Parish Council Response on Stones Farm SPD

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15 Oct 2010
1. Introduction

It is significant that recent changes in Government policy since the previous consultation cannot have been fully considered during the preparation of the Development Brief that we are now being consulted on.

It is unfortunate that the scrapping of regional housing targets only occurred shortly before the completion of the Development Brief, but nevertheless the changes have been brought into immediate effect and are likely to have a substantial bearing on both the continued suitability of the site as well as the number and density of dwellings if it is still deemed to be required.

The Parish Council has a fundamental objection to the approach the Council is taking with regard to Policy C5 which is nothing short of a planned departure from the inspector’s recommendations as adopted in the Local Plan which would of course be unlawful. This potential breach of policy will pose a significant obstacle in adopting this document as an SPD.

It is for these reasons that the Parish Council cannot support the Development Brief and our recommendation is that the site is withdrawn until at least such time as the Borough Council has adopted its Core Strategy, if not indefinitely.

This will provide the necessary opportunities to address the Councils policy on housing targets and its transport strategy, both of which will have been subject to proper scrutiny and public consultations in their own right.

This would have a negligible impact of housing targets even based on the currently unsubstantiated 5 year forecast. Such a position was even adopted by the Council during the initial housing land supply process last year so its feasibility has already been proven.

The following comments made by George Chandler, KCC’s Regeneration and Projects Manager illustrate that this is also the opinion at the County Council.

“The SNRR proposals are not a formal part of the Stones Farm consultation but they are inextricably linked. It is too simplistic in my view for the Stones Farm development to completely ignore the SNRR and it does need to be informed by it. My personal preference would be to delay the development to better integrate the proposals with the road scheme.”
Appendix 1

2. The Countryside Gap / Public Open Space

The whole of the Stones Farm site exists within an important local countryside gap and the primary policy condition of developing this is to retain just under half of the site (15ha) in perpetuity.

The Council is undermining this key policy condition by creating a legal framework via S106 to reduce the countryside gap if the NRR is required to come through the site.

“outline application stage will facilitate the drafting of an appropriate S106 agreement which will need also to include a Management Plan for the management and upkeep of the public open space/buffer and 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 clearly in direct conflict with Policy C5 which seeks to retain a minimum of 15 hectares of Open Space in perpetuity as a permanent open gap between Sittingbourne and Bapchild and planning for something that is known and was debated at the same time the policy was created under the pretense that it is unknown is quite possibility unlawful.

The Councils view that it can both safeguard potential route options through the Countryside Gap and retain the same land in perpetuity is clearly impossible and in breach of its own Local Plan.

The supporting wording for Policy C5 states

“It is important that a permanent open gap is maintained between Sittingbourne and Bapchild/Tonge and that the open setting of the Tonge Conservation Area is protected. Consequently, it is proposed that at least 15ha of land to the east of the Stones Farm housing allocation is provided as public open space.”

It should be remembered that this is an important Countryside Gap that also happens to double up as Public Open Space and cannot simply be described or treated as Open Space in the tradition sense. The Local Plan Inspector makes this clear in his report numerous times as illustrated below

“I consider that the main concerns regarding the allocation of this site relate to its location within an important local countryside gap.”

For the Council to simply refuse to confront or acknowledge the existence of the NRR on the basis of timing is not only astonishingly shortsighted but entirely at odds with the Inspectors own advice which concluded that

“the Council needs to give serious consideration to the best route of this final section of the SNRR before committing itself to a detailed design for this housing area.”

The Parish Council are extremely disappointed that our suggestion of making provision now for sufficient land to accommodate the road and associated works has been so readily dismissed by the Council and consider that following this course of action can only result removing any future opportunity for the NRR to be located within this site.

We also note Mr Sharpe’s correspondence with residents during the consultation which states

“Whilst the C5 allocation creates a countryside gap in perpetuity its continued existence cannot be absolutely guaranteed. The C5 land will be protected as a countryside gap for as far ahead as can be seen.”

