BSCF's Formal Objections to Schools' Planning Applications Map
Letter to East Herts District Council
Head of Development Control
East Herts Council
|9 August 2010|
Your Refs: 3/10/1009/OP, 3/10/1012/OP, 3/10/1013/OP, 3/10/1014/OP, 3/10/1015/OP, 3/10/1044/FO
APPLICATIONS TO BUILD TWO SCHOOLS AT WHITTINGTON WAY BISHOP'S STORTFORD; HOUSING ON THE SITES TO BE VACATED AT WARWICK ROAD, BELDAMS LANE, LONDON ROAD AND ON THE RESERVE SITE AT HADHAM ROAD; AND VARIATION ON CONDITION 2 ON THE USE OF LAND AT JOBBERS WOOD
I am writing on behalf of the Bishop's Stortford Civic Federation to object to these proposals. The Civic Federation brings together the Civic Society and all the active Community and Residents' Associations in the town into a partnership representing over 6000 households.
SUMMARY OF OBJECTIONS
This paragraph provides a summary of the Civic Federation's objections, with the full basis of them set out in the remainder of the letter. Paragraph references in the summary are to the relevant sections in the remainder of the letter. I should say at the outset that the issues arising from these applications have been rigorously examined before. The principle of the scheme was rejected by the Inspector following Examination in Public (EiP) of the Local Plan in 2007; the Bishop's Stortford Town Council unanimously recommended refusal of the applications made in 2008; the proposals were recommended for refusal by local planning officers in 2008; and they were rejected by the overwhelming majority of local people who commented on the applications in 2008 having provoked an unparalleled number of responses (nearly 4000 signatures on petitions of objection and nearly 1000 letters of objection compared with 35 letters of support). It is disappointing that the applicants appear to have learnt nothing from the experience but have instead pressed ahead stubbornly with a minor revision of the scheme in the hope that the objections will go away. However, the scheme is unchanged in substance and so too are the objections which have not gone away and which justify refusing permission. In summary therefore our objections are as follows:
- The scheme is plainly contrary to long established Green Belt protection policies both nationally and in the adopted Local Plan. (paras 2-15).
- The schools do not need to expand or relocate in order to maintain their high reputations. These proposals, by co-location on to a massive campus, are likely to put at risk the quality of education and separate ethos which they presently provide (paras 16-25).
- The forecasts of demand for school places in the application are subject to a high degree of uncertainty and, without explanation as to their basis, differ materially from those provided only a few months previously. They do not provide a robust basis on which to plan for future education provision (paras 26-37).
- In the form submitted, the proposals provide for only 45 additional school places. This addition to demand could be easily and cost effectively satisfied by adjustments to admissions criteria and/or marginal increments in capacity at other local schools. There are other more flexible solutions for meeting any requirements above that increase in capacity (para 38).
- Funding is not relevant to the determination of a planning application, but even on the applicants' figures there is likely to be a £2m deficit on the proposals as submitted (paras 39-41).
- There is no justification of exceptional educational need to override the normal presumption of Green Belt protection, a point reinforced by the absence of support or outright opposition of other schools in the area (para 43).
- The proposals fail to comply with the sustainable transport objectives of national planning policy or the adopted Local Plan. They assume that current modal shares will be maintained without providing any evidence as to how this might be achieved at a less accessible site than the schools' present locations. They use modelling which contains so many flawed assumptions that it cannot be relied upon to present any meaningful depiction of the impact of the proposals. They have failed to provide a schools transport plan or even to use data from the schools existing plans to update the modelling (paras 46-53).
- The poor accessibility of the site should alone be sufficient to rule it out from consideration for development, given that any future housing development is likely to be to the north of Bishop's Stortford (paras 54-55).
- The suitability of the vacated sites for housing has never been tested. The densities proposed do not comply with new Government policies or with policy ENV1 in the adopted Local Plan (paras 56-57).
- The effect of new Government policies on airport expansion will concentrate growth of air transport in the South East at Stansted which has the potential to increase the number of flights using the airport by 80% without the need for further specific sanction. The site barely complies with the noise limits for new schools now and will be unable to do so in the future (paras 58-62).
- The present use of Jobbers Wood should not continue if planning permission were to be granted, and the relaxation on current restrictions on use would not be appropriate if permission is refused. This application ought therefore to be rejected in any circumstances (paras 67-71).
- The applicants have disregarded the requirements of Planning Policy Statement 1 (PPS 1) about public involvement in the planning process (paras 72-76).
- The applications are without merit and permission should be refused (para 77).
FULL STATEMENT OF OBJECTIONSPLANNING POLICY CONTEXT
1. This note sets out the full statement of the objections of the Bishop's Stortford Civic Federation.
2. New development proposals are rightly expected to conform with national policies for development control and the relevant provisions of the adopted Local Plan. The application to relocate two schools from their present sites to Whittington Way provides the catalyst for the housing development applications and for the change of use at Jobbers Wood. If the schools stay where they are, the other applications will automatically fall away. It is therefore sensible to concentrate primarily on the application relating to Whittington Way. However, the other applications ought also to be determined on their merits, since the schools relocation would apparently not take place if proceeds from the sale of land covered by the other applications were not realised. The Jobbers Wood site is also within the Green Belt and is dealt with separately at the end of this letter.
Green Belt Policies
'I'm implacable about the Green Belt. The Green Belt was created in the 1950s to protect the countryside from urban sprawl…The Green Belt needs to be maintained.' Spelman said local planning authorities would be encouraged to protect green space – with the likely result that protection would increase. (Extracts from an interview on 4 June 2010 between the Guardian newspaper and Caroline Spelman MP, Secretary of State for the Environment, and former Herts and Essex Girls School pupil).
3. The Whittington Way proposed development site falls within a larger area of Green Belt between the bypass and Bishop's Stortford. It is the most open Green Belt site remaining largely undeveloped within the bypass. It is therefore important to establish the national and local policies relating to such a site. National policy on the Green Belt is set out in the Planning Policy Guidance note PPG2. This has been supplemented by a circular and direction issued by the then Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in 2005. Relevant extracts from both documents are set out immediately below.
4. Government Green Belt Policy – PPG2
- The fundamental aim of Green Belt policy is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open; the most important attribute of Green Belts is their openness. (para 1.4)
- The purposes of including land in Green Belts [checking unrestricted urban sprawl, preventing neighbouring towns from merging, safeguarding the countryside from encroachment, preserving the setting of historic towns, encouraging recycling of urban land] are of paramount importance to their continued protection, and should take precedence over land use objectives. (para 1.7)
- The essential characteristic of Green Belts is their permanence. Their protection must be maintained as far as can be seen ahead. (para 2.1)
- Once the general extent of the Green Belt has been approved it should be altered only in exceptional circumstances. If such an alteration is proposed the Secretary of State will wish to be satisfied that the authority has considered opportunities for development within urban areas. (para 2.6)
- Where existing local plans are being revised and updated, existing Green Belt boundaries should not be changed unless … other exceptional circumstances exist, which necessitate such revision. (para 2.7)
- The general policies controlling development in the countryside apply with equal force in Green Belts but there is, in addition, a general presumption against inappropriate development within them. Such development should not be approved except in very special circumstances. (para 3.1)
- The construction of new buildings within a Green Belt is inappropriate unless it is for the following purposes:
- agriculture and forestry
- essential facilities for outdoor sport and recreation
- limited extension, alteration or replacement of existing dwellings
- limited infilling in existing villages and limited affordable housing
- limited infilling or redevelopment of major existing developed sites (para 3.4)
5. The general presumption against any new development in the Green Belt has been expressed in PPG2 in the strongest and clearest possible terms. The emphasis on openness and permanence taking precedence over other considerations (such as landscape features or the nature of the vegetation) is particularly relevant to this application. It is clear that the proposals would fall within the definition of 'inappropriate development' as set out in PPG2.
6. ODPM Circular 11/2005 – The Town and Country Planning (Green Belt) Direction 2005
The messages contained in PPG2 are reinforced in this circular and direction as the following extracts show:
- Save for a few specific exceptions, as detailed in para 3.4 of PPG2, the construction of new buildings inside a Green Belt is inappropriate development. (para 3 of the circular)
- The effect of the Direction is to require local planning authorities to refer any planning application which falls within para 3 of the Direction, and in respect of which the authority does not propose to refuse planning permission, to the Secretary of State at the appropriate regional Government Office… (para 8 of the circular)
- If it appears that the application is for inappropriate development in the Green Belt, the authority should then decide whether the development would significantly impact on the openness of the Green Belt. … The magnitude of impact is likely to be heightened if the Green Belt is narrow, or partly confined by existing (or planned) development, or if it is prominent in the landscape at the development site. Potential impacts will also be greater if the development site is overlooked by or close to residential development … (para 11 of the circular)
- In considering the scale of the development, regard should be had to the bulk, form and height of the building or buildings … For example … a large single storey warehouse with a total floor space of 1000 square metres or less, may have a significant adverse impact on the openness of the Green Belt … (para 12 of the circular)
- Where it will involve intensive on-site activity, large numbers of parked vehicles, considerable transport movements to, from, or around the site … it will have a potentially significant impact on the Green Belt, even if any building constructed is below the floor space threshold in para 3 (a) of the Direction. (para 12 of the circular)
- In deciding whether a planning application should be referred to the Secretary of State under para 3(b) of the Direction, an authority should take account of all the above considerations, regardless of the very special circumstances which it may consider exist to justify the grant of planning permission. (para 17 of the circular)
- This Direction shall apply to any application for planning permission involving inappropriate development on land allocated as Green Belt in an adopted local plan … which would involve:
(a) the construction of a building or buildings with a floor space of more than 1000 square metres; or
(b) any other development which, by reason of its scale or nature or location, would have a significant impact on the openness of the Green Belt.
Where a local planning authority does not propose to refuse an application for planning permission to which this Direction applies, that planning authority shall first consult the [First] Secretary of State. (paras 3 and 4 of the Direction)
7. The impact of these proposals on the Green Belt would be considerable and irreversible. They would involve the construction of buildings with approximately 26000 m2 of floor space; 348 car parking spaces; buildings up to 14.5m high with the possibility of another floor being added later; circulation roads; terracing of those parts of the site which are not built on to provide level playing fields in place of the currently gently sloping hillside; sports pitches will be floodlit, and the site would be protected by a 2.4m high security fence. There can be no doubt that a campus with initially 2400 and potentially over 3000 students will generate a huge number of traffic movements. This particular Green Belt site is quite narrow and the site as a whole is bordered on three sides by residential development.
8. The clear presumption of both PPG2 and the circular and direction is that permission for this development should be refused. If, nevertheless, the local planning authority believe that the justification advanced by the developers is so exceptional that the normal expectation of permanent Green Belt protection should be set aside, they must refer the application to the Secretary of State for possible call in. Refusal or referral to the Secretary of State are the only two courses of action open to them.
9. Planning Policy Statement 1 – Delivering Sustainable Development
The presumption against the proposed development is reinforced in PPS 1 which in para 5 for example makes the following point:
'Planning should facilitate and promote sustainable and inclusive patterns of urban and rural development by:
– protecting and enhancing the natural and historic environment, the quality and character of the countryside, and existing communities.'
Para 19 stresses:
'Planning policies should seek to protect and enhance the quality, character and amenity value of the countryside and urban areas as a whole. A high level of protection should be given to most valued townscapes and landscapes, wildlife habitats and natural resources. Those with national and international designations should receive the highest level of protection.'
