BSCF's response to Herts County Council's comments on BSCF letter of 23 November 2014 relating to planning application for new school and playing fields in Bishop's Stortford North

BSCF Letter of 23 November 2014

Mr Chay Dempster
Spatial Planning and Economy Unit
CHN216, County Hall
Hertford
Herts
SG13 8DN
25 January 2015

6FE SECONDARY SCHOOL A120 BISHOP'S STORTFORD NORTH
YOUR REF: SLUP/CC0774

1. Thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to respond to the comments made by the County Council (referred to as HCC in this letter) on the objections we raised to this application in our letter on 23 November 2014. HCC’s response confirms that our objections are soundly based and also discloses another contradiction, implicit in the proposals, of which we were previously unaware. I would like to re-iterate that we support the principle of providing a new school to meet the demand for secondary school places which the BSN development can be expected to generate. But we do not believe that this application and the parallel application for housing at Patmore Close are fit for purpose. If they are not withdrawn for further work, permission should be refused.

2. The references quoted in this letter are to the HCC comments on our objections and to the appendices to that commentary.

Summary

3. The detail of our response is set out in the remainder of this letter. In summary, the main points are as follows:

HCC has underestimated forecast demand for secondary school places

4. BSCF are pleased that HCC have confirmed that the metric used for forecasting demand is 1 FE per 500 dwellings though the rationale for doubling it from the one used at the Bishop's Stortford schools relocation public inquiry remains unclear.

5. We remain of the view that HCC have underestimated the demand generated by the district plan preferred options consultation. The dwelling numbers in the EPA on which HCC have relied are reported as being 4602 – 4852 giving rise to a demand of 5 – 9 FE. However, the combined total of dwellings for Bishop's Stortford and Sawbridgeworth in the summary of the consultation document is 5196, giving rise to a demand of 10 FE.

6. There are two possible explanations for the range and the discrepancy. Firstly, HCC are taking credit for a possible reduction in the dwelling total which might arise if secondary school provision were to be made on another development site in addition to BSN (as implied in policy BISH1). This would certainly account for the lower of the dwelling totals in HCC’s range. However, since HCC claim that a 6 FE school on BSN combined with limited expansion of existing schools would be sufficient to meet the demand implied by the plan, it is clear that the higher dwelling total is the one which should be used for forecasting the demand for school places, since in their view, there would be no need to release another site.

7. The second likely explanation for even the higher total being too small a number is that HCC have overlooked the provision of the windfall allowance set out in policy DPS3, which amounts to 1200 dwellings across the district by 2031. This has not been distributed to settlements in the detailed plan chapters but we assume that the exercise has been carried out for the summary document to arrive at the total of 5196 dwellings in Bishop's Stortford and Sawbridgeworth. It is clear therefore that the baseline demand figure on which HCC should be planning is a demand of 10 FE.

The County Council have made the unrealistic assumption that there will be no increase in cross area flows

8. At the schools relocation public inquiry in 2011 HCC gave a detailed explanation of how they calculated forecast cross area flows which, at that time, constituted the main element of their forecast of unmet demand. It would appear from the wording of this response that HCC are still using this method of forecasting. It was, however, criticised by the Inspector in his report in the following terms

‘646. The County Council uses a weighted method of predicting the future cross-area flows, based on the differences between the numbers of pupils in Year 6 and the subsequent number in Year 7, using information over the previous 3 year period to obtain a factor to apply to the Year 6 pupil total. However, as this method of calculation has only been introduced relatively recently it is not possible to say, with any certainty, how accurate it will prove to be. ‘647. Moreover, it is not easy to see why there should be a relationship between Year 6 numbers and this cross-area flow which, as the BSCF says, is likely to be affected by a wide range of factors. These include such matters as new housing developments outside the EPA, the admissions policies of schools within and outside the EPA; and the perceived success of the schools in the locality, including secondary schools in Essex.’

9. If, as we infer, HCC are still using this formula to forecast cross area flows, it seems from the rest of their response under this heading that they are also ignoring the results. We say this because the Year 6 JMI pupils within the EPA is used as a baseline figure which is then grossed up by the weighted average of past cross area flows to arrive at a prediction for future years. So, as a matter of simple arithmetic, the formula will predict an increase in cross area flows when the number of Year 6 pupils within the EPA increases, as it will do with development of BSN. However, HCC appear to be relying upon there being no increase at all in the numerical total of the cross area flow when they argue that the extra provision of places needed falls within the range of 5 – 9 FE.

