Newsbrief 71 20 July 2020 CLOUD response Planning Inspector's Report, Council Meeting 29 July 2020
NEWSBRIEF NO 71 21 July 2020
Local Plan and Inspector’s Report
City Council Adoption of Local Plan
Freedom of Information Requests
CLOUD General Meeting
Other Planning Issues
Local Plan and Inspector’s Report
In our last Newsbrief we promised to provide our assessment of the Planning Inspector’s report into the Lancaster Local Plan. We have now held a virtual Management Committee meeting via Zoom - not only did this ensure compliance with the Coronavirus regulations, it also proved remarkably effective.
The Planning Inspector’s report is a disappointment. He fails to provide any real response to the objections we raised at last year’s Hearings on such important issues as population growth, housing needs and employment prospects. Reports by inspectors on other contested Local Plans have provided reasoned arguments in favour of approval and also explained why informed objections were not sufficiently persuasive. This is lacking from the Lancaster report, which we consider to be perfunctory in its treatment of objections to the Plan. The Inspector makes clear that the Plan as originally submitted was unsound and that only through the Main Modifications, which he has introduced, has it in his opinion become sound. It’s a reflection (and a sad one) of the gulf between the Inspector and CLOUD that our response last Autumn to these draft Main Modifications was that they changed little of substance and failed to address the key issues which CLOUD members have been objecting to since its inception in 2017. The annex to this Newsbrief contains a more detailed critique of the Inspector’s report.
City Council Adoption of Local Plan
** Please get ready to contact your local councillor - see below for details **
The next stage with any local plan, once the inspector has declared it sound, is for the council to formally adopt it. Lancaster City Council has already declared its intention to do so and to follow adoption with an immediate review of the Plan to take account of its Climate Emergency declaration. We expect adoption to take place at the full council meeting on 29th July, but this is yet to be confirmed. The agenda for this meeting is not expected to be issued before 21st July. In anticipation we have prepared a 5 minute address for one of the CLOUD committee members to deliver to the meeting. This sets out the key points we wish to impress on councillors - both when they vote on adoption of the Plan and subsequently. Our expectation is that the Plan will indeed be adopted and so our efforts should be directed to mitigating its worst features and encouraging a process of review and amendment. Here is the text of the address :
I am addressing you on behalf of CLOUD. We are a residents’ organisation, particularly but not only concerned about proposals to develop a ‘Bailrigg Garden Village’ in south Lancaster.
One of the positive features of the Bailrigg Garden Village scheme, as referred to in the Local Plan, was that it was going to be an integrated and comprehensive development, including schools, social facilities, public transport, and such other elements as are needed to create a community. However, in the post-coronavirus world, funding for such services is going to be much harder to obtain. Without them this would not be a garden village, just a vast housing estate.
This is a crucial point. Planning applications by house-builders for large housing estates in south Lancaster are already being submitted. These must be set aside until the Council has had time to prepare a Lancaster South Area Action Plan. This must embed in it detailed designs for the garden village. These must be put out to public consultation. Our understanding is that plans for Lancaster South and the garden village would also be reviewed by a second Planning Inspector.
The Council is already committed to a review of the Local Plan in the light of the Climate Emergency declaration of 30 January 2019. The Planning Inspector himself recognised climate change as an issue in his report, see his references to flooding and air pollution.
South Lancaster has a history of serious flooding, most recently in December 2017. It caused devastation in Galgate, as well as in the city and Halton. The Environment Agency is aware of the problem, but we have been told it does not have the financial resources to deal adequately with the existing risk, let alone greater risks. Mitigation measures, such as SUDS are intended to offset the consequences of concreting over green fields, but they are unlikely to be able to cope adequately (even if regularly cleared of debris) in an area already subject to flooding.
Improving air quality is also an urgent issue. To address the Green agenda, the garden village, and south Lancaster more widely, require substantially improved public transport links in order to reduce car dependency. We are concerned that the recent and successful Housing Infrastructure Fund bid only provides money for the road-building elements of the South Lancaster growth area. The bus rapid transit system and cycle superhighway, of which much is made in the Local Plan, are left to be funded by developer contributions or other unspecified public sources. That neither of these constitute a reliable funding should be obvious to us all and a real cause for concern. Additionally, the preference for home-working which is emerging from the Coronavirus pandemic should surely encourage us to develop local jobs rather than encouraging long distance commuting by building yet more roads?
