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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Executive held on 06/02/2007
APPENDIX N - INTERIM MINIPLAN



Summary & Purpose
A report on the Interim Miniplan was presented to the Council on 12th December 2006 and a number of issues were raised. The matter was referred back to the Executive and a report was presented to the Executive meeting on 9th January 2007 which set out the matters to be looked at in more detail, and this report now considers the issues identified.

APPENDIX N
Waverley Borough Council

EXECUTIVE - 6TH FEBRUARY 2007

Title:
INTERIM MINIPLAN
[Wards Affected: All Farnham wards]

Summary and purpose:

A report on the Interim Miniplan was presented to the Council on 12th December 2006 and a number of issues were raised. The matter was referred back to the Executive and a report was presented to the Executive meeting on 9th January 2007 which set out the matters to be looked at in more detail, and this report now considers the issues identified.

Environmental implications:

The environmental implications of the Interim Miniplan are that the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area will be safeguarded from the effects of additional population arising from new housing in the Farnham area.

Social/community implications:

The social implications of the Interim Miniplan are that it will ensure that mitigation can be delivered to enable new housing to the built in the Farnham Area, to the benefit of the community. Failure to secure an interim avoidance strategy through the Miniplan will displace the requirement that housing land supply to other parts of the Borough and may also lead to further pressures to release green field sites and employment sites elsewhere to meet land supply targets.

E-Government implications:

The Interim Miniplan has been placed on the Waverley website.

Resource and legal implications:

Section 106 Agreements will be required.

Background

1. 1.1 The background to the Miniplan issue is set out in the report to the Council dated 12 December 2006 attached as an Appendix 1 to this report. At its meeting on 12th December 2006, the Council referred the matter back to the Executive for further information on (i), (ii), (iii), (iv).(see Appendix 1) ????The Council, by referring the Interim Miniplan back to the Executive allowed it to review the position. The Executive agreed on 9th January that this report should deal with the following matters: Clarification of the changes in circumstance between the former position when the Interim Miniplan related to both the Core Strategy and as a Development Control tool, and the present situation when it is purely a Development Control tool; The relevance of the issues raised by the Inspector as part of the Core Strategy Examination hearings to the consideration of the miniplan as a Development Control tool;

An explanation of the Interim Miniplan now being proposed, including:

That this is purely an interim solution for about three years to ensure that the adverse effects of residential development in Farnham on the SPA can be avoided; That 85 ha of the total 130ha of Farnham Park is semi-natural green space which is considered suitable in principle for use as mitigation land That only 7.5% (9.7 ha) of Farnham Park is being used for mitigation during this three-year period. Hopefully the refreshed Miniplan attached at Annexe A provides greater clarity. That the approximate three-year "window" will enable us to monitor how successful the mitigation land is in diverting recreational use from the SPA and test a number of Natural England's assumptions regarding mitigation land. It will also enable us to monitor the interim car parking and access arrangements that have been made and assess whether Natural England's perceived requirement for a car park and access into Farnham Park on the eastern side is needed in Waverley Borough Council’s judgment; Resolution of the detailed matters of interest to Natural England;

A review of the consultation process and comments received; An explanation of the impact and objectives of the Interim Miniplan including; The impact on small businesses/local economy
The impact on housing need;
The knock-on impact elsewhere in the Borough (i.e. the "balloon" effect: squeeze in one part puts more pressure elsewhere. Monitoring of planning permissions and relationship to the Miniplan. A legal opinion on the robustness of the approach. An explanation of the Peer Review of Natural England’s work on the SPA.

The Interim Miniplan as a Development Control Tool

2. The original purpose of the Miniplan was to support the strategic development proposals of the Council as expressed in the Core Strategy. It was a critical part of the supporting arguments that made development within the 5km zone of the Thames Basin Heaths sustainable. The history of this is set out in previous reports.

3. Whilst the Inspector raised a number of “Matters” about the relationships between the Core Strategy options, the Sustainability Appraisal, the Appropriate Assessment and the Miniplan, these were all within the context of the role of the Miniplan to support the Core Strategy over the period to 2018. 4. With the current suspension of the Core Strategy and likely withdrawal of it by the Secretary of State, the original purpose of the Miniplan is no longer relevant, nor are the Matters raised by the Inspector. 5. Notwithstanding the suspension of the Core Strategy, the Local Planning Authority still has a duty to consider planning applications that come forward and that might have an impact on the interests of the SPA. Within this planning application process, the LPA must give consideration to the Habitats Regulations 1994.