10. Such flows will emanate from two sources – cross border flows from out of county areas and flows from other parts within the county or elsewhere beyond the boundaries of the EPA. We have referred to the net inflow from Essex (which we assume is the home of the great majority of the out of county flow) simply as a proxy for the total because it is a readily available published figure, but HCC will of course have all the information itself about the origins of the sources of demand. In looking at prospective growth, the two sources should be looked at separately.

11. In the case of Essex, the Inspector at the Examination in Public has instructed Uttlesford to withdraw its draft district plan and start again for two reasons. Firstly, he concluded that a major housing development in Elsenham was incapable of being supported by the infrastructure – removal of this might reduce potential demand on places at Bishop's Stortford schools. Secondly he concluded that the overall housing provision needed to be increased by 10%. Depending on location, this might increase the demand for places at Bishop's Stortford schools. In the meantime any planning applications have to be considered only in the context of the NPPF and this might well lead to further housing in areas adjacent to Bishop's Stortford without any compensating provision of extra school places in Essex. HCC’s statement that they are making no plans to meet demand arising from additional housing in Essex is frankly imprudent.

12. Secondly EHDC’s draft district plan contemplates a major settlement north of Harlow and within the East Herts district boundary. In the long term, school places, both primary and secondary, might be expected to be provided on site. However, in the initial stages of development, ie during most of the plan period up to 2031 when up to 3000 dwellings are to be provided, it is likely that residents of the new settlement will have to send their children to existing secondary schools, either in Harlow or to schools within the EPA, since these will be closest to the new housing. Since the new development will be in Hertfordshire, Essex County Council will be under no obligation to secure extra school places in Harlow, and given the comparative reputations of schools within the two authorities, we think it highly likely that parents will initially prefer to send their children to schools within the EPA.

13. For HCC’s assumption that no increase in cross area flows above today’s level will materialise, it is also necessary to assume that the new school at BSN will take no pupils from outside the EPA and that any additional places provided at existing schools will also be filled exclusively by pupils from within the EPA. Merely stating the assumption, which is contrary to all past experience, highlights how implausible it is. The planning authority should attach no weight to it.

14. As HCC acknowledge, each school is its own admissions authority, and this will apply equally to the BSN school as well. The Boys High School has altered its admissions policy several times in recent years and all the other schools are similarly free to do so, provided that the changes are non discriminatory. Whatever the ostensible purpose of changes to admissions policies, one effect may be to alter the level of demand for places from outside the EPA. Regardless of anything which HCC may seek in terms of admissions policies from the BSN school, the primary duty of its governors will be to serve the interests of that school itself, not to meet the statutory obligations of HCC. Moreover, among the existing schools within the EPA, HCC have identified Leventhorpe as the site with the greatest potential for expansion . It is also the school in the EPA which has the highest intake of out of county pupils, both in numbers and as a percentage (over 40%) of admissions (though the Boys High School comes a close second). Given its location (close to both Essex and Harlow North) it is reasonable to assume that cross area flows will absorb a significant amount of any extra capacity provided at Leventhorpe.

15. We therefore remain of the view that the only prudent assumption to make is that cross area flows will absorb a proportion of the additional capacity to be provided within the EPA similar to the current percentage. So, if an additional 9 FE (as recognised by HCC) or 10 FE (as we argue) of capacity will need to be provided as a result of new housing within the EPA, 3 FE out of the total is likely to be taken by cross area flows from outside the EPA, displacing pupils within the EPA who will have to look elsewhere for secondary education. HCC should therefore be planning to meet a total demand of 13 FE.

The County Council appears to have no plan to meet the excess demand above 6 FE

16. The County Council’s response to this comment confirms that they have no plans to meet demand above 6 FE. While they have identified limited opportunities to expand existing schools (3 FE at Leventhorpe and 1 FE at Birchwood) these are subject to further feasibility studies and cannot be described as a plan. Moreover, since both schools are academies, it is for them to decide whether, and if so when, to bid for funds to increase their capacity. We are not aware of any plans by either school to do so at present.

