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Blog > General Blog Posts > Letter to Inspector Elizabeth Ord

Isabel Fielden has sent me a letter that herself and Greg Underhill have written along with other Churchdown residents.

This letter is to the Joint Core Strategy Inspector, Elizabeth Ord and it states many reasons why the JCS is unsound.

Greg and Isabel would like to know whether you would like to join our protest group. We already have several MPs who have agreed to join, including:

1. Bill Whelan (Councillor Innsworth & Down Hatherley)
2. Kay Berry (Councillor Churchdown St. Johns)
3. Alistair Cameron MP
4. Laurence Robertson MP

We desperately need experts in English Heritage, environmental, flooding, transport systems, greenbelt policy and infrastructure and we cannot fight this on our own. Please pledge your support by emailing enquiries@fieldencreative.co.uk and gregu66@gmail.com to join the group. We only have two months left to fight this, and we need to give a good defence as to why the building should not take place on Churchdown's green belt land to the Planning Inspector Elizabeth Ord.

The contents of the letter are included below, you can also download the document here: View Document

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From: Churchdown Residents

To: Inspector Elizabeth Ord LLB(Hons), LLM, MA, DipTUS

5 Apr 2015

Dear Madam,

RATIONALE FOR REJECTION OF JCS STRATEGY AND PLANS FOR CHURCHDOWN

Summary

The JCS is unsound because the strategy fails to take account of a number of legal, policy and moral obligations. The JCS plans lack detail and are vague, so they will be open to significant interpretation by developers. The plans also lack any financial provision for improved infrastructure and any assessment of technical feasibility, so the local authorities are unlikely to deliver on the promises made in the JCS strategy. The plans for Churchdown do not comply with the policies set out in the NPPF or indeed the JCS vision and other policies set out in their own submission.

Failure on Duty To Cooperate

The local planning authorities have failed in their Duty to Cooperate obligation to produce effective and deliverable policies on cross boundary issues . In 1 particular JCS fails to provide adequate policies on:

  • Transport – to provide for the growth in traffic and take account of traffic safety.
  • The Environment – to protect wildlife and existing green infrastructure, including strategically significant green belt land.
  • Provision of local Services – to increase provision for medical and educational services.
  • Safety – there are concerns with proximity to the local Airport and road transport.

Failure to Produce a Sound Plan

The local plans for Churchdown are not sound in a number of respects2, including but not limited to the following:

  • Plans are not positively prepared: there has been limited engagement with the local community and no attempt made to resolve either the local concerns highlighted3 or the concerns of key stakeholders such as Natural England, English Heritage, Thames Water, Staverton Airport and Stagecoach (see Annex A). The plans also do not provide necessary additional local infrastructure or services.
  • Plans are not justified: the use of strategically significant green belt is not justified when the authorities have failed to explore the use of non green belt land or justify the exceptional circumstances where a review is allowed in accordance with the NPPF.
  • Plans are not effective: A plan that lacks detail cannot, by definition, be effective.
  • Plans are not consistent with National Policy: the joining of Churchdown and Gloucester contributes to urban sprawl and is contrary to NPPF core planning principles in paragraph 17 on protection of green belt land. The plans also fail to meet a number of other core NPPF planning principles4 specifically:
  • o A lack of empowerment for local people to help shape the plans.
  • o Lack of any creativity or any single improvement to Churchdown infrastructure or amenities to help enhance the village.
  • o Failure to take account of the role and character of Churchdown – the plans lack any mixed development on green field sites or innovative designs.
  • o Failure to conserve the natural environment particularly the green corridors leading onto Churchdown hill, important hedgerows, and open countryside.
  • o Failure to use or consider the use of existing brownfield land.
  • o Failure to fully protect a heritage asset - Pirton Court and its associated pond and orchard will be situated in the middle of a modern housing estate.
  • o Failure to actively manage patterns of growth, congestion or transportation.
  • o Failure to take account of or support local strategies to improve health and cultural wellbeing or deliver sufficient community services to met local needs.

1. Planningguidance.planningportal.gov.uk paragraph 001, reference 9-001-20140306.
2. Planningguidance.planningportal.gov.uk paragraph 002, reference 9-002-20140306
3. Requests for a JCS consultation at Churchdown were declined and submission of a local petition was rejected.

Failure to Protect the Green Belt

The fundamental aim of Green Belt Policy is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open and to prevent towns from merging. JCS fails to protect significant areas of green belt vital in preventing the joining of Gloucester and Churchdown and other parts of Gloucester and Cheltenham5 or to justify why such use of Green Belt land is necessary (allowed only in exceptional circumstances). The JCS Strategic allocations report acknowledges the significance of the land chosen in Churchdown and therefore its failure to follow Green Belt policy:

‘’The entire area is located within the Green Belt and the AMEC Assessment considers land in this location to make a significant contribution towards the purposes of including land within the Green Belt.’’

JCS also fails a second criteria established in the Gloucestershire planning policy GB.1 that only appropriate development that does not compromise the open character of the green belt or which would not contribute to the coalescence of the settlements would be permitted. The development in Churchdown fails both of these tests.

