Viability

You may be aware of developers bringing the ‘top trump’ word to planning negotiations – viability.  Used to negotiate down the aspirations of planning officers and the residents affected by the development.  An example is Wolsey Grange where Taylor Wimpey argued that the application in its original form was not ‘viable’ so they had to increase the number of houses from 350 to 475.

In the EADT on 2nd March was a summary of Taylor Wimpey’s latest financial results.  A brief summary is:

Pre-tax profits up 34.1% to £603.8million

Houses completed up 7.5% to 13,219

Ave. selling price up 8% to £230,000.

So an average of £45,676 profit per house or a return of 25% – which in any business is a pretty good rate.

If they achieve the same return on Wolsey Grange then they will ‘extract’ £21.7million of profit from the development – I think they must be working to a different definition of ‘unviable’ to the rest of us!

Wolsey Grange and Belstead House

Babergh Planning Meeting – November 25th 2015

Belstead House & Meadows

After 3 hours of debate the committee voted 8 – 6 to refuse the application but were not allowed anytime to develop the reasons for this refusal despite this being the recommended course of action in Babergh’s constitution.  Instead the officers left the council chamber with the developers.  After 15 minutes they returned with an ‘offer’ of £50,000 to help ‘mitigate’ against the severe traffic impact.  Objectors were not given any time to consider this before being asked to speak again.  The committee members were stunned at this turn of events and very little debate ensued.  A ‘new’ vote was taken and this time the application was approved by 8 votes to 6.

It is not clear how the first vote can be ignored.  Do we now keep voting until the officers get the result that they want?

Wolsey Grange

Still somewhat shocked by the events of the morning the Wolsey Grange application took a different process with the recommendation for refusal occurring at the beginning of the debate.  Many of the reasons for refusal were countered by the phrase ‘experts have not objected’ and therefore those grounds (highways, noise, size of development, etc) were not allowed to stand.  We were left with design as the reason for refusal and there are many factors (see below) why this was a valid reason.

The vote was taken and the application was refused by 7 votes to 6.  However, during the debate a note had been passed to me from a member of Sproughton Parish Council.  I knew there should be no contact with the public during the meeting so held the note aloft so that the chairman could see that I had received it but not read it.  The paper was folded and remained so.  I didn’t read the note at anytime, not even after the meeting, and the note disappeared.  So the note had absolutely no bearing on the result.

Weeks later the BDC monitoring officer conducted a ‘thorough’ enquiry into the note, though this didn’t include talking to the person next to me.  Subsequently the monitoring officer decided that to negate the threat of Taylor Wimpey calling for a judicial review, a new committee would be formed and the application heard again.  This new committee were given minimal training and were lead very carefully through the debate by officers – sometimes receiving what I consider to be misleading advice e.g. that cafes, restaurants, fast food outlets, etc are not part of the retail sector.

When it came to the vote the application was approved by 13 votes to nil!  However during the meeting it came to light that one of the new committee members had received a text which he subsequently read.  As it happens it wasn’t anything to do with the application and he eventually reported it to the chairman who announced it to the committee.

As we don’t know what the note that I received said, what is the difference between that and the text message that was read?

If the first vote had been allowed to stand then Taylor Wimpey would have only had to address some of the design faults and then resubmit it before approval was given.

Babergh Local Plan February 2014 – Ipswich Fringe

Housing

Policy CS7 – “a new community of approximately 350 homes”.

Policy CS19 – “in order to promote inclusive and mixed communities all residential development will be required to provide 35% affordable housing”.

Wolsey Grange and Belstead House and Meadows will give us 690 units – almost double.  This application promised 35% of affordable housing, it is now 20% at best and could end up as low as 6%.

Employment

Policy CS7 i – “approximately 6 hectares of land to create a quality ‘gateway’ business / employment area”.

Policy CS15 iii – “protect or create jobs and sites to strengthen or diversify the local economy particularly through the potential for new employment in higher skilled occupations to help reduce the level of out-commuting, and raise workforce skills and incomes”.

Policy CS16 – “an extension in size or intensification of retail uses in the Babergh Ipswich Fringe adjacent to the A14/A12/A1214 will not be supported, to protect the town centre vitality and viability of Ipswich and Hadleigh”.

Wolsey Grange offers 4 hectares (not the 6 specified in the plan) of low quality employment as you would expect from the application’s new categories – cafes and restaurants, drinking establishments and hot food takeaways.  Babergh consider these activities not to be retail despite the definition of retail being the sale of goods to customers for their own use and not for resale.  We have gone from Adastral Park to Cardinal Park.

