Category Archives: Planning

Car parking at the new West Way

Traffic and parking analysis is complicated, and a science and art that few of us can say we  understand. Have you read the traffic assessment submitted with this application? I admit I haven’t. But we have local experts here in Botley who have studied it very closely. And the rest of us still have common sense.

Currently, parking problems in Botley are growing. The problem mostly stems from the time park and ride charges increased. Commuters found free parking in Botley’s roads, very near bus stops or with easy access to the cycle paths into Oxford. Over the past 4 years or so, it’s become a real problem in some roads. The problem also comes from new developments where county has allowed fewer onsite parking spaces than would accommodate all the cars that come to live there. This is deliberate policy to encourage use of public transport, or cycle or feet. But it doesn’t always work in Botley. So roads are being parked up, especially down near West Way, where all the busses pass on their ways in and out of the city. Our first controlled parking zone has gone into Elms Road, so now residents have to pay for permits to park in their road.

Here’s what I’ve discovered, and I conclude there isn’t adequate on site parking for the uses they’ve planned.

  1. Currently, the three car parks are joined up so shoppers can circle until they bag a space. The planned car parks are discrete, separate, so in order to move from one car park to another, you must exit onto the streets and go to another car park.
  2. There are currently a total of 290 spaces in several places. This isn’t relevant to the argument, since everything in Botley will be different. I don’t understand why anyone is focused on current numbers of parking spaces.
  3. That said, the parking in front of Elms Parade won’t be changing, except that there will be NO exit at the easternmost end (toward the A34). Same number of spaces, same layout as now, except anyone entering from the west will need to somehow turn their car around to exit via the same access. We saw the difficulty in that plan when we visited on Monday.
  4. The new plan offers 321 spaces (para 7.81 of report). We learned on the site visit that all spaces are unallocated; it’s first come, first served. Approx 16 are for disabled parking. There are 2 or 3 with chargers. This number includes the existing spaces at the front of Elms Parade. (Other counts from the plans show 317 spaces, after 16 May 16 amendments. I’ve asked officers for a true count, but haven’t heard yet.)

So I, as a reasonable adult non-parking-expert, as are we all, consider the uses of the new West Way, and how many people will bring how many cars.

  1. Staff: Predictions are for 248 FTEs. What percentage would be expected to drive and park? In the 2011 census 70% of people working in North Hinksey and Wytham drove to work. This is lower than the Vale average of 72%. Of course, 248 FTEs could be 500 or more part timers. This site is handy to busses, so probably fewer. Is a reasonable guess about 150?
  2. Residents: We learned in the viability report that there will be 1 parking permit per 2-3 bedroom flat, and .5 per 1 bed flat, and an additional 75 permits to be sold. In a previous report I calculated 188 spaces to go with the residential units. (Remember where I said to remember this figure for later?) This is a larger number than the one used in the Transport Analysis, which predicted 112 spaces for flats.
  3. Hotel: There are 123 rooms. Remember there is no allocated parking, so all spaces are first come first serve. Would a reasonable person guess about 50 spaces?
  4. So staff parking, residents’ permits, and hotel takes about 388 spaces, or more than is available, so they spill over into neighbouring streets.

We learned on the site visit that all the retail units in Block A are intended to be restaurants. How many parking spaces are needed to support them?

Trip rates assume lots of shoppers. Where will they park? Where will users of community centre, library and church halls park?

I’ll go out on a limb and predict some students will bring cars to the area, especially since we are so far away from Oxford’s universities.

Oxfordshire County Council commented “The highway authority considers that it is unlikely that residents can be prevented from owning cars, and unplanned demand for parking will need to be accommodated elsewhere.”

How can this be considered to be anywhere near enough parking for this shopping centre?

Affordabile housing and viability at West Way

Right now, today, 10 June 2016, there are five 2 bedroom flats for sale in Botley. Their prices are:

  • £350,000
  • £325,000
  • £280,000
  • £250,000
  • £225,000

That’s an average of £286,000. For a 2 BR flat. We need affordable houses here.

I found ten 2 bedroom flats for let, for an average monthly rental of £1485. People on ordinary wages can’t afford that sort of rent. Affordable housing is arguably Vale’s most urgent need.

