FRESHFORD PARISH COUNCIL
THE PARISH COUNCIL'S CASE FOR THE REJECTION OF APPLICATION NO. 05/02563/FUL SURREY AND COUNTIES ( SUTTON) LIMITED [Comment: I have numbered paragraphs within sections for ease of discussion]
General Overview and Introduction
1. THE GENERAL OVERVIEW AND INTRODUCTION.
1.1 We maintain that the planning arguments against this application are of such weight that it should not be considered reasonable for a recommendation to approve to be made.
1.2 We submit that weightings should be given to those points which reflect a desire to meet those guidelines and plans which aim to preserve or enhance on a sustainable basis the outstanding character of Freshford . As this application is being considered soon after the publication of both PPS7 and PPS1 we feel that a decision on the interpretation of these guidelines, amongst other matters raised in this document, could affect future considerations in other similar situations regionally and nationally. In this document we shall expose these points in the appropriate section.
1.3 The creation of a new solely residential settlement of the type proposed in this parish can only result in urbanisation of the countryside, an increase in car usage on the very poor local road system, and a further unbalancing of the community. We do not consider any of these results to be desirable in any terms. The only benefit arising from this application which is accepted by this Council would be the improvement in the landscape, but emphatically not at the cost of the arguments against the scheme which are set out in this document.
1.4 The question of inappropriate development versus the application of very special circumstances is relevant. We maintain that very special circumstances in Green Belt or any other terms do not apply as there are two approved alternative uses to residential, B2, as historically the case, and the sui generis use of the approved Freshford Mill Association application. We approach this new application therefore with arguments against, inter alia, the approval of inappropriate and unnecessary development in the Green Belt.
1.5 There is no need in this Parish, nor as far as can be ascertained in neighbouring ones , proven or assumable, for the expensive residences proposed. This market price positioning is evidenced by the design and the base costs applying to what is proposed for the site.
1.6 The scheme would attract an approximate 10/15% increase in parish population all in A and B income sectors , sectors which are over represented already in this parish. Furthermore the build design would appeal to second home owners who contribute little to the life of communities such as Freshford. Where then the move towards a more balanced community ?
1.7 We maintain that it is necessary in the interests of rural communities that "Local need" be defined to cover a geographical sector of the Unitary Authority's responsibilities and not be used in blanket terms for the whole geographical area for which it is responsible. A number of major matters of principle based on definition arise from this application and are stated elsewhere in this document. In a telephone discussion in 2004, Bath and N.E. Somerset Planning Strategy advised this Council that no definition for "Local need" existed in the local authority and that its interpretation therefore could be highly flexible in geographical terms.
1.8 We note that the applicants' agents have made reference to other applications in relation to this site in their evidence. We have done the same only where previous experience is directly relevant to this application. This is the fifth application for this site in five years. Two were withdrawn before officer recommendation and two rejected by committee and are under suspended appeal - all including change of use proposals to residential. We submit that this process has gone beyond the usual consideration of an application as discrete and to be decided on its own merits without reference to preceding applications or other relevant experience. The whole question of repeat applications is of course raised by this fifth registered application in five years by the same developers.
1.9 Also the question of relevant definition of various expressions in PPG's, PPS7 and the Local Plans arises. Where there is doubt in this Council on such interpretations , either absolute or in degree, we have made this clear in the text, as already exampled above by the question of "Local " in "Local need".
2. DEFINITIONS AND REFERENCES EMPLOYED
2.1. "Substantial" : after enquiry it appears that no standard planning definition of the word "Substantial" exists in the Local Authority. We therefore use the Concise Oxford dictionary definition : "Of considerable amount". (Ref. Policy ET9 Bath and N.E. Somerset Local Plan reflecting PPG2 para 3.7c). This is particularly relevant in respect of "Substantial reconstruction".
