Effingham Residents Association (EFFRA) Letter of Objection to draft Local Plan

The following letter forms part of the Effingham Residents Association Objections to the Guildford Borough Council draft Local Plan 

 

Emailed to: localplan@guildford.gov.uk

Local Plan Consultation

Planning Policy

Guildford Borough Council

Millmead House

Guildford GU2 4BB

 

Dear Sir/Madam,                                                                                    17 September 2014

 

Response to Guildford Borough Council (GBC) draft Local Plan

I am writing to you on behalf of Effingham Residents Association Executive Committee with our objections to the current draft Local Plan.  Whilst we support the need for and value of a Local Plan we object to any use of the Green Belt to meet unmet housing needs:

THE GREEN BELT

In 1947 an Act of Parliament was passed to enshrine five purposes for the Green Belt:

  1. To check the unrestricted sprawl of large built up areas
  2. To prevent neighbouring towns merging into one another
  3. To assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment
  4. To preserve the setting and special character of historic towns
  5. To assist in urban regeneration by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land.

Planning Grounds Objection

The National Planning Policy Framework prevents development on the Green Belt or changing the Green Belt boundaries except in very special circumstances during a Local Plan process.  However “very special circumstances” do not apply simply to meet housing demand.  Central Government has stated this policy and it has been reinforced in a letter to Sir Michael Pitt Chief Executive Planning Inspectorate dated 3 March 2014 by Nick Boles the then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Planning) Department for Communities and Local:

“I was very troubled by the media coverage of the recent Inspector’s report on the examination into the Reigate and Banstead Local Plan. On reading the report, I was disturbed by the Inspector’s use of language, which invited misinterpretation of government policy and misunderstanding about the local authority’s role in drawing up all of the policies in the draft plan. I am writing to restate very clearly the Government’s view of Green Belt policy and Local.”

This letter steers Local Authorities and Government Inspectors away from developing Green Belt.

Nick Boles also wrote a letter to Sir Paul Beresford MP and Anne Milton MP in which he said:

“the Government’s on-going commitment to national Green Belt protection, reflecting what Ministers have regularly told Parliament”:

Please follow the link below but for ease of reference here are some of his comments referring to the Green Belt and the level of protection against developing it or changing its boundaries:

“… most development in the Green Belt is inappropriate and should be approved only in very special circumstances.”

“…unmet housing need (including for traveller sites) is unlikely to outweigh the harm to the Green Belt to constitute the very special circumstances justifying inappropriate development with the Green Belt.”

“Paragraph 83 [of the National Planning Policy Framework] states that, once established, Green Belt boundaries should only be altered in exceptional circumstances….”

To read in full follow link:

http://www.westhorsley.info/assets/documents/letter-from-nick-boles-to-sir-2

There is some further guidance in the House of Commons Library reference AN/SC 934.

And worth noting the England and Wales High Court (Administrative Court) Decisions

(http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2014/2634.html) that in brief said:

33. However, the Government have made it clear in their Ministerial Statement of 1st July 2013 that unmet demand for housing is unlikely to outweigh the harm to the Green Belt and other harm so as to constitute the very special circumstances justifying inappropriate development in the Green Belt.

34. Having balanced all the material considerations in this case, it is my judgment that the considerations in favour of the development are insufficient to amount to the very special circumstances necessary to clearly outweigh the substantial harm caused by inappropriate development in the Green Belt and the other harms I have identified. Very special circumstances to justify the development have not been demonstrated and the appeal should therefore be dismissed.”

And the concerns raised by, amongst others, the GGG Guildford Green Belt Group in the Dragon Newspaper 26 August 2014, a subject about which we also object on the same grounds that they provide below and consider that there should be a judicial review:

Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG) is very concerned about the current consultation process on the Local Plan. It considers that it is deeply flawed.

