Local Plan Review Issues and Options Regulation 18

9 Economic Prosperity

Current Approach

9.1 The NPPF states that the economic role of the planning system in achieving sustainable growth is to ensure that there is sufficient available land of the right type in the right place, at the right time to support growth and innovation, ensuring the vitality, viability and health of town centres and enabling a strong rural economy.

9.2 The current review of Issues and Options is informed by the Economic Development Monitoring Report (April 2017) and the South Somerset Employment Land Evidence Reports [1] (April/ May 2017).

9.3 The current Local Plan Settlement Strategy sets out how the Council is pursuing an employment led approach to managing growth across the District - raising levels of self-containment by seeking to deliver balanced employment and housing growth.

9.4 There is currently a requirement in Policy SS3 (Delivering Employment Growth) to provide for at least 11,250 new jobs and 149.51 hectares of employment land within the District to 2028 (of which 52.97 hectares will be additional provision to existing employment land supply). Supply consists of saved allocations, land with planning permission, land previously with permission, now lapsed and land under construction.

1. South Somerset Employment Land Evidence: Long Term Economic Forecasting and Implications for Employment Sites and Premises (May 2017) [back]

Strategic Employment Sites

9.5 Currently, Local Plan Policy EP1 (Strategic Employment Sites), allocates the following sites as Strategic Employment Sites as they are deemed strategically significant for local and inward investment:

  • Crewkerne Key Site (CLR) (KS/CREW/1)
  • Land West of Horlicks, Ilminster (ME/ILMI/3)
  • Land off Station Road, Ilminster (ME/ILMI/4)
  • Land adjacent to Powrmatic, Ilminster (ME/ILMI/5)

9.6 As outlined in the settlement sections, the viability of these sites because of the high associated infrastructure costs has impacted on their delivery. Changes in the market have also made these large sites undesirable in recent years. There has been demand for smaller scale industrial units, mostly by start-ups and existing companies growing; there does not currently seem to be an appetite for large floor-plate buildings. There has also been very little demand for new office development in South Somerset since 2006 [2], although there have been exceptions such as the Yeovil Innovation Centre and Motivo; even if these are not located within Yeovil town centre.

9.7 In addition to these strategic sites, there is a portfolio of other employment allocations throughout the District, reserved by saved policies from the 1991-2011 Local Plan. Sections earlier in this document on Crewkerne, Ilminster and Martock have raised issues about whether it is desirable to retain the current employment allocations, but given the evidence above, the same issues relate to most of the allocated sites, which are at:

  • Wincanton, New Barns Farm (KS/WINC/1)
  • Wincanton, Land between Lawrence Hill and A303 (ME/WINC/3)
  • Castle Cary, Torbay Road (ME/CACA/3(i))
  • Yeovil Lufton (KS/BRYM/1)
  • Yeovil, South of Airfield (ME/YEOV/4)
  • Yeovil, Bunford Lane (ME/WECO/1); and
  • Crewkerne, North of Fire Station at Blacknell Lane (ME/CREW/4)

Question 9.1

Which of the following current allocations for employment development should be taken forward in the Local Plan Review?

Option 9.1

Option 9.1(a) Crewkerne Key Site (CLR) (KS/CREW/1)

Option 9.1(b) Land West of Horlicks, Ilminster (ME/ILMI/3)

Option 9.1(c) Land off Station Road, Ilminster (ME/ILMI/4)

Option 9.1(d) Land adjacent to Powrmatic, Ilminster (ME/ILMI/5)

Option 9.1(e) Wincanton, New Barns Farm (KS/WINC/1)

Option 9.1(f) Wincanton, Land between Lawrence Hill and A303 (ME/WINC/3)

Option 9.1(g) Castle Cary, Torbay Road (ME/CACA/3(i))

Option 9.1(h) Yeovil Lufton (KS/BRYM/1)

Option 9.1(i) Yeovil, South of Airfield (ME/YEOV/4)

Option 9.1(j) Yeovil, Bunford Lane (ME/WECO/1);

Option 9.1(k) Crewkerne, North of Fire Station at Blacknell Lane (ME/CREW/4)

9.8 The ‘Directions of Growth’ in the existing Local Plan do not differentiate between housing development and employment opportunities. This may have raised the expectations of landowners in respect of achieving residential land value and could have made it less likely that the sites would be brought forward for employment activities with lower land values. The removal of the Directions of Growth should help to avoid this situation in the future.