This application provides 140 residential units. None will be affordable, by the developers own admission (in the viability report, see links below).

The developers have offered to make 10% of net new houses (13 houses) starter homes, at 80% of market value.  What does that mean in terms of real affordability? The new government programme caps starter homes at £250,000. Since Mace are offering only 1 bed flats as starter homes, I assume the bigger ones would be over the cap. So we’ll have 13 starter homes, 1 bed flats, for sale for about £250,000. That hints at very high priced flats, compared to our current average. (Combining some maths and a bit of reasoning brings me to the conclusion that the 1 BR flat prices start at £312,500. That’s the market price where 80% is £250,000.) Nothing wrong with that. We live in a capitalist world.

Vale’s current policy is that 40% of developments this size must be affordable homes, with a mix of 75% social housing and 25% shared ownership. That would bring 56 houses into availability for people who qualify, and 42 of those would be new social housing for the families who need them. But the developers have said that in order for this project to be economically viable, they can’t afford to provide any affordable homes at all.

I have three main points about this:

  1. The sales contract has some requirements the developer must meet, and the Vale has policies about affordable housing provision, which both cost money.
  2. Vale lacks experience in accepting financial contributions in lieu of affordable housing. We’re losing out from naïveté and lack of planning policy.
  3. Mace admit their scheme is so close to being economically unviable that they are unable to provide any affordable housing, as evidenced in their viability assessment report.

First, there are some sales contract conditions, and there is Vale policy.

  • The buyer had to re-provide the Baptist Church, community hall, and library. Presumably these would not be profitable to the developer.
  • For some reason Vale also required buyers to build a hotel, a multiplex cinema, and a very large supermarket. But the supermarket size was drastically reduced, and the hotel was made slightly larger in recent modifications to the sales contract. Developers dropped the cinema.
  • Planning permission is required for all of this, plus whatever else the developer wants to build on the land.
  • These requirements are part of the sales deal that was negotiated back in 2012 for a certain sales price. It was all out in the open for the buyer.

Vale policy requires:

  • If houses are to be built, then 40% of them must be ‘affordable’ (mostly social housing but partly shared-ownership).
  • This is all known up front, in advance, and something the developer should have planned for.

Para 7.29 of officers report says, “It [applicant’s viability report] identifies the land assembly costs of this proposal are high due to the value of existing uses and indicates the developer’s return will be below competitive benchmark rates. As a result the viability appraisal shows that the scheme is unable to be delivered is affordable housing is provided in accordance with policy H17.” I translate that as, “ It will cost so much to get title to this land, because it’s a valuable shopping and commerce centre, that we won’t make enough profit if we build the plan we have and also have to provide affordable housing.” I think that’s unacceptable. I think if the plan can’t deliver what it needs to, then it need to be reconsidered. It’s not an economically sustainable plan. It should be refused.

Second, Vale lacks experience in accepting financial contributions in lieu of affordable housing.

Sometimes new developments are too small to realistically provide 40% affordable housing. Picture a development of two houses, for example. Vale can negotiate a financial contribution in lieu, to be used to provide affordable houses elsewhere. I don’t know how often Vale actually do that, but they’re allowed to.

Student housing is typically built on land that could accommodate affordable housing, such as in this case. Vale doesn’t have any experience in planning for student accommodation and especially how provision of student accommodation affects the availability of affordable homes.

But Oxford city does have this expertise in both of these situations, and they have policies in place to protect the provision of adequate affordable housing.

Oxford has policies that cover situations when the developer cannot provide affordable housing on site. Usually this has to do with small sites, where it would be hard to provide the required percentage of affordable when you are building two houses. City will accept money in lieu, as a contribution to affordable housing elsewhere.

Oxford also has policies for ensuring land used to build student accommodation doesn’t prevent affordable homes being built in the area.