2.2 Bath and North East Somerset Local Plan : we quote from the latest draft of this plan and do not repeat (Except where emphasis of consistent planning is quoted) the Wandyke Local Plan references where the two plans are of accord in respect of Freshford Mill and the planning circumstances relating to the Mill.
2.3 "New dwellings** this is discussed at length in the section "New Housing'
2.4 "Local" in "Local need" see section "The General Argument and Introduction".
2.5. We do not refer elsewhere in this document to the response by residents of this parish to the exposure of the application and supporting documentation. This was conducted over two late afternoons and evenings at a central location after an invitation drop to all households. The response overwhelmingly gave this Council a parish mandate to object to the application. Of the 40 responses three had no objection, two were ambivalent and 35 objected. These responses to a great extent accorded with planning guidelines; particularly but not exclusively in respect of access considerations. All responses were recorded and are available from the Parish Clerk.
3. CURRENT STATUS OF FRESHFORD MILL
The site -
3.1. Is within the Green Belt
3.2. Is within the Cotswold A.O.N.B.
3.3. Has B2 usage status and
3.4. Has approved usage for a nature sanctuary, limited workshops and a rural recreation area.
3.5. Is not
classified as a Major Development Site
4. PLANNING HISTORY
The site -
Was used for B2 purposes actively until 1990 , with reducing activity between
1985 and 1990. Subsequently to date 15 years of no B2 or related usage
5.1 PPS7 : "Local planning authorities should be particularly supportive of the reuse of buildings that are adjacent or closely related to country towns and villages, for economic or community uses , or to provide housing in accordance with the policies of PPG3 and subject to the policies in Para. 7 of this PPS in relation to retention of local services."
5.2 The site is not adjacent to or closely related to the settlement of Freshford Village, nor to Sharpstone, which has no services. The Wansdyke Local Plan Inspector's report stated that the site is not within or adjacent to the existing settlements of Freshford and Sharpstone. It is across a river, separated from the other settlements by fields, is on a different contour to the village and the services in the centre of Freshford. Furthermore, the railway station and the other limited village services are not safely and easily reached by pedestrians from the site due to the lack of pavements along the lanes and for major lengths on the twisting and narrow road through the village. There is no significant lighting outside the village to illuminate the main road and none at all on the Crabtree and Rosemary lanes direct route to and from the site. It is furthermore cut off completely from Freshford and Sharpstone (and dangerously so) in high flood conditions (See Page 16).
5.3 In transport terms the application does not accord with PPG 13 para 14 - we would be interested to be advised of the search sequence which results in the Local Authority choosing this remote site , which scarcely meets the requirements stated in this guideline. Approval of this application would amount to such a choice even if the site is being regarded as a windfall.
5.4 PPG3 paras 30 and 31 also apply and work against the selection of this site for housing and this relates to PPS7 as quoted above.
5.5 The Wansdyke Local Plan Schedule of Changes approved 21st September 2000, stated under Settlements 7.5.27 7.21 "Freshford and Hinton Charterhouse are moderately sized villages with some local facilities and services." "bus services are very restricted and the local highway network is very poor" : "the high quality character combined with highway constraints limit housing opportunities to infilling only." These constraints, whilst probably seen in the light of the Housing Development Boundary, apply as much to the Freshford Mill site as to the village conurbation, in fact more so in respect of the provision of alternatives to car movements.
6. PUBLIC TRANSPORT.
6.1 As there has been no residential use, the site is not presently and has not been historically served by buses, which , if they were in future to serve the site would need to have a turning circle available to enable them to return along the narrow lanes. Given the price which shall have to be paid for the high grade residences proposed, a bus service is most unlikely to substitute to a significant extent for the car for social, shopping or any other purposes. This application therefore does not meet the
6.2 guidelines of PPG 13 Transport (Housing) para 14. which, whilst the site has not been allocated for housing purposes, states a clear principle that selection should -
6.3 "Start with the re-use of previously developed land and buildings within urban areas, then urban extensions, and finally new development around nodes of good public transport corridors, Local planning authorities in assessing the suitability of sites for housing development should , amongst other things, consider their location and accessibility to jobs, shops and services by modes other than the car, and the potential for improving such accessibility."
