Agenda item

Breckland Local Plan Issues & Options Document (Agenda item 8)

Report of the Executive Member for Assets & Strategic Development.

 

Please note that Appendix B (Market Towns) will be published separately due to its size.  (Paper copies will be available for Members at the meeting).

 

Minutes:

The document being presented incorporated the amendments from the previous meeting and although a number of typographical errors had been spotted, it was recommended that this document be presented through to Cabinet for approval.

 

Members were reminded of a new designation called ‘local green space’ that could be designated through this Local Plan.  Local Green Space designation was a way to provide special protection against development for green areas of particular importance to local communities. 

 

Attention was drawn to page 21 that referred to Community Infrastructure Levy which Members felt should not have been included in the document.  The Planning Policy Team Leader said that this section would be discussed later in the session.

 

Attention was also drawn to page 7 of the document and the Chairman asked if Members were happy now that these matters had been changed at their request.

 

Councillor Borrett asked what role settlements had if they wanted to retain their settlement boundaries.  Members were informed that the Planning Policy Team would be writing to all parishes to discuss these matters through the consultation.  Councillor Kiddle-Morris advised that it would not be sensible to have settlement boundaries on some parishes and not on others and he mentioned clustering.  The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) recognised the role of clusters of settlements within an area; for example, where there were groups of smaller settlements; development in one village could support services in a village nearby - Gressenhall and Beetley were given as an example of a settlement cluster.  Councillor Bambridge said that he had always been a great supporter of settlement boundaries but was happy with the flexible approach; however, if settlement boundaries were to be removed he would prefer to have designated areas of no development being put in place.  Members were informed that there were ways that policies could be put in place that could tie any future development into a settlement without the need for a boundary and this was something that the Council could consider. 

 

Attention was drawn to page 23 of the document in relation to the reduction in population figures for Swanton Morley.  The Chairman said that this figure must have included the Army Base but was worth checking.  Councillor Turner said that Shipdham figures needed to be checked too. 

 

It was felt that the yellow print used to define the question numbers was not very clear and should be changed.

 

Councillor Borrett asked if the responses from the Parish Councils were given any weight.    The Planning Policy Team Leader advised that all responses would be summarised and would be brought back to the Local Plan Working Group forthwith to establish the preferred option.  Parish Councils had a significant amount of local knowledge therefore more factual information would be taken on board; however, the weight would be less if there was no evidence to back up the argument, in other words there had to be a reasoned argument and a reasoned response.  Councillor Kiddle-Morris explained that if responses came back stating for example that development in a village was not wanted because the roads could not take it, this would not be classed as a reasoned justification unless a traffic survey had been carried out - knee jerk responses would not be considered.  The Chairman said that Members should be able to see who the responses were from.  The Environmental Planning Officer explained how the consultation would work.  When the consultation was closed, all comments would come back to the LPWG to be discussed and the Parish Councils comments could be pulled out separately.  Officers would then be able to establish if these proposals fitted into National Policy.   Councillor Bambridge said that he would like to see the villagers in attendance at the future LPWG meetings.  Councillor Borrett was keen for Officers to explain the process to the Parish Councils so that it was clear as well as informing them of the power they had as individuals.  This he felt was a general policy and the Parish Council should be supplied with guidance notes informing them that their responses would be dealt with separately.  It was felt that a briefing note was also required for Members to take to their parishes.

 

Councillor North was concerned about the lack of Member representation for the parish councils particularly if those parishes did not have passionate Ward Members.  The Chairman agreed.  The question was how to get all Members involved and felt that Members needed to be encouraged to attend these meetings and suggested a further email be sent before the Parish Council Briefing date.  Another important matter was the communication following the closure of the consultation – would Officers be going back to the Parishes informing them that their responses were not justified.  The Planning Policy Team Leader said that the Team would be guided on how they should manage that process.  It was agreed that if someone took the trouble to submit a response via the Council’s website then out of courtesy, Officers should go back with a response.  The Environmental Planning Officer explained that Officers had to make comment on every response and all such comments would come back through to this Group.  Councillor Turner also felt that good communication was key whether it was good news or bad.  Members were informed that in previous discussions it had been suggested that parish councils should be given advance notice and a draft letter would be sent to all accompanied by a briefing note.  The Chairman said that any correspondence should be sent to Members first.  It was noted that there would be link available on the website and all statutory bodies would be contacted a CD would be made available too.  Councillor Turner pointed out that not all parishes met every month so early timing was critical.  It was agreed that all this would be co-ordinated by the Communications Team.

