Central Bedfordshire Pre-submission Local Plan (January 2018)

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Central Bedfordshire Pre-submission Local Plan (January 2018)

Policy SP1: Growth Strategy

Representation ID: 9632

Received: 22/02/2018

Respondent: Paul Newman New Homes

Agent: DPDS Consulting Ltd

Representation:

GREEN BELT - scale of GB release not necessary to accommodate CBC OAN and Luton unmet need
GREEN BELT - no exceptional circumstance because suitable alternatives to housing delivery exist outside GB
DELIVERY - reliance on strategic sites
DTC - lack of cooperation with neighbouring authorities
ALTERNATIVE SITE - outside GB with AVDC

04

Full text:

These representations to the Pre-Submission Central Bedfordshire Local Plan (CBLP) are prepared by DPDS Consulting Group (DPDS) on behalf of Paul Newman New Homes (PNNH).

PNNH note that the CBLP identifies a housing requirement for Central Bedfordshire of 32,000 homes, with an additional requirement of 7,350 homes to account for unmet housing need within Luton's administrative area. While PNNH support the housing requirement for Central Bedfordshire in that it identifies a need to accommodate Luton's unmet housing need, PNNH do not consider that the scale of Green Belt release proposed within the CBLP is necessary in order to accommodate both Central Bedfordshire's housing requirement and the unmet housing need of Luton. This is based on a lack of exceptional circumstances to justify the scale of Green Belt proposed for release where suitable alternatives to housing delivery exist, and a lack of effective cross boundary working with neighbouring authorities such as Aylesbury Vale District Council (AVDC) to distribute the housing requirement towards sustainable locations adjacent to Central Bedfordshire on land outside of the Green Belt.

PNNH also have concerns over the reliance of the Plan on a number of allocated strategic sites, and subsequently question the deliverability of the CBLP. PNNH's response to the identified issues are set out in further detail below.


Green Belt

Policy SP1 sets out that "to accommodate the growth required up to 2035 in a sustainable and controlled manner growth will be distributed throughout Central Bedfordshire, including on land currently designated as Green Belt. Green Belt boundaries will be redrawn for a small number of sites where a strong case can be made that they meet the exceptional criteria tests for removal and allocation for housing".

PNNH consider that such an approach seeking to release minimal Green Belt land is consistent with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which places great emphasis on the importance of the Green Belt. Paragraph 79 states that "The fundamental aim of Green Belt policy is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open; the essential characteristics of Green Belts are their openness and their permanence".

In addition, paragraph 83 clarifies that "Once established, Green Belt boundaries should only be altered in exceptional circumstances, through the preparation or review of the Local Plan".

PNNH consider that in light of the significant housing requirement within Central Bedfordshire, including the need to accommodate additional housing from the Luton administrative area, that exceptional circumstances may exist to justify Green Belt release within the Borough but this should be restricted to those areas adjacent to the Luton Urban Area.

However, PNNH disagree that exceptional circumstances exist to justify the scale of Green Belt release proposed within the CBLP, given the availability of sustainable sites adjacent to the Central Bedfordshire administrative boundary that are outside of the Green Belt.

While there is no formal definition or standard set of assessment criteria to demonstrate what comprises 'exceptional circumstances' there has been an increasing amount of case law as local planning authorities attempt to alter the boundaries of the Green Belt, and their justifications for doing so, have become under increasing scrutiny.

One of the most established cases is Gallagher Homes Limited v Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council (2014) where the following points were made clear by this decision:

* Planning guidance is a material consideration for plan-making and decision-taking. However, it does not have statutory force: the only statutory obligations to have regard to relevant policies.
* The test for redefining a Green Belt boundary has not been changed by the NPPF. It is not arguable that the mere fact that a local authority is drawing up its local plan is itself an exceptional circumstance justifying a boundary change. National guidance has always dealt with revisions of the Green Belt in the context of reviews of local plans (e.g. paragraph 2.7 of PPG2) and has always required exceptional circumstances to do this.
* A local planning authority must find that exceptional circumstances exist before they make any alteration in a Green Belt boundary, whether it is considering extending or diminishing the Green Belt; and
* Whilst each case is fact-sensitive and the question of whether circumstances are exceptional for these purposes requires an exercise of planning judgement, what is capable of amounting to exceptional circumstances is a matter of law, and a planmaker may err in law if they fail to adopt a lawful approach to exceptional circumstances. Once Green Belt has been established and approved, it requires more than general planning concepts to justify alterations.