6.4 The question of whether the expression "Housing" in these circumstances relates to re-use of industrial buildings for dwelling purposes is debated in Section "New Housing" in this document. In this case, as in others, the PPG is relating to the synergetic effects of new housing by placing a new population on a particular site, and such synergetic effects obviously apply also to re-use for dwellings of buildings used previously for other purposes. No amount of sophistry in any quarter could effectively lead to misinterpretation of the wording and intent of this guideline. Freshford Mill does not meet the guideline's requirements in terms of nodes of good public transport corridors, or accessibility to jobs, shops and services by modes other than the car.
6.5 PPG3 para.47 states that local authorities should " Seek to ensure that all housing developments are accessible by a range of non car modes. This applies to development both within and outside existing urban areas" What non car modes apply to this site ? - none, we suggest in relation to the main needs of potential residents.
7. TRAFFIC MANAGEMENT
7.1 The mitigation proposals supporting this application do not make any significant contribution to traffic management. Bullet points 1 , 2 and particularly 6 of PPG 13 para. 66 refer. Where are the " Well designed traffic management measures which will contribute to reducing (From present levels and we suggest those that have applied for the last 15 years) community severance, noise, local air pollution and traffic accidents" and how can the proposals relate to "producing better and safer local road conditions in rural areas and reducing the impact of traffic on sensitive locations, while facilitating the access that is important to maintaining a vibrant rural economy" ? A resumption of B2 use on the scale of the previous operations in the 1980's has now , with flood problems and others relating to location, become remote in the extreme, a view expressed by the developers in previous applications. The other approved use for the site has none of the drawbacks which PPG 13 is trying to minimise.
8. NEW DWELLINGS
PPS7 para 20 states :
8.1 "The replacement of non residential buildings with residential development in the countryside should be treated as new housing development in accordance with the policies in PPG3".
8.2 We maintain that "substantial reconstruction" of the buildings on the Freshford Mill site amounts to "replacement" of the existing industrial with residential buildings and that this paragraph applies to such buildings. Due to the paucity of existing plans submitted however it is difficult to establish exactly which buildings might be subject to substantial reconstruction or replacement but our visual knowledge of some of the site's buildings in their present poor condition indicate that a substantial reconstruction will have to take place of those to make them fit for residential use.
8.3 In the case of buildings A1,A2, H and C it is evident that these fall into the category of re-use rather than replacement, and their conversion to residential presents us with no specific problem in relation to PPS7, (This is without prejudice to other arguments presented in this document in respect of new dwellings) although we have a Green Belt openness reservation re building H ; please see section on "New Building and the Openness of the Green Belt" para 5 . Buildings B and D however appear to need a considerable amount of reconstruction , amounting to substantial or major by any reasonable interpretation of these expressions. There is a major question mark over buildings H2, H3, K, F, and G, which cannot be assessed by us due to the lack of existing details in this application. We cannot see how any party can decide on this matter of replacement or substantial or major reconstruction of individual buildings without much more detailed existing plans than have been made available for consideration. We suggest that independent full structural surveys are necessary to establish what needs to be done, and there will most probably be problems that have yet to be established which relate directly to the degree of demolition and rebuild necessary.
8.4 We accept that where substantial reconstruction is not involved that para. 17 of PPS7 on re-use might apply, but would point out that the application proposals do not meet "Specific local economic and social needs and opportunities". We maintain that this location does not meet the sustainability considerations of PPS7 l(v).
8.5 "Priority should be given to re-use of previously developed ("Brownfield") sites in preference to development of Greenfield sites , EXCEPT in cases where these sites perform so (sic) poorly in terms of sustainability considerations (For example . in their remoteness from settlements and services in comparison with greenfietd sites". A key consideration in our appraisal is that this site performs very poorly in terms of the infrastructure and therefore in terms of sustainability.
