Spatial Policy & Delivery Team
Lichfield District Council
District Council House
Frog Lane
WS13 6YY

Response from Lichfield Civic Society to the
Local Plan Allocations document.

Question 1

Do you consider that the Local Plan Allocations document complies with the Duty to Co-operate?

Answer: Possibly

We are not aware of any information that the Council is not complying with its duty. There is a commitment in the approved Local Plan to undertake an early review or partial review if it is evident that the needs of Birmingham City require such action. We consider the progression of the Local Plan Allocations is appropriate at this time and commend the Council for initiating the process.

The distribution across the Greater Birmingham housing sub-market of out-migration allocations to meet the failure in the Birmingham City Plan to make full provision for its local needs is not yet resolved. It may take some time for the authorities in that Housing Market Area to reach an agreement. The abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies, although much heralded by the government, is a regressive situation which has made it more difficult to have effective strategic planning across the West Midlands Region.

In our view the key challenges for the Council are securing public support for the allocations and adhering to the NPPF policy of protection of the Green Belt.

Question 2

Do you consider that the Local Plan Allocations document meets the legal and procedural requirements?

Answer: No

The numbers allocated, including a projection for windfalls, of 11,191 is 11% greater than the Local Plan minimum requirement of 10,030. The Ministerial decision to allow an appeal for 750 dwellings at Watery Lane, Curborough, further increases the excess to 19%. An over allocation of 19% is excessive and unnecessary. Although the Council consider the Watery Lane site approval to be inconsistent with the Local Plan policies it is unrealistic to regard the decision one which the Secretary of State was not lawfully able to make. However, the Society agree that development of the site at Curborough is not in line with the extant Planning Strategy and therefore should not become the basis for the location of further housing development as it is too close to the urban edge of the City.

The irony of the Secretary of State's decision is that having never fully progressed the review of a new or extended settlement to the north of the City beyond the Green Belt, as recommended by the EiP Panel in the RSS review in 2009, the Council has effectively opened the door for a series of ad hoc developments and unnecessarily released sites within the Green Belt. It has also missed the opportunity of facilitating the longer-term benefits of providing capacity for future pressures for growth in locations where adequate infrastructure provision could be secured as part of the development permitted.

Question 3

Do you consider that the Local Plan Allocations document is positively prepared?

Answer: No

The 750 dwellings approved at Watery Lane should be included in the total number of dwellings allocated so that it is clear what the current factual situation is. This makes it clear that the proposed allocations exceed the plan requirements by 19%. That allocation is excessive.

Since the Council has aggregated the Streethay development with Lichfield City it is logically sensible to include the 750 dwellings at Watery Lane, Curborough, in the Lichfield numbers. Even without those properties the Lichfield City (with Streethay) proportion of the District housing allocation is 36% which disproportionately high. With the 750 dwellings added it is so out of balance that the strategy needs rethinking for a fairer distribution of housing allocations. Acceptance of a new settlement is probably the only realistic way forward particularly if Birmingham's needs require additional allocations at some date in the future.

Burntwood, although of similar size to the City, is only allocated 13% of the District's housing allocations compared with the City at 36%. Consideration should be given to some additional housing allocation within the Burntwood Town Centre. The viability of the Lichfield City's Friarsgate redevelopment in the current retail market is being assisted through provision of housing units within the scheme. The same approach in Burntwood's Town Centre potentially increase its attractiveness for investors and would reduce the pressure for additional housing sites in the town.

We consider there are short comings and failures in relation to infrastructure provision to support new site allocations and address existing deficiencies. (See answer to question 5 below).

Question 4

Do you consider that the Local Plan Allocations document is justified?

Answer: No

For the reasons outlined in answers 3 and 6 the following housing allocations are excessive and can be removed or the case of B14 possibly reduced.

Site L2 (Lichfield 2): East of Lichfield (Streethay) SDA extension

The allocation of site L2 at Streethay, which seems to be completely unnecessary in view of the excess provision already existing, is large and a late introduction at this stage.

