Warwick Road Maintenance Association - Objections to Proposed Redevelopment of Herts and Essex School New!

Letter to Development Control at East Herts District Council

Case Officer
Development Control
East Herts Council
Wallfields, Pegs Lane
Hertford
SG13 8EQ
19 August 2010

REDEVELOPMENT OF HERTS AND ESSEX SCHOOL, WARWICK ROAD, BISHOP'S STORTFORD

Your Ref: Herts and Essex 3/10/1015/OP

1. As Chair of the Warwick Road Maintenance Association I am writing on behalf of the Association to object to this planning application to redevelop the site of the present Herts and Essex School for Girls for 125 houses and associated infrastructure with main access from Warwick Road. We note that a previous application on similar terms was submitted and withdrawn in 2008.

2. In summary, our objections are:

a) The site is not zoned for housing under the Local Development Plan adopted by EHDC in April 2007.
b) The wish of the schools to finance their moves by selling their existing sites for housing is not a relevant planning consideration
c) The proposal would represent a gross over-development of the site and would be incompatible in particular with policy ENV 1 in the adopted Local Plan.
d) The proposed main access route to the site would be illegal.
e) The proposed main access route would be unsafe and unsuitable
f) Increased parking in Warwick Road.
g) Building an access road into Warwick Road would be an act of trespass.
h) The maintenance consequences for Warwick Road residents would be unacceptable.

These objections, and others, are described more fully below.

3. Warwick Road is a private road maintained by its residents. The Maintenance Association was founded some ninety years ago with the main objective of maintaining the road and its amenities. Its constitution is set out in Annex 1 to this letter.

4. The Association holds an Annual General Meeting which is well attended: residents take a keen interest in the condition of the road and its amenities. The views of residents about the proposed redevelopment were obtained at an Extraordinary General Meeting of the Association in June 2010. The overwhelming majority of those present, as well as a number of residents who were unable to attend the meeting, continue to oppose the proposals. As the school’s proposed relocation has led to this application and, if it were successful, would lead to its departure from the Road, the Committee of the Association did not consider it appropriate to invite the views of the school on our response contained in this letter. At no time has the school consulted the Association, as such, on its proposals. The public consultation described in the application is dated June 2008 and has not been up-dated since the previous application.

Local Planning Framework

a) The site is not zoned for housing under the Local Development Plan adopted by EHDC in April 2007.

5. As a preliminary step to re-locating the Herts and Essex School for Girls, attempts were made by the developers and by the local education authority, Herts County Council, to remove the proposed relocation site in Whittington Way from Green Belt protection at the final stage before the Examination in Public and adoption of the Local Plan, and to re-designate it as suitable for educational use. They could at the same time have proposed the re-designation of the existing schools sites as ones suitable for housing, but did not do so. There was therefore no opportunity for the public to debate the merits of the proposed use of the existing schools sites for housing at the Examination in Public into the Local Plan, and the Inspector concluded anyway that Green Belt protection should not be removed from Whittington Way. (East Herts Local Plan Second Review Inspector’s report 11.48.1-11.48.11) Use of the schools sites for housing, in this case the Herts and Essex School, would therefore be a major departure from the Local Plan which in itself is a sufficient ground for refusal. The suitability of the site for housing has not been properly assessed or subjected to critical public scrutiny.

b) The wish of the schools to finance their moves by selling their existing sites for housing is not a relevant planning consideration.

6. The developer’s application states that:

‘The school on the Warwick Road site is severely constrained by its size and location and can no longer provide and maintain adequate and efficient teaching spaces to current standards. There is also an urgent requirement for additional secondary school capacity in Bishop’s Stortford. Therefore it has been decided to re-locate and expand the school to a new site with modern facilities that will benefit local children and the community.’ (Design and Access Statement (DAS) para 4.0)

7. The Herts and Essex School is achieving high standards in current conditions. In 2009, it achieved an ‘outstanding‘ report from Ofsted. Its existing facilities are therefore no hindrance to its excellent performance as a school and should not be used as a justification for moving. If it chooses to do so, it should not expect the community away from which it is moving effectively to subsidise the transfer by acquiescing in an inappropriate use of publicly owned assets. The funding of such a move is not relevant to a consideration of the planning merits of the proposal. The application must be considered on its own merits as a planning application.

c) The proposal would represent a gross over-development of the site and would be incompatible in particular with policy ENV 1 in the adopted Local Plan.

8. Policy ENV 1 requires development proposals inter alia to demonstrate compatibility with the structure and layout of the surrounding area, as well as effective connection with existing routes and spaces; complement the existing pattern of street blocks, plots and buildings (the grain of development); respect the amenity of occupiers of neighbouring buildings; and consider the impact of any loss of open land on the character and appearance of the locality. The proposals meet none of these requirements. Warwick Road and the surrounding area is characterised by single dwellings (with two exceptions) on large plots with large gardens. The exceptions are a semi-detached early 20th century house, converted into flats, and a small purpose built block of flats, both also on large plots. Until prevented by the Inspector’s conclusions on the Local Plan, EHDC proposed to create an environmental zone for Warwick Road and adjoining roads, with a presumption against more intensive development in gardens. EHDC was assured by the Inspector that it could achieve the same result through applying policy ENV 1. EDHC should therefore apply those criteria set out above to this proposal. If it does so, the proposed development would fail to meet the criteria.