[Our emphasis added]
Green Belts are, by definition, among the most highly valued parts of our countryside, as much for the functions they perform in checking urban sprawl as because of their intrinsic amenity value. The extracts from Caroline Spelman's interview, quoted above, make clear the new Government's firm commitment to the protection of the Green Belt.
10. The East Herts Local Plan Adopted in April 2007
Because its development was so far advanced, the previous Government agreed that the former procedure for the consideration and adoption of Local Plans should apply to the East Herts Plan and this is therefore the detailed document for the control of development until 2011. At the last stage of public consideration before the adoption of the Plan, EHDC proposed the removal of part of the Whittington Way site from Green Belt protection and its redesignation for educational use (15 ha rather than the 20 ha now proposed, but to provide two schools similar to the current proposal). The proposed redesignation was considered in some detail at the Examination in Public into the Local Plan and the Inspector's summing up is set out below.
'All of which bring into question, in my [the Inspector's] view, the planning wisdom of Policy BIS 24 and of the proposal to remove the [Whittington Way schools] site from the Green Belt. This is a long established area of protected land, serving well-defined Green Belt functions. While not taking issue with the educational reasons for locating the two schools in this area, I do not accept that it is necessary to remove land from the Green Belt to enable the secondary school needs of the town to be met. The Green Belt designation should remain; the circumstances of educational need, as well as the impact on the Green Belt could be considered in the context of a planning application. After all there are examples of educational establishments within the Green Belt elsewhere in the District, and the Council is able to exercise the level of control necessary in such locations. On the other hand, removal of the site from the Green Belt, to accommodate the identified need, weakens the Council's position in safeguarding the principle and permanence of the Green Belt. Other pressing needs could just as well prevail on this approach in arguing for further Green Belt releases… My views above lead me to conclude that Policy BIS 24 should be deleted.' (paras 11.48.7 and 9 of the Inspector's conclusions on this issue in her report on the Local Plan)• Recommendation – Delete Policy BIS24.
Modify the Proposals Map by including Site 571 in the Green Belt
(paras 11.48.10 and 11 in the Inspector's report on the Local Plan
11. It is unfortunate that the developers have continued to take one extract out of context from a balanced consideration by the Inspector of the arguments for and against redesignation of part of the site, and decided to proceed with this renewed planning application. In doing so they have ignored her overall judgment that the case had not been made for removing Green Belt protection, and that the boundaries proposed were somewhat arbitrary and did not follow readily recognisable features. As a result, the rest of the site might not be protected from development if part of it were to be redesignated for educational use. The site as a whole retains its Green Belt status in the now adopted Local Plan in line with the Inspector's conclusions. The full text of the Inspector's assessment of this issue is attached as Annex 1 to this letter.
12. It would appear that the Inspector's fears about development of the rest of the site were wholly justified. In a report dated 16 September 2009 by Inspire East (the regional centre of excellence for sustainable communities) on a design review of proposals which preceded these applications (Copy at Annex 2) they refer on page 2 to possible housing in an expansion to the south of the town and to the sense that the designs then under consideration were driven by the requirement to preserve as much land as possible for housing; and on page 5 to the impact of future residential development on the remainder of the greenfield site. The report was disclosed in response to a Freedom of Information Act inquiry and we have been unable to establish who suggested to Inspire East that the rest of this Green Belt site was to be used for housing. However, the Local Development Framework (LDF) core strategy which has now been published for consultation by East Herts Council includes this as option 5 in its review of possible growth scenarios for Bishop's Stortford, which suggests that pressure to sacrifice the rest of this Green Belt site is not confined to the developers.
13. The Inspector's report on the Local Plan also dealt with the site at Hadham Road which had been acquired by the County Council many years previously for educational purposes. Her conclusion on this was as follows:• Recommendation – The Reserve Secondary School Site, Hadham Road, as defined on the
Proposals Map, is reserved for residential development as a Phase II site
and will only be released for development if sufficient additional secondary
school capacity is provided elsewhere in the town
(para 11.22.7 of the Inspector's report on the local plan)
14. The Inspector's recommendations have been incorporated in the Local Plan adopted by EHDC in April 2007. It should also be noted here that the Local Plan makes no provision for any alternative use for the two sites currently occupied by the Boys' High School and the Herts and Essex School nor for the use of the separate Herts and Essex School playing field site in Beldams Lane. No proposals for a change of use were made at any stage during the public consideration of the draft Local Plan in spite of the long gestation period of these proposals. In addition therefore to the use of the Green Belt site in Whittington Way for educational purposes, any alternative use of the three sites which the schools would vacate as a result would also represent major departures from the recently adopted Local Plan.
15. The incompatibility of these proposals with national and local policies for Green Belt protection, together with the four major departures they would entail from the Local Plan should of themselves be sufficient to refuse permission for these applications – to do otherwise would suggest that any part of the Local Plan could be set aside to suit the convenience of developers. Local Plans are intended to give certainty to local residents and developers as to what sort of development will be permitted and where. To sanction such major departures from the adopted local plan would bring the whole planning system into disrepute and would certainly be regarded by the Civic Federation as a matter of more than local importance.
EDUCATIONAL NEED16. As this letter shows, the proposals are devoid of merit in planning terms. The developers therefore rely on arguments falling outside the spectrum of development control to support their claims of exceptional justification to override Green Belt protection. Ostensibly, these arguments are all based on educational need, and therefore have to be critically examined. The arguments can be considered under a number of headings.
Size of Schools
'We all know what a good school looks like. It's a smaller school where the head teacher knows your child's name…We all know what a good school looks like and it's that good school that you want' (David Cameron MP on 25 April 2010 before becoming Prime Minister).
'We will create a new generation of schools run by teachers and responsible to parents, not micromanaged by politicians. Parents will get what they want: smaller schools, good behaviour, great teachers and restored confidence in the curriculum.' (Mark Prisk MP in his personal manifesto for the 2010 election).
'All the evidence is that some of the toughest problems with discipline are found in the larger schools. The government's pile-'em-high approach is letting down the most disadvantaged pupils.' (Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Education, commenting when opposition spokesman for education on a report on the explosion in the number of super-size schools with 1500 plus pupils as reported in the Times newspaper on 3 January 2008).
Both the Bishop's Stortford High School for Boys (the Boys' High School) and the the Hertfordshire and Essex High School for Girls (the Herts and Essex School) argue that their existing sites are too constrained to permit expansion beyond their current size of 5 FE (forms of entry of 30 pupils). They also claim that their buildings are in poor condition and that the facilities they provide restrict the range of educational opportunity they can offer.
17. As they have pointed out, both schools are popular and oversubscribed. They both have a good academic record – in the case of the Boys' High School achieved only relatively recently without any expansion in intake or significant alteration to buildings. The most recent Ofsted inspection of the Herts and Essex School in 2009 reported that it was outstanding and concluded that there were no significant areas for improvement in the school or sixth form – all this with its present facilities.
18. Hertfordshire County Council (HCC) claim that the minimum viable size for a new school is 6 FE (about 1200 pupils in total) Note 1. Arguably, however, 6 FE ought to be regarded as the maximum viable size of school not the minimum. Hockerill Anglo European College is one of the most successful schools in the country and has also received an outstanding Ofsted report. Its students take the international baccalaureate which requires it to support a broader 6th form curriculum than schools which take A levels. It has only 4 FE, about 750 students, and has in the past resisted calls from HCC to expand because it believes that the quality of education would suffer.
19. 'Lessons from the Front' published by the Teach First organisation in November 2007 has the following to say about large schools
'[Economies of scale] is an oft cited but potentially misleading argument …. the tendency is for very large organisations such as bureaucracies to find that their size obstructs the delivery of the very outcomes they are created to achieve, as diseconomies of scale begin to emerge. An argument for large schools based purely on cost, then, fails to consider cost-effectiveness, value for money or the cycle of innovation.'
'A school's capability to implement creative initiatives, or respond to sudden problems, can also be impaired as it gets larger …. In many urban complex schools, teachers' time and energy are simply spread too thinly between too many pupils.'
20. It is reasonable to conclude on the basis of the evidence of their academic records, the new Government's views on school size, and the evidence emerging from the field that the Herts and Essex and Boys' High Schools have now reached their optimum size of 5 FE. Although the plans contemplate an initial expansion of only 1 FE each, the expectation is that in the longer term they would both increase to 60% above their present size. Expansion of both schools on this scale combined with co-location on to a single campus and considerable sharing of facilities seem likely to jeopardise the quality of education and the high reputations which they currently enjoy.
21. It is hard to believe that they will be able to retain their own individual characters as separate schools in these circumstances. It is a very 20th century approach towards meeting the needs of children in the 21st century. Inspire East for example commented (Annex 2, page 5)
'We are not yet convinced that an approach that has two separate schools located next to each other, separated by limited shared facilities, is the correct approach here. A clearer understanding of the functioning and hierarchy of the organisation of the two schools is needed. Will there be one or two Heads, how will the governing bodies inter-relate when it comes to shared facilities and decisions?'
22. In summary, neither school needs to expand in order to maintain its academic standards, and it is clear that the new Government favours smaller schools and more diverse ways of meeting educational need than the 'one size fits all' approach of HCC. Nor do the two schools, as foundation schools, have a duty to meet any unmet demand for school places – that is the responsibility of HCC. Indeed, if the schools apply for and are granted academy status, HCC would then have put itself in the absurd position of having gifted its assets and its own responsibility for providing school places to two schools over which it had absolutely no control.
23. Parental choice is an important and complex issue. The new Government has made it clear that it intends to increase the forms of diversity of provision, for example by allowing parents to start up and run their own schools, and by allowing existing schools to apply for academy (ie completely independent of local authority control) status. Single sex or co-educational provision is one aspect of choice, but so too are academic record and accessibility. Bishop's Stortford is fortunate in having a variety of high achieving schools, including a faith school and both single sex and co-educational provision. All the town's schools on their present sites are in excellent locations from an accessibility point of view and in the case of the two schools seeking to move, over 30% of their pupils walk to school.
24. All the schools in Bishop's Stortford are oversubscribed. It is difficult to assess the extent to which they are, because all parents are invited to make three applications when their children move to secondary school and, while the data on applications made and places allocated is published for each school individually, the extent to which parents secure their first choice preference is not. However, in Bishop's Stortford as a whole in 2009 83% of applicants obtained their first choice preference, with over 97% of children securing a place at one of their three ranked schools Note 2. There is no requirement or expectation that every child should secure a place at their first choice school. The published data do not allow any conclusions to be drawn about the extent to which single sex education is the determining feature in parental choice and, therefore, about what the desirable balance between single sex and co-educational places should be.
25. However, to the extent that single sex education is an important factor in parental choice, these proposals will weaken the attractiveness of the two schools by locating them together. Co location will lead to the shared use of sports and recreational facilities, shared use of dedicated school transport and combined sixth form teaching. All of these are likely to lead parents who attach particular importance to single sex education to conclude that the provision on offer no longer meets their requirements. Quite apart form the adverse impact on accessibility of the new location (discussed in detail below), the proposals are therefore likely to diminish parental choice.
