North Somerset Council
1) That Members consider the implications of the Secretary of State’s Proposed Changes to the Regional Spatial Strategy and forward any comments to assist in the Executive’s consideration on 9th September 2008.
Summary of Report
The draft RSS (2006 – 2026) was published in June 2006 and considered at an independent public examination in April – July 2007. The Panel Report containing the Panel’s conclusions and recommendations was submitted to the Secretary of State in December 2007. Following consideration of this Report, the Secretary of State published in July 2008 proposed changes for 12 weeks consultation ending on 17th October 2008.
For North Somerset the proposed changes confirm the scale of the two urban extensions at Weston (9,000 dwellings) and SW Bristol (9,000 plus 1,500 dwellings in Bristol City), and also the Panel’s recommendation that the figure for the ‘remainder’ of the district should increase from 5,000 to 5,750 dwellings.
While Executive Committee will formally consider the Council’s response in September, some of the key areas of concern are as follows:
a) Objection to any more than 7,500 dwellings at SW Bristol.
b) Objection to the750 dwelling increase in the North Somerset ‘remainder’ figure which will simply increase pressure on less sustainable locations.
c) Object to proposed removal of green belt between Royal Portbury Dock and the M5.
d) Object to removal of the green belt at Bristol International Airport.
e) Object to the requirement to ‘promote net densities of 50 dwellings/ha or more overall in planned urban extensions’.
Once approved, the Regional Spatial Strategy will obtain development plan status in the planning system, and provide the legal framework to which the North Somerset Core Strategy and other more detailed policy documents must comply.
Over the South West as a whole the Secretary of State proposed changes include a 29% increase in housing provision to (up from 459,550 to 592,460 dwellings). This was higher than the Panel Report’s recommendation of 569,450 dwellings. This was justified on the grounds that on the grounds that the SW is a high demand region for housing because of population growth, demographic and social trends and rates of economic growth above the national average. In particular, the government is looking to increase the supply of housing to meet updated 2004 household projections, to address long-term affordability and to support economic growth assumptions.
Most of this increase has been steered towards the West of England, Exeter and Plymouth Housing Market Areas. Appendix A summarises the detailed changes in housing and jobs/employment land for the sub-region. The Secretary of State’s proposed changes propose that the Panel Report’s recommendation of 26,750 dwellings for North Somerset is confirmed (up from 26,000 in the draft RSS).
This is sub-divided as follows:
Weston urban extension 9,000
Weston urban area 3,000
SW Bristol urban extension 9,000 (plus 1,500 within Bristol City)
This total represents a massive challenge in terms of delivery over the 20 year period given that the bulk of this provision is in two new urban extensions. Despite work progressing on the Core Strategy and strategic masterplanning/delivery plans, it remains the view that this quantum of development is going to be very difficult to deliver without severely compromising the overall quality of new development. The implications of the credit crunch and the significant downturn in the housing market further question the likelihood of this scale of development being delivered.
Appendix B lists the set of proposed RSS policies. This list doesn’t distinguish between the draft RSS and the Secretary of State’s proposed changes – although details of this can be found on the Government Office website (www.gos.gov.uk/gosw). Some of the key implications for North Somerset are summarised as follows:
a) Overall housing requirement
At the draft RSS consultation stage the Council accepted the principle of new urban extensions at Weston and SW Bristol, but maintained that the NSC element of the latter should be no more than 7,500 dwellings – primarily on the grounds that this was unlikely to be delivered over the plan period. The current economic situation reinforces this view.
There appears to be little justification for the additional 750 dwellings allocated in the ‘remainder’ of the district. This would imply that they can be provided in less sustainable locations (contrary to RSS objectives), and will increase the development pressure on towns and larger villages. If this increase is retained, then NSC should be permitted greater flexibility in terms of where this growth should be accommodated.
b) Settlement hierarchy
Most new development will be at Strategically Significant Cities & Towns (SSCTs) such as Bristol & Weston. Provision for more limited development will be made at ‘market & coastal towns’ defined as those with an existing concentration of employment, facilities and services that meet the needs of the settlement & surrounding area, and with sustainable transport modes. Within these areas provision will be made for housing, employment, shopping & other services that increase their self-containment & enhance their roles as service centres”. In ‘small towns & villages’ greater self-containment & stronger local communities will be promoted by making provision that supports an appropriate scale of economic activity, extends the range of services, and meets identified local housing needs. The Core Strategy will identify which settlements fall into which category.
This approach continues the existing strategy of concentrating development at the larger urban areas with limited opportunities elsewhere, and then only where this leads to greater self-containment.
c) SW Bristol
The RSS proposed changes confirm the proposed allocation of 10,500 dwellings at SW Bristol (9,000 NSC/1,500 BCC).
Despite representations to the draft RSS that this development should be phased and delivered in step with south Bristol regeneration and that the total within North Somerset should be no more than 7,500, this was not supported in the proposed changes. The Planning Together Workshops and ongoing work has demonstrated the complexity of issues surrounding this development. Delivery of infrastructure in phase with the development remains critical; as is effective joint working with Bristol and the West of England Partnership.
9,000 dwellings will be provided at the urban extension, with an additional 3,000 within the existing urban area, and 10,000 jobs including about 34ha employment land.
The phrase now used is that Weston “will secure concerted employment-led regeneration” by providing for the “revitalisation of the town centre and sea front through improved retail, leisure & cultural facilities & public realm”, a better balance between homes and jobs with “an emphasis on significantly improving the employment offer of the town & reducing the impacts of car based commuting” with “housing growth to be phased & linked directly to job growth”.
The policy approach is clear that housing is linked to job growth and this is strongly supported. It remains unclear what happens if the required quantum of employment fails to be delivered. Can additional housing growth then be resisted?
e) Green Belt
The policy refers to alterations to the Green Belt:
· Removal of land between Royal Portbury Dock and M5 – this is not required following confirmation of the Replacement Local Plan, and reference should be deleted from the RSS.
· Removal of land at Bristol International Airport – this is premature and would commit this Council to further Green Belt change before the longer term spatial requirements of the airport have been determined.
· Removal of Green Belt to accommodate urban extensions – the extent of this will be identified through the Core Strategy.
f) Housing issues
Proportion of affordable housing proposed to increase from 30% to 35%.
Density – target is 40 dwellings/ha, 40-50dwellings/ha within Weston, and 50 dwellings/ha in urban extensions. The latter is perhaps unrealistically high when considered across a large urban extension which will contain a wide range of housing types, and could prove a constraint on delivering a high quality sustainable development.
The Secretary of State’s proposed changes are out for consultation until 24th October 2008.
4. Equality Implications
5. Corporate Implications
None – although implementation of RSS proposals will have significant implications for service delivery over the next 20 years.[J3]
Michael Reep, Planning Policy Manager (01934 426775).
South West Regional Spatial Strategy: Secretary of State’s proposed changes (July 2008).
Draft RSS for the SW: Panel Report (December 2007).
Draft RSS for the SW: Regional Assembly (June 2006)[J4]
[J1]Give the revenue and capital cost of the proposal, and whether it is in addition to existing approved budget.
[J2]State any implications for equality in either employment or service provision. Consider how your report could affect sections of the community in terms of race, sex, disability, sexual orientation, religion or other belief, age, social exclusion and other groups.
[J3]List any cross service implications, eg for Children, Sustainability, Legal, Human Resources, Property, Human Rights, Proportionality, Crime and Disorder, etc. and include comments on any which are relevant.
[J4]All background papers significantly used in preparing the report must be listed, together with an official departmental file reference. Directors are responsible for ensuring that background papers can be accessed by the public for up to six years.