The Lichfield District Local Plan |
MM19 - Green Belt Allocations
Development Plans Team
Q1. To which Main Modification does your comment relate? - MM19
Q4a. Do you consider this Main Modification is Sound? - No
Preamble to our Green Belt representations.
The Civic Society supports the need for the Local Plan to be found to be sound and the desirability of there being no unnecessary delays before an adopted plan is in place. However we consider this can be achieved without the need to allocate Green Belt sites for development if advantage is taken of the flexibility embodied in the revised NPPF Housing and Employment Land Assessment Planning Practice Guidance issued on 6th March 2014. Omission of the Green Belt allocations could avoid any challenge on the grounds that exceptional circumstances have not been established or that the removal from the Green Belt represents a new policy or 'fundamental change' which might put the legality or soundness of the Plan at risk of challenge. We support the housing allocation requirement of 10,030.
The final version of the NPPF Planning Practice Guidance significantly impacts upon the Council's Local Plan policies on a number of important matters that have been examined at the hearings prior to and without the benefit of the revised or clarified guidance. Until the Council has had an opportunity to consider the changes needed or permitted by the guidance and any views the Inspector's may wish to express in relation to the examination process the full implications will not be known. In the meantime we are submitting comments based upon our interpretation of what we consider to be the intentions of the NPPF.
Proposed Green Belt allocations
This representation is an objection to the allocation of the Cricket Land and Deans Slade Farm SDAs in designated Green Belt. It considers the acceptability in policy terms of these sites to meet the objectively assessed housing need which has been as determined by the Inspector.
The new Guidance is highly relevant to the allocation of housing
sites in that it strengthens Green Belt protection and permits a more
flexible approach to windfall sites, under and over supply
calculations, 5 year supply and meeting the test of soundness where
sites or broad locations have not been identified for years 11-15.
Paragraph 25 of the Guidance states that:-
"Local planning authorities should aim to deal with any undersupply within the first 5 years of the plan period where possible. Where this cannot be met in the first 5 years, local planning authorities will need to work with neighbouring authorities under the 'Duty to Cooperate'."
Two issues are relevant. Firstly the requirement to deal with undersupply within the first 5 years is qualified by "where possible". Secondly, responding to the Duty to Cooperate aspect some liaison with the County Highways Authority and Tamworth BC regarding the proposed development north of the Anker Valley in Lichfield District could bring forward cross boundary infrastructure to advance delivery of housing completions.
Another issue that requires further examination is the rate of delivery on allocated sites in the next 5 years. BSARA has made a submission to the Local Government Boundary Commission of England on the latest figures of housing completions for the next 5 years. Significantly, the most recently projected completions submitted by the District Council to the Boundary Commission are greater than those used in the Local Plan and when applied to the Plan calculations, assist in meeting the NPPF requirements. Factoring in this latest information with all the NPPF Guidance issues could mean that there is no requirement at this stage to allocate the two Green Belt sites to meet the objectively assessed housing need.
There is also a separate policy issue as to whether the Council's policy to prioritise on sustainability grounds Green Belt sites in preference to sites outside the Green Belt is consistent with the guidance, when there is a proposal for a new settlement development ( i.e. Brookhay Villages) which because of late submission and hence limited information, has been discounted as constituting a delivery risk to the Plan. The Council's stance that the limited harm to the Green Belt is outweighed by the choosing of "most sustainable locations" is misplaced. The strength of interest in new housing applications is largely to accommodate commuters. Accommodating such a pressure runs counter to the principles of sustainability in the long term. It is likely to manifest itself as the GB&SLEP housing study emerges for which the Council's likely approach to accommodating more out migration, following pressure from developers, will be to release yet more Green Belt land instead its protection in the long term, in line with government advice. Deferring a decison on the new Green Belt site allocations in the proposed modifications would permit time for a strategic overview to be undertaken and hence an informed consideration of a new settlement site and other options to occur.
The matters of particular importance detailed below relate to the following:-
The content of the Green Belt review and its assessment of sites. The justification for release of both sites is that they are needed for the 5 year housing supply.
The proposed release of Green Belt sites is inconsistent with the NPPF. Broadening the search for Green Belt release for post 2029 needs.