The Demand for School Places
26. Arguments about the need for the schools to expand, parental choice, or the condition of the school facilities would never be sufficient individually or collectively to justify relocating both schools to a Green Belt site. The age and condition of the schools' buildings are typical of many in Hertfordshire, and if the need to replace them were sufficient to justify removing Green Belt protection, no Green Belt site in the county would be safe. Casual observation suggests that the Richard Hale and Sele Schools in Hertford are of a similar age and condition to the Girls' and Boys' Schools in Bishop's Stortford and they would no doubt be delighted if a precedent had been created for funding new premises on a Green Belt site by disposing of their existing sites for housing. The only issue which might create a case of exceptional justification to override Green Belt protection might be that the demand for school places could not be met in any other way. Any other perceived or actual benefits of these proposals would be purely incidental and would fall away if there were other ways in which the demand for places could be satisfied.
27. When the Civic Federation objected to the previous proposals, we argued that the best way to measure demand was to compare applications for places in year 7 (when children move to secondary school) with the number of places allocated. Because St Mary's is a faith school drawing pupils from a very large catchment area, and does not admit non Catholics, we suggested that the availability of its places should not be viewed in the same light as those of the secular schools in the town. Based on transparent calculations, we suggested that the shortage of places in Bishop's Stortford was between 1 and 3 FE in 2007 (the most recent year for which data was then available). This was in contrast to the applicants' approach of producing unsubstantiated figures of overall school size at various dates in the future. On the trends available then, we expected the position to deteriorate rapidly, leading to sufficient demand to justify building an additional school at Hadham Road.
28. At the time, HCC criticised the Civic Federation for using unorthodox methodology and for making errors in calculations and assumptions (though it never said what these were) Note 3. We are therefore pleased that in their educational needs assessment HCC have now adopted the Civic Federation's approach of assessing demand in relation to year 7 applications. If our same method of calculation is applied to the data for 2008 and 2009 (unfortunately not included in HCC's educational needs assessment) the shortage of year 7 places still appears to be between 1 and 3 FE. This was borne out by the comments of the Head of Birchwood School on 2 July 2009 that all the schools were full for the coming September and that Birchwood would be taking five more pupils than its maximum, a position mirrored in the other local schools Note 4. For 2010 he said that Birchwood would be admitting 15 pupils more than its published capacity in a bid to ensure that local parents could access a town school Note 5.
29. However, contrary to our expectations, the shortfall in places has not grown worse since we made our initial calculations. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, house building has come to a virtual standstill, with many new properties still vacant, and so the inward migration which would have increased demand has not materialised. Secondly, our calculations, like those of the applicants, looked only at Bishop's Stortford schools. Including Leventhorpe, as HCC have now done, increases the supply of places as well as the demand for them.
30. While HCC and we are now agreed on the most appropriate measure of underlying demand, their calculations still need to be subject to critical scrutiny. In response to a Freedom of Information Act inquiry, HCC provided the demand estimates for year 7 places which they were using in January 2010. These are set out in the table below with the forecast used in the May 2010 educational needs assessment for comparison.
|Year||January Forecast||May Forecast||Difference|
31. As well as the discrepancy between forecasts set out above, there is another unexplained problem with the May forecasts. In setting out the places available, HCC appear to have included all but 13 of the boarding places at Hockerill Anglo-European College to arrive at a total of 985 places available. Since none of the boarding places are available to local children, only the number of day places – 72 – should have been included, giving a figure of places available of 950 (as used in the January forecast) rather than the 985 shown in the educational needs assessment. The needs assessment therefore appears to overstate the supply of places by 1 FE as well as increasing the demand forecast.
32. We have identified two other factors which may account for the discrepancy in figures. Firstly, the January forecast relied only on sites known to be zoned for residential development in the EHDC local plan and an assumed completion rate of a little over 300 dwellings per year. The educational needs assessment appears to have included development of the Areas of Special Restraint (ASRs) in Bishop's Stortford which were not included in the January forecast (see para 5.3 of the needs assessment). These are apparently assumed to produce 2728 dwellings in the period to 2022 (Supporting Planning Statement para 6.5). However, this would have no impact in 2010/11 for which the latest forecast shows an additional demand of 1 FE. Secondly, the Boys' High School has changed its admissions criteria to add another 8 feeder schools (5 in Essex) to those whose pupils are eligible to apply. The statement in the needs assessment (para 6.10) that the changes in admissions arrangements may make only a small impact on the need for places (like the changes themselves) has not been justified. It seems likely to be a significant reason for the increase in demand over the period covered by the two forecasts, particularly in the early years before the ASR assumption would take effect.
33. Although the forecasts are said to be based on school rolls and GP registers, it is striking that even for 2010/11 a discrepancy of 32 places (1 FE) appears between the January and May forecasts. The discrepancy grows larger in later years, and if a new forecast were made in 6 months' time it might well show similar variations up or down. The problem faced by HCC's forecasters is that many of the critical inputs are not within the control of the County Council including:
- Schools' admissions policies
- Rate of new house building
- Location of new housing developments
- Migration patterns arising from the above
- Birth rate in the area served by the schools
34. As with the previous application, the precise assumptions, how they are used to build up the forecasts, and the confidence limits associated with them are not disclosed. A more prudent and helpful approach would have been to publish a range of estimates with a detailed explanation of the factors leading to the choice of a preferred forecast within that range. In this case, however, a single line of figures has been produced to give a spurious appearance of accuracy to what is inevitably an uncertain exercise. It is a wholly inadequate basis on which to justify a multi-million pound investment in educational facilities intended to last for decades to come.
35. To illustrate the point, if we were to apply the capacity assumption (985 places) used in the May forecast to the January figures, the shortfall in places would never exceed 1 FE and would only approach that level in the year 2016/17. If, on the other hand, the January capacity figure of 950 places (which appears to be the correct one) is compared with the May forecast, there is always insufficient capacity, with a shortfall of over 150 places (5 FE) in two of the years covered.
36. Moreover, actual demand could fall outside the range implied by either of the outcomes set out in para 35 above. Housing growth is discussed in more detail in paras 56-57 below. However, one possibility, which has the strong support of the Civic Federation, is that the ASRs are never developed. Economic circumstances might similarly constrain housing growth in other neighbouring areas. Demand might then plateau at its current level and could be accommodated by marginal adjustments to existing capacity across all the schools in the area. At the other extreme, while including ASR development, HCC's forecast does not appear to have allowed for the 700 extra dwellings the applications would themselves generate; major housing developments in Stansted Mountfitchet and Takeley nearing completion; or the possibility of a major settlement of up to 4000 dwellings in Elsenham. On unchanged schools admissions policies under this scenario, demand would justify the creation of a new 6 FE school.
37. Rather than trying to form a judgment on the basis of uncertain forecasts, the Civic Federation think it would be more helpful to look at what the proposals actually deliver, and alternative ways of delivering the additional school places which these proposals would provide.
What the Scheme Would Deliver
38. The scheme proposes to deliver 45 additional places for year 7 applicants, or 1.5 FE. We therefore examine the alternatives to this first, and then deal with the issue of subsequent enlargement. In ascending order of cost, the alternatives seem to be as follows.
- Adjustment to schools admissions policies. In 2009 nearly 30% of all year 7 places in Bishop's Stortford schools and Leventhorpe were allocated to pupils not resident in the county (277 out of a total capacity of 950) Note 6. It is reasonable to assume that most if not all of these pupils came from Essex. By contrast only 15 pupils living in Hertfordshire were allocated places in nearby Essex schools. The percentages of Essex entrants at the Boys' High School and the Herts and Essex School were 35% and 22% respectively Note 7. Essex County Council confirmed in their objection to the previous application (subsequently withdrawn) Note 8 that over 1000 pupils with homes in Essex attended Bishop's Stortford secondary schools (excluding Leventhorpe) – over 20% of the secondary school population. On unchanged admissions policies therefore it is reasonable to expect between 10 and 15 of the additional 45 places would be allocated to Essex children.
HCC argue that it would be unlawful to exclude children from outside the democratic boundary Note 9. It would moreover be socially irresponsible, so we do not quarrel with their statement. However, they do not appear to have considered any other adjustment to admissions criteria which would have the effect of bringing down demand closer to the supply of places available. For example, applying a reduced maximum distance of travel would affect feeder schools equally in both Hertfordshire and Essex. This might shift demand elsewhere, with possible cost consequences for both Hertfordshire and Essex, but would be an environmentally friendly approach, reducing the carbon footprint arising from the travel patterns which current admissions policies create. At the Boys' High School for example, some 50% of pupils have to travel 5 miles or more to school Note 10. Another option might be to look again at selection by aptitude which is used to determine 10% of admissions at four of the secondary schools. This alone accounts for up to 60 places or 2 FE.
The recent extension by the Boys' High School of its admission criteria to a further 8 feeder schools illustrates the absurdity of a situation where school governors who appear to be accountable to nobody can alter admissions arrangements without regard to cost and then expect the tax payer to pick up the bill.
Adjusting admissions arrangements is therefore either a no cost or a low cost option which would be entirely in accordance with the Bishop's Stortford 2020 Vision document Note 11 and which may have the incidental benefit of shifting some of the cost of educating Essex children on to Essex County Council. It would not involve the sacrifice of the Green Belt.
- Expansion of Other Schools. Para 10.11 of the Supporting Planning Statement notes that Leventhorpe has the capacity to expand by 12 places now to bring it up to 6 FE and the land within which to absorb another full FE, providing 42 places in total – only three less than the number provided in this application. It is moreover, only a couple of miles from the application site. Section 7 of the educational needs assessment notes that St Mary's has also expressed a willingness to expand and that Mountfitchet College in Essex also has 2 FE potentially available. Mountfitchet College is, however, currently under special measures and has no sixth form, and so might reasonably be regarded as an unsatisfactory alternative to Bishop's Stortford schools. As we have noted previously, St Mary's is a Catholic school with a wide catchment area, whose places are not open to non Catholics. However, because the nearest alternative Catholic schools are in Stevenage and Harlow, it may well be the case that parents whose applications to it are unsuccessful put one of the local secular schools as their second choice. Enlarging St Mary's could therefore have the potential to reduce pressure on places at other schools by reducing the number of parents who need to exercise a second choice.
In the light of these considerations, HCC's conclusion in section 7 of the needs assessment that there would remain a shortfall of places in Bishop's Stortford is inexplicable. Expansion of other local schools which have expressed a willingness to do so could clearly deliver the equivalent addition to the capacity which the application would provide at a fraction of the cost. It would not involve the sacrifice of the Green Belt. It would not foreclose any of the other alternatives if further increases in capacity were required in future. And it would not saddle the town with a white elephant campus on the wrong side of town if further increases in capacity were not required. HCC has set aside £82m to pay for an increase in school places across the county. Note 12 This would be an ideal candidate for such funding.
- Other Expansion Options. Given that there are two cost effective alternatives which could either increase supply or reduce the demand for places to achieve the same balance between the two as the application proposal, other alternatives involving expansion need to be predicated on the assumption that the long term requirement is for significantly more than 45 additional places. In view of the uncertainties about forecasting, discussed in para 33 above, the choice is perhaps best assessed as between a large increase in capacity needed quickly and a more gradual incremental increase. The applicants would argue that theirs is the approach best suited to either eventuality but we disagree.
A large increase is likely to be needed if there is further major housing development in and around Bishop's Stortford. The most which the application aims to deliver is an additional 6 FE on a single site (2 now and up to 4 later). After a long period of denial, HCC now accept that the site it owns in Hadham Road can accommodate a 6 FE school. It is, moreover, ideally suited to the purpose as the applicants themselves persuasively argue (see Annex 3).