The Strategic Housing Market Assessment, the Sustainability Appraisal, the Green Belt and Countryside Study and the Settlement Hierarchy are all fundamental to the assessment of the Local Plan. Despite this fact, some documents are missing, some will not be made available at all while the consultation period is running, some were published half way through the consultation, some are incomplete, and very many have uncorrected errors. GGG considers that this cannot be the basis for a sound plan.

The evidence base is sufficiently incomplete that the plan cannot be fully considered. While some parts of the evidence base will be useable, the existing evidence base needs to be properly corrected and collated, the plan needs to be reconsidered; and then a proper Local Plan can be constructed on which a proper consultation can be carried out. The evidence base represents a huge volume of badly organised data (2.3GB), and, as has been noted by a number of councillors, changes within the evidence base from previous drafts are not marked or identified so the evidence base seems to have changed without notification.

Susan Parker, Chair of GGG said: “This is a mess. The people of Guildford deserve a properly constructed Local Plan with a fully adequate and accurate evidence base.
It is time that Guildford Borough Council realised that consultation means listening to
 the views of the public, and amending plans accordingly, not just getting a rubber stamp for a pre-determined course of action on the basis of sketchy evidence. The public have recognised that the consultation exercises have been largely cosmetic, and they recognise that the Council has not changed its plans or proposals despite widespread public anger. The Council should listen to the people of Guildford.

“It is no good telling us that the alternative to this Local Plan is planning by appeal. The current situation is planning by Executive, with no evidence and no right of appeal, which seems to be worse.”

SHMA (Strategic Housing Market Assessment). The housing number is still uncertain. The Local Plan was approved on the understanding that the housing number would be reviewed and amended by the then Lead Councillor for Planning and the Head of Planning, on the assurance of the then Lead Councillor for Planning, but the two individuals concerned are no longer in those posts, and there does not seem to be a current review in place. The draft SHMA was supposed to be subject to revision for errors and omissions, including forecasting errors drawn to the attention of Guildford Borough Council by the Office of National Statistics. This has not been done.

Instead, we now understand that there is a revised SHMA which is being prepared on a combined basis with the boroughs of Woking and Waverley. Although we understand that this draft is now available, we also understand that neither GBC councillors nor members of the public have had a chance to see this, nor will such an opportunity be presented to the public before the closure of the consultation.

Sustainability Appraisal and Habitat Regulations Assessment

Like the SHMA, the sustainability appraisal is a legally required element that underpins the plan. It is one of two documents that are required elements of a Local Plan. It is fundamental to the plan, but was not published, nor made available to councillors for approval, before the plan was issued. This was a serious omission, which in itself was enough to render the plan unsound.

In fact the Sustainability Appraisal was published on 6 August, noting that the consultation on this section would run from 7 August, i.e. drastically curtailed from the full 12 week consultation. Since this is a required element, it is inconceivable that a full consideration of the Local Plan could have taken place in its absence. The document is in itself little more than a holding document noting that it will require fuller detail in due course – it states in the introduction that it “represents the first major step in the iterative plan-making process. As such there is little “plan-making/SA “story” to tell at this time”.

Oddly, question 3 of the questionnaire always asked “Do you agree with the sustainability appraisal of the Draft Local Plan”. This question does not state that the appraisal was only published half way through the consultation – so that those who replied to this question before the publication of that document on 7 August were giving their approval sight unseen to an unpublished document – how were they expected to know? How can this represent consultation in any form at all?

Green Belt and Countryside Study (GBCS)

The flaws in this part of the evidence base were the subject of much public comment during the Issues and Options consultation. It was agreed by the Scrutiny Committee as the matter of a formal vote that the public should be fully involved in the scrutiny of the evidence base. This resulted in the figleaf of a public forum where the public were disregarded, developers were allowed to attend as representatives, and notes taken were incomplete.

Changes between versions of the GBCS have not been fully itemised, and do not reflect a formal response to consultation – in fact data appear to have been manipulated to make target sites more attractive, without taking the responses to the consultation into account. As noted, those changes are not fully itemised and require audit of the two documents to identify differences.

