Land at Cricket Lane, Lichfield |
The objection by St. Modwen Developments
The Lichfield Civic Society - (1) supports the retention of the land to the south-east of Cricket Lane within the Green Belt as proposed in the Draft Deposit Local Plan - and (2) opposes the objection of St. Modwen Developments to remove the land from the Green Belt designation and to seek its allocation for a hotel/leisure complex and an office park.
The Lichfield Civic Society opposes the Objectors proposals on the following grounds:
1. Green Belt
The site is shown in the County Development Plan Green Belt amendment of 1975 as approved Green Belt. It is not "Interim Green Belt", the detailed boundaries of which should be addressed in the Local Plan.
In his report dated March 1993, the Inspector who conducted the Local Inquiry into the Lichfield Local Plan had the following to say: "I consider the site performs the function of safeguarding the surrounding countryside from further encroachment and preserving the special character of a historic town. Cricket Lane does form a logical, firm and definitive boundary. In these circumstances, I consider the present Green Belt boundary should remain unchanged." The Lichfield Civic Society endorses that conclusion and considers that nothing has changed to alter it.
2. The Scale of Development
The Secretary of State in approving the Staffordshire Structure Plan considered that one of the options to accommodate growth in the area was peripheral development in Lichfield "to a limited degree". This was an indication of his recognition of the special qualities of the City and an expression of concern about the effect of substantial growth on the Green Belt, on the open spaces surrounding Lichfield and on the character and infrastructure of the historic core. Lichfield Civic Society considers that he development of the land at Cricket Lane does not fall within the category of "a limited degree".
In para 2.321 (page 51) of the Inspector's report on the Lichfield city Local Plan, reference is made to the comments of Mr. S.J. Kitchen on behalf of St. Modwen Developments i.e. "Lichfield can seize the opportunity to consolidate its future status as an area for growth in its own right."
It has to be recognised that the majority of people in Lichfield do not wish to see the City as "an area of growth". As an example of this, one of the objections to the proposed Birmingham Northern Relief Road, which will make the Cricket Lane site more accessible and, therefore, more attractive to business development, is that it will increase pressure for further growth in Lichfield. If that pressure is succumbed to, then progressively the features which make Lichfield so attractive will disappear.
Planning is by its very nature incremental - it proceeds by 5 year or 10 year steps in theory! The anxiety is that "to a limited degree" will apply to 2006, 2011, 2016 with the consequence that Lichfield will eventually be built up to its administrative boundaries. Lichfield Civic Society does not place such an interpretation on the Secretary of State's words.
In its view, the Secretary of State has given a clear message that there is a finite level to the growth, even up to 2001, which Lichfield should sustain. The unequivocal arguments of the Inspector at the Lichfield City Local Plan Inquiry state quite c early where on the south-east side of Lichfield those limits of the built up area of Lichfield should be so defined.
3. Impact on the Environment
There are two environmental grounds on which Lichfield Civic Society wishes to object to the development of the Cricket Lane site as a business park - a) its compatibility with the surrounding area and - b) its effect on the views on the approaches to Lichfield.
a. Compatibility with the Surrounding Area: To the north and north-east of the Cricket Lane site, there are residential areas of good quality along both Cricket Lane and Tamworth Road. People who live in these and adjacent areas - and also those who walk or drive by them - have long enjoyed the views across the open countryside, particularly over the A38 and towards the Freeford estate. These views will be lost.
It may be argued that the planning system is not designed to safeguard the amenities of individual households. After all, the beneficiaries of this pleasant outlook themselves occupy houses which were built on land formerly providing the open countryside views of other people, who in their turn no doubt objected.
Nevertheless, the effect on the amenities of those local residents is a material consideration, especially in this case where the benefits are also enjoyed by others who do not live in the area, but perhaps merely pass through it.
The residential development close to the site has its own characteristics and ambience. A business park will be totally different and will sit ill-at-ease with its surroundings. The scale of buildings, the kind of materials to be used in their construction, the volume, type and hours of operation of vehicles using the site will be different from the nearby residential areas. For all the polished and pretty plans which might be displayed, at this stage the Objectors cannot guarantee the look of, or activity generated from the business park. Will the development all take the form of offices? Within the Category of B1 there are a wide range of uses. Moreover, once the principle of building on the site has been established, will the development of the site be confined to R1 uses? To large extent, the success of the development is in the hands of prospective clients with their own specific requirements.
What would happen if a multi-national company engaged in engineering perhaps to serve the Toyota factory indicated a positive interest in locating on the site? Would the developers or indeed the District Council discourage that Company, notwithstanding the B1 designation?
The Civic Society thinks not! Employment prospects and prestige would prevail. Nobody known what the development on Cricket Lane would entail.
Whatever happens, two things will be clear - 1) the development will be incompatible with its surroundings - and 2) there will be an extended construction period, perhaps lasting several years, which will adversely affect the amenities of local residents.
b. The Effect on the Approaches to Lichfield: In his report on the Lichfield City Local Plan, the Inspector had the following to say;
"There are important foreground views coming into Lichfield along London Road and Tamworth Road and these would be disturbed by new development of the Cricket Lane site". There are indeed important foreground views - those from London Road north eastward towards the hillside at Borrowcop and those from Tamworth Road towards Knoll Hill. The Knoll on the site is acknowledged by the Inspector to be "a very distinctive feature of the site" and in their sketch layout the Objectors intend to preserve it. It is distinctive, however, because of its relationship with the adjacent flat land. It is, in fact a relatively low feature, the physical presence of which would be subjugated to the buildings around it. Who would use it? What purpose would it serve The foreground features - referred to as important by the Inspector - would be seriously harmed by the proposed business park, and conventional landscaping would scarcely compensate for the loss of these features.
