Category Archives: Botley SPD

West Way Latest

The Botley SPD was adopted by cabinet last week. The official date will be 27 Jan 2016 (there’s a waiting period to see if the decision will be called in).

But the Main Thing* is the planning application (and accompanying Environmental Impact Assessment) expected from Mace about 1 Feb 2016. Vale will take a few days to check it, and then the public consultation will begin. The duration of the consultation is still not known.

Please rely on West Way Concern for the latest info:

I post information and interesting links when I come across them, mostly on Facebook. My public page doesn’t require you to be a registered Facebook user. Check there often.

*The Main Thing is to keep the Main thing the Main Things. This is an oft repeated message to myself. In other words, don’t get distracted!

Botley SPD delivered too late

I have two major projects on the go (and several that are smaller). The Botley SPD (Supplementary Planning Doc) comes to the Scrutiny Cttee tonight for a close look. I’m also preparing for the Inspectors examination hearings (Stage 2) on the soundness of the Local Plan 2031 (where Cabinet Member for Planning Policy, Cllr Mike Murray, wants to build a few thousand houses in the Oxford Green Belt).

But for the SPD… One of the main purposes (if not THE main purpose) of the SPD is to make it easier for planning applications to be approved. The decision to create an SPD came about after Doric’s planning application was refused in December 2014. (That unanimous refusal was a surprise to Vale, apparently, as well as to Doric.)

So Vale hired a consultancy and asked them to begin with the failed planning application, and make this policy doc so the next application would be approved. (It wasn’t that bald of a brief, but in essence that’s what it was. Student accommodation and a multiplex cinema were never in the Vale’s plans for Botley until Doric wanted to build them and failed to get permission.)

This has been a great example of bad timing, or how not to manage a project.

The doc was begun in April 2015, so the officers excluded local members, due to ‘purdah’, they said. Then they forgot all about us and had to bring us in months later, once we moaned about it. #fail

The doc was first promised in June 2015, which might have helped the applicants. But it was delayed until October, and then legal questions sent it back for rework and a new consultation, and here we are in January. #fail.

It was delivered so late that the land sale contracts had to have the lawyers renegotiate the end date, because the delay by Planning meant the clock would tick down (there’s a drop dead date for submitting the planning application). #fail

The next planning application has been well underway for all that time, over a year, and the developers are having to wait for Planning to get this SPD into shape. The planning application and EIA are ready to be submitted at the end of Jan 2016. #fail

So how is it that this SPD, that might get adopted on 18 Jan 2016, will be any help at all in guiding the developers in the preparation of their plans? Well. it won’t be, because it’s too late. #fail

As soon as the Local Plan 2031 is adopted, maybe later in 2016, this SPD will have to be re-written and another consultation held. This will be long after the planning application is determined next month. It’s a waste of time, money and effort. #fail

Who thought this was a good idea? Who would think this was a viable plan for a strong policy document to help the developers and the community? Cllr Mike Murray, Cabinet Member for Planning Policy. #delay #rework #fail

Botley SPD – the 2nd consultation results

I decided to explore what the consultation responses held, and the link to those is here:

The first consultation had over 300 responses; this time there are only 38. Consultation fatigue has set in. For people conserving their energy for the main thing, which is the planning application due later on this month, a second consultation on this SPD, when their first responses were largely ignored, was just too much.

Many of the respondents sent a letter (either instead of responding to the online questionnaire, or in addition to it), which can be accessed under each entry.

You might want to have a quick read of some of these. They tell quite a story.

Botley SPD – 2nd Consultation, my response

West Way site mapToday (18 Dec 15, 5pm) is the deadline for responding to the 2nd Botley SPD consultation.

After consultation with community members, I conclude the the SPD isn’t actually a help to anyone. Not to the community, and not to the developers. Not to Vale Cabinet members or Vale officers. In fact, the SPD isn’t a benefit to anyone, that I can see. And so I will be urging Vale Cabinet to abandon it, put no further money or scarce resources into it all, and let us get on with considering Mace’s planning application as the next Main Thing.

Here’s what I’ve said to support this opinion.

This Botley Centre SPD was intended to make it easier for applicants to gain planning permission. It was supposed to do this by expanding on current policy, refining it to make clearer our local needs and aspirations so that permission could be granted to applications that met these criteria.