17. We agree with HCC that forecasting secondary demand into future decades cannot be certain and therefore flexibility is key in planning sufficiency in the longer term. That is one of the reasons for our suggesting that the release of HCC’s site at Patmore Close for housing is premature, and that the precondition, on which the BSN school application depends, cannot be fulfilled at present.

Removal of the proposed Bishops Stortford South development from the draft District Plan would significantly reduce the demand for school places

18. It is clear from our preceding arguments that the demand for secondary school places which the housing total in latest version of the draft district plan will generate, together with possible developments in Uttlesford is up to 13 FE, not 5-9 FE. HCC have firm plans to meet additional demand of only 6 FE, with other expansion possibilities at a very early stage of conception and not within HCC’s control. We appreciate that HCC are anxious to have certainty about a new 6 FE school, given that work on BSN has already started, but unless the gap between supply and demand can be narrowed, the site they own at Patmore Close cannot be released. Since HCC are not prepared to make a proper plan either to meet the demand generated by the draft district plan or even their own forecast of excess demand, we think the rational approach would be to remove some of the demand which the plan would prospectively generate, by reducing the proposed amount of housing within the EPA.

19. Bishop's Stortford South is in the Green Belt and does not need to be developed to meet the naturally arising increase in population, even with a generous allowance for further inward migration. While we are aware that the Boys High School aspires to move to this site, relocation would not of itself do anything to reduce the gap between supply and demand, because the housing would simply be displaced to the site the school would like to vacate. Indeed, if the experience of BSN is repeated, developers will seize the opportunity to increase the dwelling total, making the problem worse.

20. We therefore believe that the most obvious and simplest way of bridging the gap between supply and demand is to remove the Bishop's Stortford South proposed development from the draft district plan, and we are disappointed that HCC have supported this development. Instead, they should recognise that removing it from the plan would be the most sustainable way of bringing the demand for and supply of school places more closely into balance. We urge them to think again. The aspirations of the Boys High School could be satisfied by redevelopment on its present site with any additional sports areas being provided south of Whittington Way in the Green Belt, in much the same way as HCC are proposing for the BSN school.

Transport and Access
Quantum of Housing

21. Part 2 of the transport assessment submitted with this planning application contains in Appendix D a note by WSP on Paramics modelling. In the penultimate paragraph of page 1 of Technical note 1 it has the following to say about housing assumed to be removed from BSN as a result of the land exchanged with Patmore Close:

‘The construction of the school is on land currently proposed to be part of the BSN development. As a result there is an assumed 250 dwelling reduction in the BSN development (taken from the WYG document “A087601 - Technical Note 01 – Trip Generation”). This 250 dwelling reduction has been assumed in the approximate location of the school, and as such these dwellings have been removed from zone 803 in the Paramics model which forms part of the eastern neighbourhood of the BSN development.’

22. In responding to our objection on this point, WYG say the following:

‘Please refer to Sections 5.2.14 – 5.2.17 of the Transport Assessment which set out the quantum of development as per that submitted in the separate Mayer Brown Transport Assessment for the proposed residential development on Hadham Road. This updates the position at the public consultation exercise which provided a rough indication as to the possible number of houses at approximately 150, in reality the proposed school will replace 110 dwellings on the BSN site.

In order to be robust and to ensure that the impact is considered correctly the WYG assessment discounts 110 dwellings from the BSN site and applies 250 (rounded up from 247) dwellings on the Hadham Road site as per the Mayer Brown TA. This provides a robust assessment of both the school within the BSN site and the impact of approximately 250 dwellings on Hadham Road.’

23. I am afraid we are unable to reconcile WYG’s response with the statement in the WSP technical note quoted in para 21 above which was previously submitted by WYG as part of the transport assessment. Even if an underestimate of dwellings of 140 is not of great significance in a development the size of BSN, we are entitled to expect the correct data to be used in supporting this planning application and trust that the planning authority will ask for clarification.