4. Agricultural Land
The above are the objections of the Lichfield Civic Society to the Objectors proposals. To them might be added concern about the loss of high quality agricultural land. M.A.F.F., however, while acknowledging this high quality and the need to protect such land from development, seems to be ambivalent in its attitude and reluctant to take a strong position against the loss of this kind of land from agricultural uses. Without a strong positive statement from M.A.F.F., there seems to be little point in the Civic Society pursuing the agricultural argument.
What then of the Objector's arguments in favour of developing the site?
5. The Views of the Objectors
St. Modwen Developments claim that there are exceptional circumstances to justify the removal of the site from the Green Belt. These circumstances appear to be that there is a recognised need for an office park in Lichfield and that, in the absence of the Cricket Lane site, the employment proposals contained within the Local Plan are unlikely to be achieved by 2001.
Lichfield Civic Society accepts that it is ill-equipped to make much contribution to the debate as to whether or not an office park is needed in the area. The assessment of the need or demand for office and industrial land is an elusive exercise, largely because the reasons for deciding to build offices and factories are so varied and emanate from so many sources. It is difficult to establish that there is an overwhelming need - in the interests of the national, regional and local economy - to locate a business park in Lichfield itself. What can be assumed is that, if a site with the characteristics of the land at Cricket Lane was to be identified for office/ business purposes, then there is a reasonable prospect that the objection site will b successful in that it fulfils many of the criteria for the establishment of a premium business park. It is within an attractive environment; the infrastructure is, or can readily be made, available; it has good accessibility to the trunk road and motorway network and its development can be achieved at a relatively early date. The Inspector at the Lichfield City Local Plan Inquiry himself said that "I did consider the arguments made on that count (marketing conditions) for the provision of a business park on the objection site were telling". In his view, however, those arguments were not sufficiently telling to override other considerations and he rejected the proposals for the business park. No argument has been put forward by the objectors to the effect that the demand for offices/ business park could not be met elsewhere other than in Lichfield itself, apart from the fact that they claim that the Cricket Lane site is more attractive than the alternatives.
Lichfield District Council has in the Local Plan allocated sufficient land for employment purposes to comply with the provisions of the approved Staffordshire Structure Plan. The Objectors argue that it is unlikely that all of the sites will be developed within the Plan Period. (Incidentally the Civic Society takes some comfort from the fact that both the Objectors and the Society agree that the land at Watery Lane should be deleted from the portfolio of industrial sites). Only time will tell whether or not they are correct. There is less likelihood that these other sites will be developed to their full extent if more attractive alternative sites are made available. Priority should be given to the encouragement of investment in the allocated sites which do not suffer from the Green Belt and other environmental disadvantages of the land at Cricket Lane. Marketing potential may be important but it is not the "be all and end all".
6. The Hotel and related Leisure Facilities
The Objectors, in support of their proposals for a hotel with related leisure facilities, argue that there is a demand locally for additional hotel accommodation and that the site at Cricket Lane is a more attractive one than that proposed in the Lichfield Area Local Plan at The Friary, which they wish to see deleted from the Plan. It is difficult to quantify the demand for hotel spaces. It is perhaps ironic that the Objectors do not see the demand as such as to justify the need for hotels at both Cricket Lane and The Friary. The Lichfield Civic Society takes the view that the hotel at Cricket Lane is very much related to the office park, providing a service during the weekday for businessmen. Additional accommodation has been provided at The Swan Hotel in the middle of Lichfield; at the time of these representations there is a planning application for overnight facilities at The Fradley Arms on the A38; there is a proposal for a new hotel at Wall Island on the A5 close to the City.
It is not disputed that the proposals for a hotel at The Friary were controversial but the Inspector at the Lichfield City Plan Inquiry concluded that the site was an acceptable one. The Civic Society accepts this conclusion. If all these proposals were o go ahead, the argument for additional accommodation would have less basis.
7. The Area of Development Restraint
The Objectors in their submission have stated that, if the Cricket Lane site was to be retained as Green Belt in the Lichfield District Area Plan, it should be designated as an "Area of Development Restraint". This was fully dealt with by the Inspector a the Inquiry into the Lichfield City Local Plan. He made it quite clear (para. 2.397) that "I am not satisfied that the Objection site would need to be considered for development purposes in the period beyond the end of this Plan period having regard to the views of the Secretary of State when approving the Structure Plan". The Civic Society agrees with this view.
8. The Democratic System
There has been a great deal of anger expressed by local residents that St. Modwen Developments have once again attempted to secure the release of the Cricket Lane site from the Green Belt even though similar proposals were rejected in 1993. The objectors of course, are perfectly entitled to make their representations once again on the Lichfield Area Local Plan. The views of local residents, however, are understandable. They have been through this lengthy process of objection before; they have succeeded; but the uncertainty remains. It is interesting that the Objectors, in support of their proposals for a business park (see para 4.3 of their statement) say that there has been "no material change to planning policy since July 1992" which would undermine their advocacy of a business park.
It is, on the other hand, equally true that there has been no material change to planning policy which would undermine the reasons for the rejection of their earlier attempt to remove the Cricket Lane site from the Green Belt. The only change is that the Local Inquiry into the Lichfield District Local Plan will be conducted by a different Inspector and it is the hope of the Objectors that he will arrive at a different conclusion from his predecessor.