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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Council held on 14/10/2003

Supplementary Planning Guidance

Density and Size of Dwellings

Policy H4 of the Waverley Borough Local Plan 2002

For further information please contact:
Daniel Hawes
Policy and Projects Officer

Tel. 01483 523295
Fax. 01483 523291

E-mail: dhawes@waverley.gov.uk

SPG on Waverley Local Plan Policy H4: Density and Size of Dwellings

Purpose of Supplementary Planning Guidance on Policy H4
Status of the Supplementary Planning Guidance
The Policy
The site size threshold
Assessing proposals for residential development
Exceptions to Policy H4
Calculating net density
Floor space guidelines for two and three bedroom dwellings
Outline planning applications
Sites that provide a quota of affordable housing
Rural exception sites
Appendix 1 Statement of consultation
Appendix 2 Local Plan Policies D1 (Environmental Implications of Development) and D4 (Design and Layout)
Appendix 3 Design Statement Guidance Notes

1. Policy H4 (Density and Size of Dwellings) is one of the policies in the Waverley Borough Local Plan. The Council adopted the Local Plan on 23rd April 2002.

2. The Policy has two objectives:
i. to provide market dwellings for small households, for which there is an identified need; and
ii. to ensure that residential development is built at the minimum densities required by national planning policy.

3. These objectives stem from Planning Policy Guidance Note 3: Housing (PPG3) published in March 2000 and from Waverley’s own Housing Needs Surveys in 1997 and 2001.

4. PPG3 promotes a wider housing opportunity and choice. It seeks to create mixed communities and enables local authorities to influence the size and type of dwellings built according to local assessments of housing need.

5. Waverley has now carried out two Housing Needs Surveys. The 1997 survey identified a need for small dwellings at the low cost end of the market. The 2001 survey concluded that “There is a need for low cost market housing and planning policies and site development briefs should continue to encourage more, smaller dwellings to meet current needs and address the shortage of flats in the existing stock” (paragraph 1.9.9).

6. PPG3 also promotes the efficient use of land. Densities below 30 dwellings per hectare (12 dwellings per acre) are to be avoided. Higher densities are encouraged at places with good public transport.

7. The Government reaffirmed its commitment to higher densities with The Town and Country Planning (Residential Density) (London and South East England) Direction 2002 which came into force on 2nd December 2002. The Government Office must be notified of any application for residential development of less than 30 dwellings per hectare on sites of one hectare or larger, where the local planning authority proposes to grant planning permission.

Purpose of Supplementary Planning Guidance on Policy H4

8. The purpose of this Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG) is to clarify, interpret and elaborate on Policy H4 of the Waverley Borough Local Plan 2002. Consistent with the Local Plan Keynote Policy, the overall objective is to ensure that residential development optimises the use of land in terms of density and meeting housing need whilst protecting local character.

Status of the Supplementary Planning Guidance

9. The Council formally adopted this document as Supplementary Planning Guidance on [insert date]. It has been prepared in accordance with the principles set out in PPG12: Development Plans (December 1999). It derives out of, and is consistent with, the Development Plan, and it has been subject to public scrutiny. It therefore attracts substantial weight in making decisions on planning applications. A Statement of Consultation is attached at Appendix 1.

The Policy

Policy H4 – Density and Size of Dwellings

In considering proposals for residential development comprising more than three dwelling units on sites which are acceptable in principle for such development and accord with all other relevant policies of this Plan, the Council will require that:

(a) at least 50% of all the dwelling units within the proposal shall be 2 bedroomed or less; and,

(b) not less than 80% of all the dwelling units within the proposal shall be 3 bedroomed or less; and,

(c) no more than 20% of all the dwelling units in any proposal shall exceed 165 square metres in total gross floor area measured externally, excluding garaging.

The Council will resist developments which make inefficient use of land. Densities below 30 dwellings per hectare (net) will, therefore be avoided and encouragement will be given to proposals which provide for between 30 and 50 dwellings per hectare (net). Higher densities will be particularly encouraged at places with good public transport accessibility or around major nodes along good quality public transport corridors.

The site size threshold

10. The threshold of “more than three dwellings” applies to the policy in its entirety - to both the “dwelling size” and “density” elements. This is interpreted as “more than three dwellings gross.

11. The Local Plan Inspector introduced the “more than three dwelling” threshold and states in his report, “It seems to me that once a figure of about 4 new dwellings reached, such developments are most likely to occur on larger sites where there is scope to increase densities and provide for more units with the terms of this policy applying. Some flexibility will have to be exercised and each case will need to be assessed on its individual merits” (paragraph 6.76).

12. As the Inspector states, flexibility is needed in applying this threshold. A proposal for three or fewer dwellings will fail Policy H4 if better use could be made of the site (in terms of density or housing mix, or both) such that it could provide more than three dwellings, in a way that is compatible with the local environment, local character and other planning considerations.

