May 5 2019 Local Plan Examination Hearings
April/May 2019g 4
Newsbrief 50 alerted you to the start of the Local Plan Hearings. Now, after 8 days of Hearings, spread over a month, we can say it was gruelling, frustrating and depressing in equal measure.
The national planning policy framework (NPPF) requires that local plans are examined by an independent inspector to assess whether they have been prepared in accordance with the duty to cooperate, legal and procedural requirements, and whether they are sound. Mr Richard McCoy was the Planning Inspector appointed to examine the Lancaster Local Plan as submitted in May 2018. The Inspector assured us that written submissions (such as the objections we all submitted in April last year) would count the same as speaking at the hearings. Most representors (to use the planning jargon!) who spoke produced a hearing statement and all were placed on the examination website. - See Local Plan Examination Library Section 7
The hearing statements which CLOUD submitted are also available see https://www.cloudbgv2017.co.uk/2019-local-plan-hearings
The examination hearings followed a rigid procedure : all participants had to address the Inspector’s questions concerning the policies as set out in the Council’s Plan and nothing else. Were these policies and therefore the Plan ‘sound’ or did they need ‘modifying’? Modifications which the Inspector considers essential to make the plan sound will in due course be subject to public consultation. So be warned - we are facing yet another round of documents from the Council to comment on! One particular feature we were not really expecting was the Inspector’s encouragement of ‘statements of common ground- meaning that where objectors (typically the housing developers) had registered objections to the Council’s plan, both parties were encouraged to reach a compromise. If you look on the Examination website you will see a raft of these - they will form part of the modifications for consultation. Some of these statements of common ground will, if accepted, result in pretty major changes to the local plan - see below for more on this subject.
It is striking, when you arrive at these hearings, to discover just how thoroughly they are dominated by a daunting array of developers, their consultants and legal representatives. Even the Council planners had their own QC who played a major part in the proceedings. This left CLOUD and the few other local objectors feeling like a beleaguered minority. The 2012 planning legislation changed the balance of hearings to bring about this state of affairs, a problem that is being experienced across the UK as this article indicates : https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/apr/19/who-owns-england-secretive-companies-hoarding-land
Mark Salisbury spoke on Day 1 raising our strong concerns about the conduct of consultations from 2 January 2017 onwards. The Council Planners response was that consultations had been extensive and complete confirming that the necessary box had been ticked.
Mary Breakell highlighted challenged the link made by Lancaster City Council to 2000 jobs resulting from the Health Innovation Campus (HIC) using a Freedom of Information request to the University. This showed that under 150 jobs would created in the Local Economy as a result of Phase 1 of HIC. The rest were business assists across Lancaster, Lancashire and Cumbria. With such a modest number of new jobs in Lancaster she queried whether Bailrigg Garden Village met the definition of a Garden Village with employment embedded within it. The City Planners’ response was that they did not assume everyone who lived in the Garden Village would work at HIC, which didn’t really answer the question
Tony Breakell spoke on transport and infrastructure. He drew attention to the high costs of the Bailrigg garden village infrastructure (reconfiguring M6 junction 33 and crossing the railway line being the biggest items). He alerted the Inspector to the recent letters from Lancashire County Council to residents to the south of the city announcing the start of preliminary surveys for this work. This indicated just how preliminary the existing cost estimates are and how, just like the Bay Gateway, we can expect costs to rise substantially as more realistic estimates are produced. Nevertheless we learned at the hearings that a bid has been made by Lancashire County Council (as highways authority) for £100m from the Government’s Housing Infrastructure Fund. A decision on this application may be expected this Autumn and will be a crucial decision as to whether the garden village goes ahead - watch for developments!
Tony also pointed out that census data showed Lancaster already had more residents than jobs leading to net out-commuting - a situation that building 3500 houses at Bailrigg would only make worse and would run contrary to the city council’s declared policy aim of carbon neutrality.
Rosie Morgan spoke on Air Pollution. She showed that part of Galgate is in an Air Quality Management Zone, an acknowledgement of air pollution problems caused by traffic. Although surveys show some improvement in recent years, this is before any committed or proposed housing development. Local residents are rightly concerned particularly when a recent planning application, at Ward Field Farm, was approved even though The Air Quality Officer recommended that it be refused.
The Council are keen to suggest that an, as yet unconfirmed, reconfigured junction 33 will by-pass Galgate and thus improve the problem. This remains to be seen and may just move the traffic congestion and pollution further down the A6 to Scotforth/ Greaves and the Pointer roundabout.