You don’t need CLOUD to tell you how much more difficult the Coronavirus pandemic makes it to conduct public business. We would ask you to ensure that consultation with local communities and residents is maintained. We would also appreciate any advice you can provide as to how you intend to achieve this.
This has been only a brief summary of CLOUD’s concerns regarding the Local Plan and its implementation in south Lancaster. We appreciate the value of having an up-to-date Local Plan in place, but we trust that Councillors will bear in mind the points I have just outlined when reaching your decision on the motion before you. We are also willing, if any Councillors so desire, to discuss and amplify any of the points I have raised. We are keen to play a constructive role in the discussions relating to the Climate Emergency and South Lancaster developments.
Once we receive confirmation that the Local Plan will be debated on 29th July, we ask all CLOUD members to contact your local councillor and register disappointment at the Inspector’s report and your continued objection to the development of Bailrigg garden village.
Freedom of Information Requests
In his Spring budget on 11th March, (back before the Coronavirus lock-down!), the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced measures benefitting the northwest of England. These included ‘£140 million from the Housing Infrastructure Fund for the ‘South Lancaster Growth Catalyst’ proposal which will unlock up to 9,185 homes.’
As this was the first time we had heard the term ‘S Lancaster Growth Catalyst’ and especially as the figure of 9185 new houses was far higher than anything we’d seen in the local plan process, we submitted a series of questions under the Freedom of Information Act. We submitted our questions to HM Treasury, Homes England, Lancashire County Council and Lancaster City Council as all these bodies have a connection to this announcement. Here are the questions :
In calculating this figure of 9,185, please state:-
How this figure has been calculated.
The location or locations of the 9,185 homes defined by their distribution within their various specific six-character postcodes.
Within what timescale is it planned to spend the £140M.
Please provide a breakdown of how the £140M is to be allocated - as between road building, public transport schemes and provision for cyclists and pedestrians.
Over what timescale are the 9185 houses expected to be built.
The City Council has already announced its intention to review the Local Plan (once approved) on account of the Climate Emergency declaration. What account will this review take of the announcement in the Spring budget of the allocation of £140M for the South Lancaster growth catalyst? (Question 6 only went to Lancaster city council).
So far we have received responses from Lancashire County Council on questions 1 to 5 and Lancaster City on question 6 - as set out below. We are chasing up the other 2 bodies, whose responses are overdue. The answer to question 4 is perhaps the most concerning - it states that all the £140M is for road-building, while bus rapid transit and the cycle superhighway are left to the mercy of developer contributions.
This figure is arrived at by taking the estimated number of houses across the entirety of the South Lancaster broad area of growth which includes, but is not restricted to, the new garden village. This totals 5,185. To that is added a potential additional 3,500 after 2031, the need for and location of which would be identified as part of the next local plan. Finally, 500 is added as an allowance from the 2000 new student residential units planned by the university.
We do not hold this information defined to postcode level.
The government's designated spend period for the HIF funding is by 31 March 2024.
The £140m is completely focused on the large strategic infrastructure part of the wider package so all £140m would fall into your category of 'road building'. The other categories would be funded by what the government term 'local contributions', such as from other public funding pots or from housing/commercial developers via the planning system. In the bid approximately £30m worth of public transport and active travel (cycling and walking) initiatives have been identified.
It is difficult to be certain about delivery beyond the current local plan period (which ends in 2031) but potentially between now and 2045.
Lancaster City Council’s leader has advised that pursuant to the Climate Change Emergency declared by the Council’s political administration in January 2019 the current administration intends to explore and develop measures to help redress the challenge of climate change. It is anticipated that the scoping stage for the review will begin in the late summer of 2020 following the anticipated adoption of the emerging plan.
