Planning Compliance

One of the four key goals for the new Liberal Democrat/Residents administration was the improvement in planning enforcement.

Two measures have already been put in place: to ensure a more communicative service; and, the redrafting of the Elmbridge’s Planning Enforcement Charter in accordance with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

The borough is to rename the team as the Planning Compliance Team. This would put greater emphasis on ensuring people complied with plans, conditions and the law, with enforcement being the end result in only the minority of cases.

The new team will have access to a branded vehicle in order to remove incorrectly placed estate agents boards and other illegal advertisements, which they were currently unable to do as easily and regularly using staffs’ own vehicles. In addition, staff will also have their own uniform, in common with other borough staff carrying out compliance activities.

The new team will introduce regular ‘surgeries’ and/or participation in existing events such as Let’s Talk Elmbridge in order to provide a greater and more visible presence with the public.

To achieve this the number of compliance staff will be increased 33%.

 

9,450 new homes – what’s your view?

Elmbridge’s Green Belt is under threat from the national government.  It tells the public that it will protect the Green Belt, but privately Westminster puts pressure on local government saying that boroughs must, from 2018, release the Green Belt for housing development if their local plan is older than 2012.

Elmbridge’s local plan was published in 2011 so it cannot be used to protect the Green Belt after 2018 unless a new plan is produced. Also the national government has said that Elmbridge must build 9,450 houses by 2035.  The new plan must show where these new houses will be built, and if not, the national government will step in.

The borough has four basic options: do nothing and the national government will take over; object to the figure of 9,450 which Elmbridge is currently doing; allow developers to build up in certain places or locate areas of the Green Belt where specific development can take place. Building high is also a consideration.

Your opinion counts – give your option here and for background here

Protecting the Green Belt – Building more Homes

Why is Elmbridge Reviewing the Green Belt?

The answer is simple – the national government has changed planning law and Elmbridge has to respond to the various changes.

This costs money and effort which could otherwise be used to improve or extend services or reduce council tax for the people of Elmbridge but unlike like the British government, under our unwritten constitution, Elmbridge is not sovereign so we have to comply with the wishes of the unrepresentative Westminster government (supported by only 37% of the popular vote).  Ultimately, its army is bigger than ours.

New National Planning Laws
In 2012 the national government introduced a radical change in planning law called the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).  It replaced all previous laws, rules and regulations relating to planning in England.  This caused upset across the planning profession and local government too.  There was a distinct possibility that over sixty years of planning practice would be comprehensively trashed.  As problems with the NPPF were exposed, the national government introduced explanatory guidelines for local government to explain its thinking.  This process could not happen overnight.  In fact, it continues through to today and the national government has indicated that more changes are on the way.

How does that affect Elmbridge?
In 2012, it became possible that developers could apply for planning permission and if Elmbridge refused planning permission the developer could win on appeal because the national government’s planning inspectors would use the new NPPF as the basis of their decision not Elmbridge’ policies.

Elmbridge Responds
As the dust settled, Elmbridge quickly reviewed all of its own adopted planning policies and associated documents to ensure that they complied with the new laws.  Some of Elmbridge’s planning policies only came into force a few months before the publication of the NPPF and were considered compliant with the new NPPF.  Where there was doubt about whether Elmbridge policies were complaint with the NPPF the process of change was put in place.  For the moment, Elmbridge’s Green Belt policy was considered safe.  Despite this, all Elmbridge policies adopted before the NPPF were reviewed on a regular basis to check their compliance.  Not least because the national government was continually introducing new guidances and rules.

Elmbridge’s Housing Requirements
There are many things that the British government requires Elmbridge to do before the borough can set its own plan for Elmbridge.  One of these is an assessment of the need for housing in Elmbridge – both in terms of the number of new houses (or flats) and their size.  In requiring Elmbridge to assess its housing need, the national government did not say how it should be done or what should be considered but it did require that Elmbridge was objective in its assessing housing need (OAN).  Nevertheless, Elmbridge must produce a figure for the number of new homes required by 2035.  Elmbridge has published its Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) and the independently derived figure is 9,450 new homes – about the same number of households currently in Weybridge.  This new figure is over twice the number produced by Elmbridge’s previous SHMA.  The borough’s current local plan does not cater for such a large increase in houses in Elmbridge – a new local plan is required.

More housing changes ahead
Although originally the national government allowed local government to provide their objectively assessed housing need using their own methodology, it now states that there must be one nationally set method for assessing need.  When the national government introduces this new method sometime in the future (date unknown) Elmbridge will have to undertake a new OAN.  This could mean that our current figure of 9,450 new households could be substantially increased (or it could fall but that is less likely).

What would happen if the borough did nothing?
It is very likely that many, if not all, of Elmbridge’s planning decisions will be overturned by the national government.  For example, the recent planning application 2016/2217 for a development of over 1,000 houses, known as Drake Park, between Walton and Molesey, on a large area of green belt.  This was robustly refused by the borough at a meeting on 21 November 2016.  It is likely that the developers will take this to appeal, and one of the main reasons the borough’s decision might be upheld is because we are preparing a revised local plan.