But the work didn’t begin from the policies in the current local plan and building possible scenarios from there. Instead, the effort began with the aspects of a failed planning application by addressing those qualities that caused the planning committee members to refuse it. The SPD should have begun from the base of the current Local Plan 2011 and how a local service centre in Botley could meet the needs of the current and future residents. Instead it has tried to retrofit the needs of a particular developer. Any careful read of the SPD will see that it doesn’t stem from local service needs, but from a developer’s need to profit from the redevelopment of the site.

This work began in April 2015 as an intention to create a Design Brief for Botley Centre, starting from those aspects of Doric’s failed application that led to its refusal. Vale hired a consultancy with expertise in design and architecture, which makes sense when creating a Design Brief. In June 2015, for some reason, the Cabinet Member for Planning Policy decided to change the aim to an SPD rather than a Design Brief, but kept the same consultant and offered no further guidance to them (that I can see). As a result, we have a planning policy document that has been challenged legally and is likely to be challenged again for its unlawfulness in terms of sustainability appraisal and creating new policy. The poor work on it has led to rework and a second consultation, and thence to a need to modify the land sales contracts to extend the deadline date for the developer. Poor work, rework, delay, legal challenges, added expense. We started from the wrong place: a failed planning application, rather than the needs of a community and the Local Plan. We changed aims mid-journey without a re-evaluation of how our activities related to our goals, and we’ve ended up with a planning document that helps neither the developers/applicants, as Cabinet intended, nor the community where this massive change is going to happen.  It’s been criticised by Oxford City, Oxfordshire County, as well as by local residents and organisations.

I refer you to the consultation response (and annexes) from West Way Community Concern, which covers the main issues. I endorse and reiterate everything they say.

Here are my major concerns, in no particular order:

  1. The Design Guide 2015 holds equal weight as a material planning consideration to this SPD (and any other SPD). The Design Guide is well considered and comprehensive. The Equalities team say they rely on its policies to provide development guidance for all things equalities related. Residents rely on it for all things design related. The Planning team should adhere to the Design Guide. If they will do that, then this SPD offers nothing further in terms of design principles and equalities considerations.
  2. The land use scenarios focus on student accommodation. Student accommodation isn’t mentioned in Local Plan 2011. It comes solely from Doric’s failed planning application. Student accommodation doesn’t support the local community’s needs of a local service centre. It supports developer profit, and thereby supports the land sale price Vale has negotiated with Doric. The SPD obviously is intended to support this developer with these plans and this land sale contract. Had this SPD been developed prior to any expected planning application, it would have looked very different, and probably would have been fairly constructed and valid.
  3. Scenarios include student accommodation for students at Oxford’s two universities. Oxford City have many planning policies regarding student accommodation, refined over their years of experience with the special challenges of providing such housing. Vale have no such policies. If we are to venture into provision of student accommodation, Vale should study Oxford’s polices and devise our own policies to inform car ownership, impact on the districts provision of affordable housing, pastoral and health service needs, special design considerations, who can live there, management plans, etc. It’s irresponsible to consider attracting hundreds of students to a semi-rural community without policies in place to guide the plans.
  4. There should be an analysis of reasonable alternatives for the site. One reasonable alternative, to do nothing, should have been included. BDP declared (in writing and to the Scrutiny Committee) that a low-intervention alterative was rejected via feedback from the community. That’s not true. The DTZ documents show that this scenario was rejected prior to any public workshops. This raises the question of the lawfulness of the Sustainability Appraisal.
  5. It’s been admitted that the SPD pays no attention to the western end of the ‘study area’ because the development interest is in the eastern end. Therefore of what use is the SPD to the Botley Centre in its entirety?
  6. In their original terms of reference, the consultants BDP were instructed to include plans for phasing any comprehensive development, in order to preserve access to vital shops and services. They didn’t do that. But the developers have come up with a way to phase construction, and have presented it to the community this month for feedback. The SPD is no help here.
  7. The consultation on this SPD has been fraught with problems. It’s a legitimate question whether there was a true intention to consult. The evidence base wasn’t published in time for the consultation, in spite of repeated requests for it. Hundreds of people spent thousands of hours of their lives studying the draft SPD to provide thoughtful, relevant and helpful responses. Vale acknowledged that they hadn’t really used any of the feedback, discounting the considered responses as ‘views of a vocal minority of older residents’. In fact, I question whether Vale officers and Cabinet member read any of the responses. At Scrutiny, much of what they heard appeared to be a surprise. It’s ironic that the response from the very developer that all this effort was meant to serve was missed out entirely and not considered in the consultation report.
  8. The issues of lawfulness identified in the lawyer’s letter in Oct 2015 (mentioned by West Way Concern in their response) were also identified in the various responses Vale received and they were also brought up at Scrutiny Committee. Vale paid no attention until a letter came from a lawyer.
  9. The site boundary in this SPD is based on the site boundary in the emerging local Plan 2031. That’s creating new policy and is unlawful. The SPD site boundary should be the one used in Local Plan 2011.
  10. There is therefore a legitimate question of whether this is really an Area Action Plan (new policy being introduced for a specific area), which requires public examination under the planning inspectorate, as opposed to an SPD which is limited to expanding existing policies.
  11. If this SPD is adopted, then once the new Local Plan 2031 is adopted, the SPD will have to be rewritten. This SPD is intended to help the next application from Doric, which is expected in Jan 2016. I think it would be a poor decision to pour more money and scarce resources into the creation and revision of this document.
  12. In order to avoid charges of conflict of interest (Vale as landowner who profits from the property sale, and Vale as local planning authority who writes policy and grants permission for development on that land), the decision makers for the land sales contracts were supposed to be kept entirely separate from the decision makers of planning policy and planning applications. That effort has failed. The Cabinet Member for Planning has been integrally involved in the land sale contact discussions. Earlier this year, discussions regarding whether to extend the contracts deadlines for another year involved both the Cabinet Member for Planning and the Chairman of the Planning Committee. This is the conflict of interest I warned about from the beginning, and was assured they were being kept entirely separate. That so-called “Chinese Wall” has proved permeable. We can help to rectify this by abandoning this SPD and not putting Cabinet members in the position of such a conflict of interest.
  13. DTZ, the consultancy hired to do the planning policy work of viability for this SPD, are the same company hired back in 2012 to do the risk assessment of the original property sales decisions. So they were working on planning policy this year while having access to the land sale contract details from previous years. That breaches the divide between property and planning.
  14. A key limitation of any SPD is that it cannot introduce new policy. I think we would be better off relying on our saved policies to determine any planning application, and abandoning this SPD as being unhelpful, of questionable lawfulness, and a waste of resources.