In addition, when considering whether to amend the boundary of the Green Belt, the starting point for every local planning authority is that this decision should only arise after all reasonable and acceptable efforts have been taken to maximise the amount of development within or on the edge of the urban area outside of the Green Belt. Optimising densities and ensuring that all land is appropriately used must be the first response to growth.

PNNH considers that sites, such as their land west of Leighton Linslade (located within the Aylesbury Vale District Council administrative area), outside of the Green Belt are available, developable and deliverable and therefore the Council has not made all reasonable and acceptable efforts to maximise development of sites outside of the Green Belt. In particular, with regard to Policy SP1, PNNH do not consider that CBC have ensured a limited level of Green Belt release through failing to recognise reasonable opportunities for housing.

PNNH control approximately 42.4 hectares of agricultural land to the west of Leighton Linslade within Aylesbury Vale, adjacent to the Central Bedfordshire administrative boundary. The site is located within the parish of Soulbury immediately adjacent to the built up edge of Leighton Linslade between the existing town and the Stoke Hammond and Leighton Linslade bypass (A4146). The site is located approximately 2km from the village of Soulbury and 2.4km from the centre of Leighton Buzzard.

Valley Farm, the northern end of this area comprises two bungalows and farm buildings along with an access leading southwards to other farm buildings. The land decreases in height generally from east to west towards the bypass.

The site abuts the boundary with Central Bedfordshire Council administrative area to the east with the Derwent Road estate backing onto part of the site.

PNNH's site is not situated within the Green Belt, and has undergone relevant assessments which demonstrate that the site is not constrained by transport, flooding, heritage, ecology, arboricultural or infrastructure issues. The site is therefore available, deliverable and developable. The settlement hierarchy within the CBLP recognises Leighton Linslade as a sustainable settlement, assessing the settlement as a 'Service Centre'. PNNH's site to the west of Leighton Linslade has the capacity to deliver approximately 350 dwellings and represents a suitable opportunity to accommodate housing.

Subsequently, PNNH do not consider that the scale of Green Belt release proposed within the CBLP is necessary and contend that the proposed approach to Green Belt release is unjustified and inconsistent with national policy. The CBLP fails to accord with paragraph 83 of the NPPF in that it fails to demonstrate exceptional circumstances to justify Green Belt release where reasonable alternatives for housing development exist outside of the Green Belt.

While PNNH accept that some Green Belt release is necessary to support the delivery of unmet housing need from Luton, they consider that the proportion of Green Belt release should be reduced to account for opportunities to deliver housing outside of the Green Belt. It is therefore the view of PNNH that CBC have not demonstrated a strong case for Green Belt release in all cases, or that the CBLP identifies the most appropriate strategy in delivering the housing requirement against all reasonable alternatives.

There is no evidence presented by CBC to indicate that they have considered all available sites for development adjacent to their administrative boundary such as that of PNNH's west of Leighton Linslade, which has been promoted by PNNH to CBC though the Local Plan process since 2007. PNNH are of the view that greater engagement with AVDC would have facilitated the sustainable delivery of housing at land west of Leighton Linslade, which would have reduced the amount of Green Belt loss required within Central Bedfordshire.

Furthermore, with regard to the decisions reached in Gallagher Homes Limited v Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council (2014) of particular note is that "what is capable of amounting to exceptional circumstances is a matter of law, and a plan-maker may err in law if they fail to adopt a lawful approach to exceptional circumstances".

As set out above, PNNH do not consider the release of Green Belt land to demonstrate exceptional circumstances where available and deliverable sites exist that are outside the Green Belt and have a strong relationship with Central Bedfordshire. On this basis, PNNH contend that CBC have failed to adopt a lawful approach in identifying exceptional circumstances for the scale of Green Belt release proposed, and have not considered all reasonable alternative sites for development before allocating land within the Green Belt. The CBLP is therefore not legally compliant.