The content of the Green Belt review and its assessment of sites.
The Green Belt supplementary report appears unbalanced, and seems solely prepared to justify the "allocation" of the two additional sites in Lichfield City. These sites have not emerged from any study of the strategic options available to the Council but have been retrofitted into what the Council believes is the best option for the District i.e. peripheral expansion of Lichfield City by encroachment onto Green Belt sites. Examples of this concern include the following:-
the approach takes no account of the fifth purpose of Green Belts relating to urban regeneration, etc, as specified in the NPPF, and as included in earlier Green Belt policy;
it also introduces a "local" purpose, which "protects" villages and supports maintaining the "existing settlement hierarchy and pattern", and is, seemingly, used throughout the assessments resulting in a bias in favour of protecting villages and other settlements from further development, which in turn diverts development pressures to Lichfield City;
no consideration is given to "local needs" which is are not being met and the opportunity to secure improvements to or retention of local facilities;
the assessment selectively includes coverage of a varied and somewhat inconsistent set of parcels of land;
the assessment dismisses the impact of substantially narrowing the important open gap of Green Belt to the south of the City towards the urban areas of the West Midlands conurbation via Wall, Shenstone, etc, yet rejects other potential sites because of coalescence of villages;
it ignores potential extensions of development to the east and north-east of Burntwood;
it ignores potential extensions to Fazeley, Mile Oak and Bonehill, adjacent to the substantial and sustainable settlement of Tamworth, and
it ignores potential extensions to Rugeley, particularly to the south-east.
The assessment / appraisal of various parcels of land, as undertaken, is flawed. It is very subjective and selective (e.g. types and sizes of areas of parcels). There are further areas, including areas beyond the Green Belt, which have been inexplicably omitted and which need a more thorough and serious consideration, with a longer term strategic perspective. Some unassessed sites lie within the present Green Belt, for example land to the east of Burntwood, others are beyond, for example land to both the east and west of Fradley.
Our conclusion is that the above comments on the methodology, scope and content of the review demonstrate that the review provides insufficient justification for release of the two sites from the Green Belt.
The justification for release of both sites is that they are needed for the 5 year housing supply.
The justification in the Development Services Portfolio Holder's report to the Employment and Development (Overview and Scrutiny) Committee on 7th January 2014 included the deliverability of the sites newly proposed for allocation to meet the 5 year supply obligation. Paragraph 2.9 stated that:-
"... it is essential that we are able to deliver homes in any new allocation within a 5 year window."
Paragraph 2.16 added regarding the two Green Belt sites that:-
"Both sites are deliverable in the short term, assisting the Council in the crucial need to achieve a 5 year supply (to prevent other, inappropriate, sites from coming forward for development over which the Authority would have little control), and developers for each site have prepared detailed and substantive evidence in support of their proposals."
However the Deans Slade Farm site delivery assumptions indicate the first dwellings being available in 2021/22 which indicates that the site is not required for the purpose of the short term 5 year supply. Therefore the Council needs to look for other sites preferably outside the Green Belt. The claim that both sites are needed for short term delivery is incorrect.
Application of the principles of flexibility in the final NPPF guidance could mean that neither of the Green Belt sites are necessary at this stage, if at all.
The Green Belt release is inconsistent with the NPPF
Paragraph 14 of the NPPF in relation to the presumption in favour of
sustainable development specifically identifies land designated as
Green Belt as a policy in the Framework that expressly qualifies and
restricts the obligation on provision to meet objectively assessed
"For plan-making this means that:
In footnote 9 the specific policy restrictions include "land designated as Green Belt".
Paragraph 83 states that "Once established, Green Belt boundaries should only be altered in exceptional circumstances, through the preparation or review of the Local Plan."
Given there is an opportunity in the District to meet the housing needs without release of Green Belt, it is necessary to claim "exceptional circumstances" to do so. The "exceptional circumstances" justification to remove sites from the Green Belt requires a high standard of proof that (a) no suitable alternative site(s) exist and (b) the changes will ensure permanence well beyond the plan period. Regarding (a) the revised NPPF Planning Practice Guide does not require specific site identification for the period after 11 years from adoption. On (b) the examination library lacks any meaningful information regarding the ability of the proposed boundaries to endure if the Council continues to argue that "limited harm" to the Green Belt justifies land releases to pursue urban extensions which are "most sustainable" and support their town centre first policy (NPPF23).
