Sherford – Developers blackmail Councils over Design Code with threat to Drip Feed Development

Plymouth Herald

Planners who agreed this week to relax the building code on a new town in Devon have been accused of betraying local people.

Sherford new town, east of Plymouth, is likely to end up as just another housing estate, Ben Bolgar, a director of the Prince’s Foundation for Building Community, warned.

South Hams District Council planning committee voted on Wednesday to allow the developers more flexibility.

The decision puts South Hams at odds with Plymouth City Council, which last week rejected the changes in the small fraction of the 5,500-home development which lies within the city boundary.

One of Prince Charles’s charities, the Prince’s Foundation for Building Community, was the original masterplanner for Sherford. The site was later bought by a consortium of three volume builders – Bovis Homes, Linden Homes and Taylor Wimpey.

Mr Bolgar said the builders had threatened to slow construction, which would have torpedoed the council’s housing targets.

Julian Brazil, a Liberal Democrat member of the South Hams planning committee, said the council was “caught between a rock and a hard place”.

The committee agreed to replace a strict set of rules known as the “town code” with less rigid guiding principles. The town code covers architectural style, building materials, where people park and how streets are laid out.

Plymouth’s planning committee was concerned that houses would not be built to high enough design standards. City councillors said the changes would create a “zombie town” and “years of planning would be thrown out the window”.

Mr Bolgar said people had been betrayed and let down by the planning system.

During the original consultation, thousands of people objected, but they were brought round by assurances that the houses would be built in a distinctive style with local materials and that the town would be made “walkable”.

The original code ensured that the visual impact of parked cars would be minimised. The new rules include a provision to allow two cars to be parked in front of every house.

“That massively changes the streetscape and also changes people’s behaviour,” Mr Bolgar said.

Mr Bolgar said the original planning permission allowed for a review after 600 houses had been built, but that the consortium had been seeking to dilute standards “even before they opened the first show home”.

“To see this so quickly on a site of this size is unusual.”

He said councils were being put under pressure by developers because of government rules which mean they must hit housing targets or face a planning free-for-all.

“The biggest builders have such a monopoly over the market that they just claim they can’t build quickly enough, and the local planning authority rolls over.”

“When they bought the land all of these conditions were factored into the price.

“This is just the beginning. There is nothing to stop further dilution at every stage. This is the thin end of the wedge.”

He said the changes had been made with such little consultation that most people in neighbouring areas did not even know they were happening. Those who did know, had been led to believe they were minor changes.

“It was done under the radar. These are vast decisions being taken by people without the right kind of experience of big developments.”

Cllr Brazil said his committee had little choice.

Councils are obliged by government to have a five-year land supply policy, setting out where they will deliver a set number of homes.

Failing on the five-year land supply would remove much of a council’s control over housing, Cllr Brazil said.

“Developers would be able to choose where to build and all our policies would go out of the window,” he said.

The Sherford Consortium said: “This project will last some 30 years, from initial planning to completion, and the committee understood the need for flexibility to enable the scheme to evolve over time.

“This will also allow house building and the delivery of facilities at Sherford to progress at a faster rate, without losing any of the design quality.

“This decision will help unlock further investment in the project enabling us to ensure Sherford is a success.

“We will continue to work closely with the local authorities to create this unique new community and deliver against the high expectations that we all have for Sherford.”

South Hams Development Management Committee delegated authority to the lead of planning and planning chairman to conditionally approve a revised town code.

Cllr Robert Steer, the committee chairman, said: “We are committed to high quality housing for Sherford and we considered this application in great detail.

“We found that while this application increases flexibility by removing specific rules, it does not take away the fundamental vision for Sherford.

“It has been a number of years since the development was proposed and the detailed town code drawn up, and the project will continue for another 20 years.

“Over this period, there are going to be changes and a degree of flexibility is needed to move with the times to help deliver homes for local families, in styles and designs that people would like to live in.

“Sherford is in our emerging joint local plan, and is contributing greatly to the housing need of the South Hams.

“The spatial vision and masterplan are not changing. This application replaces the town code with key principles to vary the styles, not quality, of homes at Sherford.

 

An artist’s impression of Sherford

 

“On balance, members considered that the application reasonably increases this flexibility for delivering other building designs while not diminishing the overall vision. and therefore moved to delegate authority to conditionally approve this application.”

Alan Cooper, vice-chairman of Newton and Noss Parish Council, who attended the planning meeting, said he was worried by the council apparently caving in to developers’ demands.

“This was a disgraceful decision by the planning committee,” Mr Cooper said.

Kevin Wigens, Plymouth’s chair of planning, said: “Anyone would be nervous about changing the parameters of the original consent. A lot of thought went into those conditions. That’s not to say the developers are going to do anything wrong.”

ABOUT SHERFORD

The Sherford site covers 490 hectares of greenfield land to the southwest of Deep Lane junction of the A38, and to the north west of Elburton within Plymouth.

The site straddles the administrative boundary with South Hams District Council, and is bound by the A38 to the north, and Vinery Lane to the west.

Brixton and the A379 lie approximately 3km to the South.

With the exception of some former nursery glasshouses to the west, and farm buildings, the site is mainly agricultural land.

Development at Sherford started in November 2014 and construction work for some 240 dwellings and infrastructure is now taking place on site.

The masterplan adopted by South Hams and Plymouth councils said that Sherford, when complete, would have up to 5,500 new homes, a high street, four schools, shops, jobs and community facilities.

 

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