Assessment years/scenarios

24. WYG’s response says the following about the likely timing of the building of the proposed new school:

‘We would expect however given the lead time of this type of development that the school would come forward later in the development stages and that given the requirement for access to the sports facilities (for emergency access) that the A120 roundabout would be required prior to the school being built. This will of course be as per the construction phases for the Bishop’s Stortford North development which are still to be agreed.

Access via Hadham Road was suggested within the TA as this would be the alternative should the school come forward without the A120 junction which is an extremely unlikely scenario.’

25. This contrasts with the following statement in Part 1 of the transport assessment submitted by WYG with the planning application

‘4.4.2 The primary vehicular and pedestrian access into the site will be via the proposed BSN development, initially as construction starts the access will be from the west on Hadham Road, however once the proposed junction on the A120 is provided this will become the main vehicular access point with access also available to the east via Rye Street. When the BSN site is complete access will be available from both west and east.’

26. The response and the statement in para 4.4.2 above prompt a number of comments.

Traffic Impact – Hadham Road

27. WYG respond on this point as follows

‘In this latest assessment it has been assumed that there will be a school within the BSN proposals but as a result 250 dwellings have been moved to the Hadham Road site. Given that residential has a higher impact that [sic] school trips (peak period versus off peak movements) it is considered that the two assessments provided are robust and indicate the possible impact of a school off site on Hadham Road and a school within the BSN site.’

28. It is interesting to note that this appears to contradict WYG’s earlier statement that only 110 dwellings will be displaced from BSN and also their view that residential development has a higher impact than school trips. If that really is the case, it would suggest that any reported misgivings by Herts Highways about siting the new school at Patmore Close are misplaced. However, their comment misses the point. The scenario that we are contemplating is that residential development of ASRs 1 and 2 and Patmore Close has been completed, that the new school at BSN has been opened but that the sole means of access at this stage is from Hadham Road. We are not aware that this has been modeled. Of course, if the new school does not get built until the completion of the A120 roundabout, then the intermediate scenario becomes one driven by a shortage of school places on the north side of town.

Playing Field Access

29. Our concerns about having a site set apart from the school, lack of changing facilities and difficulty of community access to the site outside school hours remain unanswered.

Transport Planning Decisions

30. We do not question the integrity or independence of WYG. However, it is not they but the County Council which is the decision making authority. We believe that decisions on these matters should be made by councillors whom we can hold to account, not by officers whom we cannot. In view of the concerns expressed above which have not been satisfactorily answered we do not think that transport and access should be delegated to officers to decide.

Suitability of Sites

31. The undulating nature of the terrain beyond the A120 means that extensive earthworks will be needed to create level playing fields. These alone will radically alter the nature of the currently unspoilt Green Belt. Whilst there are no proposals in the application for equipment storage, an all weather surface or floodlighting on the site, it is proposed that all matters of detail are reserved. When an education provider is identified for the proposed school, anyone who wishes to maximise the use of the facilities both for school and community use, is likely to see advantages in upgrading the site to include these attributes. Given that sport is a permitted exception to the presumption against development of the Green Belt it is difficult to see what valid objection the planning authority could have to providing such facilities.

Value for money

32. HCC have not commented on this point but we remain concerned that these proposals represent poor value for money. May we therefore, through you, suggest that before any binding commitments are entered into about this application and the parallel one for housing at Patmore Close, the County Council commissions a value for money report from its external auditors and publishes it?

Conclusion

33. Nothing in HCC’s response persuades us to withdraw our objections to this application and the parallel application for housing development at Patmore Close. HCC have underestimated the demand for secondary school places which the housing numbers in the draft district plan will generate. Even on their own forecasts, a 6 FE scheme will leave a substantial element of demand unmet. HCC have no plans to meet this shortfall, and reliance on existing secondary schools to expand relies on feasibility studies which have not yet taken place and the willingness of those schools to do so. However, the duty of the existing secondary schools in the area is to promote the interests of their own institutions – not to help HCC meet its statutory obligations. All but one of the schools in the EPA is an academy, independent of HCC, as will be any new school at BSN.

34. The timing of the opening of the proposed new school is also a matter of concern and has been made more opaque by the response provided. If it opens early enough to serve the initial stages of BSN development, then the transport and access arrangements do not appear to have been properly thought out or assessed. If it does not open until the later stages of BSN development, then another 1000 homes will have been added to the north side of town without any plan in existence for meeting the demand for secondary school places arising from them before the new school opens.