9. The proposed density of the proposed development (up to 50 dwellings per hectare – DAS para 5.1) is quite out of keeping with the rest of the Warwick Road area. The application states that site density in Warwick Road is 9 dwellings per ha. Equivalent figures for other roads in the area are, Pine Grove, 5, Grange Road, 18, Dunmow Road, 30 – 35, and Urban Road, around 30 (DAS para 2.5). Moreover, some 80% of the development is intended to be three storeys in height whereas the prevailing height of property in Warwick Road is two storeys. Development at this level of density will adversely affect the amenity of occupiers of adjoining buildings.

10. The proposals fail to reflect existing patterns of access by routing virtually all the traffic generated into Warwick Road.

11. This type of development is analogous to back garden development which ENV 1 was designed to prevent. The current Government has announced a ban on “back garden” development which this proposal would flout. Moreover, the Government has also abolished regional housing targets and minimum densities for residential development. The proposals are therefore completely at variance with national and local planning and housing policies.

Access and Traffic Issues

d) The proposed main access route to the site would be illegal.

12.The application indicates that Hertfordshire Highways require only limited access from Dunmow Road and Grange Road. The application states

‘Following early advice from Hertfordshire County Council Highways Department ,it was agreed that only limited vehicular access from Grange Road and Dunmow road would be acceptable.’

The DAS (para 5.14) states

‘The primary vehicular access point into the site is located along Warwick Road and will serve around 81% of the development.’

Warwick Road is a private road. It is not a highway over which public vehicular rights of access exist. Hertfordshire Highways therefore has no legal basis for proposing a requirement which would have the effect of opening Warwick Road to public vehicular traffic. Since the previous application, WRMA has taken Counsel’s opinion on the status of Warwick Road. This confirms that Warwick Road is a private road and not a highway. We have provided Hertfordshire Highways with a copy of this opinion. The legal position is that if Hertfordshire Highways claim Warwick Road is a highway it must provide the evidence for such a claim. It has not done so. By contrast, WRMA has evidence that Warwick Road has been a private road since it was laid out in the nineteenth century. The residents strongly oppose this illegal attempt to turn the road into a highway without any cost to Hertfordshire County Council. Section 6 of the application form is therefore incorrect. By proposing access onto a private road, rights of public vehicular access would be created where none previously existed.

e) The proposed main access route is unsafe and unsuitable

13. The junction between Warwick Road and London Road is particularly dangerous. The sight lines are very poor and the heavily used pelican crossing over London Road to the station is an extra safety hazard both for users and drivers trying to enter London Road. Although the School generates traffic, the demand is predictable, being at opening and closing times and only during term time. There is little traffic generation at other times of day or year. A large residential development by contrast will generate significant traffic at all times of day and year, as has been found with the Herts and Essex Hospital site. Concentrating access from the site on to Warwick Road will lead to unacceptable traffic generation in the road and unsafe access on to the public highway network.

14. Any access by construction traffic for any development of the site would have to be from Dunmow Road, because the substructure of Warwick Road could not support the weight of such traffic and the environs would be quite unsuitable for a constant procession of HGVs. Since the site while under construction will generate more traffic than the site when completed, it would be equally appropriate to insist that the main access for any completed development should also be from Dunmow Road. If the highway network cannot absorb the whole of the traffic emerging onto Dunmow Road when the development is complete, it clearly cannot absorb the traffic which building it would generate, and the site should not be considered for redevelopment (if otherwise approved) until such time as effective traffic management systems are in place which would enable Dunmow Road to be the main permanent access point.

15. The transport assessment (carried out in 2008), by concentrating only on two weekday peak hours, gives no information about total traffic movements over the course of a full day and full year, which are likely in aggregate to be greater than those generated by the School. The proposed mitigation measures are wholly inadequate. No new transport assessment has been carried out.