6. The Habitats Regulations require that before planning permission can be granted the LPA as “competent authority” is satisfied that the development proposed either alone or in combination with other plans or projects will not have a “likely significant effect” on the SPA. It is open for a LPA to consider whether a development proposal accompanied by measures to avoid impacts on the SPA will lead to a “likely significant effect”. If it is concluded that such a development would not have a “likely significant effect”, due to say the enhancement or provision of additional recreational land, secured through a Section 106 Agreement, then the LPA would not need to carry out an appropriate assessment under the Regulation. It would therefore be free to proceed and consider such applications subject to other planning considerations. 7. The Government Office and Natural England are both agreed that the LPA could develop interim miniplans as stand alone guidance, to assist in the consideration of individual planning applications against the requirements of the Habitats Regulations. This has already been done in our neighbouring authorities Guildford Borough Council and Woking Borough Council. Elmbridge and Bracknel Forest Councils are also drawing up similar plans. 8. In the case of Farnham Park, Natural England is satisfied that the enhancement of Farnham Park as a suitable accessible natural green space (SANGS) will avoid impacts on the SPA through increased population associated with new residential planning permissions. This conclusion is based on Natural England’s work on its own Draft Delivery Plan for the S.P.A. Therefore if applicants are willing and able to make contributions to these enhancements through Section 106 Agreements, and these improvements are implemented, the LPA is able to conclude at an early stage there will no be a “likely significant effect” on the SPA. 9. The role of the Interim Miniplan is therefore substantially different to that when it was integral with the Core Strategy. It is now a stand-alone guidance explaining this Council’s approach to consideration of the Habitats Regulations in relation to assessing likely significant effects on the Thames Basin SPA. It now has short time horizons and needs to be applied separately to each application as they are submitted. The current Interim Miniplan has taken a precautionary approach and is therefore open to future review subject to monitoring information. 10. The status of the Interim Miniplan will therefore be guidance to developers, explaining the Council’s approach to considering the requirements of the Habitats Regulations and helping to assess likely impacts, including appropriate avoidance strategies of developers. It is therefore rooted as a Development Control tool, rather than being a formal policy document. However it is considered important that Council endorses this guidance to give some comfort to the development industry and the local community that this is a considered and appropriate approach.
THE INTERIM MINIPLAN 11. Members wished for clarification on the matters set out in paragraph 1. These are dealt with as follows: The “three year” solution 12. The reason for the 3-year duration of the Interim Miniplan is that the existing car parking for visitors to Farnham Park is only sufficient to serve 10.9 ha of the Park and this would only provide mitigation avoidance in relation to the demand for a period of approximately three years based on planning permission trends for the 3-year period preceding the SPA issues biting and curtailing current planning application submissions. The time frame of the plan will be affected by the speed of housing permissions coming forward and the proportion of permissions between Zone B and C. Equally the time frame will be affected by the implementation of improvements and enhancements. For example improvements to access and parking arrangements will have a significant impact on increasing the parks capacity to offer further land as SANGS. These matters also need to be assessed against the visitor surveys of the park that will provide an evidence base to reconsider the capacity of the Farnham Park SANGS on an ongoing basis. 13. An analogy can be made with a bank account. The Council will have 10.9 ha in the account to start and as permissions are granted the account will be debited for every new bedroom. Implementing improvement works to the park that increases its further capacity can top up the account. Similarly to interest rate changes and inflation if Natural England’s basis for the calculation changes or the visitor surveys demonstrate the account is worth a different amount then the account can be adjusted. Semi-natural green space 14. The centre and northern part of the park (some 65% of the whole of the park) has been identified by Natural England as being SANGS semi natural green space in accordance with its guidelines for suitable alternative natural green space. (SANGS) . This means that it is not regarded as formal parkland, unlike the western part of the park close to the Castle. This type of open space is considered to be attractive to walkers and dog walkers and it is Natural England’s view that this area has both the capacity and capability of drawing a number of them recreational users away from the Special Protection Area. Use of 7.5% (9.7ha) of the Park (Now 10.9ha) 15. Since the previous reports to the Executive and Council Natural England has now revised its assessment of the amount of land available as a SANGS today. This is now calculated to be 10.9 ha of the possible wider area of land that is semi-natural landscape.