35. We support the objective of providing a new 6 FE school to meet the demand generated by BSN and other developments. But since there are no plans to meet the excess demand above 6FE elsewhere, the release of Patmore Close for enabling development to allow this scheme to proceed cannot be permitted. To help break this log jam we have suggested that HCC join us in seeking EHDC’s agreement to preserve Bishop's Stortford South as Green Belt and remove it as a potential development site from the draft district plan. By reducing demand in this way, the prospects of one new 6 FE school being sufficient to meet the long term requirement for secondary school places would be greatly improved. It is perverse of HCC to support development there rather than seeking to reduce demand by removing the site from the plan.

36. This application and the complementary one for housing at Patmore Close are not fit for purpose. We trust therefore that, if these applications are not withdrawn for further work, the planning authorities will refuse planning permission.

37. As before, I am copying this letter to Cllrs Barfoot, McAndrew and Woodward, to Kevin Steptoe, Head of Planning and Building Control at East Herts Council and to James Parker, Chief Executive of Bishop's Stortford Town Council.

John Rhodes
President, Bishop's Stortford Civic Federation



Comments from Herts County Council to BSCF letter of 23 November 2014  Top 

BSCF Letter of 23 November 2014

Response to the BSCF comments to the town planning application for the new 6fe secondary school at BSN

Responses to the BSCF’s key summary points:

HCC has underestimated forecast demand for secondary school places:

The County Council has a responsibility for planning school places in its area and produces pupil forecasts to help inform school planning decisions. The pupil forecast methodology is tried and tested, based on Audit Commission recommendations and is similar to most other authorities’ methods for making pupil projections. Hertfordshire’s pupil forecasts have been shown to be accurate to within +/-1% countywide year on year.

The forecast is updated twice a year to ensure, as far as possible, that projected demand is informed by up-to-date data. It is underpinned by the latest available information on the pre- school aged population sourced from GP registration data as well as assumptions on new housing growth and a pupil yield arising from this.

The County Council is satisfied that the education strategy formulated based on forecast demand is appropriate to meet the need for secondary school places across the Bishops Stortford area.

The latest forecast of secondary demand for the Bishops Stortford and Sawbridgeworth secondary education planning area, produced in the summer term 2014, is attached as Appendix 1.

The pupil yield assumptions in these forecasts are based on new housing growth assumptions as advised directly by EHDC and in the scale reflected in its draft District Plan, although pupils forecasts do not extend to the end of the Plan period as those children requiring a secondary school place beyond 2025 are not yet born.

The pupil yield calculations from new housing are generic pupil yield, sourced from historic census data, based on long term average yield assumptions and applied county wide. As such, they are not area specific nor do they take account of specific mix or dwelling type. Furthermore, the phasing and timing of this housing growth will impact directly on the estimated demand arising from new homes and the likely timing of any peak demand.

Large developments are therefore considered separately from the forecast once we have a clear view on scale and mix and we can more specifically model pupil yield figures, how demand builds as well as the timing of peak demand arising out of such large scale developments.

The County Council has done this for Bishop’s Stortford North (BSN) and is seeking developer contributions for 5 forms of entry (FE) of secondary capacity to meet the peak demand arising from this new housing (estimated around 2030). The detailed modelling associated with the development at Bishops Stortford North has been shared in detail with both EHDC Officers and the Consortium and has been accepted.

The forecast demand combined with estimated yield arising separately from the new housing at Bishops Stortford North is detailed at Appendix 2.

The County Council has made the unrealistic assumption that there will be no increase in cross area flows:

Our forecasts take account of historic migration patterns using a 3 year weighted average and therefore assume the current inflow into the area at secondary transfer continues into future. This includes: the dynamics around the geography of Bishop’s Stortford and Sawbridgeworth; neighbouring Essex County Council (ECC); as well as the inflow at secondary transfer for faith provision from a wide area.

We recognise that new housing growth is not confined to Hertfordshire and the current strategic housing growth proposed within neighbouring Uttlesford’s District Plan includes over 10,000 new homes to 2031, including strategic sites around Elsenham, Dunmow, Stansted Mountfitchet and Saffron Walden.