JCS Plans are Vague and Lack Detail

JCS Plans are ambiguous and lack any specific detail or commitments; this is true generally but particularly for Churchdown. This leaves residents feeling particularly vulnerable over the scope for interpretation by developers looking to minimise costs. The lack of consultation and consideration for Churchdown has resulted in a loss of trust with Tewksbury Borough Council. Specifically there is a lack of any plans for the following:

  • Routes of Access and Road Layouts. For example the access to A3 housing estates could be provided from Pirton Lane or via new roads built to the Elmbridge Court roundabout. Or to the A40; these were orginally proposed but seem to have since been dismissed. Instead the easy option will be taken – with roads onto Pirton Lane. Pirton Lane is a relatively narrow (the clue is in the name) with an extremely narrow pavement in some sections. Parked cars on the lane regularly block the progress of traffic and buses in particular. The provision of new roads could potentially provide a solution but no such detail is available.
  • Improvements to Existing Infrastructure. The addition of circa 10000 additional residents across Churchdown and Innsworth will increase pressure on already oversubscribed schools, as well as medical and dental facilities. The lack of any plans for increased funding or commitment to increase provision for education and health services is a cause for concern and a failure on the part of JCS.
  • Housing Estate Layout. The number and type of houses to be built in each area is not clear. For example the number of houses to be built on Pirton Court Farm (a national heritage site) is not specified.

4 www.gov.uk NPPF Core Planning Principles Paragraph 17.
5 The AMEC report states that this part of the green belt is significant

The JCS leaves open the prospect for significant further increases in housing and employment areas, as well as the park and ride scheme. Therefore the very few protections that are given, for example the very small strip of land that would notionally separate parts of Churchdown to Gloucester are unlikely to be enduring.

The Lack of a Transportation Plan and Traffic Impact

The Transport report (by Atkins) was submitted too late (Nov 14) and 6 did not allow time for consultation or review. This is not a transport plan, contrary to the spirit, if not the letter, of the Duty to Co-operate and the NPPF. A review of this Transport report shows that it fails to provide adequate mitigation for the projected increase in traffic congestion on numerous key junctions such as the A46 Shurdington and the Air Balloon roundabout, already major sources of congestion. The overall increase is assessed as:

‘’ There is clearly a deterioration in the performance of the network between base year and 2031 in terms of longer queues, higher average travel times, and reduced average travel speeds. This is only to be expected given a growth of about 28% in trip making during that period.’’

However, the consequences for Churchdown and Pirton Lane in particular are clear:

‘’the most significant impact has been on: Junction of Cheltenham Road East and Pirton Lane, near Strategic Allocation Site A2 and A3- North Churchdown and South Churchdown‘’. ‘’The junction has been impacted severely – further improvements will be needed’’.

Current proposals leave open the likelihood that Pirton Lane will become a main traffic through-road increasing congestion at the junction with Cheltenham Rd East to greater than 100% of its capacity. Additional traffic will also occur due to the additional JCS housing developments elsewhere locally, including substantial numbers in Innsworth and Brockworth. This will increase traffic to and from Hucclecote and Brockworth and is likely to result in the increased use of Churchdown and Pirton Lane as a ‘rat run’. Pirton Lane, because of its narrow width and narrow pavements is unsuitable for such use and is likely to be unsafe for pedestrians given the likely future volume of traffic. The failure to evaluate or take account of this and the associated safety impact makes the JCS strategy unsound.

6 JCS Strategic Allocation Option Testing report by Atkins dated 18 November 2014.

Failure to Provide an Infrastructure Plan or Policy

The JCS submission fails to consider the viability of additional infrastructure required to support the additional houses in Churchdown and Innsworth. For example the additional electrical power, water, sewerage and communications supplies have not been scoped as feasible with the appropriate authority or organisation. The documentation associated with infrastructure acknowledges that further work is required but an appropriate and sound strategy would at least prove the overall viability of the strategy. The complete absence of such work supports the argument that the JCS plans are not sound.

Failure to Take Account of the Character of Churchdown Village

The Landscape Characterisation Assessment of Pirton Court 7 which characterises the landscape as being of low value is misleading and includes a number of significant errors8:

  • It fails to take account of the extensive hedgerows or traditional wooden fencing - describing them as ‘wire fencing”
  • The report classifies Pirton Court Farm and surrounding views from Pirton Lane as of Low value due to: “Landscape character degraded by intensive agricultural and horsicultural use associated with post and wire fencing” “ visual associations with housing are clear and landscape character has been degraded by agricultural intensification.”

The Significance of Pirton Court Farm as a unique historical asset with buildings and surrounding landscape of significant character, including the barn, ancient orchard and pond, are all under-stated and the descriptions are misleading. To explain this perspective we offer some photos taken of area concerned.

Even if the flawed assessment of ‘low value’ were to be accepted, the decision to use this assessment to justify the removal of the land from greenbelt is contrary to the (NPPF) as PPG2 para 1.7 specifically says that ‘’ the quality of land is not relevant to its inclusion in Green Belt or its continued protection” so again the JCS assessment is flawed and unsound.