The case to release Green Belt land for "exceptional circumstances" has not been made by the Council. The Council has not shown that the proposals are the most appropriate to meet the housing needs and that they conform with the NPPF guidance.
The Guidance issued on 6 March on Housing and Economic land availability assessments clarifies that unmet housing need is unlikely to outweigh the harm to the Green Belt to constitute the "very special circumstances" justifying inappropriate development on a site within the Green Belt. Without prejudice to early adoption of the Plan as sound, a commitment to review would give time in due course to fully assess alternative development option(s) available to the Council to avoid premature major development on Green Belt sites around the City that would be inconsistent with the NPPF.
Broadening the search for Green Belt release for post 2029 needs
As originally drafted paragraph 4.15 on the future "safeguarding" proposals for beyond 2029, with deletion of additional Green Belt ( presumably on the edge of the City on the basis of the Council's present approach) was unacceptable and inappropriate. It inferred a continuation of the policy of "eroding" the Green Belt around the City further, simply, it appears, because the City is the largest settlement in the District and, therefore, has more facilities and is more "sustainable". This is a simplistic, trend planning approach. Of most concern, it inferred that no strategic review will be undertaken of alternative growth locations for housing development yet again. We believe that such a review should precede any inferences of loss of further Green Belt and should be undertaken positively and prior to "ear-marking" land as 'safeguarded Land' (NPPF 85) for development in the period 2029 onwards.
In undertaking a review of possible Green Belt release for the period beyond the current Plan we are concerned about how the Council will undertake this evaluation. A proper process would be to consider sites both in and beyond the Green Belt and not prioritise releases in the Green Belt.
We welcome the changes to the explanatory text in paragraph 4.15 for a more flexible approach to assessing the need for Green Belt release in the post 2029 period that includes sites outside the Green Belt which we strongly support. However although there are some modifications to Core Policy 1 they do not formally facilitate the changes set out in the modifications to paragraph 4.15. A change to Core Policy 1 is needed to ensure that the wider review process is consistent with and supported by Core Policy 1.
Our view is that the proposed release of the two Green Belt sites is inconsistent with the NPPF. That it is unnecessary and inappropriate is reinforced by the final Planning Practice Guidance on Green Belt and the other factors to be considered when deciding whether the housing need is being met and the timing of allocating sites or broad locations for the 11 to 15 year period.
The proposed Green Belt release is a complete reversal of the clear and unambiguous commitment in the submitted Local Plan which in paragraph 4.15 states "The important role of the Green Belt is recognised, and there are no pressures to release land from the Green Belt for major development proposals as part of our Spatial Strategy" The proposed release constitutes a fundamental change which ought to be the subject of more extensive community engagement than has occurred.
We support a full assessment and study of the potential for new settlement(s), (e.g. Brookhay Village and Twin Rivers proposals) to explore the potential of a sustainable scheme meeting the District's housing needs and any additional out migration requirement in relation to Birmingham City. This assessment would resolve whether there is a need for any Green Belt release and the extent to which the supply of housing would be significantly boosted by a new sustainable settlement in this plan period and provide capacity in the post 2029 plan period as envisaged as a possibility in the RSS final report.
We are submitting separate representation on the new settlement option. That issue is fundamentally linked to the Green Belt issue in that a new settlement would avoid the scale of loss of Green Belt currently proposed for the current plan and also make unnecessary further major Green Belt releases for the post 2029 period.
Q4d. If you consider the Main Modifications unsound, please set out what change(s) you consider necessary to make it sound and give your reasons.
We have outlined in Q4c above the reasons for the following proposed changes.
In MM19 the allocation of the Cricket Lane and Deans Slade Farm SDAs in designated Green Belt should be rescinded by the deletion of the changes to paragraphs in Core Policy 1 which facilitate the allocations together with amendments that reflect and enable a review to determine whether alternative strategic site allocations outside the Green Belt should be allocated for longer term needs. Some specific changes are suggested below which are to be substituted for the original text once the modifications have been rescinded.