9.9 The Local Plan employment strategy is not currently working. Development is not occurring where the Council wishes to see it, and the lack of employment land coming forward might be adversely affecting businesses. The potential dualling of the A303 and improvements to the A358 offer opportunities to consider whether it would be appropriate to allocate land for employment activities on this important transport corridor. Furthermore, it might be necessary to encourage further employment at settlements which have been successfully attracting residential developers to build new homes or expand existing employment locations in the “Rest of the District”.

9.10 The issue therefore arises as to whether there are other sites not already identified in the HELAA or elsewhere in this document that would be suitable for allocation for employment purposes.

Question 9.2

Are there any sites that are not currently identified in the HELAA or as Options elsewhere in this document, that would be suitable to allocate for employment development; and if so how much and where?

2. South Somerset Employment Land Evidence: Review of FEMAs and Understanding Market Trends (April 2017) [back]

Office Development

9.11 Policies EP2 (Office Development) and EP11 (Location of Main Town Centre Uses – The Sequential Approach) both relate to the sequential approach, which requires that applications for town centre uses that are not in an existing town centre and not in accordance with an up to date development plan should be refused planning permission where the applicant has not demonstrated compliance with the sequential approach to site selection, as set out the NPPF.

9.12 No alterations are proposed to Policy EP11 as this accurately reflects the requirements of the NPPF, but Policy EP2 merely replicates this requirement specifically for offices, so it is proposed that this latter Policy is deleted.

 

Question 9.3

Do you agree that Policy EP2, which replicates the requirements of Policy EP11, which applies to all town centre uses, should be deleted?

 

Safeguarding Employment Land

9.13 Policy EP3 of the existing Local plan seeks to ensure that land in use for employment purposes is safeguarded and states that alternative uses would not be granted planning permission unless the local supply of employment land or premises would not be harmed.

9.14 As stated in previously, many existing businesses in Use Classes B1, B2 and B8 rely on existing employment sites in order to allow them to grow and yet significant areas of land and buildings are still being lost to other uses, either through the grant of planning permission for alternative uses, or through the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order. It therefore remains important to limit the loss of these sites where possible, particularly where new employment development appears to be difficult to encourage. Proposals to amend the policy in any substantive way are not therefore proposed.

9.15 ‘Employment Premises’ are currently defined in the Policy as those in use for Class B1, B2 or B8 purposes. As discussed elsewhere in this document, the extent of employment uses is actually much wider than this, encompassing, for example, retail and leisure premises, so it is probably necessary to make it clearer that this approach applies only to Classes B1, B2 and B8. Minor changes to the text will therefore be made to this effect.

Delivering Employment in the Countryside

9.16 The Government’s Policy [3] is to create conditions for strong employment growth in rural areas, making it easier for people to work close to where they live. The NPPF also states that Local Plans should support the sustainable growth and expansion of all types of business and enterprise in rural areas, both through the conversion of existing buildings and well-designed new ones. Policies EP4 (Business Expansion) & EP5 (Farm Diversification) help to meet these aims and no issues arise in respect of the policies. However, the Council does not presently have a policy that considers the impact of proposals for new employment activities in rural areas.