With the Government's decision to abolish regional development agencies and regional housing targets, the prospect of development of Harlow North has disappeared. Any future significant housing expansion in the area, if it takes place, is likely to be to the North of Bishop's Stortford. These applications, which move all the places in the two schools (including their enlargement to 8 FE) from their central locations, readily accessible by public transport, to a remote site on the Southern edge of town would leave them in the wrong place to meet that increase in demand sustainably, as well as sacrificing the Green Belt. By contrast, if the new housing included the development of the ASRs, the Hadham Road site would be ideally located to serve them, enabling many pupils to walk to school Note 13. A new, separate school would also increase parental choice compared with the alternative of enlarging existing schools. It would be reasonable to expect the capital cost of providing the new school to be funded by housing developers. When combined with the alternative ways providing the 1.5 FE included in the application, it would create the possibility of a greater overall increase in the number of places than the application proposals, if that should be needed. By contrast, once the two schools have achieved 8 FE they would have no further room to expand, and the sites which might have been used to deliver extra capacity will have been sold off for housing.
We conclude that retaining the Hadham Road site against such an eventuality is greatly preferable to the relocation of the two schools in Whittington Way.
If a more gradual expansion were needed, we suggest that the answer could lie in the use of both the existing school sites and the Hadham Road site to provide separate junior schools and a combined sixth form centre. This might be achieved by using the Hadham Road site as a sixth form centre or relocating the Boys' High School there and putting the sixth form centre on the site it vacates in London Road since it may require less land. HCC do not want to abandon the scheme on which they have invested so much of their time and our money and therefore have put the worst possible gloss on this option in paras 9.4 to 9.15 of the educational needs assessment. But there are a large number of counter attractions to the objections they raise:
- The provision of school places would be dispersed to minimise traffic congestion and would be ideally located to support sustainable travel to them.
- It would enable the two schools to grow incrementally in line with demand.
- Any sports and recreational facilities would be additional to rather than largely replacements for the facilities which the schools enjoy already.
- A centre could be developed without the disruption to pupils of on site building works. The applicants' suggestion Note 14 that an extra floor could be added to the campus buildings in Whittington Way and fitted out during the six week school summer holiday to provide extra capacity, so avoiding disruption to education provision, implies heroic standards of performance not usually experienced in the construction industry.
- The applicant appears to be contemplating a combined sixth form anyway. The difference would be that a separate sixth form centre would be on a different site. Operationally this may be less convenient but that would be offset by retaining school centres on a human and manageable scale.
- The raising of the compulsory age for full time education may encourage the development of more such dedicated centres where less academically gifted children may feel comfortable in a more adult environment.
- Greater clarity in governance arrangements could be provided than those arising from the application proposals since there would be no ambiguity about the extent of the shared facilities.
- Disturbance from aircraft noise would not be a problem (see paras 58-62 below).
- There would be no need to sacrifice the Green Belt.
- Conclusions on Alternative Ways of Meeting Demand. The Civic Federation is not arguing that a positive decision should be taken on either of these alternatives or on any of the others rehearsed and dismissed by HCC now. We believe that there are two possible ways of providing for the number of places offered by this application which do not involve destroying the Green Belt. No decision is invited about meeting extra demand above 1.5 FE in this application and to approve it would succeed only in foreclosing options for the future. HCC would rather overturn national and local Green Belt policy and impose an inflexible and monolithic system on the town than look imaginatively at options which would meet parents' wishes. There is no justification of overriding educational need which supports these applications.
39. The applicants appear to believe that the clinching argument in favour of their proposal is that it is 'free' because it will be funded by asset sales which none of the other proposals would generate. Funding and affordability are issues which are not germane to the determination of a planning application. We deal with the point here only because the applicants have laid such stress on it, not because it is relevant.
40. Even on the figures presented in the Supporting Planning Statement Note 15 there seems to be a question over the sale proceeds from Hadham Road. Phase 2 refers to the enlargement of the development from 165 to 250 dwellings Note 16. However, this part of the site would only be released if alternative sports facilities were made available for those currently used by the Rugby Club. There is no assurance that the second phase of development will ever take place, and £7.8m should therefore be deducted from the income line leaving the project overall with a deficit of £2m rather than a surplus. More importantly, no evidence has been provided as to the certainty with which the estimated sales proceeds would be realised in the current depressed state of the housing market. Another way of looking at the business case is to look at the unit cost of the additional places to be provided – 45 places at a total cost of £55m equates to over £1m a place, which might be thought extravagant in these days of austerity. Everything else is simply a replacement in a different form and location of existing facilities, against the wishes of the people of the town.
41. However, the reality is that funding from asset sales does not make the investment 'free'. It simply externalises the financial cost, which ought to be met by the taxpayers of the county as a whole, into economic and environmental costs which are borne solely by the residents of Bishop's Stortford. Having created the demand for school places by forcing excessive amounts of housing on the town (at a time when it was the strategic planning authority), HCC appears to think it reasonable for the town to shoulder the costs of its preferred solution in the form of loss of Green Belt, pollution and congestion arising from the developments as a whole, including yet further housing in unsuitable locations, while brownfield sites in the town remain undeveloped, unfinished and unsold. We have had years of blight from a stream of unsympathetic developments and these proposals will simply perpetuate the trend. The immediate provision of places can be met very cheaply as we have explained in para 38a & b above, and there are more flexible alternatives in the longer term if extra demand materialises.
Schools in the Community
42. Schools are meant to play an active role in their local communities. At the Boys' High School the sports hall is let on a long lease to a charitable trust and provides a valued community facility. Likewise, the swimming pool at the Herts and Essex school is well used by other groups outside the normal school day. Although these would be replaced at the proposed new schools, sharing of facilities may mean that there is much more pressure for school use and fewer opportunities for the community to benefit. For example the proposed new 6 lane swimming pool will replace a 4 lane swimming pool at the Herts and Essex school, but it will have to cater for the needs of 2400 pupils initially (over 3000 later) rather than around 1000 at the moment. While much is made of the opportunity for community use of the new facilities Note 17, the two schools could offer a similar level of engagement on their existing sites with local communities if they had the inclination to do so. Community engagement and out of hours use of sports facilities should not be treated as an inducement to secure planning permission, but a legitimate expectation for any school. Moreover, the remote location of the proposed development site will make it less accessible to local people, a particular loss in the case of the Herts and Essex School which would be moving nearly two miles away.
Overall Conclusion on Educational Need
43. The case of exceptional justification based on educational need has not been made. The application offers only 45 additional places in a monolithic and inflexible campus. Any subsequent increase in demand will have to be satisfied by more of the same because other options will by then have been foreclosed by asset sales. The same provision can be met cheaply and economically in a way which does not sacrifice the Green Belt and allows for maximum flexibility in meeting the range of possible growth requirements. The absence of support from feeder schools and the heavily qualified comments and/or outright opposition of neighbouring secondary schools Note 18 lends weight to the conclusion that there is no overriding educational need which cannot be met in any other way, and suggests that these applications are based on self interest, not the wider public interest.
PLANNING CONSIDERATIONS AFFECTING THE WHITTINGTON WAY SITE
Green Belt Status
44. The site has Green Belt protection. The proposed development is clearly inappropriate within the meaning of PPG 2. The preceding arguments demonstrate that there are viable alternative ways of providing the additional school places offered by this application. There is thus no exceptional reason for overriding Green Belt protection. The Inspector's report on the Local Plan concluded that the boundaries of the proposed site appeared somewhat arbitrary and lacking in natural features. She thought that redesignation of this part of the site would make it difficult to maintain the permanence of the rest of the site as Green Belt. The proposed development should not be granted planning permission. If the planning authority is nevertheless minded to do so it should refer the application to the Secretary of State for determination in accordance with ODPM Circular 11/2005.
45. The precedents referred to by the applicants Note 19 for setting Green Belt protection aside to satisfy educational need do not apply in this case. In the case of Cheshunt secondary schools for example, the site in question had been zoned for the purpose in the Local Plan and as such was subject to full public scrutiny. In the case of the Whittington Way application, the Inspector rejected the proposal to remove Green Belt protection from the site in the Bishop's Stortford Local Plan. In the decision letters quoted, the Government Office decided that the applications did not give rise to wider than local issues. In the case of the Whittington Way and related applications, setting aside the recently adopted and up to date Local Plan in so material a way would bring the planning system itself into disrepute. Moreover, as this letter has explained, there are preferable alternatives to meeting the educational need which do not involve sacrificing the Green Belt. In any event, the likelihood of call in should not influence the Planning Authority's decision. The Planning Authority has no option but to refer the application to the Secretary of State if it is minded to grant permission.
Access and Traffic Congestion
46. Like the evidence on educational need, the transport assessments give a highly selective presentation both of what the developers believe the present situation to be and how it would be affected by their proposals. It is therefore worth beginning this section of our objections, with a few statements of the obvious which somehow seem to have eluded the applicants.
- These proposals which add 700 dwellings to the housing stock in unsuitable locations and around 2000 more people to the town's population will generate more traffic than the alternative ways of providing the extra school places.
- Sites which are undeveloped at present at Beldams Lane, Hadham Road and Whittington Way add no traffic to the immediately surrounding road networks.
- The approach roads to the town are becoming increasingly congested for much of the time and are not capable of having their capacity significantly increased. Intelligent traffic management systems are at best a palliative which may provide a temporary improvement in traffic circulation towards and within the town centre, but after a few years they will be overwhelmed by the seemingly inexorable growth in car ownership.
- Bishop's Stortford already has one of the highest levels of car ownership in the country: 78% of households own one car and 11% own three or more cars Note 20. If educational facilities are moved to a site which is markedly less accessible than the current locations, it defies belief to think that the modal share of trips to school by car can be pegged at its current level.
Before discussing site specific considerations, it is important to look at the wider context.
National Planning Policy
47. PPS 1 highlights in para 13 one of the key principles of sustainable development:
'Regional planning bodies and local planning authorities should ensure that development plans contribute to global sustainability by addressing the causes and potential impacts of climate change through policies which reduce energy use, reduce emissions (for example, by encouraging patterns of development which reduce the need to travel by private car …'
PPG 13 which deals with Planning and Transport says in para 38:
'Higher and further education establishments, schools and hospitals are major generators of travel and should be located so as to maximise their accessibility by public transport, walking and cycling.'
Local Plan Transport Policies
48. The East Herts Local Plan also notes that as the local planning authority it has a major role to play in integrating transport planning objectives with the location, type and design of development.
49. This is reinforced by policies T3 and T4. Policy T3 requires developments that are likely to generate significant movement and travel demand to submit a transport assessment to accompany the planning application. Transport assessments accompany these applications. Policy T4 requires a satisfactory 'travel plan' to accompany such applications. It adds explicitly:
'For proposals for new or expanded school facilities a school travel plan should be provided, which promotes safe cycle and walking routes, restricts car parking and car access at and around schools and includes inter alia, on-site changing and cycle storage facilities.'
No school travel plan accompanies these applications. On the contrary, the transport assessment says that a comprehensive plan will be developed Note 21. It is moreover hard to see how an application which contemplates providing 348 car parking spaces (even if that would be enough to meet demand on the site) can be described as one which 'restricts car parking and car access at and around schools'. This application therefore does not meet the requirements of Local Plan Policy T4.
