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).