The Lichfield District Local Plan
MM19 - New Settlement Option

Development Plans Team
Lichfield District Council
Frog Lane
WS13 6YY

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 Land Availability 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 their 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.

The case to evaluate a New Settlement option.

The NPPF Housing and Economic Land Availability Assessment Planning Practice Guidance in paragraph 26 indicates where there are insufficient site/broad locations to meet objectively assessed need. Plan makers will need to revisit the assessment, for example changing the assumptions on the development potential on particular sites (including physical and policy constraints) including sites for possible new settlements. (underlining added) That task has yet to be done in respect of a new settlement. The Council has yet to fully evaluate and progress the Regional Spatial Strategy Inspectors' Panel 2009 report recommendation that the opportunities to develop a new settlement should be fully explored. One of the recommendations was:-

"... To the north-east of Lichfield in the general area of Streethay/Fradley a comprehensive study should be undertaken of the most sustainable way to meet long-term development needs, be that through an urban extension, a new linked settlement or a combination of such forms. If of sufficient scale such development might extend beyond the plan period."

Although this report could not be carried forward in the light of the Government's abolition of Regional Strategies, its conclusions were based on a thorough examination of regional and sub regional housing needs and its conclusions remain valid. Moreover, the growing pressures for cross boundary housing provision from neighbouring areas, particularly Birmingham City, whose Local Plan is currently being progressed, is likely to make the need for such a study unavoidable. Continuing avoidance of tackling this issue increases the vulnerability of the District to avoidable release of more Green Belt sites and then also having to accommodate a new settlement as well.

The continued focus on the release of Green Belt sites around the City and potentially other towns as representing the most sustainable development option without fully exploring the new settlement option is self perpetuating. Of itself there are insufficient grounds to support exceptional reasons/justification for Green Belt release. Strategically it is flawed and fails to exploit the benefits of creating more sustainable development thus protecting the Green Belt and guaranteeing welcome infrastructure improvements to those locations identified for new development. An appropriately designed development in line with the Brookhay Villages approach could offer improvements to the nearby section of the A38 which has safety and capacity issues as well as restoration of rail services. Although that proposal has been hampered by its late arrival in the Local Plan process, its grounds for rejection by the Council appear to be based mainly on adhering to its reluctance to undertake a strategic study as recommended by the WM Regional Spatial Strategy Panel report, than a balanced evaluation of the options. Consequently what is potentially the most appropriate strategy has been rejected without proper evaluation.

The Council's justification for this approach is given in a paragraph 2.29 of the report to the Employment and Development (Overview and Scrutiny Committee) on 7th January 2014. It does not support the Brookhay Villages and Twin Rivers project because the "scheme can only work as a whole which requires it to be advanced jointly with East Staffordshire, should both Local Authorities feel this is appropriate at a later stage." This is an explicit admission that this is a matter which should be addressed through the Duty to Cooperate which at this time is not being undertaken.

The Council report also acknowledges that the Plan may be required to accommodate some of the needs of Birmingham if this District is required to do so. Since allocation of this the Brookhay and Twin Rivers project would meet the current Lichfield District shortfall of 1350 dwellings and provide capacity for out migration from Birmingham, if required, without loss of Green Belt, it is a more appropriate approach which accords with the NPPF policy on Green Belt and significantly boosts housing numbers. Applying the more flexible approach embodied in the final guidance provides the time and opportunity for the Lichfield District and East Staffordshire Borough Councils to undertake a full assessment and study of the Brookhay Village and Twin Rivers proposals. This opportunity would enable a definitive view to be taken as to whether there is a need for any Green Belt releases and if the supply of housing can be significantly boosted in a sustainable way by a new settlement in this plan period, with the added advantage of also providing capacity in the post plan period which was envisaged as possibility in the RSS final report. Recent announcements indicate Government encouragement and support for new settlements to meet housing needs.

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 consider that the major modifications to allocate two SDA's in the Green Belt sites are fundamental changes effectively introducing a new policy. The need to prove exceptional circumstances has not been made.

The reasons for reversing the allocation of two new Green Belt SDA's are detailed in the Society's representation on Green Belt Release on MM19. We consider the flexibility in the revised NPPF Planning Practice Guide creates the time and opportunity to look at post year 10 allocations that would meet housing needs without lose of Green Belt. Further work would provide sufficient evidence for the most appropriate strategy and potentially a more flexible long term solution. Withdrawing the Green Belt site allocations and reverting to the submission Plan position of no encroachment into the Green Belt should enable the Plan to be approved without further undue delays.

We have proposed a number of specific changes in our Green Belt release submission.

Additional changes proposed in this representation

In respect of this submission we recommend an addition in the explanatory text to Core Policy 1 to provide for the area north east of Lichfield City to be fully evaluated to ascertain its suitability and sustainability to contribute to accommodating Lichfield's objectively assessed housing needs in this plan period and beyond. This could be achieved by following the approach recommended in the final RSS Panel of 2009 whose approach is included in the change proposed.

The change is to insert in paragraph 4.6 after the MM19 additional wording the following words or words to a similar effect:-

The Council will progress a review of strategic sites to be allocated for the balance necessary to fully meet the objectively assessed housing needs of 10,030. This will include in respect of the north-east of Lichfield a comprehensive study being undertaken of the most sustainable way to meet long-term development needs, be that through an urban extension, a new linked settlement or a combination of such forms. If of sufficient scale such development might extend beyond the plan period. This review may be combined with the Duty to Co-operate Local Plan review mentioned above if additional housing to meet neighbouring authorities needs is necessary.

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?

Securing a commitment from the Council to undertake an assessment of the potential of a new settlement or other options could be a means to relieve the pressure for Green Belt allocation for development and provide capacity to accommodate additional growth needs in this and later plan periods.

John Thompson
Lichfield Civic Society.
19th March, 2014