CPRE Protect Kent Response to Stones Farm SPD

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15 Oct 2010
Thank you for consulting CPRE Protect Kent on the draft Development Brief for Stones Farm.

In our comments below we do not comment on the details of the brief, but rather we highlight the policy context of the development and explain fundamental conflicts between the proposals in the Local Plan (and thus in the draft Brief) and the County Highway Authority’s preferred route for the final part of the Sittingbourne Northern Relief Road (SNRR). This will fundamentally impact on the form and content of the Stones Farm development as proposed in the Local Plan, and undermine the objectives of the Local Plan for this sensitive area of countryside.

The draft Development Brief seeks to provide guidance for the preparation of planning applications in regard to development of land at Stones Farm, Sittingbourne, which is allocated in the Swale Borough Local Plan in part for residential development under policies H5 and H10 of the Local Plan and in part for public open space under Policy C5. It is clear from the Local Plan that the provision of both the housing and the open space is expected to proceed as one single development, and both allocations have equal statutory weight in the Development Plan. Consequently, in this letter when we refer to the ‘Stones Farm site’ you should take this as meaning both the housing and open space components.

Furthermore the development of the Stones Farm site needs to be seen in the context of Policy E7 of the Local Plan which defines an ‘important local countryside gap’ between the eastern edge of the housing allocation and Hempstead Lane in Bapchild/Tonge. This, as explained in paragraph 4.137 of the Local Plan, is a relatively narrow gap and that it is

important that a permanent open gap is maintained in this location. Consequently, it is through the open space allocation that this openness is to be secured, and Policy C5 requires the open space to be retained in perpetuity. In effect the open space is the essential mitigation necessary to make the housing development acceptable.

In regard to the countryside gap, we would draw to your attention the fact that Part 3 of the draft Brief does not acknowledge that Policy E7 is as equally important as policies H10 and C5, and we would have expected it to be highlighted in similar fashion in paragraph 3.5 of the draft Brief. We consider this to be a significant failing in understanding the context of the development and how it should be planned in detail.

It is also the case that the Local Plan proposals for the Stones Farm site must be seen in the context of the provision of the final section of the Sittingbourne Northern Relief Road (SNRR) as proposed in the Local Plan. Under Policy T8 of the Local Plan the Borough Council’s preferred route alignment of this final section of the SNRR is safeguarded. This takes the road eastwards from East Hall Farm to cross the railway to the east of Tonge before travelling south to join the A2 to the east of Bapchild cricket ground – the so-called ‘northern route’.

We note and accept that the Local Plan acknowledges that this safeguarded alignment has not been agreed by the Highway Authority, and that alternative alignments will need to be investigated by them. However, in preparing the Local Plan the Borough Council rejected alternative alignments that would have seen the road routed southwards from East Hall Farm through the Stones Farm site to join with the A2 either at Fox Hill or further to the east – the ‘western’ and ‘central’ routes respectively.

This is an important point of context for the Stones Farm site proposals included in the Local Plan, because if either of these alternative alignments had been favoured by the Borough Council then the Stones Farm site would have been put forward very differently in the Local Plan, or may not have been allocated at all. This does not seem to be appreciated by either the site promoter or the Council, or is simply being ignored.

It is the case now, though, that the County Highway Authority does not consider that the Local Plan safeguarded route for the final part of the SNRR is viable or feasible. As you know, earlier this year they consulted on their preferred alignment which would take the road immediately south from East Hall Farm to join the A2 at Fox Hill, but then also to travel eastwards between Bapchild and Tonge to join the A2 again to the east of Bapchild to act as a northern bypass for the village – more or less a combination of the ‘western’ and ‘central’ route alignments previously rejected by the Borough Council. The consequence of this is that the role and purpose of the open space component of the Stones Farm site in creating and maintaining the local countryside gap would be profoundly compromised – and thus the dynamics of the whole Stones Farm site would be fundamentally altered.

In its response to the consultation undertaken by the County Highway Authority the Borough Council generally supported the preferred alignment put forward, but considered that a more westerly alignment should be considered. In so doing the Council acknowledged the potential impact of the alignment on the integrity of the countryside gap. Again, any more westerly realignment will also have a profound impact on the Stones Farm site.

