Comments on the Lichfield Local Plan Review

Members will be aware that the District Council has launched a review of the Local Plan. The consultation on the first stage, the Preferred Options, has recently closed. We have reported its broad proposals in an earlier Newsletter and can now inform members of the views we have expressed on your behalf.

In summary; your Committee believe that the proposals, especially those associated with new housing, are undeliverable. The Council proposes to increase the building rate as a response to Birmingham's overspill needs. This approach is simplistic. The proposals include no credible policies or incentives to accelerate the movement of people living in Birmingham to Lichfield. House building rates are influenced by mortgage rates and income levels; but Birmingham house prices are on average 70,000 less than those in Lichfield. Evidence indicates that Birmingham residents are moving to housing in the Black Country, not to Lichfield. If adopted, the consequence of this proposed policy will be either to release even more land for housing or to ensure builders' landbanks increase; but not achieve the take-up rate to meet the Council's targets.

An associated issue concerns the Green Belt, where the Council is seeking to remove Green Belt protection from selected areas which will be redefined as areas of development restraint (ie. giving them weaker protection). We would question the necessity of taking this action at this stage, when they suggest in the Preferred Options paper that they have identified sufficient land to meet housing need and will consider a new settlement option after 2040.

The land proposed for release north east of Lichfield (ie north of Streethay) we find acceptable. This land is not in the Green Belt. However, the insertion of a further 3,300 homes in that location, over and above that already planned or constructed at Streethay and Curborough is challenging. Major highway infrastructure works will be required to link the scheme to Eastern Avenue. There will also be major implications for the A38. Indeed, the infrastructure costs involved may be so substantial for any potential developers as to render the proposal undeliverable.

The consultation document supports "sustainable" development, well located to use new or existing public transport systems, but little is said about the mechanisms which the Council will use to promote this principle. Evidence of its inability to encourage a better choice of transport modes as between bus, train and cycle for residents in the District is the low and relatively unchanging share split between bus, train and car for journeys (1.4% for buses, 2.3% for trains and over 90% car).

Turning to retailing; whilst the Council rightly does support the promotion of City centre retailing it needs to square that proposition with its desire to protect and enhance the centre's historic environment. It needs to make clear in the policies that out of town retailing will only be approved if it can be shown that no adequate location is available within or adjacent to the City centre. Its current policy stance is ambivalent. Policies on the protection and enhancement of the District's built and green environment are to be welcomed, but our experience, particularly in the City centre has been that strong protection policies have often been weakened through development decisions; leaving us with a legacy of uninspiring, bland, new buildings which do no reflect the City's Georgian heritage.

In summary, we find the consultation document uninspiring. It continues the policy of adding yet more housing development around Lichfield, based on the weak premise that it will contribute to the overspill needs principally of Birmingham. Many other policies seek to support and encourage and promote, but these are dependent on other agencies if they are to be implemented. There is no long term vision apart from a hint that a new settlement may be considered for development after 2040.

Roger Hockney
Janaury 2020