A change to the following modified text in Core Policy 1:-
The important role of the Green Belt will be recognised and
protected, with the majority of new development being channelled
towards the most sustainable urban areas of Lichfield and Burntwood,
parts of which are inset within bounded by the Green Belt.
The proposed text to replace the above paragraph is:-
The important role of the Green Belt will be recognised and protected, with the majority of new development being channelled towards the most sustainable locations in Lichfield District including sustainable development options outside the Green Belt to meet housing needs. Longer-term development needs beyond 2029 will be considered through the Local Plan Allocations document.
A change to the following modified explanatory paragraph 4.15 of Core Policy 1:-
The important role of the Green Belt is recognised, and there are no pressures to release land from the Green Belt for major development proposals as part of our whilst the Spatial Strategy seeks to minimise impact upon the Green Belt, this has to be considered in the light of a range of options including the need to locate development to the most sustainable settlements where there is easy access to a range of existing services and facilities and supporting infrastructure. However Additionally, minor changes to Green Belt boundaries may be appropriate to meet local needs or aspirations and to facilitate local and neighbourhood planning in the future. A Strategic Green Belt review and a more detailed second stage Green Belt review forms part of the evidence base which will underpin policy options identified in the preparation of the Local Plan Allocations document as well as informing limited release of the Green Belt to the south of Lichfield City to accommodate essential growth in line with the evidence base. The NPPF also requires the consideration of whether the Green Belt boundary will remain appropriate to meet the District's needs beyond 2028 2029. The evidence suggests there will be a range of options to meet longer term needs but that these might need to include considering longer term growth for the City as it is the strategic centre for the District and its most sustainable settlement District which could potentially impact upon the Green Belt although not necessarily so.
The proposed text to replace the paragraph 4.15 is:-
The important role of the Green Belt is recognised, and there are no pressures to release land from the Green Belt for major development proposals as part of our Spatial Strategy. However, minor changes to Green Belt boundaries may be appropriate to meet local needs or aspirations and to facilitate local and neighbourhood planning in the future. A Strategic Green Belt review and a more detailed second stage Green Belt review forms part of the evidence base which will underpin policy options identified in the preparation of the Local Plan Allocations document. The NPPF also requires the consideration of whether the Green Belt boundary will remain appropriate to meet the District's needs beyond 2029. The evidence suggests there will be a range of options to meet longer term needs but that these might need to include considering longer term growth for the District which could potentially impact upon the Green Belt although not necessarily so.
Other changes required are the reversion to the policies and text prior to the modifications that made the changes in relation to each new SDA site and the consequential modification to the policies, text and associated changes to the Policies Map and Key Diagram related to the Main Modifications.
The key changes needed are:-
MM12 South of Lichfield: Cricket Lane - all text to be deleted;
MM13 South of Lichfield: Deans Slade Farm - all text to be deleted;
MM15 Policy Lichfield 6: South of Lichfield - revert to 450 dwellings, revert to one new school and omit new paragraph 3 re Cricket Lane SDA employment allocation of 12 ha;
MM18 Core Policy 7 & Policy Lichfield 3 - delete the additional text in two sentences referring to the employment allocation in the Cricket Lane SDA;
MM19 Core Policy 1 - in addition to the changes outlined above update the Policies Map and Key Diagram;
MM20 Policy Lichfield 4 & tables 8.1, 8.3 - update housing delivery and distribution to reflect the omission of the two Green Belt sites;
MM21 Table 4.1 - update the figures on percentage of housing in each area and delete reference to the Cricket Lane SDA employment development;
MM22 New appendix H - omit the Deans Slade Farm SDA Concept Statement;
MM23 New appendix I - omit the Cricket Lane SDA Concept Statement;
Consequential changes are also need to reflect the above changes to the following:-
Policies Map & Key diagram.
Appendix B housing trajectory to be updated.
A separate representation we are making includes further proposals for changes to the Local Plan on Green Belt polices about consideration of a new settlement as recommended by the RSS Panel.
Q5. Can your representation seeking a change be considered by written representations or do you consider it necessary to participate in person at an examination hearing?
The Green Belt site allocations are the most significant, contentious and fundamental changes being put forward and we consider there should be an opportunity for all parties, whether for and against, to explore the issues at a resumed hearing.