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!

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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). 

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

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

Pinewood – A Pivotal Month

September looks like being a pivotal month in the ‘life’ of Pinewood. Two controversial planning applications are likely to hit the decks. One is common knowledge – the wind turbine – the other may come as a surprise and shock – Belstead House & Meadows.

Pfr have chosen to leave the original wind turbine application on the table despite some 700 people complaining but more surprisingly without dealing with the MOD issues. In my opinion this is a good sign for those opposed to the project. Had Pfr re-applied with a slightly modified application – say a 10% reduction in the height – then the objectors’ slate would have been wiped clean and more costs would have to be incurred.

I wonder if Pfr think that their application is going to fail and have decided to go down the cheapest route out. We will see soon enough – it looks as though there will be a site visit on the 10th September and the Planning Committee will meet soon after that.

 

Picture - Belstead MeadowsBelstead House, previously owned by Suffolk County Council and used as a conference centre, has been in the hands of a developer for the last 12 months or so. It would appear that his design process is over and a plan has been formulated for the house, cottages and meadow. This plan is likely to unite the nearby residents in their opposition. Whilst there are many interesting aspects to the plan – the design and community priced housing – replacing meadows with 100+ houses and care home is not likely to be popular.

I believe the application will be presented to the Planning Dept. in the next few days – once I have the details I will give you a link to the papers.

Civic Reception

 

Amazing – how can you drive passed a place thousands of times and not know what is behind the hedge? Priory Hall on Benton Street in Hadleigh is that place. We were there for Babergh District Council’s new chairman’s reception and before anyone asks, yes we had to pay for the tickets + we raised £800 for his charities.

James Long, the new Chairman, is certainly a natural orator – he could talk for England – giving an interesting ‘presentation’ on the wines being served ….. well he is in the wine trade!

Enjoy your year James.

picture - bdc

picture - bdc2