8.6 Where specific local economic and social needs and opportunities are concerned the dwellings proposed do not contain an affordable housing element and the costs of
8.7 development of this difficult site will place any residential properties arising from this development in the high price segment of the housing market. This parish has no such needs, on the contrary we need a trend towards a balanced inclusive society which only affordable homes would help.
8.8 Another area of dubious clarity is that of the meaning of "New Dwellings". Here policy HG10 of the Bath and N.E. Somerset Local Plan applies and we believe that this is a true representation of what is intended by PPG3. HG10 states
8.9 "Outside the scope of policies HG4, HG5 and HG6 new dwellings will not be permitted unless they are essential for agricultural or forestry workers".
8.10 We maintain that HG10 is clear in that it does not permit new dwellings (Other than affordable and for these workers) outside the HDB in Freshford , an HG.6. village. The Wansdyke Local Plan policy HO. 10 follows the same principles. We have been unable to find any definition or interpretation that excludes re-use or replacement dwellings on footings where residential use has not previously existed from being new dwellings in the sense of HO. 10 and HG.10 as instanced above. Nowhere can we find a lead which would indicate that "New Dwellings" have to be those which are built from scratch on land not previously "Footprinted" by any buildings in any usage category. In plain English "New" is applied to "Dwellings" and qualifies that word , it does not qualify categories of buildings. The opposite of new is old. The whole term applies to the occupation by people for residential purposes A new dwelling therefore need not be a residence created on a previously undeveloped site or outside the footprint of existing buildings. Whether re-use, replacement or new build, the synergetic effects on infrastructure and social balance of newly introduced residential population are the same, and we maintain that PPG3 should therefore relate to whatever category of construction or reconstruction which may apply.
8.11 Freshford also is a village where B.7.21 of the Bath and N.E. Somerset Local Plan applies in terms of the Authority's aims to limit the amount of development in rural areas which lack the necessary infrastructure. This applies in this case particularly in terms of access , public transport and retail shopping facilities and, in flood conditions, the most rapid access to emergency services.
application under scrutiny does not make any attempt to meet the parish need
for affordable homes. The exclusion of this consideration from the Appeals
Inquiry into two previous applications which has been delayed to permit this
application to be submitted is a matter sub judice and we propose should not
be taken into account in consideration of this application - particularly as
the exclusion is clearly in breach of government intentions re affordable
dwellings and that there is no present or projected local need in Freshford
or adjoining Parishes, other than for affordable housing.
1. Villages will only be suitable locations for accommodating significant (Ten to fifteen percent increase in parish population in this instance) additional housing where
a. It can be demonstrated that additional housing will support local services such, as schools or shops, which could become unviable without some modest growth. (This 5s not demonstrable for, or applicable in forseeable circumstances to, Freshford).
b. Additional houses are needed to meet local needs, such as affordable housing, which will help secure a mixed and balanced community. (Patently this application does not meet this requirement as irijhis instance local need refers to needs in the locality of the parish).
The proposals might be considered as above amounting to village (Settlement) expansion , though not on an adjacent basis as they are separated from both Sharpstone and Freshford by a river and fields (In a flood plain).
8.14 Alternatively, they might be considered as a New Settlement, in which case they do not meet three of the criteria in the six considerations. These are -
a. They are large enough to support a range of local services , including schools, shops and employment. (Certainly not).
b. They exploit and improve existing or proposed public transport by locating around a major node along a good quality public transport corridor. (The site in no way complies with this).
c. Use of public transport b encouraged through the design and layout of the new settlement. (No such design has been submitted). "Settlement" is surely important in interpretation - it implies residential use with a reasonably large number of residences -this has not been a twentieth century or currently a permitted use for the Freshford Mill site. There are three existing settlements in Freshford Parish, i.e. Park Corner, Sharpstone and Freshford Village. It is not unreasonable to suggest therefore that Freshford Mill would be a fourth.
