PROPOSED SUBMISSION SOUTH SOMERSET LOCAL PLAN 2006-2028 - EXAMINATION SUSPENSION: PROPOSED MAIN MODIFICATIONS NOVEMBER 2013

Comment ID 789
Document Section Consultation Document Sustainability Appraisal, Habitats Regulation Assessment and Equality Analysis Sustainability Appraisal SA View all on this section
Respondent Pegasus Planning Group (M Dobson) View all by this respondent
Response Date 10 Jan 2014
Do you consider the Proposed Main Modification is Legally Compliant? Yes
Do you consider the Proposed Main Modification is Sound? No
If you have responded that the Proposed Main Modification is unsound, do you consider the Proposed Main Modification is unsound because it is:
  • Not Justified
Comment

Updated Sustainability Appraisal

We object on the basis that this Proposed Main Modification is not justified as the conclusions of the additional assessment is considered to be flawed as it fails to properly consider the impact of splitting the housing and employment component into two separate urban extensions; and it fails also to properly consider the environmental consequences of the split site arrangement.

Unfortunately, despite being criticized by the Inspector in his preliminary conclusions letter regarding the lack of a robust Sustainability Appraisal (SA), the Council have continued to adopt a muddled and contradictory approach to the assessment of the various growth options. The reasons for this can be seen from the documentation produced by the Council following the last session of the Examination including a further Addendum to the Yeovil Peripheral Landscape Study produced for the Project Management Board, Workshop on 25th October 2013, and a subsequent Sustainability Appraisal Report on Strategic Growth Options for Yeovil produced by Enfusion on 30th October 2013 (including an additional Ch4 after the PMB (October 28th) Meeting).

As these documents apparently provide the primary justification for the current Proposed Modifications they need to be scrutinized properly to ensure that they represent a proper analysis of the various issues that need to be weighed in the balance when determining the quantum of growth and its proposed distribution. Moreover, it also needs to be borne in mind that such judgements as are made on a variety of factors should broadly conform with the approach previously taken by the Council and other independent assessors, unless there have been any major changes in circumstances since that time.

Dealing first with the Inspector’s Preliminary Findings on the lack of robustness of the Sustainability Appraisal (SA), this is summarized in Paragraph 6 of the Inspector’s Preliminary Findings. He continues in Paragraphs 9 to 47 of his findings to look specifically at the individual SA objectives commenting on all 14 of these in some detail. However, it is worthwhile noting in Paragraph 8 that the Inspector expresses concern about the basis for identifying these SA objectives and the weight that is to be attached to each particular issue. Having looked at all of these SA objectives he notes in Paragraph 51 that he has four particular concerns including:-

(i) the lack of weight attached to the need to seek to use areas of poorer quality agricultural land in preference of that of higher quality;

(ii) the lack of substantive evidence to demonstrate that there are significant differences in terms of landscape impact between several of the options that have been considered;

(iii) lack of consistency regarding consideration of protecting and enhancing the historic environment; and

(iv) lack of clarity regarding the scoring for Objective 14 – enhancing biodiversity and geodiversity.

In Paragraph 52 he goes on to state that even if these four concerns had been adequately addressed then it is possible that the Council would still have identified the southern SUE as the most appropriate location but without further changes he is not persuaded of this point.

The Council in its approach has sought to re-examine the Sustainability Objectives in an SA Addendum further examining the Strategic Growth Options for Yeovil. This exercise was undertaken by an independent consultant (Enfusion). This exercise was intended to:-

(1) Address the issues raised by the Inspector;

(2) Put right those errors admitted by the Council in the original version of the SA;

(3) Inform the choice of selected strategy for the expansion of Yeovil.

However, during this process it apparently became clear to the Local Planning Authority that revisions to the SA would necessitate some changes to the overall strategy to the extent that the approach of a Single Urban Extension would be abandoned as would any intention of seeking flexibility of the Plan for the longer term. This involved reducing the overall housing numbers for the SUE and considering whether a split site version would be more appropriate and deliverable within the Plan period. Effectively this approach meant the derivation of a new strategy with revised marking against the SA objectives for the selected strategy. This approach is set out in the revised Sustainability Appraisal Report issued for discussion at the PMB on October 25th, 2013. This Report was accompanied by another short paper produced by Enfusion for the 25th October 2013 entitled "Strategic Growth Options for Yeovil – Criteria Assessment Paper". This introduced further assessment criteria into the decision making process although the relationship of these to the original SA objectives is not entirely clear. The new assessment criteria introduced at this stage involve:-

(i) Further mitigation potential;

(ii) Added opportunities and benefits;

(iii) Ability to provide for long term development;

(iv) Deliverability and viability;

(v) Market capacity;

(vi) Infrastructure deliverability;

(vii) Provision of services and facilities.