We remain in dialogue with colleagues in Essex County Council around school place issues and are aware that education infrastructure is being planned in Essex to address the needs of the new communities emerging from the Uttlesford District Plan. This includes proposed safeguarded land in Elsenham for a new secondary school if required and a new secondary school for Great Dunmow. We do not therefore anticipate Hertfordshire needing to plan for the additional demand arising from new housing in Essex and it seems reasonable to assume that the current level of inflow might continue into the future.

Even if demand from Essex residents for places at secondary schools in Bishop’s Stortford increase it is not accurate to assume that increased demand will equate to an equal increase in the allocation of places to Essex families. All schools are their own admission authority and it would be unlawful for any of the schools specifically to make allocation decisions simply on the basis of a child’s home authority. However existing admission arrangements should ensure that the proportion of children from Essex is not likely to increase. After children with EHC plans, looked after/previously looked after children and siblings etc:

All schools must act in accordance with the School Admissions Code which requires admission arrangements to be “fair and reasonable”. It is worth noting that Hertfordshire County Council, as the commissioner of the new schools in Bishops Stortford North, will seek admissions arrangements for the new schools which prioritise pupils residing local to the development. It is likely that the school will grow in size, for example opening with perhaps 3fe (90 places) and then moving incrementally to 6fe (180 places) as that local demand increases. Whilst families from Essex may initially obtain any places not required from the local community, as the development fills it is likely that any such inflow will diminish as a result of the specific admission criteria requested.

The County Council appears to have no plan to meet the excess in demand above 6fe:

Hertfordshire County Council’s representations to EHDC’s District Plan proposals include the stated education strategy to ensure sufficient secondary school places across the Bishop’s Stortford and Sawbridgeworth education planning area for the future. These representations are attached as Appendix 3a and Appendix 3b.

The County Council, with a statutory responsibility for ensuring sufficient school places across its area, has an education strategy in place that delivers 6fe of additional capacity into the Bishop’s Stortford and Sawbridgeworth education planning area.

We remain satisfied that this delivers the right level of additional capacity, with sufficient additional capacity options available to manage any fluctuations in demand or further possible demand in the longer term. What is clear is that forecasting secondary demand into future decades cannot be certain and therefore flexibility is key in planning sufficiency for the longer term.

Potential opportunities for additional secondary capacity have been outlined to EHDC in previous submissions. In addition to any spare capacity in the new 6fe secondary school at Bishops Stortford North the options identify possible capacity of up to 4 f.e. within the existing school estate across the area. Deliverability of these identified options would need to be both in agreement with the schools and tested through the town planning system.

Further capacity, if required, could be made available through a further education site allocation to the south of the town, which is referenced in our representations to the district council as prudent planning in the long term.

The County Council is satisfied therefore that sufficient options for additional capacity exist to provide the right level of secondary places across the area for the long term future.

Removal of the proposed Bishops Stortford South development from the draft District Plan would significantly reduce the demand for school places:

As indicated above, the pupil forecasts take account of proposed new housing developments across the area, as detailed in EHDC’s draft District Plan and formulated in line with the District’s housing need assessment. There is no firm certainty that all of the currently proposed sites will come forward and indeed, some sites may be replaced with others within the area. In the context of long term planning of secondary education provision, the key considerations are around scale of development, build rate and overall growth rather than the specific location of developments within an area.

It is for EHDC as Local Planning Authority to allocate land within its area as part of the District Plan process. HCC has already made representations to EHDC around site allocations in the south of the town to plan prudently for further potential secondary capacity if and when that is required beyond the next decade.

Reserve school site at Hadham Road

The planning applications for the residential development on land at Hadham Road were submitted to East Herts Council on 21 November 2014.

Transport and Access

WYG have provided a response to the transport and access points raised in the letter. These are attached in a note attached as Appendix 4.

Suitability of the Sites

The proposed detached playing fields are not extending the developed area of Bishop's Stortford beyond the A120. There are no proposals for an all-weather surface, floodlighting or equipment storage at the playing fields site.

12 December 2014



Map of proposed site for school and playing fields  Top 

Map of proposed site for school and playing fields.