Green Infrastructure

The JCS Green Infrastructure policy is only a draft document and is weak and poorly written, with no specific plans or commitments. The text has lots of ‘’shoulds’’ and ‘’TBCs’’ but no there are no ‘’shalls’’ or positive commitments. For example the report says:

‘’The policy context needs to be put in place so that authorities can negotiate with developers to ensure that some of the identified infrastructure works can be delivered. ‘’

There are no specific commitments to retain the existing Green infra structure or specific and funded plans to restore the green infra structure following the whole scale building around Pirton Court, a site acknowledged to be of historical significance, turning a national heritage asset into a housing estate.

7 Final-JCS-Master-Landscape-Characterisation-Assessment-and-Sensitivity-Analysis
8 Page 41 of the JCS Landscape Characterisation Assessment Report.

There is an abundance of exiting green infrastructure that will be harmed by JCS. For example removing the corridor for wildlife to move to and from Chosen Hill or Churchdown, with a significant amount of green infrastructure not being mentioned. No assessment has been made for any protected wildlife, such as owls, bats and newts, or the impact of loss of hedgerows, trees and green fields. The only green infrastructure provision mentioned in the plan is a new GI corridor in Horsebere, but this exists for the primary purpose of improving flood defences and even this is ‘TBC’.

Flawed Assessment of Churchdown South Option

The decision to select Option C (1500 new homes) over Option A (750 new homes) for South Churchdown was based on subjective and inaccurate opinion (not data) and flawed assumptions (e.g. building a link road to the A40 and improvements to the Elmbridge Court Roundabout that have not been agreed). The analysis quickly dismissed options to develop sites such as North-West Cheltenham (due to the cost of developing junction 10 of the M5 - something that is feasible and needed anyway). Whilst the report provided some good economic analysis, the assessment of Option C as preferred to Option A was flawed. For example the report assessed the impact of the much larger Option C as having less impact on traffic congestion or on the character of Churchdown. The more balanced Option (Option A) was dismissed without justification and appears to be driven by the financial motivation to maximise development and profits.

Conclusion

Overall the JCS strategy and plan fails to take account of a number of key NPPF policies and the JCS is unsound for a number of reasons identified. In addition there has been total absence of any consideration of the position of Churchdown residents, indeed it appears that Gloucester City. Tewksbury and Cheltenham Borough Councils have all chosen Churchdown as a sacrificial lamb, despite the significant number of negative impacts it will have.

Yours Sincerely

ANNEX A to JCS Submission

KEY STAKEHOLDER OBJECTIONS

Negative Evidence against the Churchdown Developments

The reader could be forgiven for thinking that the key stakeholders referred to in the NPPF, particularly English Heritage, Natural England, Thames Water, residents, Parish Councillors and indeed developers are supportive of the JCS proposals. However, buried in the JCS report annexes and supporting documents are a number objections or concerns raised by key Stakeholders that have not been addressed. The following are extracts taken primarily from the JCS Plan Representation Responses Summary Report dated Nov 14.

Distribution of new development (Policy SP2) - local residents and parish councils opposing the strategic allocations presented reasons why these sites (for example, Brockworth, Leckhampton and North/ South Churchdown) should not proceed or have stated that the plan does not give sufficient weight to promoting housing on brownfield land first.

Infrastructure delivery and developer contributions (Policies INF7 and INF8) – Developer objections to Policy INF7 state that the policy does not give sufficient recognition to viability; any requests for developers to fund infrastructure should be consistent with the CommunityInfrastructure Levy Regulations 2010; the policy does not make a clear distinction between CIL and s106 requirements; and the policy needs to clarify situations when cumulative impact will be assessed. Two representations state that these two policies should be merged into one. Thames Water object to Policy INF7 because it does not include a specific reference to adequate provision of water supply and waste water infrastructure.

Historic environment (Policy SD9) - the promoter of one strategic allocation stated that the thrust of this policy is at odds with policy guidance in paragraphs 134 and 135 of the NPPF and that it is not necessary for development proposals at strategic allocations to comply with the JCS Historic Environment Assessment (HEA). On the other hand, English Heritage has objected to the allocation of three strategic allocations (North West Cheltenham, Brockworth and South Churchdown) on the grounds that the HEA does not give sufficient protection to heritage assets on these three sites. Swindon Parish Council state that ridge and furrow fields around Swindon village are not recorded and should be protected.

Biodiversity and geodiversity (Policy SD10) – Natural England state that this policy is not consistent with the NPPF because it does not clarify that development outside SSSIs that would result in adverse effects on them will not normally be permitted. One developer states that as there is a legal obligation to ensure that European Protected Species and National Protected Species are safeguarded, there is no need to refer to this legal obligation in the policy. Two parish councils have made other representations, stating that the policy does not give sufficient guidance around development affecting development sites.

Strategic allocations (Policy SA1) - in summary, supporters and opponents of the various strategic allocations have presented cases consistent with their overall view of development. Most local objections relate to the Leckhampton strategic allocation in particular, but also a number of representations object to North and South Churchdown and Brockworth. Save the Countryside and other local groups consider that the views of the public have not been taken into account.

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