8.15 Para. 49 is also not met as the proposals are not for a development which combines a mix of land uses, although this paragraph does appear to apply to urban circumstances. However, the application can in no way be considered as meeting the requirement of creating a mixed and inclusive community - para. 10 of PPG3 states: Local Planning Authorities should encourage the development of mixed and balanced communities: they should ensure that new housing developments help secure a better social mix by avoiding the creation of large areas of housing of similar characteristics.
8.16 Para 11 says that local authorities should -
Secure an appropriate mix of dwelling size, type and affordability in both new developments and conversions to meet the changing composition of households in their area in the light of the likely assessed need.
The very high
base costs of the conversion of this site to residential are well documented.
Property pricing will have to reflect this and an understandable desire by
the applicants to at least minimise losses arising from developing the site.
There is no way that the properties being proposed will meet needs of social
diversity in this notably high property price area. In fact they would work
against this desirable diversity. The local authority, in our view most
inadvisably, went so far as to agree with the developers, without reference
to this Parish Council or the community, to eliminate by a Statement of
Common Ground affordable housing from the Inquiry into previous applications
for this site (mixed use including residential) . This is still sub judice as
the Appeal has been suspended and the question of affordable homes and the
balanced community is again an issue. Now that the site has been subjected to
a residential only application, it seems to be contrary both to government
policy on affordable homes and the need for diversity in this community.
There is , as stated in para.6 of page 1 of this document, even a strong
indication from the design (No gardens and inevitably a management support
system to rectify the effect of at least the flood debris on the site ) that
the properties might appeal to second home owners even more than fulltime
9. NEW BUILDING AND THE OPENNESS OF THE GREEN BELT.
9.1 The creation of the bat house and the sewage treatement building are new. New building is expressly stated to be inappropriate in PPG2 3.4 and none of the five inset exclusions permitted can be interpreted as applicable. Essential facilities as in inset two of PPG2 3.4 already exist for the protection of wildlife, ( specifically evidenced by the horseshoe bats which have taken up residence naturally in some of the existing buildings on the site for a considerable number of years) and would continue without reduction in facility were the buildings to be maintained , and possibly improved in the interests of their wildlife populations. There is therefore no need for new build but merely for maintenance and repair to adequate levels of protection. The question of whether the current or any other future owners have been, are, or are not willing to maintain these buildings to a level suitable for continued habitation by the bats is not, or should not be, we suggest, a planning consideration where "essential facilities" are concerned.
9.2 The exclusion of the question of the protection of the bats at the Inquiry into two previous applications by a Statement of Common Ground should not be permitted to affect consideration of this application as this could still be challenged as the Inquiry has not been completed.
9.3 Furthermore, we maintain that very special circumstances cannot be applied here to overcome the inappropriateness of the new bathouse because usage as a nature sanctuary with full bat protection within the existing buildings, and therefore maintaining the openness of the Green Belt, has been permitted by the approval of Planning Application ref. 03/00408/FUL submitted by The Freshford Mill Association. Inappropriateness therefore cannot be "clearly outweighed" by this consideration (ref. PPG2 3.2) and the building of the Bathouse would be contrary to PPG2 and the Local plan as inappropriate development with no case for very special circumstances.
9.4 Attempts to justify the reduction of the effect of proposed demolitions on the site (which obviously contribute to the openness of the Green Belt) by proposing that the site should be treated as a whole, and the clearly inappropriate new build therefore traded off against the demolitions, militate against maximising openness. This might only be argued, dubiously, if there were not the approved alternative (other than the historical B2) which does not adversely affect openness and not containing any proposals to trade off new build against overall site openness. It would be a fallacious argument which would allow the two inappropriate new buildings to reduce the desirable openness effect of demolitions on the same site. Such a precedent would open the doors to major breaches of the Green Belt guidelines and nowhere in PPG2, or as far as we can ascertain in any element of the Development Plan, is it suggested that such an argument should be considered.
