Development Control Manager
Planning Application No: 14/00465/FULM
The Civic Society Executive Committee has considered the planning application and also responded to the earlier developer's public consultation. It is our view that approval is not justified on planning policy grounds and it would be premature.
The Planning Statement accompanying the application, whilst lengthy, does not fully indicate the status of several key planning issues specific to the site. The land in the application is part of the site which received approval initially for 650 houses and was subsequently increased to 1100. There are subsisting binding section 106 obligations that apply to the whole site including all the land within this application. The obligations include for example social and community facilities (SOC2) contributions. Since the section 106 agreements apply to all development on the site it follows that the obligations in the agreement will apply to this part of the site unless they are modified. That would require the statutory procedures for revocation, modification or renegotiation be followed including public consultation.
It is a material planning considerations that the designation of the application site as the Western Recreation Zone (WRZ) in the saved Local Plan 1998 indicated a long term intention to keep the site open. In our view any change to the allocated use of this site should be through the Local Plan site allocations process when all potential sites will be considered and interested parties will have an opportunity to comment on any proposed change and the uses being considered. When the public consultation exercise was under way in October 2013 Neil Cox, Planning Policy Manager, advised us that the right process is to deal with the future of the site as part of the Local Plan Site Allocations process and not in advance.
The Lichfield Local Plan 1998 in Policy L.1 explanation paragraph 11.17 stated:
"Land between the proposed housing site and the proposed bypass is identified as a recreation zone (see Policy L.36). This land is proposed to remain open for recreation uses and the District Council's policy is that this should remain so even in the long term, so that there will be no encroachment of housing development into this area."
This express policy commitment of not allowing any housing encroachment on this site ought to be maintained. Purchasers of houses in Darwin Park should be able to rely upon a clear and unambiguous commitment by the Council.
Policy L36 which defined the WRZ said in respect of the site:
"This zone is not included within the Green Belt since the bypass is considered to be a boundary which is capable of definition at this stage, whereas a firm green belt boundary on the edge of the proposed housing site could not be defined until details of the housing proposals are finalised. However, it is intended that the land should remain open in the long term and the District Council will not therefore contemplate the extension of the urban area of Lichfield into this recreation zone. Any buildings should therefore be consistent with policy R.3."
Thus there are two explicit commitments given by the Council. Firstly that the site will "remain open in the long term so there will be no encroachment of housing development into this area" and secondly that the "Council will not contemplate the extension of the urban area of Lichfield into the recreation zone."
The Council has been clear in its Open Space Assessment 2012 published in July 2012 that "The future designation of the Western Recreation Zone will be considered through the Local Plan Allocations document which will follow the emerging Local Plan Strategy due to be adopted in Spring 2013." It also concluded that "Recreation Zones are still considered to be an appropriate mechanism in delivering outdoor sport and recreation on the fringes of Lichfield and Burntwood, however further consideration needs to be given to each and every zone through the Local Plan Allocations document."
This application is seeking to pre-empt the Local Plans Allocations. To do this would deny the opportunity for public consultation on the scale of provision required for recreation and the best locations. Particularly relevant are Sports England's views on additional facilities needed for the proposed allocation of further 900 houses in Lichfield. Comments on this aspect are in the paragraph on sports provision below.
The planning statement seeks to indicate that the approval of the Community Hall and public house developments represents a precedent to be followed. There is however a marked difference between these two buildings which the Council intended to be provided as part of the approved master plan to meet Local Plan objectives. As community facilities the buildings are meeting the original Local Plan objectives and most significantly do not prevent the remainder of the WRZ from being kept open as expressly intended. Building houses on the remaining area not only prevents any major recreation uses being established it also precludes any other use which would be beneficial such as informal recreation areas and social or community facilities such as a health centre. The increase in the number of houses from 650 to 1100 was agreed without an increase in the area for the community facilities so the limited expansion to accommodate the two buildings has a justification that this application does not. In contrast building more houses was expressly indicated as not being the Council's policy nor anything they would contemplate.
In May and June 2007 the Council undertook a consultation exercise to consider whether any changes to the planning status of the site should be initiated. The consultation carried out involved a questionnaire to all residents of Leomansley including Darwin Park, an exhibition at Martin Heath Hall and a 'stakeholder' event. The event was hosted by a planning facilitator and included presentations by land owners, residents and the District Council, followed by discussions of the issues. The results of the exercise led the council to decide not to promote any changes and to leave policy considerations to be resolved in the Local Plan context. That position should be maintained. The conclusions of that exercise ought to be fully outlined to members in considering any change to the allocated use of the site.