Education

The Impact Assessment identifies that the noise levels are significantly above the ‘serious annoyance’ threshold for external noise and therefore this is not an ideal location for a school.  A Commons Select Committee reported in December that new schools should not be built close to main roads.

The proposed school location is far too close to the A1214 and the junction with the road into the employment area meaning added dangers, pollution and noise from vans and trucks.  Being next to an ‘entertainment site’ is not suitable for a primary school.  Lunchtime drinking doesn’t fit with young children in close proximity and the site will also be a natural meeting place for youths in the evening.

Access is down a cul-de-sac which will mean that dozens of cars will be trying to do 3 point turns while children are crossing the road and there is even a possibility that parents will stop on the A1214 to drop their children off adding to safety issues.

Highways

BDC Local Plan 2.8.3.2 – “The A14 and A12 are important communication routes essential to the local economy and congestion at the Copdock junction should not be exacerbated by development in this area”.

The reason for the change in employment type in the application was because Highways objected to the ‘severe’ impact of an estimated 600 additional movements on the A1214 from daytime employment.  In which case how could around 1,000 extra vehicle journeys from the residential developments, during rush hour, be acceptable?

The proposed works to the A1071 and the A1214 will cause months and months of disruption.  Adding more junctions to these key routes must add time to journeys and create greater likelihood of accidents.

Noise

The Noise and Vibration Impact Assessment

“identifies that the noise climate at the site is dominated by road traffic noise from the A14, A1071 and A1214 and that this is above the upper BS8233 and WHO guideline levels for serious annoyance.  The site is therefore not ideal for residential development.”

“dwellings will be affected by traffic noise of such an intensity that windows will need to remain shut all of the time.

The NPPF and PPG recommend that planning decisions should be avoided where the perception of noise is noticeable and disruptive, such that it has a significant impact.

A fence will not mitigate against current traffic noise levels let alone thousands of more journeys per day.

Design

NPPF 63/64 – “In determining applications, great weight should be given to outstanding or innovative designs which help raise the standard of design more generally in the area.  Permission should be refused for development of poor design that fails to take the opportunities available for improving the character and quality of an area and the way it functions”.

IBC says that the “proposed design and specifically the frontage of the development to the A1071 fails to achieve a level of design quality and architectural response for this important urban edge site”.

NPPF 150 – Local Plans are the key to delivering sustainable development that reflects the vision and aspirations of local communities.  Planning decisions must be taken in accordance with the development plan.

This application is contrary to the aspirations of the local communities and the development plan.  Our Local Plan spells out the requirements for the Ipswich Fringe – 350 houses (not 690) and 6 hectares of land to create a quality ‘gateway’ business / employment area (not 4 hectares of low quality retail). 

LGA Conference

John Pienaar

John Pienaar

Attended my first Local Government Association Conference last week in Harrogate. As you can imagine there was a great deal of blah, blah, blah but a few interesting speakers. Jeremy Hunt, the Health minister, put forward his ideas on how they were going to reduce demand on the NHS. It appears as though it’s all my fault – overweight, a bit of a smoker and I live on my own. So if I give up drinking, smoking and eating the NHS should be safe. Then all of us retired people should move back in with our children to reduce care costs and free up some housing – great in theory but it presumes that you have to got rid of your kids in the first place!

John Pienaar gave us his views on the state of the parties after the election – it looks like we could be in for a long spell of Tory rule. Mind you it was interesting watching the ‘group’ of Tories from Suffolk County Council spend 3 days trying to avoid each other. It is a worry for the residents of Suffolk because I just don’t see the quality of Cabinet member required to deliver the services with reduced funds. In two years time, with the Tory Government delivering the peak level of austerity cuts, the County Council elections could deliver a mixed colour administration.

I hope that the many Council CEOs that were there spent more time talking with the many exhibitors who seem to have already come up with some innovative solutions – my favourite was the rubbish bin that has its own built-in compactor thus reducing the emptying frequency.

County Council Cabinet – Crackers

Last week I attended my first Cabinet meeting and came away a little concerned.  The new cabinet does not seem to have the quality of the last one and there were a number of worrying signs over the council’s finances. One of the recommendations was to increase the budget on the school intervention process by £800,000 in 2015 -16. Since we are still pretty near the bottom of the national league tables this is not a decision to argue with – or is it?

The opposition parties suggested this needed to be done back in February but were laughed out of the chamber by the Tories. A touch of ‘we told you so’ is never as satisfying as you would think. But the main issue with the decision is that last year the Children & Young People’s team underspent by over £1.5million so adding an ‘extra’ £800,000 is hardly worth shouting about.

When I asked why they were happy to have under spent when the performance is so bad I received the crass comment back from the member for Finance – Richard Smith – that it always preferrable to have an underspend! Really? Surely a child’s education is more important? However, worryingly it either shows a distinct lack of financial acumen or a worrying strategy from the Tory Group.