Once again this is neither in the spirit of the Inspectors reasoning behind his decision to allow this site to be included within the Local Plan, nor particularly truthful given that we already have a proposal from KCC before us and that the concept of the Northern Relief Road has existed for longer than the Local Plan itself.

There appears to be representation from the Council (Appendix 3) that advocates that compensatory land will be made available to top up any resultant shortfall in useable public open space if the NRR is required to pass through the Countryside Gap. The Parish Council believes that such an approach would never be deemed acceptable and that making plans to relocate the Countryside Gap is clearly not compatible with Policy C5.

3 The relationship of the Northern Relief Road

The Councils goes to considerable length to discuss the relationship between the site and the Northern Relief Road, placing much emphasis on the difference in timing between the two developments. For example the Council has stated that

“none of the various alternative routes suggested for the Northern Relief Road affect the developable part of Stones Farm”

“It is certain that the Stones Farm development will not prejudice the Northern Relief Road”

However it is far from clear as to how either of these can be true when only Policy C5 is afforded any specific allocation of land. Policy H10 only assumes in the supporting text that the remaining land of approximately 18 ha would be available for development. The Inspector was fully aware that the Northern Relief Road could pass through Stones Farm, yet only the Open Space was protected, which is a clear indication of his intension that the road would be located in the developable area of the site,

The conclusion of the previous consultation that accommodating land for the NRR in the developable area of the site is would result in a profligate use of scarce land resources and provide land for the SNRR within the proposed housing area is nonsensical is once again at odds with the Inspectors recommendations which stated

“it cannot be ignored that there is a potential to combine a spine road serving the Stones Farm site with the eastern section of the SNRR”

The Inspector has also previously rejected the exact same argument put forward for restricting the amount of housing.

“I also reject this objector’s comments that to restrict the amount of housing on the site to about 600 dwellings would be a profligate use of land”

The Parish Council is also concerned that the views of Council officers on the NRR have simply been ignored. The following statement made by James Freeman, Head of Development Services on the 19th January 2010 confirms that officers have serious concerns.

“The view held at officer level is that the proposed alignment of the Bapchild link road could have a fundamental bearing on the development of Stones Farm site”
Appendix 2

George Chandler, KCC’s Regeneration and Projects Manager says

“The Stones Farm development will not necessarily help to resolve detailed issues of the route, but there are obvious linkages such as the route of the western leg and how this relates to landscape buffers and the frontage treatment of the development that need to be considered at an early stage.”
Appendix 1

4. Definition of the precise boundary between the development and open space

The Council made the following statement in response to issues raised during the previous consultation

“It is clear therefore that the SNRR as currently proposed does not constrain the layout of the 15 ha of public open space or the housing allocation.”

We fail to understand how such a statement can be true, when the NRR wherever it is positioned within the site, must impact upon either the open space or developable area. The NRR as currently proposed, but excluded from the Development Brief entirely destroys the Countryside Gap and does not preserve the minimum requirement for 15ha of Open Space.

It is a Policy condition that

“Consideration of the precise boundary with the proposed housing development, together with details on the future public access to, and arrangements for the management of, the open space, will be considered as part of the development brief proposed.”

The only way in which the precise boundary could be determined at this juncture would be to entirely and permanently rule out the possibility of the NRR crossing the site, or to make adequate provision for such a possibility now.

The Parish Council considers that the Development Brief as it stands wholly fails to meet this key requirement.

5. The rescinding of the South East Plan

Whilst the Borough Council gives regard to the abolition of the South East Plan in the revised Development Brief and acknowledges that it will now be for the Borough Council to determine housing targets in its LDF, it also implies that because the 5 year housing land supply is still required that Stones Farm must also be required.

We would argue that the 5 year housing land supply is based on the ability to meet the very same longer term housing target figures which have now been abolished, this clearly does not now necessitate the delivery of the same housing land supply.

As the Borough Council has not yet issued any planning decision with regard to Stones Farm it has the freedom to review the both the housing numbers and housing density allocated to the site as well as the continued requirement to retain Stones Farm which Council officers have made clear would now fail the criteria for selection.