Part 6 of the Green Belt and Countryside study relates to the Gypsy and Traveller sites and insetting them within the Green Belt. This report is dated May 2014, but it was not included in the original listing on the evidence base, which refers to Vols 1-4, nor on the documents available for sale in hard copy. Volume 6 of the GBCS is referred to in the detailed narrative which is provided after a hotlink, but it seems it was not

included clearly on some disks circulated by GBC to members of the public. Given that it was not listed as available, the public would not necessarily have been aware of this document and that it should also be reviewed.

Conclusion

GGG would suggest that the evidence should have been accumulated and assessed prior to formulating a plan, rather than being pulled together to support a predetermined plan which had already been published. We would recommend that the evidence is corrected; that the plan is therefore reconsidered in the light of the revised evidence base and the changes in government policy (including the revised emphasis on the use of brownfield land); and that a revised local plan is then re- submitted for a proper consultation on a more sound basis.

We would add that we had no consultation about Home Farm area or Effingham Lodge Farm being taken out of the Green Belt (we will return later to these subjects).  These changes came after the Borough Councillors (Mansbridge and Juneja) had had their consultation with Effingham Parish Council (EPC) in March 2014 and no explanations have been given despite the EPC Chairman’s much-publicised requests.  The Howard School proposals had apparently not even been discussed with EPC or with us prior to publication of the draft Local Plan.

Also see: http://www.landmarkchambers.co.uk/userfiles/Gallagher%20v%20Solihull%20MBC.pdf

In this application, made under section 113(3) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (“the 2004 Act”), the Claimants claim that the Council acted unlawfully in adopting the SLP, with its allocation of the Sites to the Green Belt, on three grounds:

Ground 1: The Council adopted a plan that was not supported by a figure for objectively assessed housing need, contrary to the requirements to (i) have regard to national policies issued by the Secretary of State (section 19(2)(a) of the 2004 Act), and (ii) adopt a sound plan (sections 20 and 23 of the 2004 Act).

Ground 2: The Council adopted a plan without cooperating with other local planning authorities, contrary to the duty to cooperate (section 33A of the 2004 Act).

Ground 3: The Council adopted a plan without regard to the proper test for revising Green Belt boundaries set out in the national policy, again contrary to the requirements to have regard to national policies and adopt a sound plan

The Council lost.

NO EXCEPTIONAL CIRCUMSTANCES HAVE BEEN IDENTIFIED OR DEFINED

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) requires any change of Green Belt boundaries to demonstrate exceptional circumstances.  Unmet housing need is NOT an exceptional circumstance in law.  No exceptional circumstances have been disclosed and for that matter neither have they been defined in spite of repeated requests in the local Press.  So the Green Belt boundaries should NOT be changed.

Policy 2 – Development Strategy

It is understood that a target of c13040 homes has been set across the Borough, and we object here for the following reasons:

–                The target fails to fully consider existing infrastructure limitations

–                Using Effingham as an example, a Housing Requirements survey conducted in 2014 by Effingham Parish Council (EPC) listed road congestion as a major concern, with many residents citing Lower Road and The Street in Effingham, and the A246 through Effingham and Bookham, as highly congested.

–                Flooding, in some cases due to local spring lines, was also experienced. Extensive housing development in Effingham under pressure from central targets could overwhelm our roads. The nature of the village provides few options for improvements via widening or new roads or new layouts.

–                The target fails to consider the nature of the Guildford Borough
Over 80% of the Borough is Green Belt therefore a centrally imposed high housing target is unfeasible, without large-scale loss of Green Belt – which was and is by its nature, intended to be permanent and not a reservoir for development. Adoption of unfeasible targets to justify the insetting of villages such as Effingham simply replicates the flawed agenda of the Green Belt and Countryside Study (GBCS). It would be more realistic to negotiate targets based on real local need, as noted in the next point.