PNNH note that Policy SP1 also seeks development "through medium and small scale extensions to villages and towns throughout Central Bedfordshire". In particular, the proposals map for Leighton Linslade identifies three sites to be released from the Green Belt for housing development:

* HAS32 - An approximate capacity of 175 units;
* HAS33 - Approximate capacity of 55 units; and
* HAS34 - Approximate capacity of 138 units.

This results in a total capacity for some 368 dwellings around the edge of Leighton Linslade on sites currently within the Green Belt. PNNH are of the view that the release of the above sites from the Green Belt is unjustified where land west of Leighton Linslade presents a sustainable option to deliver a similar capacity of housing without Green Belt release. Failure to consider cross-boundary opportunities for delivering the Borough's housing requirement has therefore resulted in CBC taking an unsound approach to housing delivery, and demonstrates ineffective working between CBC and AVDC.

PNNH note that allocation HAS33 is located adjacent to their land west of Leighton Linslade. The release of HAS33 from the Green Belt where land adjacent to the site outside of the Green Belt is available and deliverable is unjustified and inconsistent with paragraph 83 of the NPPF. However, the identification of HAS33 by CBC as a suitable location to accommodate housing highlights the suitability of the western edge of Leighton Linslade to accommodate a proportion of CBC's housing requirement with regard to the areas relationship to the Borough. Nevertheless, it is not considered that the allocation of HAS33 represents the most sustainable option to housing delivery when considering the sites characteristics for Green Belt release.

Paragraph 84 of the NPPF states that "When drawing up or reviewing Green Belt boundaries local planning authorities should take account of the need to promote sustainable patterns of development."

Paragraph 85 also sets out that "When defining boundaries, local planning authorities should ... define boundaries clearly, using physical features that are readily recognisable and likely to be permanent".

PNNH do not consider that allocation HAS33 is contained by a permanent and defensible boundary on the sites western edge and therefore does not represent any degree of permanence in its removal from the Green Belt.

As indicated, PNNH's land west of Leighton Linslade is bound by the A416 to the west and Leighton Road to the south, while the northern boundary of the site comprises mature trees and hedgerows. The site is also not within the Green Belt. Delivery of some 350 dwellings at land west of Leighton Linslade would represent a more sustainable approach to housing delivery than alternative site allocations such as HAS33. Development at land west of Leighton Linslade would also result in a greater contribution towards affordable housing and infrastructure funding.

PNNH therefore contend that CBC must further consider all reasonable options for housing delivery, including the distribution of housing within AVDC at land west of Leighton Linslade, prior to releasing the scale of Green Belt land proposed within the CBLP.


Duty to Cooperate

The Localism Act (2011) places a legal duty on local planning authorities to engage constructively, actively and on an ongoing basis to maximise the effectiveness of Plan preparation in the context of strategic cross boundary matters.

Paragraph 178 of the NPPF clarifies that "Public bodies have a duty to cooperate on planning issues that cross administrative boundaries, particularly those which relate to strategic priotirites".

Paragraph 179 of the NPPF further sets out that "Joint working should enable local planning authorities to work together to meet development requirements which cannot wholly be met within their own areas - for instance, because of a lack of physical capacity or because to do so would cause significant harm to the principles and policies of this Framework".

It is the view of PNNH that CBC have failed to undertake effective joint working with neighbouring authorities, such as AVDC, and have subsequently failed to recognise cross boundary opportunities for housing delivery. This includes a failure to fully assess the potential for AVDC to accommodate a proportion of Central Bedfordshire's housing requirement, being that there is a limited capacity for CBC to do so without releasing land from the Green Belt.

The Inspectors report following the examination of the Luton Local Plan (November 2017) noted at paragraph 38 that unmet need from Luton would need to be met within the Luton HMA with potential candidates being "Central Bedfordshire and to a lesser degree North Hertfordshire and Aylesbury Vale."

While CBC have indicated that they will accommodate the remainder of Luton's unmet housing need, there remains a lack of evidence or any statement issued by CBC that demonstrates that the Council has appropriately considered all reasonable alternatives to delivering the housing requirement on Green Belt land within Central Bedfordshire, such as delivering the housing adjacent to the administrative boundary on available land outside of the Green Belt, at land west of Leighton Linslade within Aylesbury Vale.

Subsequently, PNNH contend that the CBLP is not positively prepared or effective as the Plan is not based on a strategy which seeks to effectively meet the housing requirement where it is reasonable to do so, consistent with achieving sustainable development or based on effective cross boundary joint working to address strategic priorities.