Here’s how Oxford’s policies calculate the amount due for contribution to affordable housing:

  1. Market houses: 15% of total sale value is due as a contribution to affordable homes elsewhere.
  2. Student accommodation: £140 per sq m as contribution to affordable housing.
  3. This current planning application: 140 1-2-3 bedroom flats. If we use the average prices in Botley, the average 2 bed flat costs £286,000. If the developer sells 140 flats at £286,000 each, that’s £40,040,000 total sales price. Fifteen percent of that sale value would be £6,006,000. (This is just an average. The mix of housing sizes means the real amounts would be different.)
  4. This current planning application: there are 10,550.5 sq m of student accommodation. Oxford charge £140 per sq m. So if this development were in Oxford, the contribution to affordable housing would be £1,477,070.
  5. The total amount expected as a contribution to affordable housing elsewhere in the area, if this were a few hundred meters to the east (in Oxford): £7,483,070
  6. See para 7.31 where the officer’s report discusses the commuted sum of £2,000,000 currently being negotiated. It’s also been in the news this week. See the article here.

Third, Mace admit their scheme is so close to being economically unviable that they are unable to provide any affordable housing, as evidenced in their viability assessment report.

The developer’s viability report has only come to light as a result of a Freedom of Information request. I don’t see that this has been published on the Vale’s website. I don’t know how planning committee members were expected to see it. I guess you weren’t. But you can see the (redacted to remove commercially sensitive information) docs released under FOI here: Viability Report

In the report, Mace claim that their costs are so high, and this project has so much risk, that they expect low to no profit. Even when their income on all aspects is at the highest end of what could be expected, if they were to provide any affordable housing, it would make this project economically unviable. I’m not making this up. Go have a read of the main report via that link just above.

In this report, they tell us:

  1. 140 residential. 55 1bed, 80 2bed, 5 3bed.
  2. 22 retail units
  3. 261 student and academic rooms
  4. 123 hotel rooms
  5. 377 car parking spaces (Numbers elsewhere are different. See officers report para 7.81 says there are 321 spaces. Counting spaces shown on the plans gives 317. So I’m not sure what’s real.)
  6. Parking: all 2&3 bed flat get one space. All 1 BR flats get .5 spaces. There are 55 1bed flats, so 28 spaces. 85 2-3 bed flats, so 85 spaces. 75 other spaces will be sold. Total parking spaces for residential units = 188 parking spaces. (Keep that in mind for later.)
  7. The retail in Block A is expected to be all restaurants. Block C, D and E are to be more traditional retail operators, national chains who will pay higher rents. The retail rental income is expected to be ‘significantly in excess’ of current.
  8. Hotel had no tenant lined up as of the March 2016 date on this report. But lease or sale was expected to be at the upper end of what’s achievable in Oxford.
  9. Student accommodation rents are expected to be at the upper end of what’s achievable for Oxford.
  10. Library is a D1 community use. Rent will be at the current level. If county decides to close libraries, developers claim it ’would be difficult to secure a use-compliant occupier at a similar rent level’. I interpret this to mean D1 are low rents, but OCC is at the higher end of the D1 range.
  11. Business space in the new centre is far away from other offices in Botley so they say they may struggle to find occupiers.
  12. Viability report hasn’t allowed for the s106 contributions amounts (about £750,000 I think.)
  13. Bottom line: developer profit is ‘significantly below a level which a prudent developer should or could accept for taking on the risk of a scheme of this complexity and scale.’
  14. Here are local expert opinions:
    1. Developers expect income at the high end of what’s achievable for Oxford, but Botley isn’t the same as Oxford.
    2. Expected retail income is at high end, so probably pricing our small local independent traders. The higher rent-paying national chains would probably rather be in the new Westgate than in Botley.
    3. The student accommodation examples they quote aren’t comparable to this plan for Botley. Examples are cluster flats, couples flats, not the same as the rooms coming forward here. To be honest, if you hear from experts in the Oxford University student accommodation realm, the developers here are comparing apples and oranges. I don’t know enough about how Oxford University works to be able to understand it, let alone to argue it. I rely on experts. Look for statements by Professor Hilary Priestley, who has decades of experience with student accommodation at OU.
    4. High rents in student accommodation seem to ignore the (un-)desirability of the location. Who would come to Botley to pay these high rents? Their own new student accommodation management company, CRM, say on their website that the main social centre for their students are the Oxford colleges’ bars, and the Oxford Brookes Student Union. Those aren’t in Botley.
    5. One of our local people summarised it well, I think: ‘So the policy has to be waived to enable a financially unsustainable development to gain planning approval.  Surely, that is impossible to justify. I know there is an argument that the developer is in business to take some risk, but when they admit, even with top end valuations, that their proposal does not make economic sense, surely the only conclusion is to say no to planning approval.’
    6. Indeed.