General Critique of Transport Assessments
50. In objecting to the previous applications, we argued that the transport assessments contained such fundamental flaws that they could not be relied upon to present a fair reflection of either current conditions or of the impact that the proposals would have on the position. In summary, our criticisms of the modelling are as follows:
- No survey had been undertaken of the intentions of current or prospective parents about the preferred mode of travel for their children to the Whittington Way site.
- Instead although it is less accessible to housing than the existing sites, the implausible assumption was made that the mode shares would remain the same as in 2007, without any evidence as to how this outcome might be achieved Note 22.
- The transport model looks only at congestion in the am and pm weekday peak hours. It thus ignores the impact of the afternoon school run which occurs between 15.00 and 16.00 and traffic congestion on a Saturday (to which the proposed additional housing will add) Note 23.
- The trip data on which the modelling is based relies on planning assumptions made in 2005 Note 24. The modelling appears to assume full implementation of the Bishop's Stortford transportation strategy (see for example Steer Davies Gleave's (SDG's) report paras 4.14, 5.19 and 6.3) including a fully integrated traffic control system, a new relief road through the station goods yard and presumably park and ride bus services to the edge of town. Herts Highways appear to be unaware of this, claiming Note 25, for example, that the modelling does not allow for implementation of the SCOOT Note 26 traffic control system. As a result they appear to be baffled (in their comments on general offsite highway impact) about the apparent disappearance of traffic from part of the network. We do not doubt that full implementation of the transportation strategy would mitigate the adverse effects of these proposals to some extent, but there appear to be no plans or timetable for its implementation.
- In the worst case scenario of two 8 FE schools, no comparison was made with the alternative of providing the same number of additional places at a new 6 FE school at Hadham Road. Because of its advantages as a location, it might be expected over time to lead to an even higher proportion of children walking or cycling to school than now. Instead the alternative assumption made for comparison was that the additional places were located outside Bishop's Stortford Note 27.
- No provision has been made for the 110 children who currently travel to one of the schools by train, a number which would presumably increase if the schools grew bigger but were still accessible from the railway station. Of these, 75 are Girls School pupils.
- From observation, few if any of the train passengers bring a bicycle with them because both schools are within walking distance of the station. Only one Girls School pupil uses a bicycle at present and this lack of cycle use is unlikely to change. The new location is not within walking distance of either the bus or train station. The suggestion by Herts Highways that pupils travelling by train will start bringing bicycles with them to complete their journey to school (even if their parents would allow it) along busy and dangerous roads is patently absurd. Note 28
51. Two years have elapsed since the previous applications were withdrawn which would have provided ample opportunity to remedy these shortcomings and to have a fresh run of the model using up to date survey data. Indeed the existing school travel plans require an annual survey of travel patterns to be undertaken Note 29 and so the failure to update the assessment with more recent data than the 2007 survey is inexcusable, in particular because it would have allowed the effectiveness of the existing school travel plans to be assessed. It is disappointing but not surprising to read that none of the shortcomings have been addressed. The only adjustments that the applicants have made to their case are minor ones to reflect alterations in site layout and the proposed temporary road for construction traffic from Obrey Way. As a result, the outputs from the modelling are those from the previous application which did no more than serve as a validation exercise for full implementation of the Bishop's Stortford transportation strategy. But, by comparing current traffic conditions with the schools in their present locations with schools relocation to Whittington Way and housing development including the ASRs after full implementation of the strategy, it revealed nothing useful which could be separately identified about the impact of the applicants' proposals. The only conclusion which might be drawn is that no permission for these proposals should be contemplated in advance of full implementation of the strategy.
52. There are other reasons for believing that, since these are fresh applications, they should have been supported by newly gathered evidence and improved modelling. For example:
- SDG's modelling looked only at the prospective developments it was advised about in 2005. It therefore makes no allowance for the recently announced suggestions for the redevelopment of the Charringtons/Linkside area.
- We now have actual experience of the impact of the Jackson Square redevelopment, both before and after the changes to the car park layout.
- The transport strategy took no account of housing developments in Uttlesford either planned or under construction.
- Travel patterns to the Boys' High School have changed markedly with the number of pupils travelling 5 miles or more to school almost doubling to 50% over the last three years. It seems unlikely therefore that the pupil travel survey results of three years ago reflect the current position.
- Inspire East (Annex 3, page 4) urged that the applicants should aim for a modal shift in transport and movement beyond today's accepted standards, and urged them to examine in greater detail how different journeys will be made to and from the site. Like their other recommendations, this has been ignored, and instead, the aspiration of attaining current modal shares has been assumed to be achieved, without any evidence about how this might happen.
53. Since the transport assessment has nothing useful to say about the impact of these proposals, it follows that any suggestions for mitigation or for the terms of a S106 agreement would be equally unreliable. Moreover, in the case of payments made under S106, there is no guarantee that they would either be sufficient for the purpose or would be spent by Herts Highways in Bishop's Stortford. The lack of improvement to the Haymeads Lane/Dunmow Road junction provides a topical illustration of this point.
Specific Location Issues
54. There are overwhelming access arguments for keeping the foundation schools where they are:
- Both are located in residential areas and have the ability to attract a high proportion of pupils from within walking distance Note 30.
- The Boys' High School is on one of the main bus arteries into town. The Herts and Essex School is within easy walking distance of the bus and train stations. Since both schools appear to attract about a quarter of their pupils from Harlow, Sawbridgeworth and Stansted Mountfitchet, (HCC's evidence to the Local Plan EiP shows 229 pupils attending the Boys' High School and 219 pupils attending the Herts and Essex School from these places) accessibility of existing public transport services is very significant.
- Current and prospective brownfield residential developments in the town centre will add up to another 1000 dwellings within walking distance of the one or both sites.
- The separate locations of the two schools mean that traffic congestion problems are dispersed rather than concentrated in one location.
- Developing the existing schools sites for housing will not make traffic congestion go away but will lead to different problems – not least from the occupants trying to get to the relocated schools.
55. There are equally strong objections on access grounds to relocating the schools to Whittington Way:
- Fewer pupils will be within walking distance.
- The congestion problems will be concentrated in one place – the road network cannot support a 2400 pupil school run at a single location.
- A peak hours town centre to school bus service no longer appears to be planned. Although it is doubtful if such a service would be viable it makes it even more likely that existing train users will switch to the car.
- The interchange penalty for public transport is well known – people who would have to change from one bus to another in the town centre are more likely to do the whole journey by car.
- Residents of Thorley Park have only two ways out of the estate by road – on to Great Hadham Road or on to Whittington Way. They would risk being cut off by the school run twice a day.
- Using the bypass to access the site will defeat its purpose, which is to be a bypass – not a local distributor road.
- Access issues to this site were not addressed in the published version of the Bishop's Stortford Transport Study in spite of the poor accident record of the Thorley Street/Whittington Way junction Note 31 and the reduced opportunities for walking to school which relocation would create.
'From today Mr Clark will scrap the minimum density targets so town halls can work with local communities to decide what new homes are best for their area' (Department of Communities and Local Government press notice 9 June 2010)
'We've scrapped top down housing targets and meaningless regional spatial strategies. We've put an end to garden grabbing which has seen acres of land lost to intensive development.' (Eric Pickles MP Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 11 June 2010
56. Detailed objections to the housing proposals are being made by the residents' associations which are most adversely affected by them. This letter therefore covers the more general points of principle which apply equally to all the proposals. As in so many other respects, these applications show a complete lack of awareness that there has been a recent change of government and policies which might previously have been prayed in aid of the proposals have been or will be scrapped. The most obviously defunct policies in this regard are:
- Regional Spatial Strategies
- Regional housing targets allocated by those spatial strategies to local authorities
- Removal of back gardens from categorisation as brownfield sites
- Removal of a minimum site density requirement for new housing (previously between 30 and 50 dwellings per ha).
57. Since 1991 Bishop's Stortford has supplied over 40% of East Herts new housing. At the last census it had 28% of the district's population, but the disproportionate allocation of housing since then will have changed the size and character of the town still further away from other market towns in the district such as Hertford and Ware. Shortage of school places is simply one aspect of the physical and social infrastructure deficit which the town has suffered as a result. Bishop's Stortford has more than enough sites zoned for development to meet its housing target in the Local Plan without developing any of these sites. The last thing which Bishop's Stortford needs is even more housing than was contemplated in the Local Plan, but that is what would happen under these proposals. Since housing development is not permitted on the Green Belt site (the Local Plan Inspector rejected proposals to do so) the proposals appear to us simply to be a back door way to achieve windfall development on sites after the housing allocations have been settled in the Local Plan. Our specific objections are:
- The Hadham Road site may only be used for housing if the demand for school places in Bishop's Stortford is being met elsewhere. Retaining the Hadham road site for educational use should be regarded as an essential means of responding flexibly to an increased demand for school places beyond the 45 proposed in these applications.
- The three sites (including the Beldams Lane playing field) which the schools propose to vacate are not zoned for housing in the Local Plan and their suitability for this purpose, including their impact on traffic congestion, was not assessed during the Examination in Public into the Local Plan. The traffic impacts have been discussed above. The evidence of the applicants about the suitability of their locations for housing applies with equal force to their existing uses.
- The applications provide for around 700 dwellings which would otherwise be dispersed across the whole of East Herts.
- In addition, the proportional catchment based distribution of any unmet housing need will mean that having received an additional 700 houses, Bishop's Stortford will receive a correspondingly higher proportion of any balance to be met to achieve East Herts' overall housing allocation.
- Without any of this development it appears that Bishop's Stortford has sufficient land identified to achieve or overachieve its allocation in the Local Plan to 2011. Whether all those opportunities will be exploited will depend on market forces.
- There is no prospect that these housing developments would reduce the pressure to develop the ASRs. The owners of the ASRs will point to their current status in the Local Plan and their treatment in the LDF draft core strategy as reasons for pressing to develop them as well.
- The densities proposed are at the upper end of the previous, but now abolished, range of 30 to 50 dwellings per ha. They are grossly excessive compared to those in the residential areas surrounding them and, as such, are not compatible with policy ENV 1 in the Local Plan. This was expressly included as a protection against over intensive development in such areas.
- Though not included in the Government's statement, school playing fields provide the same function as gardens in providing 'green lungs' in urban areas.
- Suggestions that if the vacated schools sites are not used for housing the Green Belt will be put at risk Note 32 are grossly misleading. With the abolition of regional housing targets, the only option which puts the Green Belt at risk are these applications.
'The Government has previously announced that it does not support construction of a third runway at Heathrow airport nor additional runways at either Stansted or Gatwick airports. Instead it is the Government's intention to make these airports better not bigger, delivering better outcomes for passengers without additional runways.
'To deliver operational improvements at these airports I have recently announced the creation of the South East Airports Taskforce and that group has already begun its work.' (Philip Hammond MP Secretary of State for Transport, 21 July 2010)
'Chaired by my Minister of State Theresa Villiers, its job will be to write that new chapter in aviation history, exploring how to get the most out of existing airport infrastructure.' (Philip Hammond MP Secretary of State for Transport 15 June 2010)
58. Here too the applicants have ignored the impact of the new Government on policies affecting the area and have mistakenly suggested that the problem of aviation noise affecting the site has gone away Note 33. Firstly they suggest, erroneously, that Stansted Airport's planning permission as a result of the G1 inquiry is to set a ceiling on passenger throughput of 25 million passengers per annum (mppa) and that since this was allowed for in the previous assessment, a new one is not needed. The G1 planning permission in fact allows Stansted to increase from 25 mppa to 35 mppa using a single runway. More pertinent in this case is the number of aircraft movements. The rolling annual average number of movements to May 2010 was 151458.The G1 planning permission sets a ceiling of 274000 – an 80% increase over the present number of flights.