13. A proposal for more than three dwellings that fails to meet the requirements of Policy H4 may, in exceptional circumstances, be permitted where it would otherwise harm the character of the area. The following section sets out the Council’s approach in more detail.

Assessing proposals for residential development

14. All development should be design-led to make ‘optimum’ use of the site with regard to:

Local character and environmental constraints

i. The character of the built environment is determined by such factors as land use, street pattern and width, plot shapes and sizes, layout of buildings within plots, spaces between buildings, building line, set backs, building scale and height, building materials, walls, fencing, hedges, and natural features such as topography, trees and water courses.

ii. Density is often not in itself a primary contributor to local character, though there is a limit to the density realistically achievable for a given site without creating buildings out of scale with their context, generating excessive parking requirements, or losing important features of a site such as trees and important open areas.

iii. When assessing proposals against local character, the Council will have regard to their impact on the appearance of the area from the public realm (e.g. roads, footpaths, public spaces). It is important that character is assessed from the public, rather than the private perspective:

Is the built form, design and layout appropriate to the site and its surroundings? Does it respect local distinctiveness or otherwise make a positive contribution to the locality?

Does the scheme retain or enhance the site’s important natural features that make a positive contribution to local character?

Is the local infrastructure capable of supporting the density of development proposed? For example, would the traffic increase be compatible with the local highway network, and not have an unacceptable impact on the amenity of occupiers of nearby properties?

iv. Local Plan Policies D1 and D4 provide more detail and are attached at Appendix 2.

Design to optimise use of the site

v. If a proposal does not comply with Policy H4, could an alternative design of a high quality, that respects local character, meet, or come closer to meeting, the objectives of Policy H4? With good design, developments can provide for small dwellings, and so make better use of land to meet housing need, without harming the visual character of areas of public amenity. For example, flats, or two or three small attached dwellings can, if well designed, be made to look like a large house where this is a desirable appearance for new development. A modern flatted development is likely to be both higher than standard two-storey houses, and larger in terms of footprint and may not be appropriate in all circumstances, but this approach should be considered as an option. Also, the corresponding increase in parking, garaging, hardstanding, turning heads and bin storage may result in a development that is out of character, and could contain densities, though designers should strive to resolve these conflicts where possible through good design.

vi. Proposals for infill development will only be acceptable if consistent with creating or maintaining a high quality urban form. New development should fit into existing street patterns and building grain or create logical new street patterns and urban forms. Piecemeal development of land will not be permitted where it would prejudice a more comprehensive and efficient redevelopment appropriate to the area’s location and character. Land assembly is often the key to achieving successful infill development (see Surrey Design, Principle 7.3).

Accessibility to public transport and facilities

vii. In and around town centres, densities of at least 50 dwellings per hectare are encouraged, subject to the design being compatible with the local area.

viii. Densities above 50 dwellings per hectare are not precluded away from town centres, but planning applications should be supported with an analysis of:
- the site’s accessibility to public transport and local facilities
- the traffic impact and its compatibility with the local highway network
- the likely parking requirements and potential problems with on-street parking.

15. All of these factors come together in shaping the design solution for the development of a given site. A “Design Statement” should address these and accompany a planning application. Guidance notes on preparing a Design Statement can be found at Appendix 3. “Surrey Design: A Strategic Guide for Quality” provides further guidance and offers a site appraisal checklist that is recommended to applicants. Waverley Borough Council adopted “Surrey Design” as Supplementary Planning Guidance on 23rd April 2002.

Exceptions to Policy H4

16. The Local Plan provides for exceptions where Policy H4 will not be applied: “Densities lower than 30 dwellings per hectare will be avoided. As an exception, lower densities may be permitted on small sites for three or fewer dwellings, where the development would otherwise be out of character with its surroundings.” (Paragraph 6.24)

17. Exceptions to Policy H4 for sites capable of accommodating more than three dwellings may be granted in exceptional circumstances provided a convincing case is made that the dwelling size and/or density requirements are incompatible with local character or other constraints. Such a justification will normally be by way of a Design Statement.

18. Within the “Areas of Special Environmental Quality” (Local Plan Policies BE2, BE3, BE4, BE5) and “Low Density Residential Areas” (Policy BE6), Policy H4, though still a consideration, is secondary to the relevant site-specific policy.

19. Neither is Policy H4 the primary consideration in similar non-designated areas of established low-density residential development, characterised by large detached houses in large plots where there is some consistency in the locality. As the Local Plan states, “other smaller, perhaps less well defined areas of similar quality exist within the Borough and the fact that such areas have not been identified as an area subject to Policy BE6 does not mean that they are any the less worthy of similar protection. The policies in Chapter 2 on Development will be used to protect the character of these smaller areas” (paragraph 4.15).