 

Market Towns

 

The Planning Policy Officer presented the approach for the market towns.  The document had been divided into five chapters; one for each of the market towns. 

 

The existing Core Strategy and Development Control Policies included a focused development pattern that saw the majority of new housing development allocated to the Districts five market towns in particular Attleborough and Thetford. 

 

Attleborough

 

Attleborough had been defined as a market town for substantial growth with an allocation for 4,000 new dwellings through the Core Strategy.  The preferred housing location for the 4,000 dwellings was on land to the south west of the town, predominately between London Road and the B1077.  The previous Issues and Options consultation for the Attleborough and Snetterton Heath Area Action Plan (ASHAAP) for the direction of growth of the urban extension had been taken into account.  Page 39 of the document highlighted the general employment areas in Attleborough and Snetterton Heath and there was a little information on the town’s settlement boundary.

 

Councillor Duigan had noted that these 4,000 dwellings had been in the pipeline for nearly 8 years and almost nothing as yet had been provided and it looked as if nothing would be provided any time soon; he asked when these were likely to be built.  Members were informed that it had always been known that this urban extension would take time and although a date could not be provided it was now all coming together.  Councillor Borrett had found the SHLAA information on page 26 quite useful but on page 35 where it talked about link roads he had found that they all started and finished in a different place.  He asked why the shorter option had not been considered.  The Deputy Planning Manager explained that this was due to land ownership and the different routes meant that there was a degree of flexibility as to what could happen to the south of the railway.  Councillor Borrett felt that this should be explained in the document.  It was noted that this section would be looked at again and would be explained.

 

Councillor North had noticed signalised junctions were preferred for the town centre.  In her opinion these were the most expensive and the type that would snarl up the town.  She felt that roundabouts would be the best option mainly because they were less than half the price and would keep the traffic flowing.  Councillor Stasiak agreed.  He asked about the map on page 26 of the document in relation to site A08 which had been marked in red as non deliverable but considered this site to be a wonderful place to do something with.  The Planning Policy Officer believed that this was due to highways access onto that site but she would investigate.  Councillor Martin quoted some wording from a Cabinet meeting held in 2013 where it had been clearly stated that the number of houses in Attleborough could be decreased or increased taking into account all the adhoc developments. 

 

Councillor Borrett raised concerns about the colours of the SHLAA maps and felt that these should be changed to yellow and blue as in his opinion, ‘red’ meant no and ‘green’ meant go.

 

Thetford

 

Thetford had been defined as the key centre for development and change through the Core Strategy and Development Control Policies.  The Thetford Area Action Plan (TAAP) had been adopted in 2012 and the outline planning application for the Sustainable Urban Extension (SUE) had been granted subject to the approval of the S106 Agreement in April this year.  It had originally been identified through the Core Strategy that 6,500 dwellings would be provided; however, this had been reduced to 5,000 following further studies and evidence base.  Thetford had very limited amount of land available for housing development outside of the SUE.  Members’ attention was drawn to the policies on page 65 of the document that were specifically related to the TAAP - did these policies need to be Thetford specific or Breckland specific; some were unique to Thetford such as the archaeology elements.  All the policies listed had an equally important role to the planning and development of Thetford; however, it was considered that a number of these policies were also applicable to the wider area.

 

The Localism Act 2011 allowed Parish Councils to prepare Neighbourhood Plans to guide future development within their parishes.  Thetford parish was not at the present time subject to a Neighbourhood Plan designation; however, Croxton, Brettenham and Kilverstone Parish Councils had been designated as a joint Neighbourhood Plan area and were working together to prepare a Neighbourhood Plan.  This Plan area would cover the majority of the Thetford SUE and some parts of Croxton parish had been included within the built up extent of Thetford. 

 

It was suggested and agreed that the LPWG should include this matter as a standing item on the agenda in future as had been for the Attleborough Neighbourhood Plan. 

