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The End is Near

Finally, after years in production, the new Local Plan will soon be going through its final stages. The last public consultation on the completed Local Plan is scheduled for April/May this year. Thereafter, the Plan and the responses to the consultation will be sent to the Planning Inspectorate, who will prepare the final leg of the Local Plan’s journey, through the Examination in Public.

KKG have not been standing idly by. Over recent months we have been busy preparing where we can for this last consultation and the Examination in Public. Our QC has been very helpful in this, and we fully expect that he will be representing KKG, and all of us, in that public forum.

However, there are still a few councillors who are intent in further delaying this already long-delayed Local Plan process. They appear to have got it into their minds that there exists a silver bullet, whereby the outside pressure on this Borough (and every other Borough in the country) to build large amounts of housing can somehow be made to disappear.

Like all magical solutions, this is an illusion.

It matters not that a number of national politicians have said that the housing targets set by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities will be reduced. Such political pronouncements have no force in planning law, and there is no sign of any change emanating from the Department. Indeed, a previous approach by Spelthorne to the Department to argue for a reduction in housing targets was rebuffed.

In the meantime, because Spelthorne is so far behind schedule in producing a Local Plan, it is unable to demonstrate that is has a five-year plan to meet these housing targets. Which means that this Borough has little defence against developers wanting to build in this Borough.

The huge risk which the Borough is taking by not having a new Local Plan is clearly demonstrated by the very recent case of the planned Inland Homes development of 206 dwellings at the Old Telephone Exchange in central Staines. The planning application was refused by the Council’s Planning Committee. The developer took that refusal on appeal, and the Planning Inspector handed down his decision on 17 January. We quote from paragraph 76 of the Planning Balance section of the Inspector’s decision:

76. The benefit of providing homes in an area of under-delivery of housing and where there is not a five-year supply of housing land, adds significant weight in favour of the scheme. Making beneficial use of a prominent town centre site which has been unused for a number of years and which detracts from the character and appearance of the area, also adds significantly to the case for the proposal. I have set out a number of other benefits of the proposal which add varying degrees of weight in the overall balance.

Much as we might not like it, that is the reality.

Silver bullets? Please…

GO

The meeting to try and sort out the direction of our Local Plan took place last Tuesday evening (see https://keepkemptongreen.com/2021/07/09/time-for-the-fighting-to-stop/ )

To be frank, it is some time since KKG have listened to such a dis-spiriting display of political self-indulgence.

Rather than address the motion on the agenda (see the link above), an alternative “visioning” motion, emanating from, of all places, the new Leader and his Deputy, was put up for discussion.

This motion, on its own, would kick this particular can – getting the Local Plan moving again – down the road until October at the very least, so that yet another task group, an “envisioning” committee chaired by an outside facilitator, can generate a substantial contribution to global warming.

What a discussion ensued. Several hours of political manoeuvring and posturing followed (all in advance of the by-election to fill the seat left vacant by the resignation of the leader of the Green faction). Not by all councillors, but by enough of them to make a difference.

So, while the clock on our Local Plan is ticking very loudly, and we have already lost more than a year’s progress towards finishing it because of this council-wide faction fighting, the meeting last night eventually decided to adopt both motions, finally allowing the Planning Officers to get work moving again, but with the imminent threat that the whole thing could come to a standstill again in three months’ time. Perhaps sooner.

And as this is going on, councillors have been telling residents that it is possible to remove all Green Belt from the Local Plan process, at the same time as ruling out any high-rise blocks of flats, and all the while ignoring the housing targets sent down from central government. This is unadulterated snake-oil, and they know it.

Quite how the Planning Officers put up with this obstructionism is difficult to understand. The current planning team in charge of the Local Plan have done a highly commendable job in the face of what is simply juvenile behaviour by councillors.

In any decent system, those councillors who have been continually frustrating the work of the Planning Office would resign.

They know who they are. Just go.

Time for the fighting to stop

Next week, on 13 July, the Spelthorne Environment and Sustainability Committee will meet to address the question of the future strategy for OUR Local Plan. The motion before the committee will be to:

“Agree the revised strategy for the new Local Plan to meet our housing need by releasing a small amount of Green Belt, reducing the impact on Staines by not including an additional allocation, including opportunities to reduce some building heights in Staines if this is the outcome of the Staines Development Framework consultation and allow for more family homes with gardens to be built.”

The background is that the last year has been marked by party political fighting on a scale we haven’t seen in this borough for decades. As a direct result, within the space of a year, a year’s progress in the development of our Local Plan has been lost.

From the offices of the large landowners in this Borough, this must be most enjoyable viewing. For as we all know – even if some of us will not admit it – a council that is in such disarray that it can’t make any progress in completing its Local Plan is inviting the Planning Inspectorate to step in and do the work for it. For the developers, this looks like all their Christmas dinners come at once. You can almost hear them rattling the carving tools in anticipation.

