From; Arnside Parish Plan Trust (on behalf of Arnside Parish Council)
Councillor Peter Thornton, portfolio holder for Housing and Development, South Lakeland District Council
Mr Lawrence Conway, Chief Executive, South Lakeland District Council
17 January 2012
Land Allocation, Development Plan, January, 2012.
Dear Mr Thornton and Mr Conway,
I write to express the concern of Arnside Parish Plan Trust (APPT) about your unseemly rush to push the Land Allocations proposals through Council on January 18 before it is ready to meet the standards required of such an important document, and before Council has satisfactorily and fully considered the alternatives proposed by local community representatives.
We believe the document is deficient in a number of important aspects despite the advice you appear to have taken. We urge you to delay publishing the document until these deficiencies are corrected, and to give your Council the opportunity to consider the following points before they are asked to pass the document for the next round of consultation.
I have been advised that we should reserve the right to refer to this letter again, if ever the question of a judicial review arises, on the basis that no council, properly directed, could adopt this document so far as Arnside is concerned.
APPT is the body charged by Arnside Parish Council with preparing a plan for the village under the umbrella of the new Localism Act, initially as a community plan, but with the intention of upgrading it to a Neighbourhood Plan as soon as is possible.
Your officer, Dan Hudson, was given a copy of an early (incomplete) draft by one of our members – Chris Bisco – at a meeting at SLDC on December 15. Chris specifically asked Dan to review the current draft and to suggest how we might need to amend it in time to be reflected in the current round of allocations. He was also asked to consider the site suggestions presented in the draft as a viable set of alternatives to the then draft land allocations of SLDC.
We realise and accept that we were late in starting this process and this could have caused some difficulty within your timetables. However, we believe that, in the spirit of the Localism Act which had just been passed, there was every opportunity for SLDC to allow APPT/APC the time, and for your officers to provide the advice and assistance needed, to get our draft to a more complete state which would marry the needs of your land allocations process with the valid aspirations of the community in Arnside.
In practise, nothing was heard from your officers until the agenda for the land allocations meeting was published. In your documents, reference to the Arnside plan is very dismissive and those preparing it are dismissed merely “as a group of local residents”.
Neither is there any substantive reference to the alternative proposals made, nor are any of the arguments presented dealt with. We believe that this is not only unhelpful, but also an indication that engagement with the community has not been taken seriously, despite the many road shows and documentary consultations you have undertaken.
To resolve this situation, and to take this process forward in a more constructive way, please let me know who you are assigning to work with us to fulfil SLDC’s new statutory duty to help us take the embryo Neighbourhood Plan to the next stage.
We also ask that you defer adoption of the land allocations for Arnside until this process has been properly completed.
There appears to us to be no pressing reason why SLDC should not take more time to get the plan right for Arnside despite what is said in the Council Agenda papers. It looks as if it is an idle threat that developers will be allowed to go ahead if we don’t have a plan right now. There are plenty of reasons why developers’ proposals can continue to be resisted for a few more months until a more robust plan with better community support is in place. We understand that SLDC sets the timetable, not the developers, and there is no firm Government deadline. This applies particularly within the AONB where there are current and continuing protections against development and a very high level of testing is available to resist planning applications, and to protect us from being railroaded in the meantime. (Incidentally we still don’t understand why SLDC appear to be reluctant to use those AONB protections).
There are many other sub-districts of SLDC listed in the documents that are subject to separate rules from the LDF/Land Allocations and therefore get different treatment. So why is a temporary delay for Arnside not also a viable option?.
Apart from current planning rules, there are emerging policies which need time to bed in before we rush to cover our countryside in concrete. The revisions to the NPPF have not yet been published; they could have a significant impact especially on green spaces and within an AONB. The new Neighbourhood Planning regime is also an important measure which could give SLDC the opportunity to motivate our communities to take responsibility, and for them to become engaged in a way that has not been done before. The battle between the presumption in favour and community plans has yet to take place but surely a prudent council would wait for clarification of this issue? The current rush presents unfortunately like a pre-emptive strike to limit those opportunities.