In relation to the 5 year housing supply that is addressed in the Council's Local Plan with the main modifications. The refusal of the Watery Lane development indicates that the 5 year supply issue does not necessarily over ride other planning considerations.
Whilst the Local Plan Infrastructure Delivery Plan 2014 has identified the need for provision of health centres in Burntwood and Fradley there is no mention of this requirement in respect of Lichfield City. It is not clear that the situation has been reviewed following the proposed allocation of at least a further 900 houses in the Green Belt on the edge of the City.
A condition attached to planning application 03/00539/FUL in respect of Land at Walsall Road, The Friary and Chesterfield Road Lichfield (Darwin Park) required "Within the area identified for community facilities on the master plan for this development, a suitable site shall be safeguarded for the accommodation of health facilities." The obligation of this safeguarding requirement within Darwin Park should not be relaxed. The need for additional health facilities to meet current needs and the growth arising from the City's strategic site allocations should be fully addressed before any decision is made which makes it impossible to provide any necessary health provision on this site.
In response to the Council's Local Plan main modifications Sport England commented that the additional strategic sites generate a need for additional indoor and outdoor facilities. The Green Belt areas that form part of two of the sites in the City allocated as strategic development sites are intended to function as 'suitable accessible natural space' (SANGS). Provision of buildings for indoor recreation or extensive outdoor facilities on those areas is inconsistent with the purposes of Natural England's objectives for SANGS. It follows therefore that premature loss of the Western Recreation Zone before specific site requirements and locations are resolved in the context of an overall portfolio of recreation zones for the Local Plan is inappropriate. The case for retention of the WRZ to meet future recreational needs is strengthened by Sport England's comments.
The Traffic Noise survey indicates that in properties closest to the Bypass that acceptable internal noise levels can only be achieved by acoustic glazing and the use of mechanical ventilation. Living in properties that require the windows to remain closed to have acceptable internal noise levels is for many people very unpleasant. Reliance upon mechanical ventilation involves increased energy bills, ongoing maintenance and noise from the ventilation equipment itself. Should the development be permitted a reserved matter should require details of the specification and sound proofing of all windows and doors on relevant elevations identified in the noise assessment and the ventilation equipment to be approved.
Lichfield Southern Bypass
This proposal will generate additional traffic directly onto the Southern Bypass. The construction of the rail under bridge to complete the Bypass has no fixed date for its delivery. If permitted this development should make a substantial contribution towards the cost of the rail under bridge and other necessary City highway improvement works in addition to fully funding the immediate site accesses. A restriction on the number of dwelling that may be occupied until the Bypass is completed should also be imposed.
Further housing will create further pressure for additional school places. There has already been a lack of locally available primary school places to serve residents of Darwin Park/Leomansley resulting in the displacement of pupils to schools in the north of Lichfield. Consideration should be given in conjunction with the County Education authority to limit on the number of houses that can be occupied until increased capacity is locally available. In addition if the additional places are on strategic development sites in south Lichfield that residents of this site can only access via Shortbutts Lane then the limit on numbers should apply until the Bypass is completed.
There is a strong and unambiguous planning justification detailed above to maintain the Council policy not to contemplate extending the urban area into this site and that the area is to remain open. The current agricultural use maintains the openness and can continue until the owner(s) wish to facilitate availability of the site for recreation uses.
If any development proposals are to be considered for the Western Recreation Zone other than for the uses currently acceptable then the whole area should be evaluated through the Local Plan Strategy site allocations process. A comprehensive rather than piecemeal approach is the proper planning approach to be followed. This does not imply that we consider the whole area or any part should cease to be allocated as a recreation zone.
Should the consideration be given to granting consent the conclusions of the Council's 2007 Leomansley ward public consultation exercise ought to be fully outlined to members in the Committee report. In relation to conditions the impact of additional housing on the need to enhance provision of social and community facilities, public open space, the community hall and its car parking provision should be fully identified and binding obligations imposed to ensure the requirements are delivered. Specific planning conditions also need to be applied to deal with the matters mentioned above concerning health facilities, traffic noise, Lichfield Southern Bypass, school places and section 106 obligations. Retention of mature vegetation/hedging and trees on the site particularly on the Bypass and other road frontages should be required as far as practicable.