CLOUD General Meeting
In normal circumstances we would have arranged a General Meeting as soon as the Inspector's report had been received. All CLOUD members could then have discussed it and decided on our next steps. Coronavirus obviously prevents us doing this and there seems little prospect of large gatherings being permitted any time soon. One possible way out of this dilemma is for us to arrange a virtual (on-line) meeting, in which we could exchange views and ideas. We have been offered the use of a ZOOM facility capable of accommodating the numbers we’ve seen at ‘real’ CLOUD meetings in the past.
To enable us to assess how popular this might be, would members please email us at [insert CLOUD email address] if they would like to take part in such a meeting.
Other planning issues
We will be shortly following through with a further Newsbrief on other planning issues including, 00305/OUT 55 houses on Ashton Road, Gladman’s Planning Application : Land NE of Bailrigg Lane 19/01135/OUT and proposals for Grab Lane. We felt this Newsbrief was getting a little long!
Annex - Critique of Planning Inspector’s Report
Non-Technical Summary. Local Plan is sound provided Main Mods (MM) incorporated. These include stepped delivery of annual housing numbers, BGV and flooding but, as CLOUD commented during the consultation on the MMs, these changes are very modest and fall well short of what we were seeking.
Assessment of Soundness (6 issues) - Issue 1 : spatial strategy etc (paras 18 to 44)
Para 20. This refers to air quality and SPMM1/SO4. Main Mod needed to minimise climate change, promote sustainable transport and thereby improve air quality - all CLOUD issues, but we were unimpressed by the Main Mod when we commented on it last Autumn. We need to work out how best we can pursue these matters and ensure they are properly addressed by the Council going forward.
Para 22. This deals with economic growth in the district and specifically on the Uni campus - Main Mod SPMM3 refers. It repeats the Experian job growth forecast from the Local Plan - and ignores Neil McDonald’s critique of it at the Hearings. Clearly the coronavirus pandemic has subsequently disrupted all job forecasts and the Uni is now curtailing investment and retracting. What impact this will have in the short and longer term remains to be seen.
Para 29. Paras 24 to 28 recognise the spatial constraints on housing development in the Lancaster area and para 29 endorses development in South Lancaster (by the forthcoming AAP).
Para 42. This is under the heading ‘Implementation and Monitoring’ and refers to SPMM54 which brought in the enhanced monitoring arrangements discussed in the Hearings - when the Inspector invited CLOUD to be part of the ongoing monitoring arrangements. Para 42 refers to BGV and states that a review of housing land delivery may be needed before the AAP is adopted. Does this give any scope for CLOUD to raise issues/objections?
Assessment of Soundness - Issue 2 : housing requirement (paras 45 to 62 )
Paras 45 - 48. This section repeats the Turley evidence uncritically and without any recognition of the issues raised by CLOUD and Neil McDonald whether at the Hearings or in earlier written objections. Para 48 ignores all the points raised by us on the extra Hearing day. However, there’s nothing short of a judicial review which could challenge this and CLOUD simply hasn’t got the money to hire a barrister to do this.
Paras 49 to 55. Nothing much for CLOUD here, although the Inspector seems to accept that building ever more houses is the key to prosperity and jobs growth etc - despite the evidence we provided at the Hearings about lack of jobs in Lancaster.
Assessment of Soundness - Issue 3 : housing site allocations and 5 year supply etc (paras 63 to 133)
Paras 74 to 80 refer to BGV - which the Inspector wants retitled as ‘Lancaster South Broad Location of Growth’. The Inspector insists on pro-active consultation with the local community in the preparation of the AAP (our experience to date with consultation on the Local Plan is not too encouraging in this regard). The Inspector also sets out strict rules on developments taking place before finalisation of the AAP (para 78 ‘exceptional circumstances’) and these may help us with current planning applications.
Paras 90 and 91 mention Grab Lane and para 93 refers to Royal Albert Fields -- both of which have been of concern to CLOUD. I’m not sure what the Inspector’s comments mean - although the reference to increasing the number of houses at R Albert doesn’t look encouraging!
Para 112. This effectively waters down the 40% affordable housing requirement - this may be an issue worth drawing to the attention of city councillors?