–                The target is not based on an up to date, scrutinised Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) or local needs.

–                The draft Local Plan has been produced before the finalisation of GBC’s SHMA, which is currently undergoing re-draft. As the SHMA is designed to ‘inform the Local Plan’ and help understand ‘how many homes we need’, the creation of a draft Local Plan first appears to be placing the cart before the horse. This approach is therefore unsound, particularly for Effingham, a village of c1000 homes, as outlined below.

–                According to the 2014 Effingham Parish Council (EPC) Housing Requirements Survey of residents, there is an estimated local need for housing over the next 15 years of 156 homes. Yet GBC’s draft Local Plan suggests 310 new homes as part of the Howard School redevelopment (site allocation 69) and insetting much of the village from the Green Belt, opening it up to further over-development. Why? Where is the need?

–                EPC’s survey also contained many comments from concerned residents stating they would vacate the village following Green Belt loss – freeing up more homes.

–                Effingham provides a clear example where the draft Local Plan is proven to be wholly inconsistent with local requirements and this provides a strong case for a change in direction. GBC should complete the SHMA with local input and release a final, scrutinised and approved SHMA adapted to local needs before producing a Local Plan at all. We remind you here of the aims of the Localism Act 2010 and insist that better provision is made to incorporate the requirements of communities and views of local parishes and associations if your consultation is to be validated during inspection.

Policy 9 – Removing Effingham Village from the Green Belt

We object to the removal of Effingham Village, and the major boundary expansions, for the following reasons.

–                Unmet demand does not constitute ‘Very Special Circumstances’

–                In July 2013 it was announced in Parliament that the single use of unmet demand was unlikely to constitute the very special circumstances required to justify inappropriate Green Belt development.

–                The removal of Effingham’s Green Belt protection appears to be based purely on perceived demand:

o   Firstly on an arbitrary high demand for future housing that has been proven to bear no relation to local need as covered in our comments on Policy 2 (above),

o   Secondly on a desire to increase a local school based on assumed demand, non-existent needs and driven by related Green Belt property development profits . Demand alone, albeit arbitrary, does not demonstrate very special circumstances and therefore the basis for the widespread changes in Effingham’s Green Belt status in the draft Local Plan is unsound and must not take place. The proposed strategy for Effingham is inconsistent with both the aforementioned statement from parliament, the NPPF and the Minister’s letters mentioned above.

–                The Green Belt changes present disproportionate expansion and encroachment
Effingham is a village of c1000 homes. If the village is taken out of the Green Belt and other boundaries expanded as suggested, it delivers highly disproportionate development and countryside encroachment – which is inconsistent with the NPPF. Site allocation 69 (also commented on below) plus other small changes would increase the village by one third in an extremely short space of time. The impact to the openness and rural character and the existing infrastructure (also covered in our comments on Policy 2 above) would be overwhelming; increasing traffic gridlock, flooding and placing pressure on healthcare facilities and train services/parking at Effingham Junction

–                The above is based only on ‘known’ developments. Speculative development inevitably follows Green Belt adjustments and it could also disproportionately increase the Traveller pitches in the area beyond the extra six agreed (site allocation 89). We remind you of our neighbouring council’s recent Green Belt Boundary Review (Mole Valley District Council). During their consultation to move the Green Belt boundaries in the next village of Bookham (Little Bookham and Great Bookham), the council received 25 sites for consideration, encouraged by outside property developers, which exceeded 250 acres of local Green Belt in one community. Effingham will undoubtedly be opened to the same free-for-all if the proposals in GBC’s draft Local Plan are pursued, threatening the rural, open feel of Effingham and its conservation areas, historic settings and valued wildlife corridors.

–                The Green Belt changes will enable future merging of villages
The NPPF states that the Green Belt exists, among other reasons, to prevent towns and villages from merging. Effingham (covered by Guildford Borough Council GBC), borders with Little Bookham, which is part of Mole Valley District Council (MVDC). Both are currently in the Green Belt and a strategic Green Belt gap is maintained as intended by Green Belt law.

