmundsbury Core Strategy 2010 and Vision 2031 documents (adopted 2014), and developments in settlements in the former Forest Heath area have been completed and are coming forward in line with the Core Strategy 2010 and more recently the Site Allocations Local Plan (adopted September 2019).

2.7. Local infrastructure to serve this growth has been and is being provided through developer contributions and funded schemes and services. Strategic infrastructure such as the national road network is funded by government through a bidding process, making delivery of improvements in our area difficult to predict or plan for. The electricity grid is likely to come under increasing pressure as this country moves away from fuels such as gas and oil. Electric vehicle charging is becoming more mainstream which has the potential to add to this pressure, particularly at existing pinch-points. We will continue to work closely with infrastructure and service providers to plan for growth.

The economy, transport and connectivity

Economy, transport and connectivity infographic

2.8. The economic geography of West Suffolk has contributed to a diverse and successful local economy. Although predominantly rural in character the towns in the district are well connected to the rest of the country with the A14 connecting us with Felixstowe to the east and Cambridge to the west, the A11 providing connections and opportunities to Cambridge and Norwich, and the A1307 connecting the south of the district with the Cambridge Biomedical Campus and Stansted. This geography and accessibility is reflected in the main employment sectors: the horseracing industry, agriculture and agricultural services, food and drink (food processing, etc.), biotech, public service (particularly West Suffolk Hospital), civilian employment at the airbases, manufacturing (engineering, pharmaceuticals and electronics), tourism, hospitality, retail and leisure.

2.9. More people come to work in West Suffolk than commute out, but wages are lower in the district than in other areas such as Cambridge. The rural nature of much of the district limits access to the main roads and very high broadband speeds which, in turn, can limit the opportunities for rural enterprise and home working. Moving forward we need to address these issues in order to sustain and grow economic activity in the rural area.