Planning Applications – how they’re determined currently

Residents who oppose what they see as inappropriate development are feeling frustrated at failed attempts to see planning applications refused. It used to be the principle that, ‘This isn’t good enough to approve. ” Now the rule of thumb has changed to, ‘This isn’t bad enough to refuse.’ That’ change in perspective has come along since the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was adopted, which states a presumption in favour of sustainable development.

Right now the Vale of White Horse has no adopted Local Plan, and therefore Vale cannot demonstrate a 5 year land supply for house building. Once the Local Plan is adopted, we will have both of those things. Until we have both those things, refusing a planning application is difficult, but not impossible. Until we have both those things, our local policies hold less weight, and the NPPF is the main policy.

In his Decision Report for 54-56 Hurst Rise Road of November 2015, the Inspector considered the applicant’s appeals against refusal. He said:

Background and Main Issues

3. The Council accept that they cannot demonstrate sites sufficient for five years worth of housing against their housing requirements as they are advised to do in the National Planning Policy Framework (the Framework). Paragraph 49 of the Framework advises that housing applications, as this is, should be considered in the context of the presumption in favour of sustainable development and that relevant policies for the supply of housing should not be considered up to date if the Council cannot demonstrate a five year supply of deliverable housing sites. The presumption in favour of sustainable development is set out at paragraph 14 of the Framework and includes advice that where relevant policies are out of date planning permission should be granted unless the adverse impact of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits of the scheme. Given the need to boost significantly the supply of housing and that the site is located within the built up area of Botley, an area where new housing will be permitted subject to its impact on character and facilities important to the local community (policy H10 of the Vale of White Horse Local Plan 2011, July 2006 (LP)), there is strong support for the principle of developing the site for housing.

4. However, the presumption in favour of sustainable development seeks to achieve economic, social and environmental gains and positive improvements to the built and natural environment. I must therefore consider the detailed aspects of the proposals against these aims to determine whether the benefits of the development proposals would be significantly and demonstrably outweighed by any adverse impacts that may arise from granting permission such that the proposals would not amount to sustainable development. (my emphsis)

So, wherever it can be convincingly demonstrated that the harm from the proposed development significantly and demonstrably outweighs the benefits, the application can be refused. 

There’s the strategy. That’s the trick.

My Comments for 56 Hurst Rise Road

I just submitted my comments for the planning application at 56 Hurst Rise Rd. Here’s what I said:

I write as the local Vale of White horse council member for this area.

I’ve studied the plans and docs available. I note that the Tree Officer would like to see a current tree survey and some cross section drawings.

It’s actually quite difficult to picture the scale of what’s proposed, because there are no drawings showing the context of the proposed houses in the street scene, nor any drawing to show us how the proposed houses fit into the context of the site and with its neighbours. That seems a serious enough shortcoming.

Applicant claims the inspector approves of this plan for detached 4BR houses; how can that be? Could the officer please clarify this for residents and for me?

I also notice that tree reports (and other data?) come from old studies submitted with applications that were refused. I think there’s a reasonable chance that since the applications were refused on larger grounds, the fact there is no objection on these specific grounds named in the design statement are irrelevant and do not assume there would have been no objection had the applications been considered further. By that I mean, if the proposals are determined to be much too big and harmful to the character of the area, enough to warrant refusal, would detail of tree surveys be closely studied? Maybe so, but I don’t know. Surely a new application on a site different to the refused applications deserves properly current accompanying reports.

This is part of the lower density area of Cumnor Hill as defined in Vale’s Design Guide. In checking the Design Guide for lower density areas, there’s a useful checklist on page 142. Is there evidence that these issues have been considered in this proposal? I would have expected pre-application meetings to cover all these issues.

It does appear this development would be out of keeping with the local area. It’s a large semi-detached structure, built right up to the property boundaries, without garages or room to turn cars to be able to exit in a forward facing direction.