Each of these new factors was assessed in the context of four potential Growth Options, three of which were single urban extensions (Options B, C and D) and one of which was an unspecified multi site urban expansion (involving unspecified permutations of Options A, B, C and D). The precise relationship of these additional factors brought into the decision making process is not explained fully in any of the documentation albeit that the information contained therein is useful.

The major difficulty which Pegasus Planning has in relation to this exercise is that nowhere in the Sustainable Appraisal Report or in the seven new factors against which the options were assessed, is the selected strategy for two urban extensions (at Keyford and Mudford) adequately assessed, and therefore cannot be robustly justified. The fourth multi-site option addressed in the fourth column of the SA, represents an unspecified quantum of development from each of the four sites, albeit that in the final Non Technical Summary of the Sustainability Appraisal Report (not produced until November 2013) options involving sites within Areas A and C are rejected. Nowhere in this process has the District Council (or its independent advisor) explained the basis on which the multi site option has been appraised and selected through the application of the SA objectives and/or through the new criteria assessment. Indeed, the selected mix involving 800 dwellings at Keyford and 765 at Mudford is not even part of the Sustainability Appraisal exercise which, in any event, is only a broad brush exercise. Notwithstanding this, we would have expected to have seen set out clearly in the documentation the reasons why the Council abandoned the SUE approach and decided to opt for the two site approach; and the reasons why it selected Keyford and Mudford and the proposed split in the allocations that has been selected.

SA Scoring Review

In light of the deficiencies identified above and given that we still support the proposal for the urban extension at Keyford (south of Yeovil) for reasons which are outlined below, we have decided to undertake the SA exercise ourselves and "re-mark" the whole exercise. This involves not only looking specifically at the points raised by the Inspector but also looking at a number of the other SA objectives which we believed were incorrectly marked in the first place. Given that the Planning Authority has decided to change the basis of the Plan we feel that such an approach is fully justified.

We have also taken the opportunity to have full regard to the comments of the previous Local Plan Inspector, this is considered particularly important given the lack of any proper consideration of this in the latest assessment produced on behalf of the Planning Authority. Furthermore, a review of the previous Inspector’s comments is highly relevant especially given that the Planning Authority opposed the release of the Keyford site at that time. Given that this earlier approach of the Planning Authority was not accepted by the Local Plan Inspector it is relevant to look at his conclusions as opposed to the approach taken by the Authority at that time. This particularly applies in respect of landscape and visual impact which was the subject of a very detailed analysis at the last Inquiry. It is also relevant to note that the previous Local Plan Inspector made comments not only on the Keyford site but also in relation to a large number of other omission sites some of which related to development on the north side of the town in the vicinity of Mudford.

Our SA scoring review which is provided as an appendix to these representations seeks to demonstrate how our assessment compares with that undertaken on behalf of the Local Planning Authority. There are considerable disparities in the scoring as set out on the scoring matrix which can be accounted for as a result of a correct and proper consideration of the conclusions of the previous Local Plan Inspector. To simply ignore these informed and independent conclusions does, in our view, undermine the validity and accuracy of the Planning Authority’s assessment against the SA Objectives. Furthermore, our analysis also considers with more rigour how the multi-site options should score against the SA objectives, an analysis which is lacking in the Planning Authority’s own assessment. Upon review of the scoring for the various multi-site options it is clear that there is no compelling justification, in terms of such options scoring better than a single site option, to warrant the abrupt change in approach set out in the Proposed Modifications to Policy YV2.

In light of this and other deficiencies identified above we conclude that the District Council has failed to undertake a proper review of the Sustainability Appraisal to inform the latest version of the Local Plan and further work needs to be undertaken in order to remedy this deficiency.

Consistency in the assessment process

Consistency in decision making extends to the appraisal and site assessment process and is fundamental to the soundness of the Local Plan. We have already set out above how the proper consideration of the conclusions of the previous Local Plan Inspector impacts on the SA scoring matrix. In addition to this it is worth emphasizing that the area now being promoted in the Proposed Modifications for development at Keyford amounting to 800 dwellings and 2.5 hectares of employment together with a Neighbourhood Centre and other supporting uses, is almost identical to a scheme (save for a small addition of a triangular field to the South of Plackett Lane), which was favourably considered by the last Local Plan Inspector in 2002/3.

