The Sad Return of the 500 page local plan

Even before the 2004 Act plans were too long.  Indeed according to Lord Falconer one of the main aims of reform was to get them shorter and more strategic.

Sadly plans continue to get longer.  Over 300 pages is not unusual and there are a few well over 500 pages.

There are many reasons for this.  Lack of strict editorial control, plans being drafted by teams using online systems – without strong editing.

Not all long plans are poor or repetitive.  The draft South Downs National Park plan is well written and innovative with little policy fat or duplication.  It covers a huge area which makes it hard to produce a very short plan.  But it does include over 150 pages which doesn’t need to be there at all – concordances of old local plans policies mapping to new policies.  Best done as a supporting document produced alongside but not part of the local plan – under reg 22 (e).

Similarly well over 100 pages on site allocations – most site being very small some as small as 8 dwellings.  A sad glance of the future where plans have to allocate small sites.  It would be much better if the plan only dealt with in detail the larger startegic sites – such as at Lewes, with small sites dealt with through settlement boundary allocations only and medium sized sites with tables and proposals map allocations only.  Detailed site information and design issues can be published as SPD alongside the plan.  Only larger sites critical to delivery need to be covered in any detail in local plans.

Birmingham Growth Options and the Green Belt – A Study but No Strategy

Half the reason for larger than local planning is to think strategically.  To look at options that provide wider planning benefits and less environmental impacts than atomistic field by field and local plan by local plan planning, which inevitably produced bland sprawl.  What is not good enough is simply to aggregate work into a ‘super SHLAA’ looking at sites and areas as they are now and solely in terms of meeting housing numbers.

Recently Greater Birmingham, at last, has produced a strategic growth study., by GL Hern and Wood  It settles a number of things, the level of need, the employment scenario and how much housing can be provided through increased density (around 15,000) which leaves a shortfall of 47,800 homes to 2036.  The study then goes on to identify a number of areas for further study as strategic sites.

The study is a dry and competent piece of technical work in terms of levels of need and site assessment.  But it isn’t strategic at all.  It doesn’t look forward 20-30 years in terms of what the region could be.  In that sense it is quite unlike the resent work on the Oxford-MK-Cambridge Strategy for example.

It suggests 4 areas of search for New Settlements inside the Green Belt and none at all outside of it.  outside the Green belt only modest urban extensions are proposed.  Why did it do this.  Look no further than its weighting system in terms of current travel times.  For example a New Settlement site at Alweras/Fradley is marked low solely because of travel times and distance to Birmingham.  However extending the current cross city line along the freight only line to Burton has been proposed, and you could have a station to the East on the fast route via Tamworth – you can get from Burton to New Street in 34 minutes – quicker than to Wolverhampton.

longlist

I don’t think any of the 4 new settlements in  the Green Belt will fly, we might not get the mass placards as we had in Manchester until we have a draft strategy, but a strategy in this form looks politically undeliverable in not looking exhaustively and creatively for new settlements options with accompanying NEW infrastructure outside the Green.

I think the strategy needs to focus on two areas.  Firstly the area around Penkridge and Dunston.  Including a new Station at Dunston.  Secondly a corridor along the cross city rail link from Bromsgrove to Litchfield and beyond extending to Burton along the old South Staffordshire Line, as well as restoring the South Staffordshire line between Litchfield and Walsall..  This area intersection with the main north south rail lines and is the hub of the Golden triangle for logistics.  It can also connect to Leicester through restoring the Ivabhoe line as long planned via Coallville and Ashby De-la_Zouch.   Why arn’t the East and West midlands lobbying and shouting from the rooftops for this.  As for strategic Green Belt releases.  I see the need for only two – one employment led near Birmingham International.  The other East of Bromsgrove – where the Green Belt was extended too far south in the first place in the 1980s.

At Dunton/Penkridge we have the potential for a Garden City primarily serving as overspill for the Black Country.  It would have outstanding strategic road connectivity and potential for two rail stations.  From Fradley via Alweras and Barton under Needlewood we have the opportunity for a linear public transport oriented city set within the National Forest and around the National Arboretum and restoring much despoiled land which were former Trent Gravel pits.  I would call this Garden City Brindley, after Birmingham’s and Staffordshire’s greatest Engineer who first brought the canal system through the Garden City site.  There is lots of growth already along teh A38 – but there is a great danger of this being disconnected car oriented sprawl.