 

The Chairman mentioned the exploratory meeting that had been held recently in Thetford where all statutory bodies and others had been invited.  Their input had been valued and a positive meeting had been had.  A number of emails had since been received from the attendees saying how positive the meeting had been.  A Thetford Partnership Board would be established incorporating a whole Council approach to ensure that what was being done going forward was right for the communities.  The Chairman felt that the same should be done for Attleborough, working with them not against them.

 

Councillor Duigan repeated his earlier question, what was the progression on development of the 5,000 houses in Thetford.  Members were informed that the S106 Agreement was currently being negotiated but should be agreed by the end of this year.  A phased development would be instigated and the first Reserved Matters application for phase 1A for 625 dwellings was expected in the New Year.

 

Councillor North referred to the policy schedule on page 65 of the document in relation to Joe Blunt’s Lane and provided Members with an update from the Planning Committee meeting where an application for a skate park had just been approved.  The Planning Policy Team Leader advised that the existing policy had already been adopted and would influence the application going forward; however, the policy could be amended or become surplus.

 

Councillor Borrett mentioned the constraints to development in relation to the Stone Curlews and said there must come a point where the needs of the people were greater than the birds.  He felt that the Council should carry out some benefit analysis against the Stone Curlew designation particularly in relation to the SUE.  Councillor Kiddle-Morris explained that the Council was protecting a habitat that these birds might not nest in.  There was some research being done but what was currently approved could not be overturned.  The Deputy Planning Manager said that Members needed to bear in mind that the SUE would take 25 to 30 years to come forward and had to have regard to the European protected sites.  There was some work being done to introduce further flexibility but further work was required with the Council’s statutory partners and other adjoining authorities.  Councillor Borrett was quite surprised to hear that the urban extension would take 25 to 30 years and felt that work should start now and the Council should have a policy to push this through in terms of benefits.  He asked who the Council should lobby in regards to the consideration of European sites. Members were informed that the Regulations stemmed from European Legislation and therefore the source would be the European Union.  It was advised that in relation to the UK Regulations this would mean lobbying the Government.  Councillor Kiddle-Morris advised that the Council had a robust set of Habitat regulations in place that had stood the test of legal challenges through the courts.  The Deputy Planning Manager pointed out that Members already had opportunities to lobby Ministers.  In response to a question, Members were informed that these regulations did not preclude utilising the A11 for business uses. Councillor North reminded the Group that Stone Curlews were a protected species and Breckland should be lucky to have them.  One piece of information that she had received and had noted was that farming and industrial uses did not affect Stone Curlew sites as much as residential.  Councillor Bowes felt she had to declare an interest at this point as she lived in the buffer zone.

 

Dereham

 

These towns had been highlighted in individual chapters in Appendix B of the document.  Each chapter provided an update on housing allocations for each of the towns.  A number of sites had already come forward and some had already been developed.  There were also some updates on the Employment Study and Dereham had been the only one that had received a retail allocation.

 

Councillor Duigan felt that places like Dereham were being ignored due to the Council concentrating on the A11.  Referring to the maps, he had noticed that there were sites nearer to the centre of the town that had been classed as non deliverable and he felt that these issues should be looked at great speed. He pointed out a Leisure Centre mix up on the map on page 49 of the document.  Councillor Borrett supported the aforementioned comments as he lived quite close to Dereham and considered the town to be his home.  He felt that the retail seemed to be moving everything out to the south of the town and before long Dereham would end up with an empty town centre. He would like to see developers being encouraged to come up with ideas for these so called non deliverable sites and a policy was also needed to encourage development nearer the market place to give Dereham back its heart.   Further to this, as transport travelling from the north and the south of Dereham had to go under two bridges he asked if there could be a policy put in place stating that development should be built in the north of the town.  He had been disappointed that none of the points that he and Councillor Duigan had put forward at the last meeting had not been included in this document.  The Planning Policy Team Leader explained that a big part of this document was the call for sites and what could be done was to put a further call in for sites to the north; however, all sites must be treated fairly and needed to be available in the first place.  Councillor Bambridge reminded the Group that Breckland Council was a Local Planning Authority and felt that it should not be bound from where it wanted development to be which he felt should be to the north of the A47.  There needed to be a very strong Breckland element to the Local Plan as it moved forward as this authority should be able to state what it preferred.  The Deputy Planning Manager advised that with the sites that had been put forward Breckland Council could express a preference to a degree but it must take account of the test of deliverability.  If land had not been offered over the course of the last two Plans then there was likely to be a reason why it had not.  Councillor Borrett mentioned the traffic survey and asked who would be needed to commission this work.  In response, Members were informed that this would be based on every individual application that came along; however, the Norfolk County Council as the Highways Authority and the Highways Agency both formed statutory consultees.  The Chairman felt that common sense was required on these matters.  The Deputy Planning Manager asked Members not to forget about Highways and Anglian Water and felt that some of their assessments needed to be re-visited and challenged.  Councillor North agreed and said that the Council did not always receive the correct responses from them. 