Site B14 Land south of Highfields Road

Question 5

Do you consider that the Local Plan Allocations document is effective?

Answer: No

Insufficient provision is being made to secure infrastructure for development proposals.

Strategic Priority 1 is "To consolidate the sustainability of the existing urban settlements of Lichfield and Burntwood as the District's principal service centres" and to secure that "the development of new homes contribute to the creation of balanced and sustainable communities by being located in appropriate settlements and by containing or contributing towards a mix of land uses, facilities and infrastructure appropriate to their location."

Using this policy, the Council has released large areas of Green Belt and focused the largest proportion of housing on the City. What is noticeably absent is the concurrent provision of social and community facilities and infrastructure reflecting the overall scale of development being permitted. This also applies to highway improvements to cope with the additional volumes of traffic being generated by new developments. The IDP 2017 states it is seeking to "robustly support" the allocations document.

Burntwood Infrastructure delivery

In relation to allocations of housing sites in Burntwood there a pressing need to improve social and community facilities and infrastructure including highways. Burntwood is one of the largest towns in the country that does not have a railway station. Long term aspirations to secure the restoration of the Walsall to Lichfield rail services are supported but in the meantime improving the highway network should be given a higher priority than it currently is.

It is we believe common ground with the Council that the communities in the Burntwood and Hammerwich urban development have a significant deficiency in respect of provision of essential infrastructure. It is not evident that the additional sites or those already allocated in the Local Plan will do anything other than exacerbate this situation. If localism is to be respected and influence Council planning policies then a programme of action to tackle existing deficiencies should be agreed with the local communities and parish councils for implementation at an early date. One of the first issues to be resolved is the provision of health centre(s) to meet existing needs.

Lichfield City highway infrastructure delivery

Policy ST3 Road Line Safeguarding and ST4 Road and Junction Improvements - Lichfield City.

page 12 paragraphs 3.0 & 3.1

There is a serious concern in relation to infrastructure, and in relation to Policies ST3 Road Line Safeguarding and ST4 Road and Junction Improvements - Lichfield City.

The schemes within these two policies are listed for 'planning protection', but their provision should be made a pre-requisite of the Local Plan housing and employment proposals being implemented. Otherwise failure to phase provision in line with the additional development sites in the Local Plan will inevitably lead to significant increases in traffic congestion at key junctions and will be detrimental to environmental conditions in the City. Delivery of these improvements needs to be ensured for, without such, the Plan fails to be effective. We note with concern that all the schemes mentioned in ST4 are, according to the IDP 2017, not costed and entirely reliant upon developer contributions. Only scheme 6 (A5206 London Road/Shortbutts Lane/Upper St John Street/Tamworth Road) is a short-term project whilst all the others are medium to long term.

Question 6

Do you consider that the Local Plan Allocations document is consistent with National Planning Policy Framework?

Answer: No

Green Belt allocations generally and Site B14 Land south of Highfields Road in particular

The introduction of significant Green Belt allocations in Burntwood and Hammerwich are inconsistent with the Local Plan policies and the NPPF. In addition it is not necessary to meet the numbers required by the Plan.

A shortage of housing numbers alone is insufficient grounds to say there are 'very special circumstances' justifying release of the Green Belt. Since the Council is exceeding by at least 11% the allocation required there is no case on the grounds of shortage of sites allocated. What is not evident is what the Council considers are the 'very special circumstances' that necessitate further release of Green Belt sites.

We also consider that given the strategic nature of release of these sites they should have been considered at the hearings on the Local Plan soundness and not regarded as of a subsidiary nature that allows them to be proposed now.

The Green Belt Hammerwich site we have particular concerns about is site number B14 Highfields Road 250 dwellings.

The NPPF expressly identifies its Green Belt purposes as including:
checking the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas;
preventing neighbouring towns merging into one another and
assisting in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment.
The justification for allocating these sites does not address these issues.