The emergence of this alternative alignment of the SNRR, now supported by the Borough Council, has entirely altered the context in which the Stones Farm site should be considered. The draft Development Brief, however, plays down - even dismisses - the relationship between the proposed development and the provision of the final part of the SNRR. Indeed paragraph 3.21 of the draft Brief states:

“It is certain that the Stones Farm development will not prejudice the SNRR and if and when the road is constructed it will be for KCC to mitigate any impact the road may have on either or both the housing or the open space at Stones Farm.”

However, notwithstanding that comment, at various places the draft Brief states that land will be safeguarded to accommodate the road, with paragraph 7.17 specifically proposing that through the section 106 agreement relating to the open space part of the site provision will be made for “…a mechanism for the transfer of land to KCC should land be required for the SNRR,A2-SNRR link road or any ancillary road infrastructure…”. This is regarded in the draft Brief as providing ‘flexibility’.

What the draft Brief seems to be saying is that the housing development can go ahead as proposed and it will not prejudice the provision of the road because the road can go in the open space, which will be made available for that purpose if needed. That we consider is an untenable position, and would be totally contrary to the provisions of the Local Plan which promotes the housing and open space as interdependent components of the same development, with the open space providing the essential ‘mitigation’ to ensure that the narrow countryside gap is maintained in perpetuity. To sacrifice the open space component as suggested makes the whole development project inconsistent with the Local Plan.

Furthermore, we do not accept that the development of the housing allocation will not prejudice the SNRR. The Borough Council has made it quite clear to the County Highway Authority that they should consider a more westerly alignment of the road. If this consideration is not to be constrained, then the County Highway Authority must be given the flexibility to consider all possible westerly alignments – including on land within the housing allocation if necessary. Approval of the Development Brief, and subsequent grant of planning permission, will undoubtedly prejudice this further consideration expressly sought by the Borough Council.

There is a clear and fundamental conflict between the competing proposals for land at Stones Farm. On the one hand there are the proposals in the Local Plan for the development of the Stones Farm site and the permanent retention of the countryside gap between Sittingbourne and Bapchild/Tonge, whilst on the other there is the provision of the final part of the SNRR. Both cannot be accommodated within the framework set by the Local Plan. It is completely untenable to have a position where the Local Plan requires the open space to be retained in perpetuity (Policy C5) and then have a section 106 Agreement relating to it which would see it being used for the SNRR (paragraph 7.17 of the draft Development Brief). Such a clause would clearly be contrary to the Local Plan.

There is a clear policy choice that the Council must make for land at Stones Farm – does it want to see the Local Plan proposals to be implemented, or does it want to see the provision of the final part of the SNRR generally as proposed by the Highway Authority? If the former is the objective, then progressing the Development Brief would be appropriate, but this would demand the removal of all references to safeguarding land for the SNRR. If the latter is the objective then the Development Brief must not be agreed, and the future use of land at Stones Farm will need to be reconsidered through the Council’s Core Strategy.

Both cannot be accommodated within the framework set by the Local Plan, but this is exactly what the Development Brief considers can be done. The price, though, is the sacrifice of the open space and the countryside gap, as well as the lack of certainty that should be provided to residents. There are no mitigations that can be made to overcome the intrusion of a major new road in this already narrow gap.

We understand that it has been suggested that the landscape buffer within the housing site could be considered appropriate mitigation for the loss of open space, but we would strongly reject that proposition. The provision of the landscape buffer is required by Policy H5 anyway, and is intended to provide a new firm edge to the urban area. It is not per se a feature of the open space or the countryside gap, but will mark the point where the open space and countryside gap starts. The more fundamental point, though, is that no amount of mitigation will hide the fact that there is a major new road in the gap – the land is just not there to act as mitigation.

We would ask you to give serious consideration to these points of principle in deciding how to respond to the Development Brief.

Yours sincerely

Brian Lloyd
Senior Planner
CPRE Protect Kent