New Era at Babergh District Council

I guess it (a Tory majority) had to happen at some point, just a surprise that in Babergh it took as long as it did – 40 years or so. Working in a ‘hung’ council had its positive and negative points but all of those are preferable to being on the back benches. Time will tell whether a Tory administration is good for Babergh but if the experiences at County are anything to go by then hold on to your hat it could be a bumpy ride.

Leader Jennie Jenkins assured those councillors not in the administration (8 Independants, 3 LibDems and 1 Labour) that their views were important and would be sought out, then proceeded to fill all of the policy panels with Tories.  Talk is cheap!

A message that it would seem fails to reach Tories, both in the District and County, is that their residents would prefer to retain the fabric of their community rather than slavishly follow a zero tax increase and the resulting cuts necessary to balance the budget. Just look around you, in the winter the roads look like a rolling rubbish tip with the lack of greenery exposing huge amounts of litter. Then the growth comes in and covers it up, but this creates blind spots at every rural junction.

Now I agree that you shouldn’t have staff levels that are geared to peaks but if you have a rolling peak throughout the year then a bit of flexibility within the workforce could eliminate this perennial problem, that and not trimming contracts so that rubbish is only collected upto 2 metres from the curb when we can all see it up to and including the hedgerow.

Beginning to sound like a grumpy old man so I had better stop, but is it wrong to take a pride in our wonderful county?

The Fight Back

The election results were devastating, many a great MP and councilor lost their seat.  Certainly we made mistakes in 2010, both pre-election and post, but the country would have been in a far worse position without the Liberal Democrats helping to form a stable platform to enable recovery and to apply a brake on some of the more excessive Tory policies.  However, the British public chose the 2015 election to make a few messages:

>         Scottish voters wanted a greater influence over the decisions made in Westminster;

>         English voters do not want SNP to be the tail that wags the Labour party;

>         UKIP became the receptacle of the vote against the ‘mainstream’ parties;

>         Students, disillusioned after the tuition fees ‘debacle’, turned Green.

Strangely the policies of the parties seemed irrelevant, which could explain why, whatever the parties announced, the polls didn’t move.  The last minute swing to the Tories was driven by a fear of a Labour / SNP coalition.  None of the ‘messages’ were going to lead voters to select the Liberal Democrats.  Since the event most commentators have said that the results were extremely unfair on the Liberal Democrats who had been doing a good job in coalition.  Some went on to predict the end of the line for the party.  However, as usual, they have underestimated the strength of feeling that many people have towards the Liberal Democrats especially when it comes to policies.

Since polls closed last week, over 10,000 new members have joined the Liberal Democrats.

Last week’s elections hurt us all. Across the country our candidates and campaign teams worked so hard but did not get the results they deserved.   We have a long journey ahead to get our party back where it belongs, but we are starting that journey ten thousand people stronger than we were – people from all over the country, all sorts of backgrounds and ages.

>   Over half of our new members are aged under 35 and our oldest is 91 (welcome to the family Tily);

>   82% have not been a member before and 72% have not been involved in any sort of campaign;

>   They have highlighted a huge range of issues, like protecting Human Rights Act and blocking the Snoopers Charter.

>   Top locations are Sheffield, Bristol, Twickenham & Richmond, Cambridge, Islington, Battersea and Cardiff.

Would you like help the fight back by becoming a volunteer or by joining the party?     www.libdems.org.uk/join

A Busy Week

pictore of chantry valeIt would appear that developments are like buses – you wait ages for one and then three turn up at once! So in the last week we have had presentations for Aldi; Chantry Vale and Belstead Meadows. If growth is your bag then you will be rubbing your hands in glee but – and its a big BUT – if traffic grinds to a halt as a result is that a price too high?

Parish meetings at Pinewood, Copdock & Washbrook and Chattisham & Washbrook all expressed serious doubts about the ability of the infrastructure to cope with these developments, especially as just getting minor ‘improvements’ done to the existing road network is nigh on impossible.

Logo - BeachOn Friday I tripped up to Lowestoft for a Help An East Coast Child meeting with DIAL. One of our money raising schemes is proving so successful that we are hoping to provide funds to DIAL who help us out with many of our grant requests.

Saturday morning found me sheltering (with a handful of Friends of Belstead Brook Park members) under the A14 waiting for the downpour to stop before we could get on and work to cut back trees and bramble from one of the paths on Belstead Meadows. I would love to have been able to read the minds of the dog walkers that passed us in the tunnel as we must have looked like a bunch of terrorists.