Botley SPD – my submission

I thought I’d publish the response I submitted yesterday to the Botley SPD consultation. Maybe someone will find it helpful for ideas. (I’m sorry I didn’t have time to write a shorter response; this is a page by page trawl.)

This opens the pdf in Dropbox.

My main points have to do with:

  1. The way this consultation is being conducted
  2. Details of the content of the SPD not being evidence based and simply supporting the items in Doric’s failed application
  3. Tone of the policies being waffly (lots of coulds and shoulds, few (any?) musts and wills. NPPF says, in para 57: Local planning authorities should consider using design codes where they could help deliver high quality outcomes. However, design policies should avoid unnecessary prescription or detail and should concentrate on guiding the overall scale, density, massing, height, landscape, layout, materials and access of new development in relation to neighbouring buildings and the local area more generally.

The Botley SPD comes to Vale’s Scrutiny Committee on 22 October 2015, at 7:30pm in the Milton offices. The meeting is open to the public. You can ask a question or make a statement or present a petition. Contact to get your name on the speakers list.

Botley Centre SPD – my view


Botley shopping area boundary from Local Plan 2011

I’m working on my response to the Botley Centre SPD. The official consultation questionnaire begins with items from page 16 (out of 34). Do they assume we all agree (or at least don’t disagree) with everything that comes before?

I’ve decided to write a letter, and go page by page, addressing each paragraph on its own. I generally feel manipulated in feedback questionnaires when they don’t ask the questions about issues I feel are most important. (Like when a holiday hotel asks you how clean the room was, but not about their provision of wifi.)

I object to undefined wording, such as ‘highly sustainable’ and ‘truly sustainable’, and vibrant/exciting/bold, ‘high quality and presigious’. And so on.

Botley SPD vision

Vale’s Vision for Botley – click to enlarge

My overall view is driven by para 1.2.2. They state that the previous application was refused because of the significant level of local opposition. I disagree, strongly. The application was refused because sensible members of planning committee saw that this didn’t serve Botley’s needs. It didn’t fit the site, nor the needs of local residents and businesses. I recall Cllr Lovatt saying in the Planning Committee meeting, “Botley deserves better.” (Cllr Lovatt is on Cabinet now.)

So Vale’s response has been to enshrine Doric’s aspirations as put forward in their failed planning application into policy, such that if the same application were to be submitted again, it would be approved, based on this SPD.

I most certainly STRONGLY DISAGREE and intend to make that point as eloquently as I can. (However, I promise to restrict my use of adverbs.)