16. Warwick Road is also an important pedestrian route used daily in term time by hundreds of schoolchildren from Birchwood School and the Herts and Essex School for access to the town and railway station, by pedestrians for access to the Herts and Essex Community Hospital, and by the general public. Any increase in traffic would reduce its value as a safe route.

f) Increased Parking in Warwick Road

17. The application states:

“Most of the properties have a lot of on-plot parking space meaning very few cars are parked on the road.” (DAS para 2.6)

There is no basis for this statement and evidence to the contrary. Warwick Road is being increasingly used by non-residents for weekend and commuter car parking during the week. We have expressed our concerns to Herts Highways and requested a survey of the road as a preliminary to taking action to reduce the parking problem. Cars are parked on both sides of Warwick Road from the junction with Pine Grove to London road. (See photograph at Annex 2 taken on a Saturday at the time of the previous application for comparison with Photo 2 in the DAS) The western end of the road is frequently reduced from 10 am onwards during the week to a single lane with passing places. Herts Highways has refused to carry out a parking survey on the grounds of cost and lack of resources. In further correspondence, Herts Highways has suggested that the residents would be required to meet the costs of the necessary survey and advertisements to enable, for example, changes to be made to waiting times which would help to reduce parking pressures. An average car parking allowance of only 1.5 spaces per dwelling proposed for the new development, will lead to further parking in Warwick Road even if there is no vehicular access from the road. This parking is likely to focus on the junction with Pine Grove (opposite the school entrance) which would be dangerous for traffic movement.

g) Building an access road into Warwick Road would be an act of trespass

18. The application states:

”Physically, access is possible from Wllton Close, however there is land between Wilton Close which is outside the applicant’s ownership and can therefore not be utilised within the proposal’ (DAS para 4.2)

As stated elsewhere, Warwick Road is private road maintained at the expense of the residents. The residents pay a levy to maintain the footpaths and the road surface and the Association carries a regular programme of road repair and re-surfacing. The boundaries of the development site do not extend over the footpath outside the school. The footpath is therefore outside the school’s ownership. The existing easements for use as a school do not cover the proposed development as a housing estate. The applicants’ conclusion that Wilton Close is unavailable for access to the site applies with equal force to Warwick Road.

h) The maintenance consequences for Warwick Road residents would be unacceptable.

19. Warwick Road is a private road over which residents with a frontage on to the road have a right of access to and from their properties. This includes the school. The road is maintained at the expense of residents by means of a levy paid to the WRMA. The WRMA is a voluntary Association set up to arrange, through its Committee, for the maintenance of the road. The School makes a contribution to the levy which reflects the use of the road which it enjoys.

20. If its site is redeveloped as proposed, WRMA may be able to persuade new residents whose property has a frontage on to the road to contribute to the levy, though this cannot be guaranteed since the arrangement is voluntary. But the WRMA would have no call on other residents of the development who relied on the road to gain access to their homes but had no frontage on to the road. The WRMA would thus be faced with the cost such traffic would generate without having the ability to raise the funds from those users to keep the road in good repair. It is contrary to natural justice for the Highways authority to seek to impose a requirement which will fall as a substantial cost on residents and not the public. This adds weight to the unsuitability of the access arrangements addressed at d) – h) above.

Other road matters

i) Drainage

21. While public utilities (water, gas and electricity) supplied to Warwick Road are the responsibility of the utility companies, the residents are responsible for stormwater drains. Stormwater drainage issues are not covered in detail in the planning application. The application notes that surface run off and foul water from the school drains to public foul water sewers in Warwick Road and Grange Road. New development is not permitted to use combined foul water and stormwater sewers. The association would oppose any attempt by the developers to use stormwater drains in the road to dispose of run-off from the proposed new development.

Application for extended period of planning approval should be refused.

22. The developers seek to extend the period of planning approval from the usual three years to five (Application letter dated 25 May 2010). The Association strongly opposes this on the grounds that such an extension would cause unacceptable uncertainty and property blight for the significant number of residents affected.

Conditions

23. The Association will wish to write separately on a ‘without prejudice’ basis about conditions that should be imposed if, notwithstanding residents' objections, the planning authority is minded to give consent.

Right to address the Planning Committee.

24. In view of its concerns about the impact of this proposal on Warwick Road and its residents, The Association requests the right to address the Development and Control Committee at its meeting on 30th September 2010

25. I am copying this letter to Mark Prisk, M.P., to the Town Clerk with a request that it be circulated to all members of the Town Council, and to the Chair of the Bishop's Stortford Civic Federation, Mr Richard Hannah.

Yours sincerely

Mrs Marie Rhodes
Chair


Annex 1 - Warwick Road Maintenance Association - Constitution  Top 

OBJECTS The objects of the Association shall be the repair and maintenance of the carriageway and footpaths and verges of Warwick Road, Bishop’s Stortford, Herts and of the gates and fences at the eastern end of Warwick Road and the cultivation and replacement of the trees planted from time to time on the footpaths and any other activity intended to maintain or enhance the amenities of Warwick Road.

MEMBERSHIP Membership of the Association shall be limited to: -

(i) the adult residents of each house and flat having either a frontage onto or main access from Warwick Road

(ii) the Governing body of the Hertfordshire and Essex High School represented by the Head Teacher and one Governor

(iii) one representative from the garage at the eastern end of Warwick Road

(iv) one representative from the Herts and Essex Hospital

There are at present 87 dwellings in Warwick Road including two small blocks of flats. Membership of Herts and Essex Hospital has effectively ceased since it no longer has any property adjoining Warwick Road.


Annex 2 - Photograph of Warwick Road taken on a Saturday  Top 

Warwick Road on a Saturday