 

In response to a question on location, the Deputy Planning Manager suggested that the document be amended to include a question on the direction of growth for Dereham.

 

Councillor Duigan said that it should be the Members responsibility to inform the public where the development should be in Dereham.  The Chairman had concerns with the document and felt that it should not be sent out until Members were happy with it.  The Deputy Planning Manager pointed out that this document was still at the very early issues and options stage and the question of whether the public preferred the north or the south would be set out at a later date during the preferred options stage.  Councillor Bambridge made reference to the comments made by the Transport Minister in relation to the A47 and felt that when the improvements had been completed more development would be required to the north of Dereham.  Councillor Borrett mentioned the proposal for a distribution park on the Council’s border which was currently at the pre-planning stage.  He had heard that there were talks about junction improvements to the A47 and could not see any reason why Breckland could not do the same at this stage and felt that some question of an appropriate nature should be included in the document such as: “Where would you like to see a junction for economic growth off the A47.”  The Environmental Planning Officer felt that Members needed to think more strategically about the question.  Attention was drawn to the transport projects mentioned further along in the document and the delivery of such road improvements would need to be considered. Additionally, the Duty to Cooperate with Breckland’s neighbours would also have to be taken into account.

 

Swaffham

 

The Chairman felt that Swaffham was similar to Dereham in terms of the effect of dualling the A47. Councillor Borrett asked if employment to the north of the A47 should be considered.  He felt that there were many opportunities along the A47 route for both Dereham and Swaffham and as Breckland as a whole.  Councillor Kiddle-Morris advised that the priority for the A47 was nearer to Peterborough, nothing was likely to change in this area until 2021.  Members felt that the debate needed to be started now and that the Cabinet should have some input as there should be nothing to stop the Council targeting land owners now.  The Planning Policy Team Leader stated that the strategy for the distribution of employment would form part of this document.

 

It was noted that the new development on the former Redlands Tile site in Swaffham had not been coloured in on the map. It was explained that this had not been included as it had not formed a housing allocation through the LDF.

 

Watton

 

The Chairman said that he was aware of another site coming forward that had not been included on the map.  He felt that Watton, like many other parishes, did not want any further development and this was definitely an issue.  To add confusion, the development on the Norwich Road that was causing the traffic problems was not actually in Watton; it was in fact in Carbrooke.

 

Natural & Historic Environment

 

The Environmental Planning Officer presented this part of the document.

 

National legislation and the NPPF placed a duty on local authorities to consider biodiversity through their Local Plans.  Breckland had a range of important sites and habitats for biodiversity, recognised through designations, from internal to local importance, and through local Biodiversity Action Plans.  The Local Plan needed to provide appropriate protection, having regard to the importance of these sites, and seek opportunities for biodiversity enhancement and the creation of new habitat through development.  Attention was drawn to page 14 of the agenda in relation to the map that highlighted the buffers around Special Protection Areas (SPA) with Stone Curlews.  The question asked how the Council might respond to new evidence base if the Stone Curlew site constraints remained the same.

 

As far as heritage was concerned, heritage assets were irreplaceable.  Whilst many heritage assets within Breckland had statutory protection, there were a number of others that played an essential role in reinforcing a sense of local character and distinctiveness in the historic environment.  The question being asked on this subject was, were there any non designated sites which required protection through local policy.

 

Referring to the Stone Curlews, Councillor Borrett had noticed that the buffer zone reached as far as Watton; however, he was confused that the housing map of Watton did not include a SPA but the Thetford one did.  Members were informed that the maps could be detailed according to their need.

 

It was agreed that the SPA area for Watton be included on the map for consistency.