The previous Inspector’s assessment dealt effectively with a range of environmental issues such as landscape and visual impact, sustainability, agricultural and prematurity. His conclusions on each of these issues, which all need to be weighed in the balance together as regards the Keyford site, were as follows:-

Landscape:

Turning to the specifics of this site, it is located on the southern sloping dip slope outside of the natural containment of the east-west scarp. Despite this southerly extension beyond the east-west escarpment, I do not consider that this represents a fundamental objection. In my view this escarpment is relatively less sensitive than that to the north of the town. It has already been breached by the adjoining area of housing. The site adjoins the A37, a major route into the town, where the character is very much that of a gateway, an entrance into the main built-up area. The modern roundabout, the rugby club lights and other features signal that one is entering the town. The objection site itself is for the most part well screened from this road. Further, although parts of the site are fairly prominent in the wider landscape and are visible from wider views from the west, the south and the east, these views are not especially sensitive, important ones. The fact of visibility does not equate with them not being suitable for development. (Our emphasis)

The site would be seen in the context of development already spilling over the shoulder of land. Although new development would be clearly visible from some directions the division between developed land north of the shoulder of land and fields to the south is a blurred one. The proposals would tilt the balance towards a greater present of built development. However, neither the quality of the site itself or that of the wider landscape is such as to render that unacceptable. It should not have a harmful impact upon the setting of the historic landscape associated with Barwick Park; Stoford, North Coker and East Coker Conservation Areas, nor the listed building, Keyford House. (Our Emphasis)

Coalescence:

It should not have a harmful impact upon the setting of the historic landscape associated with Barwick Park; Stoford, North Coker and East Coker Conservation Areas, nor the listed building, Keyford House. I do not believe that the development of this land would lead to actual or perceived coalescence between the main built-up area of Yeovil and the nearby villages. Sufficient physical and visual separation would remain.(Our Emphasis)

Setting of Yeovil

Although it would extend development out and away from the existing built-up edge, in my opinion extending development southwards in this form offers a relatively soft option, without causing unacceptable harm to the setting of the town. I do not believe that the development of this land would lead to actual or perceived coalescence between the main built-up area of Yeovil and the nearby villages. Sufficient physical and visual separation would remain. The site is contained within well defined limits, by existing highways. In landscape terms it falls into two principal elements as described in the council’s Keyford Landscape Assessment 2000: small scale, well-vegetated plateau head fields on the urban fringe, with more open, larger fields to the south. Provided that a) development respected that broad division, limiting potentially more obtrusive larger-scale employment buildings mainly to the lower, less visually prominent pars of the site, b) that the built form respected the small scale nature of the northern part and c) the hedgerows and trees are retained and supplemented, then I consider development could be assimilated into the landscape without causing unacceptable harm. Similarly, I consider that the archaeological interest on the site can be assimilated within the overall development without its integrity being compromised. (Our emphasis)

Sustainability

I was presented with a great deal of detailed evidence on the accessibility of this and the other Key Sites to various facilities in the town. On a general point, on a district-wide perspective, a location on the edge of Yeovil is likely to be substantially more sustainable than locations away from the town. As an urban extension it respects the advice in paragraph 66 of PPG3. The comparative evidence suggests to me that the site offers a sustainable location for peripheral development. In comparative terms it holds up very well compared with the plan’s three Key Sites. It is substantially better than the Lufton site, which is located significantly further from the town centre. It also scores well in comparison with the Thorne Lane and Lyde Road sites. The route into and out of town from Keyford is not a level one. Walkers and cyclists would be faced with fairly significant gradients which may put off less robust residents from making their journeys by foot or cycle. Nevertheless, the site still remains a sustainable location. I do not approach this objection on the basis of whether it should replace one of the plan’s Key Sites. Rather, because of the need to further concentrate development in the town, additional suitable sites should be considered. If there has to be peripheral greenfield development around the town, then this is an acceptable and sustainable location. (Our Emphasis)