–                However, Mole Valley’s draft Local Plan consultation earlier in 2014 clearly stated that they would consider development on this border as a future strategy if Effingham were removed from the Green Belt. It is our belief that releasing Effingham’s Green Belt protection as proposed in the GBC draft Local Plan renders development between the village borders a certainty in the future.  MVDC have stated their intention and GBC would be powerless to challenge border development by another council, having given Effingham’s Green Belt up so freely. Therefore we add another reason here to urge GBC to maintain the Green Belt boundaries, to prevent Little Bookham and Effingham from merging into one village in the future.

–                The Green Belt changes would destroy vital wildlife corridors
The 2013 ‘State of Nature’ report said that, “The threats to the UK’s wildlife are many and varied, the most severe acting either to destroy valuable habitat or degrade the quality and value of what remains”.  The proposals in GBC’s draft Local Plan will put at risk large areas of local wildlife habitat, some of which contain ‘Red’ list species such as skylarks. Bees and butterflies are in decline and the removal of existing wild areas and meadows in the village will cause irreversible damage. Put simply, where will the wildlife go.

Site Allocation 69: Howard of Effingham School proposals

We object to the proposals to remove the Green Belt protection on the Effingham Lodge Farm, existing Howard site and Browns Field for the following reasons, some of which inevitably recall comments already made above.

–                Demand for a larger school is unproven and new spaces will be taken by new homeowners

–                The strategic demand for a larger school is unclear – it is well documented that schools with less than 1000 pupils frequently outperform larger schools

–                The school is understood to be over-subscribed by pupils outside the catchment area, many of which reside in the neighbouring district of Mole Valley. It is therefore surely for Mole Valley to provide a school for their residents in conjunction with Surrey County Council’s school strategy, rather than for the Howard’s Head to arbitrarily decide to increase the school in conjunction in developers.

–                As a larger school on a new site is dependent on the creation of 310 new homes to directly fund the development, it is clear that any new school spaces created will be taken by the families moving into the new homes. The benefit is therefore negligible – Effingham would in reality be accepting Green Belt loss for a new school with in effect no ‘real’ new places.  It would be reasonable to insist the school refurbishes their premises in their current location. This would also send a strong message that GBC are driving local strategy, as they should, rather than property developers.

–                The school developments will overwhelm our existing infrastructures

–                At peak times and particularly during school runs, the A246, Lower Road, The Street and the junction at Effingham Common (Forest Road) are gridlocked. Increased traffic from a larger school and the related new housing developments on the old school site and Browns Field would overwhelm all of these roads. Effingham’s Housing Requirements survey conducted in 2014 by Effingham Parish Council (EPC) listed existing road congestion as a major concern with many residents citing Lower Road and The Street in Effingham and the A246 through Effingham and Bookham, as highly congested. Flooding, in some cases due to local spring lines, was also experienced, impacting pedestrian access to the school for some months on Lower Road. The nature of the village provides few options for improvement via widening or adding new roads, and the impact to local healthcare services could be detrimental if the village increases by a third as part of these developments. The scale of housing development, driven by profit, is disproportionate and damaging. No village should be forced to increase by a third in one proposal.

–                The loss of Effingham Lodge Farm as an important wildlife habitat
As noted earlier, we remind you of the 2013 ‘State of Nature’ report which stated, “The threats to the UK’s wildlife are many and varied, the most severe acting either to destroy valuable habitat or degrade the quality and value of what remains”.  Effingham Lodge Farm is a sizeable area of Green Belt, development on which could harm the openness of the Green Belt and the wildlife species within. It is also an important strategic gap with the bordering village of Little Bookham, preventing merger.  The field itself is top quality agricultural land that whilst its future remains in limbo is being left fallow.

