Proposed medical centre at Silver Leys

Second letter from BSCF to Development Control, East Herts District Council

The BSCF outlines its concerns about the proposed medical centre at Silver Leys with regard to the National Planning Policy Framework.

Martin Plummer
Development Control
East Herts Council
Wallfields
Pegs Lane
Hertford SG13 8EQ
15 May 2012

Your Ref: 3/12/0448/FP LAND AT SILVER LEYS, HADHAM ROAD, BISHOP'S STORTFORD, PROPOSED MEDICAL CENTRE

Further to my letter of 3 May, I understand that the applicability of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to this application was discussed at a meeting of the Town Council’s Planning committee on 8 May. It was reported that, in the light of the NPPF, EHDC’s planning officers felt that it was ambiguous as to whether the sequential development test was applicable to this application. This was apparently based on the question of whether the glossary of main town centre uses which includes health and fitness centres could be regarded as encompassing the South Street surgery.

BSCF believe that the sequential development test is applicable and that there are other passages in the NPPF which support our contention. They are as follows:

  1. Para 214 of the NPPF says that from 12 months from the day of publication decision takers may continue to give full weight to relevant policies adopted since 2004 even if there is a limited degree of conflict with the NPPF. In the case of saved policy SD1 and supporting text in the local plan adopted in 2007, it is clear that it is EHDC policy to prefer development of land in urban areas, particularly town centres and brownfield sites in preference to greenfield sites. EHDC are therefore entitled to give full weight to this policy.
  2. We do not in any case believe that that this would be in conflict with the NPPF. One of the core planning principles listed in para 17 of the document is to encourage the use of land by reusing land that has been previously developed (brownfield land), provided that it is not of high environmental value.
  3. Section 2 of the NPPF addresses the vitality of town centres. This includes (in para 23) allocating a range of suitable sites to meet the scale and type of retail, leisure, commercial, office, tourism, cultural, community and residential development needed in the town centre. We believe that a medical centre is an essential community use for a town centre a belief which seems to be borne out policy LRC 11 and supporting text which specifically refers to health care facilities being in town centres. The fact that the glossary refers only to health and fitness centres does not exclude this as a suitable town centre use.
  4. The first aim of Section 2 of the NPPF is to recognise town centres as the heart of their communities and pursue policies to support their viability and vitality. A medical centre contributes to that aim by bringing to its environs a regular flow of users who may then combine their medical visit with other activities such as shopping, or a visit to the local post office or local chemist.

I understand that the developers have also questioned the viability of any town centre site for a surgery. The application gives no indication of the alternative sites considered or the reasons for rejecting them. Nor does it indicate what scale of provision was being sought. We suspect that, in order to reject town centre options, the developers suggested locating all the facilities of the practice on one site, even though, as we have argued, this is not necessary and would be positively detrimental to the interests of patients. While the costs of different alternatives is clearly a consideration, it is not the only one. If, as in this case, the option which appears cheapest simply has the effect of externalising the costs of access on to patients and tax payers, it simply becomes an example of the NHS saving money at our expense, rather than a genuinely viable scheme. The finest medical centre available will become a white elephant if patients cannot get to it.

We have separate concerns regarding the role and powers of the Silver Leys Trust (and its Trustees) which we will raise under separate cover.

The Civic Federation would like to address the Development Control Committee when a date is fixed for this application to be heard.

I am copying this letter to James Parker, Chief Executive of Bishop's Stortford Town Council

David Fitzpatrick
Chair, Bishop's Stortford Civic Federation