We are surprised that Mr Freeman has publicly declared that it is likely that more rather than less housing will be required when only one of the four options proposed seeks to offer a real increase in housing numbers. This would appear to do exactly what he is suggesting isn’t the case and prejudice the outcome of a consultation that is yet to take place.

“Without prejudicing the outcome of the development options for the core strategy, it is likely that more rather than less housing will be needed”
Appendix 3

6. The potential for De-allocation

The Borough Council has made it clear that the site is not a reserve site and therefore afforded no special status beyond that of any other site allocation in the Local Plan. However we would argue that its reason for inclusion is well documented and whilst it has no special status we would draw attention to the inspector’s report where he reasoned that

“If, as the Council anticipates, no shortfall in housing supply arises until the latter part of this Plan period, then it will clearly have the opportunity to reassess the need to develop the Stones Farm site when it prepares and subsequently reviews its LDF.”

It is important to note that the potential shortfall of 230 dwelling identified during the course of the Local Plan Public Enquiry would appear to have been further reduced based on the 110 dwellings included for Stones Farm in the 5 year plan, even in light of the recession.

Therefore until such time as the Council agrees and adopts its own housing targets, it should not be assumed that the site is necessary.

Given the scarcity of grade 1 and 2 BMV agricultural land of which this site is entirely composed and current thinking on the preservation of such to meet future self-sufficiency we once again appeal to the Council to reconsider the suitability of this site.

7. Traffic Assessment and Traffic Mitigation

The Parish Council is concerned that the full Traffic Assessment required for this site has not been undertaken to date, which may have a fundamental bearing on some key assumptions made in the Development Brief, not least of all the number of dwellings that can be accommodated.

The Inspector recommended in his report

“it is clear that before any planning permission is granted for the site a full transport assessment will be required … In my opinion this issue could and should be covered by the Development Brief/SPD referred to in new Policy H10.”

“I am satisfied that the full transport assessments which will be required by this process will provide the necessary evidence to more clearly establish the development limit of the site, up to the maximum of about 600 dwellings set out in the new policy.”

Kent County Council, as highway authority, supported the potential for this site to provide the full 450 shortfall identified (subsequently revised downwards), subject to an agreed package of highway mitigation during the local plan inquiry. They also stated that highway aspects will require a more detailed assessment in the form of a full transport Assessment (TA).

Bapchild Parish Council would therefore consider that such an undertaking was absolutely necessary to establish whether or not the developable maximum of 600 dwellings could be achieved. Waiting until such time as we are considering a planning application is in our opinion far too late in the process. We are disappointed that this issue was not addressed by the previous consultation.

On the subject of traffic mitigation the inspector recommended

“Of particular consideration will be the need to address the impact on the A2 of traffic arising from the site, particularly through the village of Bapchild, with appropriate traffic management measures identified”

Bapchild Parish Council is deeply concerned that traffic mitigation along the A2 has been dismissed on the basis of “oral exchanges with KCC”, which is entirely inappropriate given that this presupposes the findings of the transport assessment which has not yet taken place.

8. Vehicle Access to the site

The site which will be entirely served via a single point of access on Fox Hill does give rise to some serious questions about the nature of the junction which have not been answered in the Development Brief.

There is in fact little discussion on the matter other than some preliminary commentary regarding safeguarding lines at the junction to support the NRR and the fact that it is unlikely that the junction could be designed to be future proof.

The Parish Council notes that KCC appear to support a traffic light controlled junction. This is certain to have a significant impact on the ability of traffic entering the A2 from School Lane as well as for those residents along the Fox Hill.

We are concerned that the Development Brief is putting off substantial elements of sites design until the outline planning application stage, which may result in significant departures from what has currently been proposed.

We are pleased that the Council has withdrawn the concept of retaining a vehicular access via Peel Drive. However we are disappointed that references for potential bus routes and emergency access remain.

We do not believe that the commercial opportunity for a Bus Route via Peel Drive exists and the route once leaving Peel Drive would certainly be difficult by Bus.

We are also aware that where such access exist on other sites, including East Hall Farm, they have proved very difficult to police and are an unacceptable burden for the residents.