59.The Government has scrapped plans for both a second runway at Stansted and a third runway at Heathrow. The owners of Gatwick Airport have made it clear that they do not intend to build a second runway there in line with Government intentions. Instead, the Government has set up a taskforce to look at ways of getting the most out of the existing airport infrastructure (see quote above). Heathrow and Gatwick are operating at or near capacity. The effect of the Government's decision is therefore that Stansted is the only major airport in the South East with the capacity to expand and planning permission to do so. Traffic at the airport will inevitably increase, and the number of flights will be permitted to increase by some 80% without the need for any further planning permission.
60. The taskforce will no doubt also consider the use of airspace which is congested and inefficiently allocated at the moment. Although the NATS consultation on airspace was withdrawn it would be naïve to believe that it will not reappear either with or without modification in the light of the results of the previous consultation. Irrespective of this, however, the previous noise assessment showed that the Whittington Way site was at the margins of acceptability in terms of noise regulations for new schools. The G1 planning permission combined with the Government's decision to scrap new runways at Heathrow and Gatwick guarantees that the site will become progressively more noncompliant in the future.
61. The Whittington Way site is close to (in practice sometimes underneath) one of the main take off and landing flight paths for Stansted Airport. Even if the planners do not regard this as a safety issue, the constant noise disturbance makes this an unsuitable site for educational facilities or residential development. PPG 24 which deals with Planning and Noise makes this clear:
'It will be hard to reconcile some land uses, such as housing, hospitals or schools, with other activities which generate high levels of noise, but the planning system should ensure that, wherever practicable, noise-sensitive developments are separated from major sources of noise (such as road, rail and air transport and certain types of industrial development).'
62. The issues involved are
- Current ambient noise levels are dominated by aircraft noise
- Current ambient noise levels are close to BB93 limits and in some instances exceed them.
- Following the Stansted G1 approval a disproportionate number (53%) of any additional flights would operate during normal school hours causing further deterioration of the noise climate.
- Over time, it is practically certain that the Whittington Way site would increasingly exceed BB93 maximum noise level requirements.
The Civic Federation's noise adviser, Martin Peachey (who also advises the Stansted Airport Consultative Committee and sits on a DfT advisory group on the subject) will be tabling a separate representation on the issue.
63. Generally, the developers argue that the sites do not have any significant ecological importance, apart from the loss of green wedges and playing fields if the applications succeed. Equally, there is no expected damage to bird, mammal or reptile populations. However, the Whittington Way site development would have landscape impacts that it is claimed would be of moderate significance and adverse in nature. In the long term it is claimed that this gets better, moving to neutral in nature. We do not accept for one moment that there can be any improvement or neutrality in landscape views given the size and character of the development, including 26000m2 of buildings, 348 car parking spaces, 14.5m high buildings with the possible addition of another floor, terraced sports pitches with floodlighting and a 2.4m high perimeter security fence. Artificial lighting with floodlit sports pitches would extend the lit edge of Bishop's Stortford and would be quite different in character from the strips of light along the existing roads. The Local Plan Inspector may have had such considerations in mind in rejecting proposals for redesignation of part of the site.
64. The carbon impact of the proposals also needs to be considered. Even if they meet the highest standards of insulation, the carbon footprint of constructing the new school and 700 homes will be considerable. By the same token the substantial amount of carbon embodied in the existing school buildings will be lost.
65. All the sites have had both desk and physical studies, including archaeological assessments. The most important conclusions concern archaeological evidence. The west side of the Boys' High School playing fields contains an archaeological area that would be adversely affected if it were built on. The Whittington Way site is even more important as it contains Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman remains over much of the site and would require extensive stripping to uncover and analyse the evidence. The assessment concludes that the magnitude of impact is extensive and would be of major significance. Thus the site must be fully excavated and recorded before any development on it could be contemplated. This would be of positive benefit to our understanding of pre Roman history and of the viticultural and agricultural practices within a Romano-British estate. It would of course be better still if the site were left undisturbed, rather than being excavated as a precursor to development.
66. For several years Bishop's Stortford has experienced simultaneous construction on many sites across the town. This has led to severe degradation of the environment on the approach roads and in the town centre itself. Although the town centre enjoys the benefit of an HGV ban, it is almost impossible to enforce on construction traffic because the multiplicity of sites means that it is difficult to tell whether a construction lorry is delivering to a site or simply taking a short cut. The problem is particularly acute along Stansted Road, London Road, Dunmow Road and at Hockerill traffic lights. This problem will be repeated if the existing school sites are redeveloped for housing, since the Herts and Essex site is within the restricted area, and construction may still be continuing at other sites in the town centre at the same time.
67. This site, like the proposed schools relocation site, is within the Green Belt. Unlike Whittington Way, however, it is in the middle of open countryside, and the sole access to it is along the narrow, winding, but heavily used B1004. Permission for this development on this Green Belt location was presumably granted originally because the Boys' High School was able to make a case of exceptional justification, based on the desire for more sports facilities than those available on its present site. The limitation on use, far from being an 'onerous' condition was imposed to ensure that an otherwise unsuitable use of the site created the minimum visual intrusion and generated the minimum amount of additional traffic.
68. The schools relocation proposal has sought to make a virtue of the quantity and quality of sports facilities to be provided at Whittington Way. If these claims had any substance, the schools should not be seeking to extend the use of Jobbers Wood, which is several miles from both their present and relocation sites. After all, the applicants criticise the current facilities at the Herts and Essex School because the Beldams Lane playing field is some 600m from the school. They should therefore be reducing or abandoning the use of the Jobbers Wood facility which is in an inconvenient location for them. It can only be accessed by car or specially arranged bus services, and cannot conveniently benefit any local community since there is no community in the immediate vicinity.
69. Moreover, if this condition restricting its use were to be relaxed as requested, it would no doubt be followed up by a further application to extend the changing facilities to make them suitable for use by both sexes at the same time, thus causing further intrusion into the Green Belt. The fact that essential sports facilities are a permitted exception to the normal protection afforded to the Green Belt would make it difficult for the Local Planning Authority to refuse such an application.
70. The request that the condition should be further relaxed to permit use by local organisations is an additional cause of concern. Firstly, as mentioned above, there is no community and therefore no organisations which are 'local' to Jobbers Wood. If what is meant are organisations local to Bishop's Stortford then they will all have to drive there to use it, causing additional traffic movements on a road where they should be avoided.
71. In summary the Jobbers Wood application should be rejected for the following reasons:
- It would lead to further intensification of use of a Green Belt site and further traffic generation on a road which is unsuited for it.
- Permission is likely to lead to a request for additional changing facilities, further intruding into the Green Belt.
- If the schools are permitted to relocate as they have applied to do, the on site sports facilities should be sufficient for their requirements and Jobbers Wood should revert back to agricultural use, since the original justification for its change of use will have disappeared.
- There are no local organisations which could benefit from the use of Jobbers Wood. Organisations based in Bishop's Stortford should make use of community facilities in the town and not be expected to travel out into the countryside to find them.
- If the schools are not permitted to relocate, the justification for relaxing this condition disappears. Moreover, if there were eventually provision of a new secondary school at Hadham Road it would allow the Rugby Club to continue to use the site outside school hours as a community facility.
CONSULTATION PROCESS AND RESULTS
72. It is worth repeating two statements in PPS 1 which are quoted in the applicants' report on the results of consultation Note 34.
'The views of local people are an integral part of the planning process and the case for the community's voice to be heard is clear.'
'Community involvement should happen at the point at which people recognise that they have the potential to make a difference.'
73. The contrast with what has actually happened over proposals which have taken many years to bring to this stage is striking. Neither school has consulted parents or other local residents about how they would like to see the schools develop, even though the project timetable, if achieved would affect all children aged 15 or less. Only one feeder school has been referred to in the stakeholder consultation – presumably because it shares a site with the Boys' High School. So prospective parents have not been consulted either.
74. The public exhibitions in 2008 were principally occasions for the schools to present their case as though the relocation and its housing consequences were settled decisions. In spite of this, a high proportion of attendees completed questionnaires and the results were strikingly at variance with those the applicants might have wished for. For example:
Q2 – does the town need more school places? 492 – yes; 112 – no.
Q3 – is relocation and expansion the best way to do it? 178 – yes; 376 – no.
Q6 – are the sites appropriate for 'much needed' housing in the area? 144 – yes; 429 – no.
75. Q4 was even more slanted than Q6. It read:
' Parental choice is a key feature of educational provision in the town. How important is it that the Boys High School and the Herts and Essex High School retain their single sex identities as part of the proposals?'
This question thus confuses the issue of parental choice with the different issue of single sex or co-education and further confuses the schools' current single sex identity with what the proposals might deliver in the future. A genuine consultation exercise would have presented the alternatives objectively and, in the words of PPS 1, at a time when people recognise they have the potential to make a difference. In spite of the applicants' best efforts to delay public involvement until the last possible moment and secure a favourable result, respondents made clear by majorities of between two and three to one that they object to these proposals. In addition, the previous applications attracted nearly 4000 signatures in petitions of objection and nearly 1000 letters of objection but only 35 letters of support.
76. Again, the use to which the applicants have put the two years since the applications were withdrawn is striking. The plans have been worked on in secret. Any information about them has been extracted only as a result of Freedom of Information Act inquiries. The Civic Federation's attempts to open a dialogue with HCC have been rebuffed. No support has been obtained for the proposals from feeder schools in the area and the other secondary schools have either offered no support or registered strong objections. And, rather than seek the views of the public on these 'fresh' proposals, the applicants have merely submitted the results of their previous consultation exercise without any further public exhibition or public participation. They have instead used tax payers' money to send a propaganda leaflet to every household in Bishop's Stortford. Their failure to engage in any further consultation with the local community could not have made their contempt for public opinion more obvious.
77. These applications
- Are incompatible with Green Belt policy
- Involve four major departures from the adopted Local Plan
- Provide no justification of exceptional educational need which cannot be met in other ways without sacrificing the Green Belt
- Have garnered no support from feeder schools and are opposed by neighbouring secondary schools
- Preclude implementation of alternative more flexible ways of accommodating different scenarios for growth in demand for school places
- Fail to provide a credible analysis of the traffic and congestion consequences of the proposed relocation
- Impose unwanted housing on the town in inappropriate locations
- Would be incapable of complying with the maximum noise limits for new schools
- Ignore the impact of the change of Government on policies relating to planning, education, housing and the use of airport capacity
- Disregard the views of local people who are supposed to be at the heart of planning decisions
They are without merit and permission should be refused.
78. I should also say that the Civic Federation will wish to address the specially arranged meeting of the Development Control Committee on 30 September 2010.
79. I am copying this letter electronically to Mark Prisk MP, Bishop's Stortford representatives on the County Council, Members of the East Herts Development Control Committee and Members of Bishop's Stortford Town Council. I am also copying this letter to the Government Office for the East of England in view of the important issues of national significance which these applications raise.JOHN RHODES
Notes to above letter Top
Note 1 See for example para 8.10 of the Educational Needs Assessment.