It is no use hoping, as some have been, that Secretary of State Jenrick will suddenly have an overnight conversion to reducing the housing targets. It is no use pretending, as some have been pretending, that all Spelthorne’s Green Belt sites can be withdrawn from consideration for development. It is no use claiming, as some have been claiming, that this Borough can work up a Local Plan in a way which does not comply with the standard method. Any Planning QC will tell you that these options are not possible. So, too, the council’s own Planning Officers.

A Planning Inspector would make a simple ruling. At the very least, this Borough would be sent back to do the whole process again. Look what happened in Runnymede a few years ago. But the real risk is that the Inspector’s penalty would be much more severe: pretending we can go it alone is a sure way to lose even greater swathes of our Green Belt than we otherwise would – a decision the Inspector will make and against which we will have no possibility of appeal.

KKG urges the members of the Environment and Sustainability Committee to vote to approve this motion.

We also urge you all – the people who have followed what KKG has successfully done to protect Green Belt for nearly a decade – to contact the members of the Environment and Sustainability Committee and encourage them to approve this motion. This is urgent: this motion became public on 8 July, and the meeting is on 13 July.

The councillors’ contact emails are:

Councillor Ian Beardsmore  (Chairman) cllr.beardsmore@spelthorne.gov.uk

Councillor Olivia Rybinski  (Vice-Chairman) cllr.rybinski@spelthorne.gov.uk

Councillor John Doran   cllr.jdoran@spelthorne.gov.uk

Councillor Tom Fidler   cllr.fidler@spelthorne.gov.uk

Councillor Nick Gething   cllr.gething@spelthorne.gov.uk

Councillor Michele Gibson   cllr.gibson@spelthorne.gov.uk

Councillor Kathy Grant   cllr.grant@spelthorne.gov.uk

Councillor Naz Islam   cllr.islam@spelthorne.gov.uk

Councillor Thomas Lagden   cllr.lagden@spelthorne.gov.uk

Councillor Vivienne Leighton   cllr.leighton@spelthorne.gov.uk

Councillor Jim McIlroy   cllr.mcilroy@spelthorne.gov.uk

Councillor Sinead Mooney   cllr.mooney@spelthorne.gov.uk

Councillor Bob Noble   cllr.noble@spelthorne.gov.uk

Councillor Joanne Sexton   cllr.sexton@spelthorne.gov.uk

Councillor Veena Siva   cllr.siva@spelthorne.gov.uk

And we urge councillors of all stripes to end this ceaseless fighting and put the people of this borough first.

Open gardens and other things

Created with GIMP

Just a short note to let you know that we have had to postpone (again…) the KKG Open Gardens until Sunday 12 June 2022. We will keep you posted about details of this, and other fundraisers, closer to the events.

Spelthorne Council has now moved to a new regime – a committee system, rather than the “Cabinet” government of the past several years. Committee chairs have now been apportioned by a negotiated proportional system, (until, of course they are changed because of the inherent instability of the current coalition control of the Council).

We have already been in contact with the members of the Local Plan Working Party – now renamed the Local Plan Task Group – to press our case that the lack of progress in drawing up our Local Plan over the last year means that a number of risks have increased, not least the possibility that a Planning Inspector could be sent in to write our Local Plan for us if the Council do not get a move on. We have been assured by the Chair of the Party/Group that progress will be made in short order.

We look forward to seeing the hard evidence of that.

Doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun …

flying

Before we start: our sincere thanks to all who have contributed to generously to our fighting fund. The response has exceeded our expectations. We are not there yet, but we are well on our way, and the generosity of you all gives us great confidence.

If you would still like to contribute, you can find details of how to pay here. Or click on the cartoon horse to the left.

So, where were we? Oh yes. Doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun …

You may remember, back in the mists of time, in November 2017  , that Spelthorne Council published its Green Belt Assessment. In it, Kempton Park was judged to be a “strongly performing” parcel of Green Belt, which is good news for the overwhelming majority of us who seek to prevent the Kempton Park estate being turned into a small town.

At the same time, the council announced it would be conducting a Stage 2 Green Belt Assessment, in which each parcel of Green Belt would be examined in greater detail, to see whether there were parts of each parcel of Green Belt which could justify being turned over to development.

Then, in June 2018, we were all asked to choose amongst four options for where future development in the Borough should take place: on Brownfield sites; Green Belt sites; in Staines; or a combination of the other three.