Agricultural Land

A major, and significant objection remains: that the site is classified as being Grade 1 agricultural land. National and local policies no longer prescribe an absolute ban on developing such land. Yeovil is located within an area of high quality agricultural land, with much of it being grades 1 and 2. It is inevitable that if Yeovil is to expand it will require the loss of such land. Other land, to the west side of the town may offer a lower, but still high, quality locations for development. However, that land appears to suffer from other significant restraints in relation to the landscape of Brympton D’Evercy. (Our emphasis)

Conclusions

It seems to me that in drawing together the advantages and disadvantages of development of this site, the former are much weightier than the latter. On balance, I find that there are compelling advantages in increasing the amount of employment and residential land in the town by allocating this site. In conclusion, I come firmly to the view that there is a need to identify an additional Key Site to both provide a high quality employment site and add to the concentration of new housing on the town. (Our Emphasis)

It must be remembered that at that time the Council were firmly opposed to development on any further sites (Key Sites or smaller within Yeovil) and steadfastly rejected further growth on grounds of landscape and visual impact as well as the setting of the town. We have noted that Mr. Robert Archer’s evidence at that Inquiry is identified on the Council’s web site as being part of the evidence base for this Local Plan. However, it is as well to point out that not only the Council’s Keyford Landscape Assessment, but also various other comprehensive Landscape Appraisals, considered the suitability of the Keyford site. Moreover, Mr Archer’s evidence to that Inquiry was completely rejected by the Local Plan Inspector albeit as demonstrated above, ultimately the Council chose to ignore the Inspector’s recommendations and promoted yet another option as a Key Site (at Bunford Hollow) through yet a further set of Proposed Modifications to the Plan – delaying its final adoption by a further 2 years.

Notwithstanding this, the previous Inspector’s conclusions, on exactly the same issues, are as true today as when he penned them over 10 years ago. If anything the weight given to issues such as agricultural land as a result of Government policy changes are less now than they were in 2002 when the previous Inspector reported. At that time PPS7 was relevant (protecting Best & Most Versatile Land) whereas now the NPPF merely states (Paragraph 112) that authorities should seek to use areas of poorer quality land in preference to higher quality land. However, it is also clear from the NPPF that this is only one of the environmental issues to be weighed in the balance and that the document needs to be read as a whole.

In this context it is clear that the last Inspector accorded different weight to different factors and in particular to the breaching of the northern ridgeline which currently provides the northern edge to the town. He states in numerous parts of his report that he regarded any development on the steep north facing scarp slopes as having a substantial adverse effect on the open character of the countryside and on the setting of the town. We refer specifically to Paragraphs 7.2.1 and 7.4.1 which deals with two sites in the vicinity of the Mudford Road which state:

"7.2.1 . . .The land falls quite steeply to the north. The sites are undeveloped and present an open character, allowing long views down and across to the countryside beyond. Development on this scarp head would be prominent and would consolidate the ribbon of development along Primrose Lane. In so doing it would alter the balance between the built form of the town and its countryside setting when viewed both from nearby and from longer distant locations to the north. I am satisfied that the Development Area boundary properly excludes land on the north side of Primrose Lane. In my view the development of either site would harm the existing character and appearance of this edge of the town."

"7.4.1 . . . Elsewhere I have commented on the importance of not breaching the scarp head that encloses Yeovil on its north side without very strong grounds. In my opinion, development of this site would cause considerable harm to the visual containment of the town; infringing the natural containment of the lie of the land and so unbalancing the sensitive relationship between the edge of the town and the open countryside beyond. In the absence of any compelling, strategic reason to consider expansion of the town in this direction I am firmly of the view that this site should not be included within the town’s Development Area boundary."

Generally his comments on the northern scarp accord with the Landscape Studies undertaken by the District Council at that time and again remain as true today as they did 10 years ago.

The clear approach of the last Inspector contrasts with the approach taken by the Council not just on the submitted version of the Plan but also with the lack of transparency on the emergence of the current proposals which splits the SUE into two parts – 800 at Keyford with 750 at Mudford. The major problem arises because, despite the criticisms from the current Inspector, there is still no clear reasoning as to how and why the two proposals have emerged in the way they have; and no clear marking of the proposals in the SA itself.

What changes do you suggest to make the Proposed Main Modifications legally compliant or sound?
If your representation is seeking a change, do you consider it necessary to participate at the oral part of the examination? Yes
If you wish to participate at the oral part of the examination, please outline why you consider this to be necessary: It is necessary that we ensure the assessment of development options undertaken by the Planning Authority are subject to proper scrutiny. It is critical that we present our case and address our concerns in the forum of the Examination process.
Attachments