PNNH further consider that a sustainable strategy undertaken by CBC would have included full consideration of available sites adjacent to the administrative boundary of Central Bedfordshire that are not within the Green Belt, such as that of PNNH's at land west of Leighton Linslade. As stated above, paragraph 83 clarifies that Green Belt boundaries should only be altered in exceptional circumstances. PNNH consider that exceptional circumstances cannot be fully justified where sustainable alternatives for housing outside of the Green Belt are available and deliverable.

PNNH also note the lack of any statement or evidence issued by CBC outlining how they have complied with the Duty to Cooperate, particularly in cooperating with neighbouring authorities such as AVDC. Furthermore, during the examination of the Luton Local Plan, the Inspector stated at paragraph 41 of his report that "As Aylesbury Vale has pointed out, it is not yet clear whether they might be asked to contribute anything, within the Luton functional HMA or outside of it". This indicates further uncertainty between local authorities within the Luton HMA regarding housing distribution, and a lack of joint working between LBC, CBC and AVDC, which PNNH feel has resulted in an unnecessary scale of Green Belt release to accommodate Luton's unmet housing need entirely within Central Bedfordshire.

The Plan has therefore failed to identify the most appropriate strategy to deliver the housing requirement, and is subsequently flawed, unjustified and ineffective. Furthermore, due to the lack of any statement or evidence issued by CBC demonstrating that the Duty to Cooperate has been satisfied, PNNH are of the view that the CBLP cannot be considered legally compliant.

Further representations made by Luton Borough Council (LBC) in response to the CBLP indicate that while there is general support of the Plan's strategy, including the intention to accommodate Luton's unmet housing requirement, objections are still maintained regarding a lack of clarity on housing delivery. In particular, the CBLP fails to identify whether some 1,500 dwellings of Luton's unmet need are accommodated within the Luton HMA or outside. LBC further contend that no delivery mechanism or agreement is currently in place between Council's within the Luton HMA to ensure the effective delivery of affordable housing between authorities. This further highlights a lack of sufficient working between CBC and neighbouring local authorities, causing further concerns that the CBLP is ineffective given a lack of cross boundary working and a failure to clarify the distribution of strategic priorities such as affordable housing.

The CBLP therefore fails to satisfy the requirements of paragraph 178 and 179 of the NPPF and is inconsistent with national policy.


Strategic Sites

Policy SP1 seeks to deliver some 12,500 dwellings of its housing requirement on strategic sites currently within the Green Belt in Central Bedfordshire. PNNH has concerns over the Council's reliance on a number of strategic site allocations, which are linked to the delivery of major infrastructure to support housing delivery. Such sites are likely to result in significant viability issues which may threaten their delivery and also affect factors such as the sufficient supply of affordable housing on site. In addition, without the provision of significant infrastructure the associated urban extensions cannot be delivered. This would result in delays in delivering much needed housing within Central Bedfordshire, including the unmet need from Luton's administrative area.

PNNH have concerns that this would prevent Central Bedfordshire from boosting the supply in housing as required by the NPPF, and that such a reliance on strategic sites would result in a Local Plan that is not effective and not deliverable over the identified plan period.

In particular, PNNH note that the Infrastructure Delivery Plan (January 2018) fails to identify funding mechanisms for major infrastructure such as the M1 to A6 link road, considered critical to the delivery of the North of Luton strategic site (which seeks to deliver some 4,000 dwellings). A funding gap of £27,250,000 is currently identified by CBC to deliver this project.

PNNH therefore have concerns over the deliverability of the CBLP and its allocated strategic sites, and consider that further cross boundary working is required between CBC and other local authorities within the Luton HMA, such as AVDC, to identify sustainable alternatives and establish an appropriate contingency to housing delivery should delays on strategic sites occur.

The distribution of a proportion of the housing requirement within AVDC, where PNNH's site is located and is available, sustainable and deliverable, would ensure that housing would come forward within the early years of the Plan period and provide a further deliverable supply of housing, particularly if the delivery of strategic sites should stall.