Well, in October and November 2019, these two strands – the Stage 2 Green Belt Assessment and the Issues and Options consultation will come together and be made public in what is called the Preferred Options consultation. We have pressed several times for the Stage 2 Green Belt Assessment to be released ahead of time. Our requests were repeatedly turned down; Council planners said it would be released with the Preferred Options consultation “in the summer”. That timing has slipped somewhat, but we look forward to seeing both documents together. We have repeatedly been assured that the Stage 2 Assessment would not affect the Green Belt status of Kempton Park, but it would be even more reassuring to see it confirmed on paper.

That is the next step in this prolonged Review of our Local Plan. But we are getting nearer to the end (hence the need to raise funds to pay for a very good QC to represent residents’ interests in the final stages of this process).

That’s all we have to update you all with at the moment. The moment we learn something more we’ll let you all know.

 

 

The deadline is midnight on Monday

Just a reminder, the deadline to get your response to the Issues and Options consultation to Spelthorne Council is midnight on Monday 25 June.

You can do it online at https://consult.spelthorne.gov.uk/consult.ti/Localplan/consultationHome

Or you can print off a blank response form by clicking here, complete it and return it to the Spelthorne Council offices at Knowle Green.

Whichever way you do it, get the benefit of our QC’s legal advice and read the guide by clicking here.

 

The LPWP and the Arup Green Belt Assessment

As part of the Review of our Local Plan, the council is required to undertake a Green Belt review. Part of this Green Belt review is an Assessment compiled by Arup, the engineering consultancy.

Spelthorne’s Local Plan Working Party (LPWP) met last Monday to discuss, amongst other things, the Arup Green Belt Assessment. The Assessment considers each parcel of Green Belt in the Borough as to how each fulfils the five purposes of Green Belt laid down in the National Planning Policy Framework, which are:

  • to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas
  • to prevent neighbouring towns merging into one another
  • to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment
  • to preserve the setting and special character of historic towns
  • to assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land

The LPWP  has forwarded this Arup Assessment to the Council cabinet meeting on 22 November, for them to decide whether and when to put this Assessment in the public domain. On the assumption that it would be extremely difficult for the Council not to make it available – other nearby Boroughs have made their Green Belt Assessments public – we will publicise it as soon as we are able to.

The LPWP also considered a request from LOSRA – the Lower Sunbury Residents Association – that members of Borough residents groups be allowed to attend meetings of the LPWP as observers. This request comes against the background that:

* KKG won an appeal to the Information Tribunal, against the Information Commissioner and Spelthorne Borough Council, who both said that the Council was entitled to keep the proceedings of the LPWP confidential indefinitely. The Tribunal judge disagreed.

“ Spelthorne Council’s own rules as to access to meetings contains nothing that entitles them to exclude members of the public from meetings of the LPWP.

As we have come to expect, however, the LPWP would not accede to what we think is an entirely reasonable request. Secrecy, as the denizens of Westminster are finding out, breeds suspicion and contempt.

This is not the end of the matter, We’ll keep you posted.

Any advance on 3000?

auctioneer

So there we have it – the shocking news that The Jockey Club wants to bulldoze a “highly profitable racecourse” (their own words) in order to make “in excess of £100 million” (their own words, again) by covering their Green Belt estate at Kempton Park in concrete.

And if The Jockey Club stands to make that sort of sum, then Redrow – The Jockey Club’s preferred developer – stands to make an absolute killing.

A few points:

a) First we found out that they wanted to build 1500 dwellings at Kempton Park. That soon became 2000  (although both The Jockey Club and their various consultants denied there was a figure, despite us having the documentary proof). And now, we’re told, they want to build 3000 units by using not just the open Green Belt on eastern half of their estate, but also by flattening the grandstands and digging up the racecourse itself.

Do we believe 3000 will be the final figure?

Frankly, no.

You can build far more than 3000 dwellings on a site that size.

b)  They say (see Redrow’s PR people’s email here) that their plans “could allow for the retention of a significant area of Green Belt, alongside the provision of other publically accessible on-site open space.”

What they really mean is they will apply for a smaller number of houses on a portion of the estate – probably where the grandstands are now –  and a few years hence will apply to build on what remains.

Tell us another one.

c)    “In addition to housing, the site could deliver significant improvements to the local road network, particularly at Sunbury Cross and has the potential to deliver a new school, health facilities, shops and other community facilities.”

Improvements to the local traffic network? 3000 dwellings = 6000 extra cars on the local roads at rush hour.

New schools? New health facilities? Even if we believed them (no such promises have been kept by any other developer in Sunbury) such promises are simply not in the gift of Redrow or The Jockey Club. Teachers, doctors and nurses are paid for by the local education authority or the NHS. Who believes that either of those bodies has the money to build and maintain new health centres and schools in Sunbury.

The Jockey Club and Redrow must have written their press releases with tongues firmly in cheeks, and their fingers in a collective cross behind their backs.

To be blunt, from an organisation of which the Queen is Patron, one expects better.