Does the parking scheme comply with section 4,3 of the design guide? It appears the four parking spaces, intended for 8 bedrooms plus visitors and delivery vehicles, hasn’t been well thought out. We expect that the front gardens are not parking dominated (see principle DG82).

Please can the officer address issues of density and how this proposal fits into that aspect of the character of the area.

Please can the officer clarify the private amenity space for each house. With 4 bedrooms, each house should have 100 sq m of private outdoor space.

47 West Way – my speech to Cttee

On 23 Mar 16, Planning Committee granted permission for the proposed flatted development, by 6 votes to 3.  Vale officers’ view was that these flats are to be sold on the open market, so it’s a case of caveat emptor. Vale says they are providing people with a choice. I spoke to object to it, saying this:

  1. Officer cites as precedence for under-provision of parking the flats down the street, built with zero onsite parking about 8 years ago. That decision led to residents parking their vehicles in streets way over the other side of the A34 flyover. And THAT led to implementing a CPZ at not insignificant cost to residents there. Delivery vehicles to the flats must park half on the pavement and half in the busy road, obstructing both.  This decision was a mistake, harming residents and the wider community, so don’t let that work in your minds as a successful precedent.
  2. The officer’s report fails to adequately consider the accumulated harm from the various shortcomings:
    1. Officer points out harm to the character of the area, due to three stories in the midst of two storey structures, and unmatched styles.
    2. Officer points out that highways thought a dropped kerb in front of Oxford Sofa Studio next door was unsafe due to the busy road. Surely the same applies here?
    3. Officer points out significant noise on the site.
    4. Officer points out harm to the amenity of future residents and neighbours.
    5. Officer points out the density of 110dph is high, but doesn’t give a steer about how high or what would be appropriate for this area. Saved Policy H15 sets 50dph as an effective density within Botley centre. That policy also makes clear that high quality living environments are the most important thing.
    6. Officer points out nearby locations of other dwellings where the noise is worse. Noise and congestion on A34 continues to increase. I don’t think previously built dwellings where noise levels exceed what’s healthy should in any way be used to justify building more of them.
    7. Officer points out that amenity provision is well below Design Guide requirements. I’ve asked him to provide details to committee. In some cases, provided amenity space is only 10% of the minimum required. A 2BR flat should have a minimum of 50sqm, and this one has only 5.
    8. Section 6.37 of the officers report explicitly assumes people living here don’t want amenity space. That’s just not true. That’s like saying people who can only afford to live here don’t deserve nice, quiet, private outdoor space. No! That’s not what we stand for.

The NPPF and our local policies explicitly support high quality design in our developments. This isn’t one.

I think the cumulative harm is significant and demonstrable and outweighs the benefit of the proposals.

 

34 North Hinksey Lane – my speech to Cttee

23 Mar 2016, planning committee refused this application. Here’s what I said on the night.

It’s my view that there is demonstrable evidence of significant harm to the community and to prospective residents of this development, which outweighs the benefits of increasing housing stock by 6.

An accumulation of harm stems from this being an over-development of the site. I have 6 points:

  1. Policy DG26 says density should be appropriate to the location and respond to the character of the existing settlement . This is a semi-rural area, with an average density of 9dph. The highest nearby is 16dph. This development is 42dph.
  2. Policy DG52 says roofs should be pitched unless there’s a strong justification. What is the justification for flat roofs here?
  3. Policy DG69 says height and location of apartments should respond to its context. Here, an acceptable height is achieved only by sinking the buildings into the ground, but the tradeoff is a gloomy inside space.
  4. Potential overlooking of neighbours has led to fixed, obscure glazed, small windows, adding to the gloom.
  5. Neighbours will experience overlooking, blockage of sky and daylight, and light intrusion from cars entering the steeply sloping car park.
  6. Amenity space is significantly below the minimum because retaining walls and hardstanding parking areas take all the space.  Please ask officer for exact details.

The officer’s report sums it up: it’s not in character with its surroundings, it’s too high a density, it’s too massive, it has unjustified flat roofs, and is more urban in design than its context. An overall negative impact on the character of the area.

 

Local Plan 2031 Part 1 – hearings conclude

The inspector held 5 weeks of sessions, with hundreds of people and organisations participating, all concluding on 18 Feb 2016. He gave Vale officers quite a list of further work to do, and planning officers are working hard on that list now. The inspector’s report is expected by June 2016. We’ll know formally the next steps then.