16. A detailed explanation of the calculation is set out in paragraph 8.6 to 8.8 of the mini plan.

17. Officers and Natural England agree that this is a cautious but reasonable way of moving forward in the light of the current uncertainties surrounding long-term approaches to the SPA. As explained above this is a starting point as agreed with Natural England but it will be subject to change depending upon the rate of permissions, the implementation of improvements, and further reviews and monitoring information.
Monitoring

18. The Council will be committed to monitoring and managing planning permissions against the 10.9 ha of SANGS together with the implementation of improvements and surveys. Officers are currently confident that due to the precautionary approach taken by natural England at this time that the surveys are likely to demonstrate that the current estimate of usable SANGS is likely to be shown as being too restrictive. Members should be clear that the surveys requested by Natural England are not required to justify the current 10.9 ha of land that has been assessed as being available now to avoid impacts on the SPA. Section 9 of the miniplan explains the monitoring arrangements. 19. The detailed matter that needed to be resolved with Natural England was the understanding about current provision of car parking and future possible enhancements. These matters have now been factored into the assessment of the current capacity of the SANGS and into future enhancement works.

The consultation process and comments received

20. When the Interim Miniplan was a critical document to the Core Strategy, it was also subject to the requirements for public consultation. Whilst these comments have been taken into account, there is nor formal requirement to consult on the Miniplan as a technical development control tool. However it is important that the Interim Miniplan is robust for this purpose and therefore there has been ongoing consultation with Natural England. Natural England have agreed that the attached miniplan is now acceptable to them such that they are able to lift its objection to net residential development and provided the Council adopts the miniplan as guidance in the determination of residential planning applications. 21. The Friends of Farnham Park have also been recently consulted, and any comments will be reported to the Executive.

22. To remind members of the Core Strategy related consultations this was carried out between 1st August and 15th September 2006 on the Interim Miniplan. The letter went out to over 700 organisations and companies. 247 representations were received and these were reported to the Executive on 31st October 2006. All the individual comments received were included in the report.

23. A brief summary of the main comments were

there was strong local feeling that the park should not be used for mitigation mainly because it was not thought to be wild enough to attract people away from the Special Protection Area. In response to this view, the Council was advised by Natural England that 85ha of the Park was suitable as semi-natural green space.

Respondents thought there was not enough parking and it was regarded as undesirable to provide parking in the Park itself. Natural England considered that there was enough parking on the periphery of the Park to serve 7.7ha of semi natural green space. The parking would be outside the Park, not inside.

Respondents considered that there have not been enough surveys to verify the workability of the proposal. The response to this is that Natural England has accepted the approach of carrying out the surveys in the early summer this year. The surveys would be used to endorse the assessment already made and reassess any potential increase in capacity.

24. The consultation responses are not strictly relevant to the remaining purpose of the miniplan, which is to provide guidance as to the avoidance measures to be required in order to enable residential development to take place in the vicinity of the SPA in accordance with regulation 48 of the Habitats Regulations. The ‘Core Strategy’ element of the miniplan is no longer considered relevant and the now irrelevant strategic aspects have been deleted. E.g. the need to meet strategic housing needs.

Impact and objectives of the Interim Miniplan

25. The main objective of the Interim Miniplan is to enable the LPA to recommence considering individual planning applications for residential development within 5km of the Special Protection Area whilst avoiding harmful impacts on the SPA. However the Executive were interested in the following matters:

Impact on small business. Officers have tried to assess the impact on small businesses and the local economy. However, this has proved difficult in the time available. There is some anecdotal evidence from letters; telephone calls and conversations that the virtual moratorium on housing development in Farnham during the past months has affected the small businesses and building trades that rely on house building for their business. Several letters have been received from small building firms expressing the difficulties of trading in the present situation. Impact on Housing Need. Members will be aware that the need for additional housing and particularly affordable housing is a critical issue for the Council. Whilst development cannot proceed in the Farnham area then these needs cannot be addressed in the locality. Nevertheless members will be aware even should residential development have come forward in the normal circumstances it would have done little to address the significant needs of affordable housing due to the scale of that particular problem. The Miniplan will allow development to take place, (subject to contributions being made towards the costs of promoting and managing the mitigation avoidance land and providing specific budget for the provision of further mitigation avoidance land) rather than applications having to be refused, thereby helping to meet housing need.

