BSCF's comments on Vincent and Gorbing's response to request for comments in the context of the new National Planning Policy Framework

Letter to the Department of Communities and Local Government

Vincent and Gorbing, a firm of architects and town planners, have written on behalf of the appellants

Christine Symes
Department of Communities and Local Government
Eland House, Zone 1/H1
Bressenden Place
London SW1E 5DU
15 May 2012

TOWN AND COUNTRY PLANNING ACT 1990 – SECTION 78

APPEALS BY THE GOVERNORS OF THE BISHOP'S STORTFORD HIGH SCHOOL, THE HERTFORDSHIRE & ESSEX HIGH SCHOOL AND SCIENCE COLLEGE, HERTFORDSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL AND COUNTRYSIDE PROPERTIES PLC

LAND AT WHITTINGTON WAY, BISHOP'S STORTFORD, HERTS;
LAND AT JOBBERS WOOD, GREAT HADHAM ROAD, BISHOP'S STORTFORD, HERTS;
LAND TO THE SOUTH OF HADHAM ROAD, BISHOP'S STORTFORD, HERTS;
THE BISHOP'S STORTFORD HIGH SCHOOL FOR BOYS, LONDON ROAD, BISHOP'S STORTFORD, HERTS;
THE HERTFORDSHIRE & ESSEX HIGH SCHOOL FOR GIRLS, WARWICK ROAD, BISHOP'S STORTFORD, HERTS, CM23 5NJ;
BELDAMS LANE SPORTS PITCHES, BELDAMS LANE, BISHOP'S STORTFORD, HERTS.

Your Refs: APP/J1915/A/11/2149483
APP/J1915/A/11/2149492
APP/J1915/A/11/2149488
APP/J1915/A/11/2149401
APP/J1914/A/11/2149392
APP/J1915/A/11/2149392

I am writing on behalf of the Bishop's Stortford Civic Federation in response to your letter of 8 May with which you circulated the comments of interested parties about the relevance of the Government's new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). Our response addresses the comments made on this subject by Messrs Vincent and Gorbing on behalf of the appellants and follows the order of their comments.

The appellants highlight (para 2.5) the fact that at the heart of the NPPF is a presumption in favour of sustainable development, which should be seen as a golden thread running through both plan making and decision taking. However, rather than looking at the definition of 'sustainable development' which was introduced into the final version of the NPPF they have simply concentrated on the 'development' part of the term. The NPPF defines 'sustainable' as meaning

'ensuring that better lives for ourselves don't mean worse lives for future generations' (Ministerial Foreword)

In the view of BSCF, the proposals, if permitted would severely erode the quality of the lives of future generations while delivering no practical benefit to the present generation. The proposals do not protect the Green Belt and countryside; do not encourage the re-use of existing resources; do not encourage the use of brownfield land; do not conserve heritage assets and do not encourage fullest use of sustainable forms of transport.

Building on the Green Belt at Whittington Way would extend the urban boundary of Bishop's Stortford at the expense of a valued area of countryside. Three of the sites proposed for development have never been built upon, and the two at which the schools are now located have large expanses of undeveloped playing fields. All but one of the school buildings would be demolished rather than re-used. The best site ever found around Bishop's Stortford and defined as being of regional, possibly even national archaeological importance would be destroyed by development at Whittington Way. The proposals are likely to lead to less use of sustainable forms of transport than the schools in their current locations. The demands on water supply for construction on all the sites and for use in unplanned housing will add further to the problems of water shortage in our area. The appellants' comments address none of these aspects of loss which the proposals would inflict on future generations and which would be irreversible if the proposed developments were permitted.

In paras 2.5 to 2.13 of their response, the appellants claim that extra weight should be given to the supposed educational arguments because para 72 has been added to the NPPF, while the policy position on the Green Belt remains unchanged. However, the evidence presented at the inquiry showed that there was no demand for secondary school places in Bishop's Stortford which could not be met less disruptively in other ways; that the forecasts had an inbuilt logic which led to increased demand from outside the education planning area, regardless of what was happening in real life; that the increment of 45 places proposed was wholly disproportionate to the loss of Green Belt and other harm which would result, putting the rest of the site at risk of development; that the scheme would foreclose other options which could widen parental choice for secondary school places; and that there were no very special circumstances which would justify setting aside long established Green Belt policy which, in substance, remains unchanged. The appellants have consistently and over a long period of time, failed to overcome the fundamental planning objections to the proposals highlighted at the examination in public of the local plan before its adoption in 2007, and subsequently through the decisions of the local planning authority.

In their section dealing with housing policies (paras 2.15 – 2.27) the appellants argue, as they did at the public inquiry, that East Herts Council has not provided a five year forward supply of housing land. In making this claim, they are relying on the now discredited (though not yet replaced) housing target for the district set out in the regional plan. They have also entirely ignored the fact that, whatever the new target turns out to be for the district as a whole, the sites already identified are overwhelmingly in Bishop's Stortford and that no case has been made for the addition of further windfall sites here rather than in other parts of the district for which virtually no sites have been identified. They also appear to be confusing the availability of sites, which are plentiful in Bishop's Stortford, with the rate of completions, which has slowed to a trickle. Any failure to provide market and affordable housing (para 2.23) lies with commercial property developers failing to exploit the sites which are already available, not with a lack of sites in Bishop's Stortford.

The supposed economic benefits referred to in para 2.24 are likely to be considerably outweighed by the relocation of the two schools to the periphery of the town where pupils will be less likely to be able to access them on foot or by public transport. As for the proposed new housing, being close to the railway station, it is likely to be a magnet for commuters – not local employees in a town with a poor record of job creation.

We can only assume that the suggestion in para 2.25 that the housing proposals fulfil an environmental role is a conscious piece of irony. The appeal proposals are on predominantly greenfield land (not brownfield) and the appellants' notion of retaining open space is to build over it. Far from reducing pressure to release greenfield land for housing, the appellants – Countryside Properties – have now announced plans to build on one of the so called Areas of Special Restraint on undeveloped land to the north of the town. Their environmental claim cannot be taken seriously.

9. In para 3.1, the appellants note that the statement 'Planning for Schools Development' has not been cancelled by the NPPF. We do not agree this adds any weight to their arguments. As East Herts Council have pointed out, this was discussed thoroughly at the public inquiry and leaves the appellants where they were at the end of it – having failed to demonstrate any very special circumstances to justify overriding Green Belt protection.

10. Our overall conclusion therefore remains that the NPPF adds weight to the arguments for refusing these appeals.

JOHN RHODES


Letter from Vincent and Gorbing acting on behalf of the appellants in response to the Department of Communities and Local Government request for comments on the Inspector's Report on the proposed superschool plans  Top 

Reply from East Herts District Council Reply from East Herts District Council