|The Local Development Framework|
There was an unusually large attendance at the meeting on January 21st as Civic Society members were supplemented by members of LARA and other groups interested in the new housing proposals. Our guest speaker Neil Cox, Planning Policy Manager, Lichfield District Council, introduced his topic by saying that the Local Development Framework (LDF) will set out the Council's plans for the next 25 years, and is required to conform with the Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS). The LDF Core Strategy will provide the model for all the Council's future strategies.
Lichfield District Council's first LDF was rejected by the planning inspector and a new version is now being written. The new 'Issues and Options' document was published in December 2007 and provided four options for alternative housing development. A year later in December 2008 the Council published its 'Preferred Options' document which was aligned to the housing requirements then specified in the draft RSS.
The key issues in the RSS include: Climate change; population demography; provision for Gypsies; provision of public transport; protection of conservation areas; promotion of healthy living; protection of the environment; tackling deprivation and, most contentious of all, meeting the need for additional housing in the region.
Neil Cox's main focus was on the City of Lichfield, the strategic centre of the District. Urban capacity would be provided by the release of sites such as Bison Concrete with urban extensions to all points of the compass; some in the Green belt and the previously declared 'Area of Development Restraint' south of Lichfield. Neil emphasised that by 2026 Lichfield's population image was expected to be very different. Currently 25% of the population are of pensionable age; 46% of those employed work in the City and car use is 88%.
In the new LDF the Council were proposing that additional urban housing would be provided by the release of brownfield land, such as the former Bison site, together with urban greenfield extensions in several directions. The latter would include the previously declared 'Area of Development Restraint' and some parcels of Green Belt land south of Lichfield and in Hammerwich Parish. Up to a 1,000 new dwellings would be provided at Fradley. Neil said that the Council considered the draft Core Strategy, published in October 2009 was robust but changes to the housing requirements proposed during the revision of the RSS mandated a change to the District's policy.
The Regional Spatial Strategy, Phase II, document is very important and the review will run in parallel with the LDF Core Strategy. The growth options of 16,000 houses (from 2001 to 2026) that were originally proposed had been reduced to 8,000 (from 2006 to 2026). The RSS panel report published in September 2009 recommended that the Secretary of State should make further changes in the next revision - increasing the housing requirement for Lichfield District to 10,000 by including an allowance for cross boundary expansion at Tamworth and Rugeley. This has serious implications for Lichfield and the RSS does not rule out the possible use of land in the Green Belt.
The Lichfield District 'Core Strategy' must conform with the RSS and has therefore been delayed, pending the Secretary of State's decision on the changes proposed by the RSS Enquiry Panel. The Government's statement is due in February 2010 and will allow 8 weeks for public consultation. Legal opinion is also being sought on the validity of the proposed changes and a challenge is possible as some of these were only introduced at a late stage in the RSS revision.
There is also outstanding work on the LDF awaiting completion; including studies of affordable housing, of surface water management flooding and drainage, a renewable energy and a Highways Agency study. A facilities planning module indicates the need for an enhanced sports/leisure centre and a final sustainability appraisal will consider the impact of housing on biodiversity, including SSSI's and SSBI's such as Chasewater and Cannock Chase.
A considerable number of questions followed the presentation. Tony Crookes referred to this being complicated but comprehensive and commented on the Civic Society's responses the the consultation and our involvement in the RSS examination. Summing up our Chairman thanked Neil for his professional presentation and expressed the hope that some of the visitors might be inspired to join the Civic Society.