#61: THE BLIGHTING OF VIABLE ALTERNATIVES AKA LOCAL PLAN REVIEW.

See also #53; #54; #56

The direct impact of the promotion of the ‘preferred sites’ on Highley.

The realisation of the potential impact of the ‘review’ of Shropshire’s Local Plans (supposedly reflecting the aspirations of local communities within parameters established by national and county policy) started with this email, received Friday, June 15, 2018.

The consultation exercise was part of the Local Plan Review and was promoted by planners as an information gathering exercise, at no time during the meeting that followed was preference for any site considered because, we were told, that would form part of the later “consultation” process.

What we didn’t fully appreciate at that time was that to planners “consultation” means something entirely different to what most people understand to be consultation. [See: #53: How Do Planners Get Away With It?]

The letter Highley parish council received said:

Meeting to discuss Shropshire Local Plan Review – Preferred Options for Site Allocations in Highley

As you are aware, Shropshire Council recently consulted on the Preferred Scale and Distribution of Development as part of its review of the Local Plan. The next stage of work involves the identification of preferred site allocations for Shrewsbury, the market towns and the key centres, [Highley is classified as a Key Centre in planning terms] together with the preferred scale of growth, development boundaries and potential allocations for Community Hubs. We hope to publish these preferred options for consultation in October 2018.

To inform this stage of work, we are assembling relevant information for all settlements which we are proposing will be identified as locations for development in the new Plan (this includes Shrewsbury & the market towns) so that we can arrange a focussed discussion on the key issues. The growth guidelines which we have identified for housing and employment land for Highley within the Preferred Scale and Distribution of Development consultation, will require approximately 4 hectares of additional housing land and 1 hectare of additional employment land to be allocated.

Shropshire Council has undertaken an initial strategic screening of development sites around Highley in order to discount those sites which are unavailable and/or wholly unsuitable. I have attached a map and accompanying table showing the remaining sites which have been promoted to us by landowners (only a small proportion of which will actually be required). This information is currently confidential and should not be shared more widely at this stage. More detailed assessments, including analysis of landscape and visual impacts, are currently being undertaken and these will help to identify constraints and opportunities associated with the remaining sites, which, alongside views from the local community as expressed through the Town Council will inform the site allocation process.

The irony of the planner’s use of the term “preferred site” seemed to have passed them by, because that last sentence clearly implies that whilst the identified “preferred” site is identified as the preferred option, the planners go on to say that the word “preferred” should not be taken to mean what everyone else thinks it means – that using the word does not indicate a preference.

Question a planner on this and you’ll get a blank look because they simply will not see what they’re doing here, and they certainly won’t get your confusion at being told that the word “preferred” doesn’t actually mean exactly what you’ve always taken it to mean – that something is favoured over any alternatives on offer.

It’s necessary to explain all that because the planning department’s take on the English language is unique and, together with “preferred”, their understanding of what constitutes “consultation” will also require a fair bit of effort to get your head around. It’s as well to be prepared and that earlier reference to an earlier blog article will help. [See: #53: How Do Planners Get Away With It?]

In the following article, the question I’m posing is: how does the way Shropshire Council planning department’s approach to “local engagement” relate to principles laid down as far back as 1969.

The Skeffington Report, ‘People and Planning. Report of the Committee on Public Participation in Planning’, prepared by Arthur Skeffington MP was published in 1969 so planners have had plenty of time to get their heads around it.

Until the Skeffington Report, planning had been a largely ‘top down’ system, consultation had been a gesture only, involving those already familiar with the planning process and how to participate, resulting in poor community involvement.

The Skeffington Report proposed that local development plans should be subject to full public scrutiny and debate. Planners were supposed to become more pro-active and ‘hard to reach’ parts of communities become better engaged as part of a “genuinely democratic process”, working towards consensus between a wide range of competing interests.

Those lessons appear to have been forgotten, at least by that part of Shropshire Council’s planning department responsible for the current Local Plan Review.

Shropshire Council’s approach to consultation gives rise to concerns about effective community engagement with the planning system, which can be complex, remote, and generally difficult to engage with, negative factors planners often do nothing to mitigate because the status quo works to their advantage!

As the Rt Hon Nick Raynsford MP said following the recent review of the planning system he undertook in 2018:

“We ignore at our peril the anger and disaffection felt by so many communities at the failure of current planning policies and procedures to listen to their concerns and respond to their needs”.

Well, someone doesn’t mind a bit of peril because very little has changed in the interim and it’s arguable that things have actually got worse!

How much worse for Highley?

The map accompanying the letter we got from Shropshire Council setting out Shropshire Council planning department’s intentions identified seven sites, two of which had been the subject of earlier applications for Outline Planning Permission, one had been withdrawn for unspecified reasons – the agent acting for the landowner in that case had been Helen Howie (see blog #56: Planning: The Failed Process or The Curse of the NPPF, a community nightmare) – the other (HNN014, see map below) had been refused, the details of which I set out later in this text.

