What Borough Councillor Liz Hogger said to the Guildford Borough Planning Committee

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In case you missed it here, with permission from Cllr Liz Hogger, is her excellent speech given at the Guildford Borough Planning Committee  

Planning Committee 9 March 2016

Planning Application 14/P/02109 Howard of Effingham School

(applicant Berkeley Homes)

Liz Hogger

 

Cllr Liz Hogger:

I want to thank all our public speakers, and all those who have submitted thoughtful individual responses to the application, whether in support or objection. I will certainly NOT thank those who have flooded the Council’s inbox in recent days with near-identical one line emails of support. This is not a numbers game, and I am confident this committee will decide this application on good planning grounds alone.

I particularly want to thank John Busher for his excellent report – it is thorough, professional and readable.

The Howard of Effingham School is part of our community. Most Effingham children attend the Howard – my own sons received a good education there some 20 years ago, so I know it well. Village residents are pleased the Howard is an outstanding school, and want to be able to support it. An application to improve the school facilities on an appropriate site, with some extra houses of a quantity and type to meet the needs of our community, would almost certainly receive significant local support. Effingham is not a NIMBY community, as parish councillor Paula Moss has pointed out.

So I’m really disappointed that instead of that we have a proposal which is unacceptable. This application proposes development across 25 hectares of green belt, which is of course inappropriate unless there are very special circumstances. The new school is planned to expand from 1600 to 2000 pupils – a 25% increase – to be built on the Green Belt gap between Effingham and Little Bookham. To pay for that, the application proposes 295 new homes, nearly 2/3 of them to be built on mostly undeveloped green belt at Lodge Farm and Browns Field.

Very special circumstances to justify such destruction of Green Belt land would be if there is an urgent need for a replacement school and an urgent need for an increase in school places. I have read the updated Education Needs Report from Scott Brownrigg, and agree with the Council’s Consultant Stephen Clyne that this fails to make the case for either urgent need.

Yes it would be good to have a brand new school, but the school manages to be outstanding in its current buildings. The Howard is not included in the Government’s Priority Schools Building Programme – surely it would be if the need was urgent?

And there is no evidence of any urgent need for an increase in pupil numbers. The important fact is that the school already takes all first preference pupils from its catchment area and feeder schools, and a few more on top of that.

295 new homes would be an increase of well-over 30% in the number of households in the village. Yes the village needs some new homes, but certainly not that many. You can read in the report, page 35, of concerns about Berkeley Homes’ viability appraisal. It seems they have not made a convincing financial case that so many new homes are necessary as enabling development.

And we are quite clear from the Neighbourhood Plan process that the greatest need in the village is for smaller two-bedroom and one-bedroom homes, for young people and older people wanting to downsize. Yet this proposal offers just 11 one and two-bedroom homes out of 37 on the Browns Field site, and probably just 28% one and two-bedroom homes across all three sites.

Even worse, there’s no guarantee of any ‘affordable’ homes at all. Our 2003 Local Plan requires 35% affordable homes, and that should be the absolute minimum The Council’s viability consultant is quite clear that this could be delivered as well as a new school.

So the case for very special circumstances simply has not been made – there’s no urgent need for a new expanded school and the Council does not accept that 295 new homes would be needed to pay for it.

I fully support all the reasons for refusal given in the report.

The Green Belt reason for refusal carries the strongest possible planning weight – the harm would be substantial. On the Lodge Farm site, the report points out on page 32 that ‘the open undeveloped land on its eastern side acts as a buffer between Effingham and Bookham.’ Members who came on the site visit will remember that open sweeping view from Lower Road across open fields up to the ancient woodland beyond. That’s where the proposed three storey new school would go. Development here would effectively merge the settlements of Effingham and Little Bookham. In the words of the report, ‘the proposal would conflict with the spirit of what the Green Belt seeks to achieve.’

Reasons 5, 6 and 7 are about damage to the rural character of the village, to the Conservation Area, and to the setting of listed buildings, summed up on page 46 – ‘Due to the scale of the development, as well as the urban design and layout of the sites, it is considered that Effingham would lose its modest rural character and would become far more urbanised.’

However there is one additional reason for refusal I think we should include, relating to traffic and parking.

Effingham can barely cope with the congestion from school traffic already. I acknowledge that this application does offer some extra car-parking, but I am highly doubtful that it will be enough for a 25% larger school, with more staff and visitors as well as more sixth-formers. And it doesn’t solve the problem of the sheer number of cars travelling down narrow village roads at school start and finish times. The new link road will help a little, but not a lot.

Then add in the traffic from all the 295 new homes feeding onto the narrow lanes and roads through the heart of the village. I thoroughly believe that all this extra traffic would result in danger to children and parents walking to the St Lawrence Primary School nearby, and to children walking or cycling to the Howard from either Bookham or the Horsleys. In NPPF terms (para 32) the cumulative impact would be severe.

The Browns Field site offers below the maximum car parking spaces allowed under current standards and it is simply not enough. Levels of car ownership are very high in Effingham: our bus services are totally inadequate and the two nearest railways stations are 1.7 miles away. Cars are a necessity in Effingham, not a luxury.

I see on page 52 of the report that Motion, the Council’s own Highways consultants, share my concerns using rather more technical language. They also question some of the basic information provided in the application’s transport assessment, such as the affordable housing vehicle trip rate.

I know County Highways have no significant objection – no surprise there. But it seems they have based this opinion on a flawed Transport Assessment.

So I propose another reason for refusal based on policies G1 (1) parking provision, G1 (2) traffic generation incompatible with the local road network, and NPPF Chapter 4 Promoting Sustainable Transport.

In conclusion, the balancing exercise in the report makes it crystal clear that there is no way this council could possibly approve a planning application such as this, where the planning harm to our village and our Green Belt so clearly outweighs the benefit.

Madam Chairman, I move refusal of this application as recommended by the officer’s report, with the addition of the further reason on traffic and parking.

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