We do not believe that it is necessary to support emergency access for the benefit of those residents living in the Vincent Estate, which has existed for many years without such access and this is not desired by the residents who live there. It is somewhat hypocritical to suggest that the road access for emergency traffic via the Vincent Estate is congested and then advocate a bus route through that same road network.

Therefore we strongly suggest that this access is limited to pedestrians only in much the same manner as the access between Wihtred Road and Randle Way exists.

Another point that the previous consultation overlooked was that since the completion of the Swanstree Avenue extension and the installation of the new traffic light junction, the speed of traffic from Sittingbourne towards Bapchild along Canterbury Road / Fox Hill has increased. It is thought that this is due to drivers vying for position on leaving the traffic lights. We are therefore concerned about the proximity of yet another traffic light junction at the bottom of Fox Hill and the safety issues that might result from this.

Residents along Fox Hill are particularly concerned about the access arrangements to their properties once the new junction into Stones Farm is delivered and also exactly how this would work during the construction period. Residents are concerned that any design that takes the A2 into a bend would be a risk to parked cars in the cul-de-sac and that this might become an accident black spot. Clearly residents would have preferred the opportunity to consider this in detail now and not wait until the outline planning application stage.

9. Noise & Vibration

We understand that the Council considers that noise and vibration are of no relevance as far as the Stones Farm development is concerned or the Development Brief. Once again whilst it is implied that the developable are of Stones Farm would not be impacted by the potential NRR routes, it is more than a possibility that such a road could form the boundary line of the development and therefore be located on the development side of the landscape buffer.

Whilst we acknowledge that the Development Brief warns against the concept of a Western Only route and that Bapchild Parish Council is vehemently opposed to such a route, it does not rule out the possibility and therefore unless the County Council has ruled this option out, there are considerable implications for both noise and vibration which have not been considered.

10. Significant Landscape Buffer

Although the Parish Council is pleased to see that the Council has seen fit to comply with the Local Plan and provide the landscape buffer along the entire length of the development, it has not addressed some of the detail that we requested in the previous consultation.

We believed specific conditions be incorporated into the development brief in terms of the width, height of the Landscape Buffer. We were happy with the suggested 15m width running along the full length of the site from the Railway line down to the A2, but note that it still makes reference to 10 to 15m which is not what we stated. Although we are in principle please to see a little more detail in terms of the incorporation of bunding and planting of semi-mature trees, this does only suggest that this would only be achieved “in parts.”

We are not satisfied that the Development Brief sets out enough detail that a developer could not at a later date simply work round. The Development Brief needs to give a much firmer commitment to delivering a landscape buffer that is indeed significant. We cannot simply rely on an artist’s impression which implies a height greater than that of a two storey building; we need to have a minimum height and width for the full length of the buffer.

However we also need to ensure that the buffer is functional in its intended purpose from the point at which it is created. Therefore whilst we understand that some aspects of the planting would need time to mature and that the developer might wish to use some material on site to form an effective bund, a degree of sufficiently mature plants would need to provided at it’s inception in order for the buffer to be effective. We do not accept that this could not be accomplished until the 100th dwelling, major earthworks such as this would normally be constructed before even the first property, and it would be inappropriate to commence this three years into the development.

The Parish Council are concerned that the development brief is generally a little ambiguous with regard to the significant landscape buffer and this needs to be addressed before any outlining planning application can be considered.

11. Land Use & Density

The Parish Council is in principle supportive of the approach to the distribution of density now included in the development brief. However we are now minded that the density targets previously in place at the time of the brief conception no longer exist. The urban design strategy of densities ranging from 30 to 55dph is not only totally inappropriate for a rural setting, but no longer a requirement.

We feel that given the very sensitive nature of the site which is entirely located in an important countryside gap that it would be appropriate for the Council to consider revising its approach to the maximum densities permissible should the site still be required.

It is no longer a requirement to construct inner city type density developments (up to 55dph) in rural settings and in particular three storey dwellings. It has long been argued that wherever three storey dwellings are located that they will have an impact due to the topography of the site. This is a difficult site in terms of topography with a 15m fall in height between boundary with Landsdown School and Tonge Stream and Millpond.