If we do nothing, the national government will declare Elmbridge’s current local plan policies non-compliant with the NPPF and take over planning decisions, which would mean a free-for-all for developers.  As a result (and this has already happened in some areas of the country), all refusals by Elmbridge borough of planning permission, when taken to appeal, would almost inevitably be allowed by the national government’s planning inspectorate.

Furthermore, in those circumstances the costs will almost inevitably have to be borne by Elmbridge local tax payers by means of higher council tax and/or reduced services.  Such applications would be judged only against the NPPF without any reference to any local planning policies or guidelines.  If the borough develops a revised local plan there will be particular local policies which would have to be applied in addition to those in the NPPF.  That is what the current Strategic Options Local Plan consultation is all about.

What is Green Belt?
Many people think that the Green Belt is countryside and the countryside is Green Belt.  Nationally, most of the countryside is not designated Green Belt and in Elmbridge we have many buildings in the Green Belt: offices, houses, schools, colleges, oil depots, sport halls, shops, stations, hotels and more.  Much of the Green Belt is private and the average person may not walk in it or even see it at a distance.

Much of Elmbridge’s countryside is already protected by planning law: sites of special scientific interest, sites of nature conservation importance, conservation areas, local nature reserves, strategic views, ancient woodlands, flood plains, areas of special historic interest and Whiteley protection among other protections.  Often these create greater protection than Green Belt.

But for Elmbridge Green Belt is very important.  Its main function is to stop the coalescence of our towns.  In this regard, it has mainly succeeded.  There are fourteen possible coalescence corridors within Elmbridge – the perceived experience of leaving a town entering the countryside and entering the neighbouring town:  five are well protected, six are reasonably protected (but could be better) and three have no countryside between them (Weybridge-Walton, Walton-Hersham and Ditton-Molesey).  Externally, Ditton has no countryside between it and Surbiton.

In the south of the borough the Green Belt has another role: that of giving a sense of open country – although this is not specifically mentioned in the NPPF.

How do we plan for this number of new houses?
More than half of Elmbridge is covered by Green Belt and as we know, most of the rest of the area has been increasingly urbanised, many would say to capacity.  About 3,500 houses could be probably be built on sites which are known about or allowed for (that is, sites which have been identified by developers and interested parties, allowance for ‘windfall’ sites, backland development etc).  That leaves a shortfall of around 6,000 (the same number incidentally as the ‘affordable’ or social housing which is needed within the borough).  Where are we going to find the space for all these houses?

If we leave the Green Belt entirely untouched we will have to consider more intensive development in existing urban areas, for example, replicating what is going to happen in Kingston and other parts of London, and building upwards.  Are we happy to have multi-storey blocks of flats in our towns, thus altering the character of our area while we leave land designated Green Belt (some of which may not be particularly attractive) untouched?  The additional houses will have to go somewhere.  The borough is required by the national government to review and consider the Green Belt when updating the local plan to take account of the increased assessed housing need.

On the other hand, we could cater for the extra 6,000 households until 2035 by building sixteen town centre housing developments similar in size to the Heart in Walton: two in each of the borough’s towns and one each in Claygate and Oxshott.  In this case, no Green Belt will be touched and, physically, 95% of the borough would remain no different but there will be infrastructure consequences whatever we do.

Elmbridge’s Green Belt Consultation
The national government’s view on housing assessments.
National Policy on the Green Belt

Heathrow

heathrow_3_750Heathrow was a poor locational choice for a new major airport even when it opened in 1944 and replaced Croydon and Hendon airports.  Also the land for this new London Airport was forcibly purchased by the national government under special powers – the Defence of the Realm Act – without compensation to the landowners specifically to avoid public opposition.

A similar approach is happening today.  Notwithstanding, the impact of an enlarged airport on noise, air and ground pollution the proposed airport expansion does not make economic sense.  The assumptions used in the Davies report  – discount rates for investment, payback periods and PFI rates etc could be considered designed to ensure that the recommendation of the report  could only be Heathrow.

If it is considered that south-east England needs extra airport capacity then it should be in the Thames estuary if at all and while such an airport is being built then perhaps Gatwick could be expanded as a less dreadful choice than Heathrow.

At present Heathrow is running at too high a capacity – far higher than other airports. Heathrow should have the number of flights reduced so that it ordinarily runs at 80% capacity.  At such capacity the amount of stacking would be reduced, thus dramatically reducing air pollution and noise (saving fuel too) and also the airport would be able to cope better when the weather is not so favourable.

To do this the national government  – with one year’s notice  – should randomly withdraw six slots (flight movements in or out) a month (a week would be better but more unsettling for the industry).  The reason that withdrawn slots should be randomly chosen is to avoid any possibility that airlines could be seen to affect the choice of slot to be removed.  At the same time four of those slots would be leased by auction for, say, five years to the highest bidder.  The revenue would not go to the airport but to the state.  The revenues could be partly used to either compensate those who lived near the airport before it was built or to develop better landside connections to reduce air pollution from arriving road traffic or both.