Steve Constantine referred to three reports prompted by the December 2017 floods. All
three included photographs. Two of the reports had been supplied by us to the Inquiry. One was by Steve Constantine himself, and the second was a meticulously researched report on the causes, location and consequences of floods in Bowerham and Hala, supplied by the South Lancaster Flood Action Group. But the third, had been supplied by the consultants who are advising the Council on flood risk matters. Their report particularly concerned South Lancaster and Galgate. It described as an extensive flood plain of the Conder an area through which we know the link from Junction 33 to BGV is expected to run.
Its advice, Steve Constantine stressed in the Hearing, was to ‘Consider retaining land for flood risk management’.
The NPPF refers (among much else) to flood risks and the impact of climate change, and the Inspector’s job is to judge whether the Council’s policy on this, as on other matters, is ‘sound’ or should be amended. Accordingly, Constantine's pitch was to insist that Policy DM33 should be amended to read that ‘Proposals for new development will be required to prevent [not ‘minimise’] the risk of flooding’, and that ‘Consideration must [not ‘should’) be given to all sources of flooding’. Whether he accepts these amendments to strengthen the obligation remains to be seen.
Neil McDonald (CLOUD paid expert) working with Tim Hamilton-Cox on Housing Need Day 2 of the Hearings.
Neil outlined the issues he was challenging in the Objective Assessed Need (OAN) (see our website for detail https://www.cloudbgv2017.co.uk/2019-local-plan-hearings). After outlining his critique of the Council’s figures, the ensuing debate was terminated by the Inspector, meaning that the full impact of Neil McDonald’s evidence was lost. The Inspector asked Neil McDonald and the Council’s representatives to discuss the issue of OAN outside the hearings and to establish what common ground existed. He asked for an update on the progress of these discussions at the Day 4 hearing and, when it became clear that little if any common ground existed, was obliged to schedule an extra hearing day to resolve this issue. This will be on 21 May at 10.00 am in Morecambe Town Hall.
The key issue on housing need is that, until very recently, the official statistics have under-counted the number of students who leave their university city at the end of their course - typically graduates moving away to find work elsewhere. Lancaster is particularly affected by this statistical error, since it is a relatively small city with a relatively large student population. In terms of percentage reduction in population forecasts, Lancaster is in 13th highest place out of all authorities in England and Wales. On 21st May, we will be returning to argue that it is this factor in particular that leads to the conclusion that the Lancaster Local Plan as currently constituted is unsound. How far we progress remains to be seen but it is clear that our arguments on this issue are not welcome.
Statements of Common Ground
During the Second day of the Hearings a Statement of Common Ground was announced (see See Local Plan Examination Library Section 8 See HD08 https://www.lancaster.gov.uk/assets/attach/4928/HD08_SoCG%20re%20Policy%20SG1%20-%20Bailrigg%20Garden%20Village.pdf
This was negotiated by Turleys between Lancaster City Council and Commercial Estates Properties, Peel Investments (North) Ltd and Story Homes Limited to allow the development of land that was within the boundary of the proposed Bailrigg Garden Village (BGV) ahead of the South Lancaster Area Action Plan. This means that land at Whinney Carr and Pinewood Close could be developed before any final decisions are made about BGV. Statements of Common Ground are standard practice within Planning Hearings to resolve issues that are believed to affect the soundness of the Plan. During the same session Gladman's drew on the precedent set by the Statement of Common Ground to propose further development along Bailrigg Lane and this resulted in a scoping bid being submitted for 750 Houses and a retail unit. The bid can be seen on the Planning website 19/00491/EIO
Conflict of Interest
We were struck during that second day of Hearings of a lack of transparency regarding the role of Turleys as they were representing Peel Holdings. They also prepared an objective assessment of housing need (OAN) for Lancaster District. This was followed by Lancaster District Economic Update Report - first version 2015 and updated version 2017.These were used to prepare Lancaster Local Plan which was approved by the City Council 20 December 2017.Turley continued to work for Lancaster City Council producing a verification report of the 'Turley' numbers in February 2018.
We and a qualified surveyor wrote to the Planning Inspector, expressing our concerns. These letters (see full letters ) were read out at the start of Hearings on 23 April and Turleys assured the Hearing that the work they did for Peel Holdings was carried out by Turley (Planning) whereas the work for Lancaster City Council was by Turley (Economics). A letter explaining this was posted onto the Hearing Website HD41.2 https://www.lancaster.gov.uk/assets/attach/5051/HD41.2_Turley%20Briefing%20Note%20re%20conflict%20of%20interest_25%2004%2019.pdf
Extra Hearing Day on Housing Need 21 May 2019
The Inspector will undertake a number of unaccompanied site visits, including several identified by Steve Constantine to show roads and flood risks See https://www.lancaster.gov.uk/assets/attach/5040/Inspector%20site%20visit%20list_V2_29%2004%2019.pdf
We will not know the outcome of the examination hearings until the Inspector produces his report and this will be some time after the final hearing on 21st May.