Note 2 HCC Outturn Report on the Initial Analysis of Secondary School Allocation, 2 March 2009
Note 3 Letter from HCC Director of Children, Schools and Families to EHDC of 2 October 2008.
Note 4 Herts and Essex Observer 2 July 2009
Note 5 Herts and Essex Observer 22 July 2010
Note 6 HCC Outturn Report on the Initial Analysis of Secondary School Allocation, 2 March 2009.
Note 7 Ibid
Note 8 Letter from Essex County Council to EHDC dated 1 September 2008
Note 9 Educational Needs Assessment para 6.4
Note 10 Boys' High School website.
Note 11 Page 9 'Relevant authorities could be challenged to reconsider inflow from Essex based feeder schools.'
Note 12 Herts and Essex Observer 4 March 2010.
Note 13 Para 4.4.19 of the LDF draft core strategy for Bishop's Stortford which has now been published for consultation anticipates that planning applications to develop the ASRs will be received within the next year.
Note 14 Design and Access Statement para 10.7.
Note 15 Supporting Planning Statement App 2
Note 16 Hadham Road Environmental Statement para 3.34.
Note 17 For example Design and Access Statement para 5.6
Note 18 Herts and Essex Observer 22 and 29 July 2010
Note 19 Supporting Planning Statement Section 14
Note 20 Bishop's Stortford Transport Strategy – para 2.4
Note 21 Mayer Brown Transport Assessment for Whittington Way para 9.19
Note 22 Op cit para 6.9
Note 23 SDG Report para 1.4
Note 24 Ibid
Note 25 Mayer Brown op cit App A Comments on general offsite highway impact
Note 26 An integrated computerised system for controlling all traffic signals so as to optimise traffic flows
Note 27 SDG Report para 4.13 Test D
Note 28 Mayer Brown op cit App A under Accessibility
Note 29 Mayer Brown op cit para 9.18
Note 30 Proof of evidence by Mr Thomsett, EHDC to the local plan EiP in response to objections from the Bishop's Stortford Civic Society para 6.25. It also appeared to ignore the town centre developments in its dwellings count).
Note 31 An unpublished draft of the final report noted 'One of the main access roads from the North is Thorley Street which has seen several accidents in recent years including one pedestrian fatality at the junction between Thorley Street and Whittington Way.' The reason for the omission of this from the published version can only be a matter of speculation. The transport assessments supporting these applications on the basis of the same data, conclude that safety is not a problem.
Note 32 For example Annex 3 para 6.25
Note 33 Supporting planning statement paras 2.10-2.12
Note 34 Statement of Public Consultation page 4
Annex 1 - The Inspector's Assessment of the Whittington Way Site Top
Extract from Report by the Inspector Following the Examination in Public of the Local Plan
East Herts Local Plan - Second Review - Inspector's Report
PART TWO – SETTLEMENT PLANNING
CHAPTER 11 - BISHOP'S STORTFORD
Pages 41 to 43D2/01365/BIS/002/O BIS24 Mr Paul Ailey
D2/03327/BIS/006/O BIS24 Mrs Angela Aldam
D2/01258/BIS/006/O BIS24 Mr Gary Victor Aldam
D2/01657/BIS/022/O BIS24 Bishop's Stortford Civic Society
D2/01851/BIS/008/O BIS24 CAUSE
D2/01851/BIS/009/O BIS24 CAUSE
D2/01851/BIS/010/O BIS24 CAUSE
D2/01851/BIS/011/O BIS24 CAUSE
D2/01851/BIS/012/O BIS24 CAUSE
D2/01852/BIS/001/O BIS24 Chantry Community Association
D2/01182/BIS/003/O 11.3.5 Mr David Hodgen
D2/01182/BIS/008/O 11.24.8 Mr David Hodgen
D2/01182/BIS/009/O BIS24 Mr David Hodgen
D2/03875/BIS/001/O 11.24.7 Ms Miranda Lee
D2/03875/BIS/002/O 11.24.8 Ms Miranda Lee
D2/03904/BIS/001/O/L BIS24 Lib Dem groups, various
D2/03873/BIS/002/O BIS24 Mr Simon Loveday
D2/02798/BIS/002/O BIS24 Maple Avenue Frontagers Association
D2/01322/BIS/002/O BIS24 Mrs Angela Marshall
D2/03528/BIS/007/O BIS24 Mr Julian Reading
D2/03528/BIS/008/O BIS24 Mr Julian Reading
D2/03528/BIS/009/O BIS24 Mr Julian Reading
D2/01191/BIS/005/O BIS24 Dr Heather E Rowley
D2/02146/BIS/005/O BIS24 Ms Katie Rowley
D2/01439/BIS/005/O BIS24 Mr Philip S B Rowley
D2/03097/BIS/007/O BIS24 Mrs J A Spooner
D2/01451/BIS/006/O BIS24 Mr R T Spooner
D2/02674/BIS/001/O BIS24 Mrs Margaret Thomson
D2/02674/BIS/002/O BIS24 Mrs Margaret Thomson
D2/02674/BIS/003/O BIS24 Mrs Margaret Thomson
D2/02674/BIS/004/O BIS24 Mrs Margaret Thomson
D2/02674/BIS/005/O BIS24 Mrs Margaret Thomson
D2/03874/BIS/003/O 11.24.7 Mr Cameron Willats
D2/03874/BIS/004/O 11.24.8 Mr Cameron Willats
a. Loss of Green Belt land.
b. Pressure for further Green Belt land take.
c. Expansion of schools detrimental to quality of education.
d. Unsustainable location for schools.
e. Traffic congestion
f. Affected by flight path
Inspector's Reasoning and Conclusions
11.48.1 The allocation of a site of nearly 15 ha on land to be removed from the Green Belt, to the south of Whittington Way, stems from a requirement for additional secondary school capacity in the town. The evidence shows that Bishop's Stortford does not have enough secondary school places now to meet a 71/2% margin for parental choice and by 2008/09 there will be no places at all. Given that a new secondary school takes about 3 years to plan and build, the matter is of urgent concern. The options for relieving the pressure on existing school places are twofold: a) building a new school, or b) incremental expansion of existing schools.
11.48.2 The evidence reveals insufficient forecast growth to justify a new secondary school of the 6 form entry (FE) size favoured by the Local Education Authority (LEA), even taking into account future housing growth in the town. Anything of a lesser FE size would not, it is argued, offer the range of curriculum nor would it be financially feasible. The second option is regarded as the optimum solution to meeting the town's current and future educational needs. For a range of reasons, including the need to maintain the balance between single sex and co-educational provision, the LEA is looking to resolve the issue through the relocation of two single-sex schools (Herts and Essex and Bishop's Stortford High Schools) to the site south of Whittington Way. In their relocated form the schools would retain their separate identities, comprise separate six FE schools with shared core facilities, with scope for future expansion to 8 FEs each.
11.48.3 It is not for me to speculate on the reasons for the academic success of the two schools. I am also not in a position to either criticise or extol the virtues of single sex education or of enlarged schools. The matter is best decided by the LEA, by parents, governors and other stakeholders. The Council in its role as planning authority has accepted that the secondary school needs of the town are best served by the solution offered by the LEA. Given the lack of other options, EHDC has come to view that the matter is sufficiently pressing to constitute the sort of exceptional circumstance that justifies a change to the Green Belt boundary. My remit is to examine the planning merits of this decision.
11.48.4 My site visits confirmed that there were limited opportunities for the existing schools to expand on their constrained sites. There are certainly advantages to the concept of the combined new campus; not least, the scope to provide new, up to date facilities and to offer opportunities for a wider curriculum which would counter the attraction of sixth form colleges in Cambridge. Wider benefits comprising sports and community facilities would also be forthcoming.
11.48.5 However, the advantages of these proposals have to be balanced against the loss of Green Belt land, and the inevitable subsequent pressure for further loss of land southwards up to the A1184, St James' Way. The extent of the schools site appears somewhat arbitrary and does not follow readily recognisable features. The defensibility and robustness of the southern boundary of the proposed site are questionable, which in turn could undermine the permanence of the Green Belt in this area.
11.48.6 There are also some doubts about the cost of relocating the two schools to the Whittington Way site, and whether the scheme can proceed without an enabling development of new houses. Once the land is removed from the Green Belt for the purpose intended under Policy BIS24, it would be difficult to resist pressure for further changes to the Green Belt, if that is necessary to ultimately finance the relocation and building of the new schools. The objection from Countryside Properties in respect of Site 574 demonstrates that there is interest in a mixed-use development on the land between Whittington Way and the A1184. The arguments for a comprehensive development with well-defined Green Belt boundaries in this location can be very persuasive, given the weakness of the proposed Green Belt boundary and the possible need for enabling development. The Hertfordshire Way traversing the school site is another argument used by objectors for promoting further land take into the Green Belt, in order to avoid its diversion and loss of the avenue of Lime trees.
11.48.7 All of which bring into question, in my view, the planning wisdom of Policy BIS24 and of the proposal to remove the site from the Green Belt. This is a long-established area of protected land, serving well-defined Green Belt functions. While not taking issue with the educational reasons for locating the two schools in this area, I do not accept that it is necessary to remove land from the Green Belt to enable the secondary school needs of the town to be met. The Green Belt designation of the site should remain; the circumstances of educational need, as well as the impact on the Green Belt, could be considered in the context of a planning application. After all, there are examples of educational establishments within the Green Belt elsewhere in the District, and the Council is able to exercise the level of control necessary in such locations. On the other hand, removal of the site from the Green Belt, to accommodate the identified need, weakens the Council's position in safeguarding the principle and permanence of the Green Belt. Other pressing needs could just as well prevail on this approach in arguing for further Green Belt releases.
11.48.8 I can see merit in both sides of the argument with regard to the sustainable credentials of the proposed location and its traffic implications. These issues, and other matters of detail, ought to be fully considered in the context of a specific planning application and I do not wish to pre-empt any future debate by pursuing the matters here.
11.48.9 My views above lead me to conclude that Policy BIS24 should be deleted. This may raise concerns about the delay in delivering additional secondary school places. However, Green Belt protection, now and for the future, are fundamental planning concerns which I feel would be compromised by this policy. It may be that the LEA could pursue other options in the short term; further extensions to the Birch Grove School was mooted as a possible short-term solution. The longer-term needs of the town could be pursued either at Whittington Way or in other locations, should other options arise.
11.48.10 Delete Policy BIS24.
11.48.11 Modify the Proposals Map by including Site 571 in the Green Belt.
Annex 2 - Report by Inspire East Top
Design Review Report for Proposed Bishop Stortford and Herts and Essex High Schools, Land Off Obrey Way, Bishop Stortford.
Review Date: 16th September 2009
Panel Members: Ben van Bruggen (Chair), Colin Black, Marilyn Taylor, David Rudlin, Martin Harradine, Ed Farrell
Brief description of the project: The scheme proposes the corelocation and development of two separate schools (Bishop Stortford Boys High and the Herts and Essex High School) onto a single greenfield site, located to the South of Bishop's Stortford, in an area that is outside of the existing settlement boundary. The site is 50 ha in area and sits within a large area of greenfield land that is being promoted for residential development.
It is proposed that the schools will function separately and retain their own identities, but there will be an element of shared facilities such as 6th Form common room, café, sports hall, swimming pool and playing fields.
Project Context: The project is at pre-application stage, prior to the submission of an outline planning application. The project had previously been submitted to planning but was withdrawn due to concerns from the LPA.