Infrastructure Project 4.5.1 – Effingham Common

We object to the construction of a car park on Effingham Common for the reasons below:

–                It is unnecessary and would prove fruitless. Walkers can use the existing facilities at the cricket club and it is highly likely that commuters would use up any new spaces on the common if they were free or cheaper than the train station car park.

–                It also concerns us that the creation of a car park would be the tipping point for justification of further future developments on protected common land or at nearby Wisley SPA.

–                The need for a car park is a little confusing, it appears to be linked to using the common as a SANG due to wider proposed developments within 5km. If this were the case, we would state that the common land is intended to enhance Effingham, and not to attract wider footfall and pollution to offset some of the highly unsustainable developments outside the village.

–                In effect Project 4.5 Suitable Alternative Natural Green Space (SANG) includes an unspecified project at Effingham Common (4.5.1). This refers to the provision of a car park to serve this SANG.  Such a project would be unacceptable if it was to be sited on the Common itself, which is a registered common with existing commoners’ rights.  The local community have fought hard in the past to ensure Effingham Common was registered and protected, and the loss of any common land to a car park would be strongly opposed by the local community.  If project 4.5.1 is to be included in the Local Plan then specific details of the project must be given and the Borough Council must demonstrate there is an acceptable viable proposal for a car park site that does not cause any loss of common land.

Site Allocation 66: Wisley Airfield

Whilst this site appears to utilise some Brownfield development, which is positive, we object to the proposals for the core reason below:

–            It is simply too large to be feasible or sustainable. The scale, of 2100 homes, is wholly disproportionate to the area. It would swamp Ockham and there is no supporting infrastructure. The pressure on the local roads (narrow and flood prone), the junctions to the A3 and M25, and local services could not be sustained. The proximity to Effingham inevitably means our residents, and services, and transport plans, will be impacted. We are astonished that this scale of development could have reached the draft Local Plan. We raise the question on the effectiveness of the due diligence undertaken by GBC ahead of this plan’s release, unless it is simply a ploy to go in ‘high’ in the draft so a final, smaller proposal appears more palatable. This proposal would benefit from closer scrutiny.

Site Allocation 89: Home Farm

We object to the removal of the Green Belt status from Home Farm due to the 2 reasons below.

–                We understand that six new traveller pitches were originally proposed for this Traveller site and agreed by all interested parties. This is reasonable as it enables a small expansion for local families under the ‘rural exception homes’ policy. However, the draft Local Plan now proposes the area is removed from the Green Belt. In line with our objections to the wider Green Belt loss in Effingham, we object believing it will open this area up to unprecedented future development that could not be controlled and would have a similar detrimental impact on our community. In this instance it could also mean the site is opened up to non-local demand, as the original proposal would have applied the ‘rural exception’, which strictly benefits local needs. This change is not in anyone’s local interest.

–                There appears to be no local demand, however as demand often appears as an arbitrary reason in Green Belt loss, we restate as part of our objection Parliament’s announcement in July 2013 that the single use of unmet demand was unlikely to constitute the very special circumstances required to justify inappropriate Green Belt development. This announcement was extended to the Traveller community, ensuring the same rules applied across all communities.

Retaining the Green Belt status is important to control development.  And as the Prime Minister said two days ago as reported in The Times, albeit regarding Scotland,  “this is a once in a life time decision” and “don’t let’s divorce over this.”

Yours faithfully,

 

Chris Dick

Chairman

 

PS We will send you a copy of the results of our recent questionnaire under separate cover as we have been informed by one of your Planning Officers that it will count as a separate letter in its own right.

 

 

Copied by email to the following parties:

Sir. Paul Beresford, MP – via Mrs. Maureen Duke (Private Secretary)

Effingham Parish Council

Liz Hogger Borough Councillor

Members of Effingham Residents Association Executive Committee

 

EFFINGHAM RESIDENTS ASSOCIATION                                     Website:  www.effinghamresidents.org

5 Orchard Gardens, Effingham, Surrey KT24 5NR                         Email:      info@effinghamresidents.org