To say the process has been going on for a very long time is not, in our opinion, a reason for rushing ahead now into a big mistake, unless either the cabinet or officers are working toward some other agenda of which we are not aware? Given that there is no pressing reason why further time should not be taken to make best use of these opportunities, I’m afraid we have to question the motivations behind the rush.
In order to settle this point, please let us have your positive assurances that no agreements or understandings of any kind (even of a conditional nature) have been reached with developers, landowners, or any other interested parties, that would compromise the possible removal from the land allocations of any of the sites in Arnside listed in the latest draft allocations, should that become the conclusion of the next round of consultations? You will understand that this would be a serious matter if any such understandings have been reached.
There are also other weaknesses in your draft. They need putting right and re-issuing even if some are mere drafting errors.
For example, Para 2.20, says that “The sites from which allocations have been selected are those put forward up until the end of Emerging Options consultation in April 2011. Alternative sites put forward through emerging options were subject to consultation in July and August 2011.” If we read that correctly, none of the additions or alternatives suggested since April, 2011, have been included! If correct, this is outrageous, and community consultations have been a hollow sham! Or is it just very poor drafting and a re-write is required?
Whatever the drafting situation, it is obvious to us that the many alternative sites we have proposed for Arnside have not been given serious consideration. This is a big issue beyond that of your treatment of community views. The APPT version proposes a clear hierarchy of sites which fulfil the planning obligations applicable to an AONB.
But SLDC’s version only pays lip service to that hierarchy. It lists the criteria and then, so far as housing is concerned, only allocates for housing development green-field sites – not brown-field or previously-used sites. Two of these are the most sensitive Important Open Spaces in the village, and one is subject to very strong objections from the AONB.
We urge you to revisit these allocations. You need to show that you have worked with the village, and with the AONB, to use all possible means to bring into play sites which fit the hierarchy before moving on to allocate sensitive green-field locations within the AONB. We know that this is difficult but we believe that you cannot demonstrate that you have taken this duty seriously, or with determination, to protect the character of the AONB.
We welcome the general reduction of housing numbers in the allocations because Arnside is a compact village which cannot absorb without damage to its character significant concentrated development. We are concerned, however, that there are issues with the way you have arbitrarily projected forward housing numbers. The total listed of 81 in Arnside seems to be driven by a calculation based on the 27 dwellings identified by the 2009 HNS, which covered the five year period until 2014. You then seem to have projected forward on the assumption that the two remaining five year period in your plan would generate the same rate of demand growth. The 2009 figure contains a considerable backlog of demand. Why should that same level of demand continue once that original backlog has been satisfied?
We are also unclear how the 81 units are made up. Are they all affordable housing units, or do they include also all the demand for market housing that you propose to allow over the plan period? As the 2009 report identified that almost all the affordable housing demand could only be satisfied by social rent housing, what assumptions have you made going forward?
We believe our alternative plan demonstrates a willingness to champion the development of the right numbers of affordable housing in the right locations and in phases which can be properly synchronised with actual local need as it emerges over the years. This approach would be more “organic” and do less damage to the character of the village within the AONB than the plan you propose. This is important for the future economic well being of the AONB area.
We consider that our strategy for the development of the micro-economy of Arnside is worthy of detailed support, including the need to develop car parking and facilities for the important tourism and environmental management specialities of this part of the Bay, but these have not yet been treated seriously by your planners. I understand that you have a regeneration programme manager who has facilities to help us and who can advise how we might further develop our draft in this context. Could you please brief the programme manager to contact us to provide assistance?
It has been necessary for us to challenge vigorously in this letter the current version of the land allocations so that you understand not only the strength of local feeling, but also the procedural reasons why we believe you should pause, and re-work with us, the proposals for this part of the district. It has demonstrable “special needs” within the AONB and needs to be treated as such.
Our hope is that we can move on to a more constructive phase in working with SLDC to produce a better result.
What can you do, please, to recognise our concerns, our procedural criticisms, and to move on to work constructively with us and APC for a more harmonious plan?
Chairman, Arnside Parish Plan Trust; Member, Arnside Parish Council