Adverts on Roundabouts

Advert-01Are you keen on having advertisements on our roundabouts in Elmbridge because you you see no harm in them? Or are you dead against them because they impoverish our beautiful borough? A number of proposals have already been withdrawn.  You can see what is proposed by clicking on a roundabout near you.

Sainsburys, Portsmouth Road, Cobham2015/1898
Claygate Lane/Kingston By-Pass, Ditton2015/1905
Lynwood Road/Woodfield Road, Ditton2015/1900
Embercourt Road/Hampton Court Way, Ditton2015/1903
Burwood Road/Severn Hills Road, Hersham2015/1894
Queen’s Road/West Grove, Hersham2015/1892
Hurst Road/Sadler’s Ride, Molesey2015/1901
Ashley Road/Stompond Lane, Walton, 2015/1908
Brooklands Road/Parvis Road, Weybridge,  2015/1907
Brooklands Road/Wellington  Way, Weybridge,  2015/1906
Monument Hill /Monument Road, Weybridge2015/1899

White Lion Hotel

White Lion CobhamProposals for this key site in Cobham have been around for a number of years. This evening members of the West Area Planning Committee were presented with a planning application for the conversion of the White Lion Hotel into flats, the demolition of the Cobham Lodge Hotel and the erection of 50 dwellings on the site.

The vote was six in favour of the application and only one against.  Our Liberal Democrat councilor Cllr Andrew Davis felt that although the new application was far more sympathetic to the historic site than the previous planning applications it did not go far enough to protect this symbol of Cobham’s heritage.

RTPI awards Elmbridge’s Planning Services

rtpi_awards_for_research_excellence_logoPlanning Services team has been ‘highly commended’ in the Local Authority Team of the Year category at the 2015 Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) Planning Excellence Awards on Monday 6 July.

The demand for planning services in Elmbridge has increased rapidly in recent years.  Yet the resources available to deal with such growth has been restrained.  So it is gratifying for Elmbridge planning to be awarded such an important national award.

Good practice in a diverse number of areas, the delivery of a large supermarket and listed school scheme and improved process to provide excellent customer service, were just some of the reasons that the judges deemed Elmbridge ‘highly commended’.  The judges were also impressed with the team’s engagement with the traveller community, enabling this group to be included in planning decisions, and its commitment to employee development.

Earlier in the year, Elmbridge’s Land Charges team won an award at the 2015 Local Land Charges Awards and Elmbridge’s Building Control team was successful in the Local Authority Building Control South East Region Awards Ceremony in Brighton in June.

Elmbridge Sport hub EIA

environmental impact assessmentAfter the decision by the full Planning Committee regarding the sports hub, we have now received the outcome from the Secretary Of State regarding the need for an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and he has decided that an EIA is required.  The essence of what the Secretary Of State said is:

“Whilst this is a finely balanced case, the proposal does raise concerns to suggest the potential for significant environmental impacts through surface disturbance of the former landfill site, uncertainty about the extent of the contamination of the site and the potential for gas migration to both the River Thames and nearby residential properties.”

Whilst the borough is disappointed by this decision, especially as the issues mentioned above have already been addressed in the planning report, Elmbridge has begun on the EIA exercise as promised at the Committee meeting.  The EIA will be the subject of public consultation and will be presented to the Planning Committee in due course.  I will let you know timescale as soon as I have it.

Grotto Pub Site

Grotto Pub Site webMany of you will know of the Grotto Pub Site.  It was my local when I moved here over thirty years ago.

On Monday next a planning application (2015/2042) will be presented for the demolition of the pub and the building of nine one-bedroom flats.

There will be no provision for cars on the site because the site is adjacent to the town centre and therefore it is considered to be in a sustainable location.  What do you think the likelihood is that none of the new 9 to 18 occupants of this development would have a car?   Where would they park?  A local told be recently that if a development was not expected to be occupied by car-owners then that should be written into the lease of the occupancy – as it is in London.  Interesting idea – what do you think?

The junction of Monument Hill and Baker Street is not, to say the least, optimal.  The sight lines are poor – the new wall might make it worse.  The curvature of the Baker Street entrance encourages speed.  The new development will reduce the width of the pavement – presently people walk over the front of the Grotto to pass each other.  These are not the fault of the proposal.

The flats are entirely north facing – so the occupants could not be in their flats and overlook Hillcrest.

I welcome your views on this prominent site.

Cycling Strategy comes to Weybridge

CyclistThe Weybridge cycling campaign welcomes the move to set Weybridge as the town in Elmbridge to begin the new cycling strategy.  This five year strategy looks to the present and future needs of the town in planning new facilities for cyclists.  The main trust will be to plan for a network of safe cycling routes between Weybridge and its neighbours (Shepperton, Walton, Hersham, Cobham, Byfleet, Woodham and Addlestone) especially in relation to the main locations in Weybridge: the riverside, town centre, Heathside School/Brooklands College (along with the primary schools), station, Brooklands offices and out-of-town shopping.

The aim is for safe cycling between all of these locations.  Our aim is to catch up with the Netherlands.  They began a while ago but look at this video to see how they managed the change.