The Panel welcomes the opportunity to comment on the emerging plans for the relocation of two separate schools onto one site. We recognise that the initial proposal is at concept stage and we feel that it displays some promising elements; however, we feel that there are some concerns arising from the decision not to more closely align the aims and objectives as well as the educational programmes of the schools. We fear that this will lead to conflict in the later stages of the development and so need to be addressed before progressing.
We also feel that the early decision to develop two separate schools on the site has resulted in a level of urban design analysis being missed out. This analysis concerns how the development will respond to the adjacent neighbourhood and how it will respond, in the future, to any proposed urban extension.
There is, therefore, a question over the schemes siting within the larger greenfield site and we feel that the proposal is struggling to adequately justify its position and composition without this analysis.
Further, the Panel feel, it has not been made clear how the schools will provide a benefit to the wider community beyond the provision of two replacement schools. For example, how and when will the existing sites become redeveloped and how will the school integrate with the town on the north and currently open aspect to the south or future housing.
Strategic Site Organisation
Our understanding is that much of the expansion of the town and the demand for the local pupils will come from expansion to the north of the town. The team need to demonstrate more robustly that building on this site is sustainable and sensible rather than simply opportunistic. For example, clearly articulating the travel distances and times, creating safe and direct routes to the schools and demonstrating the potential of a wider masterplan for development to the south and east of the school site.
If, as seems likely, expansion to the south of the town is to go ahead, then the proposal has great potential to form an essential element in providing infrastructure for the new community. However, the possibility of future housing necessitates a wider view of the area to be taken and we have not been presented with any evidence to suggest that this is desirable.
We also would like to better understand how the new school site relates to the adjacent neighbourhood. We feel that a set of drawings is currently missing which would show the wider context and explains how the schools will provide a community wide benefit, such as how accessibility will be improved, linkages with existing routes, how the quality of the landscape will be improved and how the quality of life for local residents would be improved.
The Panel has the sense that the school site is being presented without the benefit of a wider masterplan. In our view, the team needs to do more to convey the desirability of the site and its design approach rather than leaving it up to the audience to fill in the rest of the masterplan. The sense that the school site is driven by the requirement to preserve as much land as possible for new housing and the expense of the best possible school came through strongly from the panel discussion. We do not feel that this is a fundamental problem but even one image of a wider masterplan would have been extremely helpful to our discussion and would have been a persuasive tool.
Given that the starting point is an open greenfield area, we feel the current ideas regarding location and siting are not yet strongly convincing or fully justified. As the project is at the early stages we do not feel that it is too late to address this.
Relationship of landscape and buildings
The location offers some great opportunities and the development has potential to make better use of a link to the green corridor, consisting of the substantial green spaces of the common, playfields and golf course immediately to the west of the site and the Hertfordshire Way which runs through the site. In fact, the Panel feel that there is merit in considering orientating the buildings towards this green corridor.
However, the current location of the buildings within the site has potential. The design shows promise in creating a strong front and presence from Obrey Way.
There is also the potential to further refine and simplify the arrival space by a reconfiguration of the approach road to help minimise traffic movements across the frontage of the building and to eliminate bus queuing in this area.
Identity and Character of Proposal
The panel is uncertain about the identity of the two schools. From a physical point, the proposal appears unclear whether it's a campus arrangement or whether it's a more traditional defensible form often associated with individual schools which feature a main building at the front of site and the playing fields located to the rear. This confusion is perhaps a result of the attempt to accommodate two separate and independent schools on to the one site rather than trying to develop a joint facility, a campus, with many more shared components.
This leads the Panel to question whether the rationale of developing two separate sex schools side by side is the correct one. We feel that the idea that the boys school looks out over the playing fields, while the girls school is inwardly focussed to a courtyard doesn't make the most of the potential of the integration or the site. The team needs to strongly convey how the structure of the schools will work, how shared facilities will be used and when. Will they maintain separate uniforms, school insignia and to what level will the administration be integrated. Is there a single identifiable client for the project, a design champion or a forum for resolving these design issues?
We feel that there are ways that the individual identity of the separate schools could be well maintained, but we feel that the offer would be greatly enhanced if it was presented in a joined up proposal rather than two separate school building projects.
Organisation of the buildings
The logic for the facilities was clearly articulated in the diagram and the design team has a good grasp of what is required. It is disappointing then that there appears to be little inter-relationship between the two school buildings. The shared space is limited to 6th form common room space, halls and gym/swimming pool and playing fields. The composition of this shared space, in a large block located between the two buildings, in our view, is a weaker component of the current plans.
Outdoor Learning / social spaces
As noted there is the possibility of the design to make a stronger link to green spaces and this would provide an opportunity for the schools to engage with the healthy living agenda and to encourage more active lifestyles for the whole community, not just students. We feel that the proposal could make more of these opportunities as it develops.
As mentioned earlier, the opportunities for social spaces where the pupils from each school can mix are not yet developed as a strong element of the plan.
Movement and Access
In terms of encouraging sustainable movement / access, we feel that the applicant should take the transport and movement strategy to a finer level of detail and consider how this informs the proposal. We would urge the design to help encourage and support a modal shift in transport and movement, beyond todays accepted standards.
To do this, we would encourage the design team to examine and identify how different journeys will be made to and from the site. By examining in detail the different end user experience, the design can respond better to the requirements of pedestrians and cyclists as a priority and help encourage non car based travel and make it an easier option.
For example, cycling can be encouraged if cyclists can easily store and access bikes close to the building they occupy - so can high quality storage facilities be brought right into the heart of the schools. Are public bus stops positioned on the road in the most convenient positions to serve the school? Can footpaths be provided that match pedestrian desire lines, such as through the greenfield land immediately to the north of the proposed car parking?
The Panel feel that the opportunity to provide the critical mass needed to make a sustainable travel and transport strategy viable should be explored further. We strongly urge the proposal to prioritise walking and cycling by design; to minimise car parking encouraging car share and public transport.
In our view, the co-location of two schools that are unable to expand on their current sites to a new purpose built facility where much can be made of efficient use of shared facilities and meet a growing need is a positive and encouraging move. However, we feel that a more compelling story is yet to evolve demonstrating that this site in particular presents the best location and that the configuration of the buildings on the site meets the site constraints, the possible future context as well as reflecting the schools identity. We feel that all this can be addressed but that at present it has not all come together to form a coherent whole.
The school design also has potential and we are pleased to see it at an early stage. The quality of the arrival could be further improved by a reconfiguration of the internal roads to provide an environment that is more pedestrian friendly and encourages and priorities cycling and walking.
More thought is required on the nature and identity of the development, whether it is to function as a campus or as two distinct buildings. The impact of future residential development on the remainder of the greenfield site should also be given thought and be considered in the design at this stage. Overall, we encourage a bolder design that relates to each of the four sides of the site more positively. e.g. the existing neighbourhood to the north, the open space to the west and south and the possible urban extension to the east.
We are not yet convinced that an approach that has two separate schools located next to each other, separated by limited shared facilities, is the correct approach here. A clearer understanding of the functioning and hierarchy of the organisation of the two schools is needed. Will there be one or two Heads, how will the Governing bodies inter-relate when it comes to shared facilities and decision? While this has been considered to get the project this far we feel it needs to be demonstrated how this will impact in the scheme design.
We have little doubt that the internal spaces of the buildings can be worked up and we would encourage the buildings to achieve the highest levels of sustainable design and construction.
We recognise that this is a complex and challenging project but that ultimately a clear concept and robust strategy will serve the project well as it moves forward.
We are happy to review this scheme again.
Annex 3 - Applicants' Assessment of the Hadham Road Site Top
APPRAISAL OF ALTERNATIVE SITE OPTIONS RP/4663/APRIL 2010 PAGE NO. 21
6.0 SITE 3 – LAND AT HADHAM ROAD SITE LOCATION
6.1 The site is located within the western part of Bishop's Stortford, to the south of the A1250 Hadham Road.
6.2 An aerial photograph of the site is contained at Plan 4.
6.3 The site has a total site area of some 8.91 hectares.Site ownership
6.4 The site is owned by Hertfordshire County Council, having been purchased and held for a number of years as a Reserve Secondary School Site.
6.5 The site comprises 3 main elements
- An arable agricultural field in the northern part of the site which is on a short-term licence to a local farmer. (4.52 hectares).
- A playing field area, until recently used under licence by Bishop's Stortford Rugby Club, in the western part of the site (2.31 hectares).
- An area of woodland in the southern part of the site (2.08 hectares).
Topography, drainage and vegetation
6.6 The site falls gently from both north to south. There are no watercourses within the site.
6.7 Mature hedgerows exist around the northern, western and eastern boundaries of the site and between the agricultural field and playing field area. The woodland area in the southern part of the site comprises in the main a regenerated orchard.
6.8 The existing field access to the site is from Hadham Road, in the north-western corner of the site.
Rights of way
6.9 No public rights of way run through the site.
6.10 The site is adjoined to the west and east by residential development and to the south by Bishop's Footpath 17 beyond which are the playing fields of Bishop's Stortford College.
6.11 To the north-east of the site is the Bishop's Stortford Fire & Rescue Station whilst to the north of the site, beyond Hadham Road, lie the playing fields of Bishop's Stortford Rugby Club.
PLANNING POLICY CONTEXT
6.12 On the Proposals Map of the East Hertfordshire District Plan Second Review (adopted April 2007), the majority of the site (including the northern part of the woodland area) is identified for residential development (approximately 250 dwellings).
6.13 Policy BIS7 of the plan states, however, that the site will only be released for residential development if sufficient secondary school capacity is provided elsewhere in the town.
6.14 The site is owned by the County Council and has previously been identified for possible use as a secondary school site.
6.15 The site is not in the Green Belt.
6.16 The site would be physically large enough to accommodate a 6 FE school. Appendix 5 contains a feasibility layout for a 6FE school, prepared by Hawkins Brown.
6.17 The topography of the site would appear to be suitable for use for a secondary school.
6.18 The site is well hidden from long views by the adjacent housing areas and woodland.
6.19 The A1250 Hadham Road is an existing public transport route.
6.20 The site is well located relative to the proposed housing areas in the ASR's / Special Countryside Area (where some 2,728 additional dwellings are proposed) and to the existing Bishop's Stortford urban area, enabling the use of sustainable modes of transport (walk, cycle, bus).
6.21 The site is well away from the Stansted Airport flight path.
6.22 An Environmental Impact Assessment carried out in connection with previous residential development proposals has defined no other overriding environmental constraints to development.
6.23 Technical studies carried out in connection with previous residential development proposals have ascertained that
- The site's existing vehicular access from Hadham Road via Patmore Close has sufficient capacity to cater for at least 250 dwellings. As such, it should be more than capable of accommodating a 6 FE school.
- The site has existing foul and surface water drainage connections put in some while ago to serve a future secondary school use on the site.
- If these connections prove to be insufficient, there are a number of alternative drainage solutions available.
- All other services (water, gas, electricity, telecom) are available in adjacent roads and are capable of being extended / enhanced to serve a development on the site.
6.24 The site would not be large enough for an 8 FE school without detached playing fields.
6.25 The use of the site for educational purposes would prevent its development for residential purposes, thereby requiring a replacement site for 250 dwellings to be found which could have Green Belt implications.
6.26 Sport England may require community use of the school's playing field area in order to mitigate against the loss of the existing resource.