This week there is I.T. training; a Planning Committee at Babergh and a couple of tours of the Energy from Waste facility and hopefully a round of golf.

Excessive Development – Can We Cope?

Growth is a key strategic priority – encouraged by financial rewards from Central Government – but can the infrastructure cope? Our roads are already at bursting point, especially at rush hour. If you live in Pinewood there are limited exit points – the Holiday Inn junction and the roundabout at Tescos. In the morning it can take 20 to 30 minutes to get out of the Parish, so what will the impact be of planned new developments and should there be a point at which we say enough is enough?

After years of inactivity – Suffolk One was the last major development – we are now faced with a glut of applications:

> Chantry Vale (on land behind the Holiday Inn) – 350 houses and 70 businesses with exits opposite the Hadleigh Road traffic lights on the A1071;

> Belstead House and Meadows – 155 houses and a 65 bedroom care home;

> Belstead School – doubling in size;

> ‘Fred Olsen’ site – 200 to 300 office block;

> 24 hour veterinary unit;

> Aldi store next to Suffolk One;

> Sugar Beet site – possibly hundreds of houses and many businesses.

If all of these go ahead we could be looking at an additional 4,000 vehicle movements per day – mainly at the busy periods. Surely this is madness and we have to start saying no to some of those developments listed above. Is it right that the last one(s) to apply should be penalised? This could be a problem as the likely latest ones are already in our Strategic Plan. Surely we have to be more proactive than that but will we get the support for this approach from the Inspectors should any refused application be refused. You would like to think so but I just don’t think that we are good at seeing the bigger picture.

Watch the ever shrinking space!

Local Politics For the 21st Century

Time for a change? I believe so. Would someone please tell me what the benefits are of keeping politics in local government? Oh yes I know it helps to group people behind a decision but do we really want sheep leading us? If a decision or strategy is best for the people then won’t independent minds come to that conclusion without being ‘whipped’? Isn’t it more important to represent your constituents rather than comply with a group view? But how would people know who to vote for, I hear you ask? Do they now, or is that all  important cross placed in a box largely based on the political  party next to it? Does anyone know the difference in policies of the local parties? Many questions but what are the answers? Lets start with a clean sheet of paper.

Those standing would each produce a CV outlining their experience and qualities – this would need to be underwritten by a couple of guarantors. The other side of the A5 sheet would outline their aims and objectives (policies) for the district / county. Each candidates paper would be sent to every elector by the electoral body along with the voting card. On the ballot sheet everyone would just be listed by name, but a political allegiance could be stated in the CV if the candidate felt it important.

The leader of the council would be selected by the members who would then be selected to posts within the council, by the leader, presumably reflecting the members’ background, aims and objectives. More important than the political persuasion is the geographical split and groups could be formed around this – so for county their would be groups based on district. It would then make more sense if these county councillors were also the members on the district. This would work towards a more ‘joined up’ approach and save a heap of money. It must be better than the confusion that exists in the public’s mind now. To me it makes a sensible step towards a single tier local government. But what do you think?picture of suffolk

Regionalunitaridevolutionism

Predictable – when you promise one of your siblings a box of presents all of the others want to know what they are going to get. Its even trickled down to the nieces and nephews i.e the regions and counties. Of course what everyone conveniently overlooks is that, as the box of financial toys is fixed, for every winner there has to be a loser. Can power be passed down without money to go with it?

Despite recent cutbacks we are still spending far too much on the public sector. It is too stodgy and unresponsive – transformation programmes taking years and only delivering efficiency savings at best or a reduced service at worst. Is the unitary option the only logical way to go? Certainly from Joe Public’s point of view, the ‘Council’ is singular, but how do you divi up the area so that you can achieve maximum efficiency savings without losing touch with the parishes?

Can we learn from business where they periodically go through the centralise / decentralise cycle? Each change brings early benefits but are they sustainable – presumably not or the cycle would be broken at some point. Businesses have target customers and can design a delivery model to suit their demographic but councils have to reach everyone and each service we provide should be considered independently – education, health, adult care, housing, highways, businesses, etc.

Personally I think we should be seen as ‘the sail beneath the wings’, enabling communities to thrive and be largely self-sufficient but we are being driven by a ‘growth’ agenda from Central Government which is at odds with what many communities want or can cope with. Highway infrastructure has been inherited from a bygone age, narrow single carriageways, no cycle paths and a public transport system that allows massive over competition on certain lucrative routes and ignores others. I love Suffolk for what it is but are we in danger of morphing into an extension of Essex or losing our identity altogether?

So how would you vote – single unitary based on Suffolk as a whole; 2 or 3 unitaries (west, north, south-east) or to stay as we are and pull up the drawbridge?

picture - spaghetti junction