The Council is urged to reconsider the unique merits of this site and refrain from imposing yet another high density development in order to comply with now defunct housing policies.

The Council appears to be suggesting utilising portions of the Countryside Gap / Public Open Space for balancing ponds. I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect that all aspects of the development are contained within the developable area of the site and that it is therefore unacceptable to place the balancing ponds within this area.

We would need clarification on the suggestion of Sustainable Drainage Systems (SUDS) placed within the Open Space and require clarity on the type of filtration that would be use i.e. traps or natural filtration with reed beds. We need to make sure that this does not pose any unnecessary environmental burden on Tonge Stream and wet woodland area, or the usage of the Open Space by the public.

12. General Landscaping and Alignment of the Urban Edge

The Parish Council is pleased that consideration has been given the treatment of the edges of the development with regard to the positioning of open space and three storey development.

The Parish Council would obviously reiterate its concern that the boundaries of the development will be sufficiently landscaped but would like some ideas of exactly what this might entail.

However we do not accept that the alignment of the boundary between the housing and public open space is not of some concern. It is just that it is very difficult to make judgment’s based on the drawings provided, and therefore exactly how this would impact upon the Countryside Gap. It is imperative that there does remain a not only a perception of a Countryside Gap between the development and the main part of the village, but an actual gap. We cannot be sure that there is not a better alignment and we are unsure about the way in which the proposed alignment bends outward into the open space in the lower part of the site, which may indeed lessen the perception of the gap.

The Parish Council has found it hard to come to terms with the Councils decision to treat Stones Farm and the NRR as entirely separate concerns, even if there exists a difference in timing between the two proposals, they will both fall within the timeframe of the LDF. So within the space of only a couple of years the NRR could be dismantling the very core of the site plans.

Whilst we understand that some aspects of the landscaping will only be required to be in place once the road is constructed and therefore not the responsibility of the developers of Stones Farm. We must however be forward thinking in our stance on reducing the burden of future residents whom will accommodate this site to find that not only do they have to endure a decade of construction for the site, but then additional years for the development of the road.

With this in mind the only logical conclusion would be to wait until the LDF before progressing this site.

13. Facilities

The Parish Council finds it curious that other than the public open spaces which are a requirement anyway, there is very little discussion if any on community facilities. This is a sizable development and one would have expected at least some mention on the possibility of incorporating a substantial facility within the site, such as a community center or hall. Obviously we can’t comment on something we haven’t been consulted on, but it does appear to be a significant omission.

We note that the development brief makes mention of the planned neighbourhood centre provision at East Hall Farm but this may never reach fruition nor be accessible as there can be no guarantee that the NRR will provide a link. Therefore we believe that this site merits its own provision of such a facility.

Outdoor sporting facilities can to some extent be accommodated by nearby Community College, but the Parish Council has faced repeated requests from younger residents for a suitable location for ball games. For various reasons there is no current location within the village that ultimately satisfies this. Open spaces and or play areas, where ball games are often banned, are rarely suitable so we would like an area where something like this might be feasible.

Residents have expressed an interest in Medical facilities but the Parish Council is unclear as to how these could be supported if there were interest. The square footage of the retail outlets may prove inadequate.

The Parish Council are aware of the requirements of Policy C3 to provide at least 10% of the net site area as public open space and requirement within this area to provide equipped children’s play areas and casual kick about areas appropriate for the development. We would like to see something more specific in terms of requirements especially the children’s play equipment.

We are minded to consider the longer term impact of the Northern Relief Road on the existing businesses along the A2. We feel that there is a strong likelihood that one or more of these businesses would not continue and in particular the only remaining business to offer the services of a village shop, the petrol station. We do not anticipate that a business located in the position indicated is likely to have an adverse effect on the Peel Drive Stores, which already has a substantial base to meet its needs. Obviously a new business may be entirely unrelated and become attractive to both Stones Farm and the Vincent Estate.