PNNH's site west of Leighton Linslade offers a viable alternative to housing delivery and provides flexibility in being able to be developed quickly as a response to possible delays in strategic site delivery, where substantial infrastructure constraints are present. Land west of Leighton Linslade is readily deliverable and benefits from requiring no major infrastructure investment, thus the site could also sufficiently provide for affordable housing and other infrastructure contributions.

Previous proposals put forward by PNNH on land west of Leighton Linslade made provision for the delivery of a full policy compliant mix of affordable housing and their current pending application for 50 dwellings on land North of Leighton Road makes provision for 50% affordable housing on site. It is noted that the affordable housing requirement for the committed East of Leighton Buzzard Urban Extension is only some 10%.


Conclusion

PNNH's overall concerns relate to the soundness of the CBLP with regards to the proposed Growth Strategy contained within Policy SP1. As set out within this response, PNNH are of the view that CBC have failed to identify all reasonable alternatives to housing delivery prior to proposing to release land from the Green Belt, including undertaking effective joint working with AVDC to distribute a proportion of the housing requirement adjacent to the administrative boundary of Central Bedfordshire.

Land promoted by PNNH west of Leighton Linslade does not require any land to be removed from the Green Belt and its deliverability is not dependant on any major infrastructure coming forward. Given that there is little constraint on site, and that the site is well related to Central Bedfordshire, it is the view of PNNH that the site is sustainable and could accommodate a proportion of Central Bedfordshire's housing requirement, thus reducing the level of Green Belt land to be released for housing within the CBLP. However, given that CBC have failed to explore all reasonable alternatives to housing delivery and have not justified exceptional circumstances to support the release of Green Belt at the scale proposed, PNNH consider that the CBLP is unjustified, ineffective and inconsistent with national policy.

With regard to case law established by Gallagher Homes Limited v Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council (2014) "what is capable of amounting to exceptional circumstances is a matter of law, and a plan-maker may err in law if they fail to adopt a lawful approach to exceptional circumstances". Therefore, in failing to identify sufficient exceptional circumstances to support the scale of Green Belt release proposed, PNNH have further concerns that CBC have taken an unlawful approach to redefining the Green Belt through the CBLP.

Further concerns relate to the failure of CBC to undertake effective cross boundary working with neighbouring authorities such as AVDC to identify suitable alternatives to housing distribution. PNNH therefore contend that the CBLP is ineffective and inconsistent with national policy through a failure to meet housing requirements across administrative boundaries where development in Central Bedfordshire is significantly constrained by the Green Belt. Opportunities to distribute housing towards AVDC, where land such as that of PNNH's west of Leighton Linslade is suitable, available and deliverable.

PNNH also note the lack of any statement or evidence issued by CBC outlining that they have complied with the Duty to Cooperate, particularly in cooperating with neighbouring authorities such as AVDC. PNNH contend that further evidence and clarification is required to demonstrate that CBC have considered reasonable alternatives to housing delivery prior to proposing Green Belt release, and that effective cross boundary discussions exploring all alternatives with AVDC have taken place. Without such evidence, it is the view of PNNH that the CBLP fails to satisfy the Duty to Cooperate, and cannot be considered legally compliant.

The Pre-Submission CBLP also places an over reliance on strategic sites to deliver the housing requirement for Central Bedfordshire. The failure of the CBLP to recognise opportunities for housing development adjacent to the Borough, such as at land west of Leighton Linslade, indicates that the Plan has not taken a flexible approach to deal with housing delivery given concerns over the deliverability of strategic sites such as North of Luton, which is significantly constrained by infrastructure requirements. The CBLP therefore cannot be considered effective. For this reason also, the CBLP fails to provide certainty that housing delivery to meet the OAN for the Borough can be delivered and is therefore not positively prepared.

It has been demonstrated that PNNH's land west of Leighton Linslade is suitable, available and achievable for residential development. The site is not subject to any significant physical, environmental or technical constraints which would prevent the development of a high quality sustainable development and the delivery of affordable housing.

Overall, it is clear that PNNH's land west of Leighton Linslade would represent a sustainable residential development site capable of delivering some 350 dwellings. Therefore, greater cross boundary working between CBC and AVDC is required to ensure the sustainable distribution of housing across administrative boundaries, which would reduce the reliance of CBC on strategic sites and reduce the scale of land required for Green Belt release to support the housing requirement across Central Bedfordshire.

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