Calculating net density

20. In measuring the site size, guidance relating to “net site density” in Annexe 3 of PPG3 will be used. Areas to include within the “net site area” are:
access roads within the site;
private garden space;
car parking areas;
incidental open space and landscaping; and
children’s play areas where these are to be provided.

Excluded from the “net site area” are:
major distributor roads;
primary schools;
open spaces serving a wider area; and
significant landscape buffer strips.

21. Sometimes a site will contain environmental features or qualities that, although in the private domain of a development site, must be retained for the benefit of public amenity and contribution to local character. Examples could be ponds and watercourses, protected trees, and open spaces that permit important views from a public vantage point. In these circumstances it may be appropriate to reduce the net site area accordingly. This will help achieve the densities required by Policy H4.

Floor space guidelines for two and three bedroom dwellings

22. Policy H4 uses bedroom numbers to control the size of dwellings (e.g. 50% of dwellings should have 2 bedrooms or fewer). In most circumstances this is an adequate means of ensuring that the new dwellings proposed are those at which the policy is aimed.

23. The Local Plan, in the Glossary of Planning Terms, defines a small 3 bedroom dwelling as "a 3 bedroom dwelling where the third bedroom is a small room suitable for use as a single bedroom, nursery or study". It follows that on plans for new homes, a room shown as a study, nursery, 'bonus' room, or other name, but which effectively could be used as another bedroom, is likely to be considered as a bedroom for the purposes of Policy H4.
24. Proposed dwellings that are substantially larger than most two and three bedroom properties, but which are shown as having only two or three bedrooms, could fail the dwelling size requirements.

25. The following floor space areas (measured externally and excluding garaging) indicate the sizes envisaged for most new 2 and 3 bedroom houses:

2 bedroom dwellings approximately 70 – 90 square metres
3 bedroom dwellings approximately 90 – 110 square metres

26. These figures are to be used as a guideline, and are not intended to be over-prescriptive. It should not be inferred that all new two and three bedroom properties should fall within these ranges, but proposed two and three bedroom properties that exceed these floor areas significantly will be critically examined to determine whether they meet the objectives of the policy.

27. Habitable accommodation in roof spaces and basements provide a means of reducing building footprints and maximising floor space. Habitable accommodation provided this way will count toward the floor space allowance. Non-habitable accommodation in lofts and basements will not count.

Outline planning applications

28. When considering proposals for higher density development the Council will need sufficient information to determine the application. The applicant may be requested for further information in order to assess whether the density proposed can be successfully achieved on the site.

Sites that provide a quota of affordable housing

29. Sites that are large enough fall within the remit of Local Plan Policy H5 (Subsidised Affordable Housing within Settlements). In these circumstances the Council requires at least 30% of the housing to be made affordable. The minimum requirement is 25% on schemes with a density of at least 40 dwellings per hectare.

30. Paragraph 6.42 of the Local Plan requires developers to negotiate the scale and nature of provision of affordable housing with the Council. Applicants should contact the Council’s Housing Department before designing their scheme and submitting an application. Information from the Waverley Housing Needs Survey, and any other local needs surveys will inform the desired sizes and types of affordable housing to be provided on the site.

31. For a development to comply with both Policy H5 and Policy H4, the types of affordable housing required by Policy H5 might influence the type and sizes of market dwellings to achieve the mix required by Policy H4.

32. If the housing needs information indicates a preference for more large dwellings than Policy H4 would otherwise allow, the dwelling mix requirement may be relaxed. However, it does not follow that the dwelling mix will be relaxed to accommodate larger market dwellings, or that the density requirements will necessarily be relaxed.

33. Affordable housing should be integrated into new development and not be obvious through location, segregation, or the design and style of buildings (Surrey Design, paragraph 5.2.2).

34. If there is doubt over the suitability of the site to accommodate a particular form of affordable housing (for example the priority need in the area is for family houses but the site is more suited to flats) then the Council may consider provision on an alternative site, or commuted payments to off-site provision. The applicant should contact the Planning Department for advice.

35. For further information on affordable and “key worker” housing see the documents “Making Affordable Housing Happen in Surrey” and “Housing to Underpin Economic Success”, both available from Surrey County Council.

Rural exception sites

36. These are usually on green field sites, on the edge of villages, where development is not normally permitted. Planning permission for development is justified on the basis that 100% of the dwellings are affordable to meet local need. The mix of dwelling types and sizes should be tailored to reflect local need, rather than the requirements of Policy H4.

37. Densities of over 30 dwellings per hectare are encouraged, but schemes below 30 dwellings per hectare may be permitted provided the Council is satisfied that the best possible use is made of the site subject the primary concerns of local character and housing need.