[Taking advantage of the newly-acquired ‘preferred site’ status, HNN014 subsequently reappeared as an application for 20 ‘affordable’ houses, a development that was refused as ‘over-development’ See Appendix.]

The earlier history of the preferred site.

YEW TREE SITE

 

Look closely at that location map above, in the centre at the top you’ll see “Hazelwells”, a Grade 2 Listed building, the preferred site falls within the curtilage of that historic local asset Hazelwells Hall!

You will also notice that the left hand (western) boundary of the preferred site is indented because 20 years ago, householders on Yew Tree Grove, whose properties overlook the field, bought a 25 yard strip to extend their gardens.

YEW TREE SITE BUFFER STRIP

 

The householders on Yew Tree Grove applied to get the strip of land changed from Grade 3 Agricultural land to Residential but Bridgnorth District Council (BDC) placed an order called an Article 4 Direction on the whole of this site…

An article 4 direction is made by the local planning authority. It restricts the scope of permitted development rights either in relation to a particular area or site, or a particular type of development anywhere in the authority’s area. Where an article 4 direction is in effect, a planning application may be required for development that would otherwise have been permitted development. Article 4 directions are used to control works that could threaten the character of an area of acknowledged importance, such as a conservation area.

Article 4 directions can increase the public protection of designated and non-designated heritage assets and their settings. They are not necessary for works to listed buildings and scheduled monuments as listed building consent and scheduled monument consent would cover all potentially harmful works that would otherwise be permitted development under the planning regime. However, article 4 directions might assist in the protection of all other heritage assets (particularly conservation areas) and help the protection of the setting of all heritage assets, including listed buildings.

[Historic England: Restricting Permitted Development: Article 4 Directions and Heritage]

ANY development by those householders, regardless whether that “development” took the form of a greenhouse or raised vegetable beds, was forestalled by Bridgnorth District Council planning department’s Article 4 Direction placed on the WHOLE FIELD.

Not to be outdone, the house owners on Yew Tree Grove did eventually go to the expense of getting the Article 4 Direction overturned on the strip they’d purchased, had they not then every household would have had to apply for separate planning permissions to erect any “structure” (however loosely defined) on their individual plot.

Crucially, that Article 4 Direction remains in force on the rest of the field to this day.

The senior planning officer for Bridgnorth District Council at the time issued additional guidelines that precluded any further development on the WHOLE of the eastern ridge of the ‘plateau’ that Highley sits on, to preserve the skyline as viewed across the Severn Valley. That senior planning officer was Ian Kilby, current head of planning at Shropshire Council who said…

The view of the Bridgnorth Office is that we would prefer not to see more development on the eastern side of the village – i.e to not add to existing development on the western ridge of the Severn Valley or the upper slopes to the western side of the village. We consider therefore that any allocations should be on land to the south/southwest on the basis of landscape impact.”

The blighted alternatives.

There are a number of realistic alternatives to Shropshire Council planning department’s preferred site, but one in particular offers a solution to a long-standing problem on the main road through the village – the rat run down the Hazelwells estate road to avoid being stuck behind the 125 bus in either direction as it travels along Clee View Terrace, the terrace of houses shown in the centre of the Google Earth image below.

There is a bus stop opposite the middle house in the row (under the large tree in the image). With cars parked on the road immediately outside the houses the road becomes a single carriageway, so if there is a bus there you have to wait until it clears Clee View.

Clee View bus stop and rat run via Hazelwells Road…

CLEE VIEW AERIAL

Coming from the northern Bridgnorth direction, in anticipation of that hold up vehicles choose to turn left off the B4555 and travel down Hazelwells Road to its southern junction with the B4555, the route shown shaded running vertically down the middle of the image below.

RAT RUN AERIAL

This site offers the solution…

TAYLOR SITE
… Woodhill, obscured by the ‘HNNO19’ label, to the left of Clee View terrace.

The schematic drawing below shows one design for the site. The block shown away from the separate dwellings (bungalows) is a residential block for nursing the elderly and infirm.

TAYLOR SITE PLAN WITH CLEE VIEW

The design is an indicative illustrations only and subject to change following detailed discussions with the landowners, their architect, and the planners, but it’s an idea of what COULD be done.

The bus stop is to the right of the word “Shelter” and the area roughly drawn in outline is the area where off-road parking for Clee View residents could be sited, together with an off road pull in for the 125 bus.

The bonus offered by this alternative site is the employment opportunity offered by the sheltered retirement housing, a significant economic benefit to Highley.

APPENDIX

The following Appendix is particularly useful in demonstrating how advisory comments can be ignored by both developers and by the planning officers that make them.

A planning application for the smallest of the preferred sites (HNN014) for TWENTY two-storey ‘affordable houses’ has recently been submitted. An earlier application had sought to build NINE bungalows.

The earlier application for bungalows was refused planning permission in 2016 and was taken to appeal on the grounds of non-determination because of delays by Shropshire Council in processing the application. The application was then refused for the following reasons:

1. Insufficient information has been provided to enable the Local Planning Authority able to conclude that the proposal will not cause an offence under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations (2010), the scheme as such is contrary to National Planning Policy Framework and Shropshire Council Local Development Framework Core Strategy CS17.