14. Services infrastructure

The Parish Council reiterates our request to have details on the type of filtration that might be employed and reassurances that this would not cause any environmental consequences for Tonge Mill Stream nor for the use of this facility by the public.

We note that Southern Water has confirmed that there is insufficient capacity in the existing sewage network to serve the proposed development. This is something of an understatement given that the capacity of the existing network is insufficient to deal with any heavy rainfall leading to regular flooding of the A2 and repeated issues with the pumping station that led to untreated sewerage spilling out into gardens along the north side of the A2.

The Parish Council is concerned that Southern Water who has been lacklustre in their willingness to address these perennial problems could end up making matters even worse. Whilst this is not a matter for the Development Brief as such we feel obliged to note the inadequate nature of the present pumping station and can only hope that a major upgrade which would satisfy both the proposed development and the existing problems that residents have had to endure for years.

15. Education

The Parish Council understands that the County Council does not require any addition land in relation to either primary or secondary education, but will seek the usual S106 contributions instead.

We are concerned that particularly at primary level that the development will have direct consequences for the two primary schools located in the vicinity of the site and would want reassurances on the timing and delivery of key improvements to schools and other community facilities.

If these are not delivered in a satisfactory timeframe we can only conclude that residents will be forced to travel outside of Bapchild to find available places for their children and we question whether this has been factored into the potential traffic movements for the site.

16. Delivery of site and phasing

Landscape buffer / Open space
The Parish Council does not accept that landscape buffer and open space could not be accomplished until the 100th dwelling, major earthworks are always programmed at the start of the construction period, because of both the equipment required the disturbance created. This should be created at the same time of other substantial elements such as access to the site and the spine road and certainly before construction. It would be unacceptable to commence this three years into the development as currently programmed.

Traffic management
Only until the full traffic assessment has been conducted will be know if traffic management through Bapchild will be necessary or even desired, but should this be the case then we feel that it would be required far sooner than by 500th dwelling which would be over a decade from the commencement of the site.

Play equipment / development open space
With regards to the play equipment which has been listed as being pro-rata with development, we would like a detailed definition of the exact level of type of equipment that would be appropriate for a site of this size and it expected delivery date, so there is no confusion. For example of the various open space areas that are illustrated, it appears that at least two have a playground, but we are not sure that this is specifically mentioned. The Parish Council would like to see a detailed phasing for each open space area based on actual number of completions, again to avoid unnecessary and costly expense when the developer ultimately fails to comply as is common practice in our experience.

Retail outlets
We understand that it is difficult to anticipate the requirements of possible retail outlets, but in other local developments where this has been successful such opportunities have only come forward late in the development process. We therefore consider that safeguarding until the 450th dwelling may be premature and would wish to see this extended.

Sittingbourne Northern Relief Road
The Parish Council is unclear on legality of the proposal to delay S106 contributions until completion of the NRR. The NRR may never be completed and Policy T2 does not restrict the contribution to the remaining section of the NRR alone.

It actually states

“towards the provision of the remaining sections of the SNRR, and other transport infrastructure aimed at alleviating the town centre congestion”

Therefore we do not believe that it would be sensible or even compliant with Policy T2 to formulate such an agreement. We are not aware that it is normal practice for the landowner to make their contributions after the event and entirely unclear as to how the County Council might finance the works prior to completion nor what type of bond they might wish to put in place to act as guarantee. Financial contributions should be made within the lifetime of the development and the developer is attempting to make provision to opt out of these no doubt significant contributions.

17. Legal

The Parish Council wish to obtain legal ownership of the Open Space to ensure its continued use as such in perpetuity. We wish for this to be incorporated into the S106 agreements and for a timescale to be agreed for its legal handover.

The Parish Council would still require that all grounds works, landscaping etc. have been completed to a satisfactory standard and that a maintenance agreement is in place with Swale Borough Council before the developer’s duty to make such provision has expired.

We understand from that KCC cannot enter into a S106 until they have an agreed road alignment, this must therefore impact on the timescales currently proposed for the development of the site and putting forward an outlining planning permission which will require such an agreement to have been reached.
Appendix 4