 

Councillor Borrett also referred to green open space and asked for more detail.  The Environmental Planning Officer explained that an issue for the Open Space Assessment and Local Plan was to identify Local Green Space and the Issues and Option consultation would be an opportunity for local communities to suggest where such spaces should be identified that met the tests in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which stated that the designation should be:

 

·        Where the green space is in reasonably close proximity to the community it serves;

·        Where the green area is demonstrably special to a local community and holds a particular local significance; for example, because of its beauty, historic significance, recreational value (including as a playing field), tranquility of its richness of its wildlife; and

·        Where the green area concerned is local character and is not an extensive tract of land.

 

All Parish Councils had been written to informing them all that local green space could only be designated through the Local Plan process or through a Neighbourhood Plan and the response had been very good thus far.  It was explained that only land that was publically available at all times could be classed as green open space.  Councillor Bambridge felt that such land should not be developed and a policy to prevent this should be provided.  This policy should also be strong enough to stand up against the Planning Inspectorate.  Members were informed that National Policy and Local Plan Policy did provide this protection.  There was some discussion with regard to privately owned land and publically owned land.  It was noted that the Open Space Assessment would come back to Members early next year as a piece of evidence base that would have to be endorsed by the Local Plan Working Group.

 

It was agreed that if any such land came forward, the LPWG should be made aware.

 

In relation to the last section on Plan Wide Viability, Members were informed that in developing policies for the Local Plan, it was important to consider viability.  Threshold Land Value was also discussed and Members’ attention was drawn to question 2 on page 20 of the agenda.  Councillor Borrett asked if this question had been targeted at developers, he also asked the meaning of Threshold Land Value.  In response to the first question, Members were informed that it was, and in response to the latter question, attention was drawn to section 9.13 of the document which referred to The Harman Guidance on such land values.  It was advised that a threshold value represented the value at which a willing landowner was likely to release land for development.  It was further advised that values could differ between brownfield sites and greenfield sites, additionally, such values could differ in different parts of Breckland and from owner to owner as the reason to sell often varied from individual to individual.

 

It was agreed that the table on page 20 of the agenda which explained Threshold Values should have the words ‘per hectare’ against Zone A and Zone B for clarity, and against Zone B, it was felt that the word Thetford should be included.  It was also agreed that the paragraph at 9.14 (also on page 20 of the agenda) should be expanded stating that the Cabinet decision on Community Infrastructure Levy had been to suspend work on the Charging Schedule at present.

 

Councillor Bambridge felt that the Council should have some say on the size of the dwellings being built as more larger houses were required.  He also queried the affordable housing threshold of 40%.  Members were informed that the latter would be reviewed later in the process.  Councillor Kiddle-Morris advised that the Planning Policy Team might consider the same as Kings Lynn & West Norfolk Council which was a variable rate.

 

Referring to Appendix E on page 23 of the agenda pack, Councillor Borrett asked if Carbrooke should be included as a Service Centre. Members were informed that Carbrooke had not been defined as a Service Centre village through the Core Strategy and Development Control Policies.  The Chairman asked what criteria defined a Service Centre - did the population have to be over a certain amount.  The Planning Policy Officer explained that previously, these had been defined through the Core Strategy, this time round the Council could change the definition and a question had been included on this matter.  Some Members felt that the population figures were rather bizarre and would need to be changed particularly in relation to Croxton when the SUE had been built.  Also, Scarning was part of Dereham and Carbrooke was part of Watton and felt that the figures should be reflected.  Members were advised that the population figures came from the 2011 and 2011 census values; however, these could be checked.

 

Consultation Process

 

The Chairman was very keen to get this right and asked if Members were convinced bearing in mind all the issues that had been discussed.  The Deputy Planning Manager said there was still some more work to be done and all these adjustments/amendments/additions would be incorporated in time for the forthcoming meetings.

 

It was noted that the consultation period could run into Christmas taking into account the statutory call-in period following the Cabinet meeting on 22 October 2014.  It was felt that other Members should be encouraged to attend the Cabinet meeting.

 

It was agreed that a further two weeks should be added to the consultation period.

 

The Chairman felt that this had been a very important meeting and worthy of the time taken and he thanked the Officers for all their hard work.  Councillor Duigan felt that the Chairman should be thanked too for allowing non Members to have their say.

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