2. In the absence of the agreement to make a contribution towards affordable housing provision, the proposed dwellings would be contrary to Policy CS11 of the Shropshire Council Local Development Framework Core Strategy and to the Council’s Supplementary Planning Document on the Type and Affordability of Housing.

(Officer’s report to the South Planning Committee.)

My own view as the Local Member was that whilst the application for nine bungalows was a reasonable use of the plot (because relatively low profile in terms of its visual impact), I shared both the parish council’s concerns about the site falling outside the established development boundary and the serious concerns about access to the site off the busy B4555, otherwise it would have met a local need for such housing.

On notice of the appeal, Shropshire Council’s report (subsequent to the earlier officer’s report to the South Planning Committee) was submitted because…

2.1 An appeal has been lodged against non-determination of this application and the decision now rests with the Planning Inspectorate. However the Council is required in the appeal process to indicate what its decision would have been if it still had authority to determine the application.

2.2 The application is presented to committee as the Parish Council has submitted a view contrary to officers and the application has been requested to be referred by the Local Member.

That report went into considerable detail to explain how the development of nine bungalows would have a moderate-to-low impact, both aesthetically and in terms of its impact on the local infrastructure, Shropshire Council’s own planners were of the opinion that whilst…

Highley is identified as one of the key centres in Policy CS3 of the Core Strategy. This establishes the principle of Highley as a sustainable location for new development. The application site in particular is located within walking distance of town centre services and facilities (the town centre around 500m from the site boundary) and is within close proximity to the Severn Centre. It is considered that in these respects there are clear sustainability credentials to the site which must be weighed up when determining the application.

…it should be noted that…

Sustainable development’ isn’t solely about accessibility and proximity to essential services. The NPPF states that it is ‘about positive growth – making economic, environmental and social progress for this and future generations’. In paragraph 7 of the NPPF it states that these three dimensions give rise to the need for the planning system to perform a number of roles:

an economic role – contributing to building a strong, responsive and competitive economy, by ensuring that sufficient land of the right type is available in the right places and at the right time to support growth and innovation; and by identifying and coordinating development requirements, including the provision of infrastructure;

a social role – supporting strong, vibrant and healthy communities, by providing the supply of housing required to meet the needs of present and future generations; and by creating a high quality built environment, with accessible local services that reflect the community’s needs and support its health, social and cultural well-being; and

an environmental role – contributing to protecting and enhancing our natural, built and historic environment; and, as part of this, helping to improve biodiversity, use natural resources prudently, minimise waste and pollution, and mitigate and adapt to climate change including moving to a low carbon economy.[6.1.15]

Significantly, the original committee officer report referenced the contextual factors that are supposed to be at the heart of a “plan-led planning system”.

It is not considered necessary or appropriate to [seek] additional sites outside of the Highley development boundary in an area of open countryside, and this would be contrary to the development strategy for the area. A core planning principle in the NPPF is that development should be genuinely plan-led, empowering local people to shape their surroundings, and this is what the recently adopted SAMDev Plan [Shropshire Council’s long term development plan] has achieved, providing a practical framework within which decisions on planning applications can be made. The use of this land for residential development would undermine the NPPF’s objective of a Plan-led approach to development.

The presumption in favour of sustainable development that runs through the NPPF is a relevant material consideration, but it is not considered that this ‘presumption in favour’ should outweigh the significance and primacy of the up-to-date development plan policies in making decisions. On balance, it is considered that the proposal would not be acceptable, being contrary to Policies CS3, CS4 and CS5 of the Core Strategy, and SAMDev Policies MD1, MD3, MD7a and S9.

The promotion of Shropshire Council planning department’s preferred sites blows a hole through all those clearly expressed reservations about the earlier application for the development of the site HHN014, the smaller of the two sites comprising the preferred development area identified by Shropshire Council.

According to Shropshire Council’s figures, the two sites HHN016 and HHN014, are scheduled to take a development of 122 dwellings, despite the reservations expressed over the earlier 2016 application for “just” nine bungalows.

The more cynical among us saw the recent application for 20 affordable two-storey houses as an ill-disguised attempt to sneak in a larger development on the back of the clearly expressed Shropshire Council preference for this, a suspicion that was confirmed in the albeit brief conversation I had with the developers of those 20 two-storey houses at their ‘public exhibition’, the preferred status actually being cited to confirm the “local need” for “such a development”.

It was also clearly inferred that their decision to apply for planning permission was AFTER discussion with Shropshire Council and so I was doubly gobsmacked that, given the history of the site, they still went ahead with an application that was subsequently refused as “over development”!

And Shropshire Council are giving the go-ahead for 122 dwellings regardless of the consequences. Why? Because they can point with one finger to a site that meets in one go what Shropshire Council planning department has determined to be Highley’s contribution to meeting the county’s housing quota until 2036.

That’s why.