9.17 The Council recognises the importance of supporting opportunities to provide rural employment opportunities outside settlement limits as a means of ensuring a diverse and healthy rural economy. There is a range of employment activities, particularly those associated with tourism, recreation and rural diversification that can be accommodated in countryside locations, without any adverse effects upon the character of South Somerset’s rural areas or existing development. It is important that the various indirect consequences of employment development such as security fencing, lighting, advertising material, open storage and vehicle parking and manoeuvring provisions would not harm the visual environment.

Question 9.4

Do you think the Local Plan should include a policy that refers to new-build commercial developments and changes of use of existing premises in rural areas outside of the Main Settlement Boundaries?

9.18 No changes are proposed to policies EP6 (Henstridge Airfield), EP7 (New Build Live/Work Units) or EP8 (New and Enhanced Tourist Facilities).

Question 9.5

Do you agree that no changes be made to Policies EP6, EP7 and EP8?

3. Towards a one nation economy: A 10-point plan for boosting employment productivity in rural areas. (August 2015) [back]

Retail Hierarchy

9.19 Yeovil is the principal retail centre in the District, and will be the main focus for new retail and leisure investment that requires a high level of accessibility. Major new regional scale shopping facilities will not be supported outside Yeovil in order to retain the retail hierarchy, build on existing infrastructure and focus shops where people have the greatest access to them.

9.20 Chard, Crewkerne, Ilminster, and Wincanton function as important service centres, providing a range of facilities and services for an extensive rural catchment area. These settlements (identified as Primary Market Towns in the Local Plan Settlement Hierarchy) perform the role of Market Towns in retail terms.

9.21 Ansford & Castle Cary, Langport & Huish Episcopi and Somerton contain groups of shops including a supermarket and a range of non-retail services such as banks and local public facilities (e.g. libraries) and these settlements (identified as Local Market Towns in the Local Plan Settlement Hierarchy) perform the role of District Centres in retail terms.

9.22 Bruton, Ilchester, Martock, Milborne Port, South Petherton and Stoke sub Hamdon (identified as Rural Centres in the Local Plan Settlement Hierarchy) function as Local Centres in retail terms, having a range of small shops of a local nature serving a small catchment, such as a small supermarket, newsagents, a sub-post office or pharmacy.

9.23 Policy EP9 (Retail Hierarchy) sets out the retail hierarchy and will determine how new net growth will be distributed over the plan period. Yeovil will continue to be the main focus for new retail and leisure investment and the Market Towns, District Centres and Local Centres will accommodate development which will maintain their retail and service role and support their position in the retail hierarchy, thereby maintaining the vitality and viability of these centres. The Policy is appropriate and compliant with the NPPF and no alterations are proposed.

Shopping in Yeovil

9.24 Policy EP10 of the current Local Plan (Convenience and Comparison Shopping in Yeovil) quantifies upper limits of new retail floorspace that will be permitted in Yeovil. This was intended to give some protection to the other main shopping centres by seeking to direct other new retail developments to them. However, there is a renewed focus on regenerating Yeovil through the Refresh and the policy actually curtails the potential for growth of the town. Furthermore, there is little if any evidence to suggest that, should the upper limit for development ever be achieved, retailers, particularly the national brands, would necessarily choose to locate to an alternative smaller centre in South Somerset instead.

9.25 It may therefore be counter-productive to continue to apply this policy and it may be more appropriate that it is deleted.

Question 9.6

Do you agree that upper limits of retail development are not in the best interests of regenerating Yeovil and that Policy EP10 should be deleted?

 

Sequential Approach to locating Main Town Centre Uses

9.26 No alterations are proposed to Policy EP11 (Sequential Approach) as it accurately reflects the requirements of the NPPF.

9.27 The Primary Shopping Areas within the four Market Towns cover similar areas when compared with the town centre boundaries, and the two designations are identical in Wincanton. The Market Towns in South Somerset do not have extensive areas of non-retail main town centre uses, so the need to identify separate town centre and primary shopping area boundaries could be reconsidered.