Housing Supply Implications. At present the Council is in a relatively healthy position in terms of its current obligations to meet housing land supply targets based on the current Structure Plan. So far there has been no overriding case to make other land available to compensate for the moratorium on new residential development in the Farnham area due to the rate of housing permissions coming forward across the Borough to date. Nevertheless it unlikely that this can continue indefinitely into the future due to the significance of Farnham’s contribution to future housing land supply within the Borough coupled with anticipated increased targets arising from the South East Plan examination and the requirements of PPS3 to identify a 15 year land supply in the Local Development Framework. The knock-on impact elsewhere in the Borough will arise if the Miniplan is not adopted. If development is suppressed in Farnham it will need to be accommodated elsewhere and this may lead to pressure to develop housing elsewhere within the Borough, In the emerging housing supply context this is likely to include the exploration of new urban extensions and new settlements as possible options. The worst case scenario would be for the land supply to dry up to the point that the Borough could not demonstrate its delivery of housing land and planning by appeal results.




Legal opinion on the robustness of the approach 26. The Council’s Solicitor has sought a legal opinion from Counsel. Any further legal advice will be reported to the meeting.Developer contributions might be unlawful because:
Peer Review of Natural England

27. Members were aware of the Peer Review carried out into the technical work undertaken by Natural England to support its stance on the Draft Delivery Plan. Equally Natural England has come under significant scrutiny at the south East Plan Examination in Public (EIP). Whilst that Peer Review and EIP scrutiny was extremely critical of the technical basis and evidence used by Natural England, it is not considered wise at this time to disregard the Natural England position as they are the Statutory Authority. The criticism was largely concerned with Natural England ‘s overcautious approach to the protecting of the SPA habitat. Therefore, in this light, officers believe that in working to the current standards being adopted, the Council is in a safe position in relation to the effectiveness of the Miniplan.

Conclusion 28. The Interim Miniplan is being proposed as a 3-year interim strategy to avoid mitigate adverse impacts of proposed residential development in Farnham on the SPA. It is not the long-term solution and its adoption does not commit the Council to agreement to the Natural England standards. It can be adopted as an interim stand-alone non-statutory development control guidance to provide the framework for providing and promoting mitigation avoidance measures and will provide the opportunity for further studies to be undertaken to assess visitor usage and assess the assumptions and standards in the Natural England Draft Delivery Plan. Without this interim guidance the Council will be faced with a virtual moratorium on all housing development in Farnham with growing consequences for other parts of the Borough and potential pressures for the release of Greenfield sites.

29. Both the Government Office and Natural England have endorsed the Council’s approach. Natural England has no objections to the miniplan as attached and subject to the Council agreeing the approach they and the Council will consider individual applications against the provisions of the mini plan. A copy of the miniplan has been forwarded to the Government Office for the South East for their information and any further comments will be reported to the Executive or Council as appropriate.

30. Given the shift in position of the mini plan and having been updated, Officers have offered to hold a Member briefing at 5.pm on 15th February 2007 in the Council Chamber. This should assist those Members sitting on Development Management Committees and those attending Council to consider the issues and clarify any questions they have on its operation before the Council debate on the 20th February 2007.

Recommendation

It is recommended to the Council that the Interim Miniplan be adopted as guidance to applicants that explains the Council’s approach to considering the Habitats Regulations 1994 for residential planning permissions that would have a likely significant effect on the Thames Basin SPA.

Background Papers (DPD)

There are no background papers (as defined by Section 100D(5) of the Local Government Act 1972) relating to this report.

CONTACT OFFICER:

Name: John Anderson Telephone: 01483 523296
Name: Laura Renaudon Telephone: 01483 523113
E-mail: lrenaudon@waverley.gov.uk

Comms/exec/2006-07/284