The Highfields Road site number B14 reverses a long-held and sound policy of the District Council to maintain open Green Belt separation from the West Midlands conurbation to prevent a merger with the built development in Brownhills. Reducing the gap is a first and unnecessary step in breaching that long standing policy principle. Arguments that the M6 Toll provides a defence for breach of that policy are not well founded because it would inevitably concede that the remaining unallocated land between the Highfields Road site and the M6 Toll slip road would at a future date be released from the Green Belt for housing development. There are local precedents which indicate that the Council supports this insidious incremental process. On the Walsall Road/Darwin Park site, Lichfield 650 dwellings were initially allocated and now over 1,300 have been permitted. A similar approach is emerging with site L2 Streethay as an extension to the SDA of 750 dwellings allocated in the current Local Plan and now further housing land is being proposed to enlarge the site even before the site is fully developed. The concern on B14 is that its allocation is the first step in release of the whole site is reinforced by the assessment in the SHLAA 2016 which indicates that the site submission area has a capacity of 500 dwellings at a density of 40 dph on 12.75 ha of the whole site area of 23.77 ha.

There are several considerations which are not addressed nor proven on the Highfields Road site. These include whether there is a clear and defensible Green Belt boundary and whether the remaining land use will continue to be viable. The development considerations statement states that "Areas of open space to the south of the site will remain within the Green Belt and must be designed to maintain the openness of the Green Belt." It is not clear if the Council intends to use legal binding obligations that will be ensure the site will remain permanently open. It is therefore essential that it is clarified what "must be designed to maintain openness" means in practical terms and in respect of legal obligations. The Council gave much stronger assurances about areas of land allocated for recreation use in Darwin Park remaining open in the long term and instead subsequently granted permission for housing. If legally binding obligations are to be applied to maintain openness it should be included in the development considerations statement. If no such requirements are to be imposed then the statement should be corrected.

If NPPF requirements are being fully met and any development is to be permitted on this site it should be scaled back and the remaining land to the south of the site subject to binding legal obligations that it will permanently remain open.

The Council's own parish maps clearly indicate this site is not in Chasetown Ward as stated in the SHLAA but in Hammerwich parish.

Housing needs beyond the plan period.

It is our view that there is no case for opening Green Belt flood-gates by bringing forward proposals for "development needs beyond the plan period" until much more is known about numbers and the Council have initiated a study to fully evaluate the merits of accommodating longer term housing needs with a new village or significant area of housing growth outside the Green Belt to the north east of the City.

Question 7

Please set out what modification(s) you consider necessary to address your representations. You will need to say how this change will address the concerns and it would be helpful if you could put forward your suggested revised wording to any policy or text.

Housing allocations

Because of the B14 Highfields Road site's proximity to urban development in the West Midlands, the need to avoid urban sprawl, maintain separation from the conurbation and to conform with NPPF obligations the proposals to release the site should either be deleted or the number of dwellings be significantly scaled back e.g. to frontage development only. In the latter case the key development considerations should be strengthened to indicate the areas of open space south of the site will be the subject of legally binding obligations to remain permanently open as a condition of release of the site from the Green Belt.

Proposed amendments:

Delete allocation B14, or

Development of the site to be restricted to housing frontage development not exceeding xx units. The remaining areas of Green Belt south of the site will be the subject of legally binding obligations to remain permanently open.

Delete allocation Site L2 (Lichfield 2): East of Lichfield (Streethay) SDA extension

Allocate further dwelling units within the Burntwood Town Centre area in addition to site allocation B13.

Infrastructure provision and delivery

The Council to initiate policies and action, in collaboration where necessary with the responsible authorities, to ensure delivery of appropriate infrastructure to reflect the scale of development being allowed; remedy existing deficiencies and its secure timely delivery.

Early attention should be given to bringing forward the projects in Policy ST4 City road and junction improvements. Similarly, early action to progress additional health centre provision in Burntwood and other settlements where significant population growth necessitates it.

John Thompson
Lichfield Civic Society,
12th May 2017