9.5 Building H appears to have a roof raised above existing levels , although no existing plans for this building have been submitted to us and we believe therefore that they have not been sighted by the planning officer. Should the level have been proposed to be raised, then we maintain that this affects the openness of the Green Belt and is therefore also contrary to PPG2 and to the Bath and N.E. Somerset draft Local Plan.
10.1 Access is very poor - as stated in the Wansdyke Local Plan Schedule of Changes of 21st. September 2000 :-
"Bus services are very restricted and the local highway network is very poor."
"The high quality character combined with highway constraints limit housing opportunites to infilling only."
This was written in respect of the settlement of Freshford , but obviously applies also to the proposed new settlement in terms of Highway constraints.
10.2 The vehicular access routes through Westwood (Wilts.) and Freshford Village are poor, and already at peak periods have to provide a route for traffic which has grown substantially in the last ten years. Commuting from the recently considerably enlarged Wiltshire towns in near proximity, and school runs, creates such a condition in Freshford that Highways have recently imposed a 20 mph limit in the main settlement The increase in parish population (Approx. 10/15%) using cars, plus services, would add substantially to this problem.
Lane is a case in itself. Narrow and tortuous, with no passing places and a
very steep incline between the site proposed entrance and the junction with
Abbey Lane , this is the most direct route from the site to the A36, Bath,
Bristol and the towns to the West and North . A check in May 2005 by this
Council revealed an average observed confrontation between vehicles of six
per day between the junction with Sharpstonc Lane and the water trough
halfway up the Rosemary Lane incline. Vehicles have to reverse for considerable
distances round blind corners, up or down the steep incline and frequently
try to avoid such manoeuvres by using the few private drives which let onto
the lane. The lack of mitigating proposals in the application in respect of
this lane is a major reason for concern. Even a simple proposal to angle the
entrance to the site on a NW/SE axis has not been put forward in mitigation -
this would inhibit and possibly eliminate the substantial increase in
problems on Rosemary Lane which would result from this proposal as it stands,
but of course divert such traffic to the Crabtree Lane route - itself
Access has not been effectively addressed in this application.
11. HYDROLOGICAL CONSIDERATIONS
11.1 The Frome river occasionally becomes very dangerous in spate conditions in the immediate vicinity of the Mill site, and on the North Western section of the site in particular. This Council , and local residents generally , are aware of this by observation - an observation factor which should be given very heavy weight in considering the proposed presence of any form of residential accommodation on the site. This observation is based on experience, and the concerns we express here are exacerbated by flood levels due to the probability of increasing precipitation in both quantity and frequency in the future.
11.2 This Council have been very concerned at the approach taken on previous considerations of the flood risk to proposed future residents caused by creating residences in close proximity to such a dangerous section of the Frome. We wish to register this as a major concern.
11.3 Risk assessment has in our opinion has not been adequately addressed in respect of the above. Technically the provision of first floor accommodation on some , and only some, of the buildings may reduce risk to residents and visitors, and the 600 mm. raising of the level of the built areas for the other proposed conversions or replacements may (The evidence provided with the plans is inadequate to assess on a lay basis and probably professionally) be sufficient to avoid internal flooding of buildings, and we are aware of the storage replacement considerations - but these are not enough to justify residences being allowed in this flood plain area. Anyone who has observed the ravine effect of the mill bend of the Frome in spate circumstances will readily accept that there is danger to children in particular or anyone else who ventures in such conditions along the boundary between the site and the normal confines of the river.
We have no hesitation in proposing that a full flood risk assessment (PPG 25) is absolutely necessary, and then considered in the light of local understanding of the dangers.
technical sophistry is allowed to overcome common sense in relation to risk
in this instance, it will be noted by this Council as a move against the
safety of the individuals who may be unfortunate enough in future to inhabit
this site in flood conditions. We maintain that safety , not to mention
inconvenience, risks are too high for change of use to residential, as
proposed, to be permitted within the flood plain on this particular site.