Para 113. This refers to DMMM2 and the phasing out (but not immediately) of fossil fuel heating in new houses - something we can expect the Council’s climate emergency review of the Local Plan to address, particularly with regard to any development taking place before the AAP is in place?
Paras 125 to 132. These refer to the 5 year housing supply. The Inspector’s main concern seems to be to fend off any complaints by developers that the 5 year supply is inadequate. Once again there’s no recognition of the evidence CLOUD presented to show that, although actual house building has been below the OAN targets throughout the recent past, Lancaster house prices remain amongst the most affordable in the country. The idea that OAN might be overstated is not recognised.
Assessment of Soundness - Issue 4 : economic development, town centres etc (paras 134 to 159).
Para 138. This relates to Policy SG2 and development at the Uni’s Health Innovation Campus. Yet again it completely ignores the evidence CLOUD presented at the Hearings and in writing beforehand. Our FoI request to the University showed that the Uni was not expecting any of the estimated 2000 jobs, which it forecast to result from the HIF development, would be based at the Bailrigg campus - they would be across the NW region of England. The Inspector however has simply accepted the claim in the Local Plan that these jobs would be at Bailrigg. He has confirmed south Lancaster as a broad area for jobs growth - when the reality is that it will be little more than housing development. The only consolation is that the Inspector recognises the flood risk from Ou beck and wants this addressed in the AAP.
Para 148. This refers to the Agri-business centre at M6 J33. CLOUD objected to this development as part of our wider objection to the J33 ‘improvement’ proposals. There’s perhaps a little consolation in that the Inspector stipulates that only agri-related businesses should be permitted and wider developments not allowed.
Assessment of Soundness - Issue 5 : heritage, natural environment etc (paras 160 to 177).
There’s nothing of relevance for CLOUD here - no mention of the adverse impact of BGV on the natural landscape.
Assessment of Soundness - Issue 6 : Infrastructure, transport etc (paras 178 to 205).
Para 178. This is a complacent and entirely inadequate assessment of the issues around highway congestion, air pollution and sustainable transport. How the Inspector can conclude that the Local Plan provides for sustainable growth given the evidence that CLOUD and others presented is difficult to comprehend. Likewise the trenchant criticisms that Highways England submitted is dismissed with the remark that HIghways England welcomes continued dialogue with the Council!
Para 180. This admits that transport issues may be needed as developments proceed and that this could be done at the earliest review of the Local Plan. When this might be the Inspector doesn’t specify but CLOUD might press for this to be done as part of the Council’s Climate Emergency review?
Paras 191 and 192. The Insector sets out his reasons for not accepting Freeman’s Wood as a designated local green space.
Paras 199 and 200. These refer to MMs and appear to provide minor improvements re walking/cycling and sustainable transport.
Para 201. The MM here (DMMM39) seems to provide stronger grounds for the Council to oppose developments which go against sustainable/public transport - a point which CLOUD has already registered in our objection to the Gladman’s planning application. How significant this MM actually is remains to be tested!
Para 202. The same point as para 201 but here in respect of air quality.
Paras 203 and 204. The same point as para 201 but here in respect of flooding and drainage.
Assessment of Legal Compliance
In this section the Inspector accepts that the Council has complied with statutory requirements to consult with local communities and (unnamed) local organisations. He recognises in para 206 that there has been some criticism of the Council’s approach, citing extensive use of digital technology which was not accessible to all and the objection that views from local bodies have not been taken into account. These objections are however just dismissed.
Overall Conclusion and Recommendation.
The Inspector makes clear that the Plan as originally submitted was unsound and that only through the Main Mods, which he has introduced, has it in his opinion become sound. It’s a reflection (and a sad one?) of the gulf between the Inspector and CLOUD that our response last Autumn to the draft Main Mods was that they changed little of substance and failed to address the key issues we had been objecting to in the Local Plan.
Appendix and Main Modifications
The rest of the report is a full listing of the main modifications - pages 41 to 151 of the report. I’ve just skimmed through this very briefly and, as far as I can see, this is just a restatement of the main mods as we’ve previously seen in the consultation phase last Autumn.