Informally, here’s what I learned.

  • Inspector was tough on inconsistencies, policies not obviously supported by strong evidence, and where the strategic housing sites were proposed.
  • Green Belt boundaries were unclear, and Vale’s most recent map had some changes on it that he called “main modifications”. These require another public consultation.
  • Many parishes and local activist groups came to do what they could to save the Oxford Green Belt and North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) from incursion or damage. Radley PC, Kennington PC, Harwell PC, Chilton PC, Cumnor PC, Hendreds, North Abingdon Local Plan Group, SPADE, Keep Cumnor Green, Oxford Preservation Trust, Campaign to Protect Rural England, were some of the groups there. Almost every PC threatened by loss of protected land came to fight.
  • West Way Concern was there alongside me in the battle to have the Botley Central Area fairly defined, rather than simply based on Doric’s failed aspirations.
  • I made the argument against removing local playing fields from GB protection, mutually with Radley, Kennington, Cumnor PCs, and CPRE. North Hinksey also faces this threat.

I’ve posted the Lib Dems’ responses on my blog. I also posted that of CPRE regarding Green Belt boundaries, because it was remarkable. http://bit.ly/1XUHfe2

Birch trees @ 35 Yarnells Hill

Re: the two Birch trees at 35 Yarnells Hill, which are now one birch tree, which will one day soon be four birch trees.

In December, permission was sought by developer from Vale to bring one tree down. It was clear that the work necessary for the planned development wasn’t going to be able to go ahead without losing at least one of the protected trees. If machines did the digging, both trees would be lost. If the work was done manually, only one tree was sacrificed, and they’ve promised to replace it with three threes.

I’ve recently learnt that a tree protection order doesn’t particularly prevent a tree from being felled. But it requires permission to do so, and replacement. By regulation, all he had to do was agree to replace it. That he’s going to put in three trees in is a good thing.

 

Lib Dem Submissions Local Plan 2031 Examination

Here are our submissions to the inspector for the Local Plan Examination Stage 2. (These are all links to docs in Dropbox)

In many cases we defer to the excellent submission by CPRE. See their doc at the last link below.

Refer to this list of matters : Stage 2 Matters and Questions

Vale Lib Dems on Matter 5: Green Belt Boundaries

Vale Lib Dems on Matter 8: Housing sites and Botley Core Policy 11

Vale Lib Dems on Matter 12: Infrastructure etc

Vale Lib Dems on Matter 13: Monitoring etc

CPRE on Mattter 5: Green Belt Boundaries 

 

Two planning appeals upheld

Two separate appeals against decisions to refuse planning applications in Botley have been upheld this week. I’m disappointed.

First, the applicant for flats at the congested and dangerous corner of 2 Lime Rd and 50 Laburnum Rd wasn’t satisfied with permission for 7 flats, and wanted 9 instead, which require another storey. Vale refused, but applicant has successfully appealed. This development is overly tall and massive, with little amenity for residents and not enough onsite parking. It’s also unneighbourly, but will certainly line the applicant’s pockets well. A poor decision, not in the public interest, but in the interest of the land owner there.

26-28 Westminster Way has also had their appeal upheld. They also had permission for flats over 3 storeys, but greedily wanted more over 4 storeys. That’s been allowed. Concers there about not enough on site parking and building residences that overlook the noisy and polluted A34.

All of these decisions have to do with the fact that Vale still do not have a 5 year land supply for housing development. Until we do, nearly all applications for housing will be approved. Prepare yourselves for even more awful and ugly developments. There is no requirement for quality, beauty or enough parking.

I asked last night at a planning training session if the priority for Vale was to achieve this 5 year land supply. I was told yes. When I asked how we were working on it, I was told that once the Local Plan is approved, we will be there. So the main strategy seems to be to wait for approval of the Local Plan? But that might not happen for two or more years! In the meantime, all our communities are being overrun with cheap as chips, over-crowded flat developments, even right up alongside the noisy and polluting A34.

It’s an astonishing failure of planning policy. Tories have had more than 4 years to get a Local Plan adopted, and we are still a long way away.