9.28 The Council could delete the primary shopping areas in the four Market Towns; adopt the town centre boundaries as the policy basis for applying the sequential test; and use these in identifying whether a site was ‘edge of centre’ for retail uses under the terms of the NPPF.

 

Question 9.7

Do you agree that the Council should delete the separate ‘Primary Shopping Area’ designations in settlements other than Yeovil; and adopt these Town Centre Boundaries as the basis for applying the Sequential Test?

 

Retail Impact Assessments

9.29 The Local Plan does not allocate land for retailing as evidence in the Retail and Main Town Centres Uses Study [4] suggests there is sufficient land available in existing town centres to meet short-term needs.

9.30 Policy EP12 (Floorspace Threshold for Impact Assessments) sets out the impact thresholds for the different tiers of the retail hierarchy. Proposals for retail floorspace above these existing thresholds will require a retail impact assessment. Policy EP12 includes thresholds lower than the NPPF guidance (over 2,500m2 gross).

9.31 The Retail and Main Town Centres Uses Study confirms the impact threshold in the NPPF (over 2,500m2 gross) is disproportionate in relation to the existing scale of most town centres within South Somerset, and development of this scale would exceed or represent a significant proportion of the overall floorspace projection for each town over the plan period. Having re-considered whether these thresholds are still relevant, the Study concludes that the current impact thresholds remain appropriate:

  • Yeovil over 2,500m2 gross;
  • Market Towns over 750m2 gross;
  • Langport District Centre over 500m2 gross;
  • Other District Centres over 250m2 gross; and
  • Local centres over 250m2
4. South Somerset Retail and Main Town Centre Uses Study (June 2017) [back]

Protection of Retail Frontages

9.32 Primary Shopping Frontages are at the heart of the town centre, they contain streets that are dominated by shops and have the greatest pedestrian footfall. It is considered important to retain the function of Primary Shopping Frontages as dominant shopping areas, as large numbers of shops in close proximity to each other are important to the attractiveness of the centre and its convenience to shoppers.

9.33 These frontages have been reviewed in the Retail and Main Town Centres Uses Study and changes to the extent of designated frontages are proposed within the sections of this document which relate to specific settlements.

9.34 The Council recognises the changes of use allowed through permitted development by the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order and that protection of smaller retail premises may be limited. However, these potential losses of retail units make it more important for the Council to continue to seek to protect the remaining retail activities.

9.35 Policy EP13 (Protection of Retail Frontages) acknowledges in any event that non A1 uses can contribute positively to the town centre in accordance with the NPPF. Criterion 4 could be strengthened by a minor amendment to take account the extent to which a use would contribute to the vitality and viability of the centre.

 

Question 9.8

Do you agree that Policy EP13 should be amended to include a criteria which takes account of “the character and nature of the use proposed, including the level of pedestrian activity associated with it and its contribution to the vitality and viability of the centre”?

 

Neighbourhood Centres

9.36 Local Plan Policy EP14 (Neighbourhood Centres) states that the development within neighbourhood centres should be of a scale and type to meet the local needs of the area within which they will be located and must not adversely affect the vitality and viability of any town centres identified by the LPA

9.37 Neighbourhood centres are small parade of shops of purely neighbourhood significance. They fall below Local Centres within the hierarchy and would not be considered to be town centres in policy terms. Policy EP14 remains fit for purpose and no specific issues arise.

Protection and Provision of Local Shops, Community Facilities and Services

9.38 The objective of Policy EP15 (Protection and Provision of Local Shops, Community Facilities and Services) is to offer some protection to shops, community facilities and services regarded as important and which if closed or changed to private use, would be a real loss to the community. It requires applicants submitting any proposal to redevelop an existing local amenity to an alternative use, which would not be of benefit to the community and would result in a significant or total loss of that service or facility, to either provide alternative provision or demonstrate that there are no suitable, viable alternative community uses. It also requires applicants to explore options for establishing a social enterprise or a community owned or run establishment which may prove more cost effective than a commercially operated one.

9.39 As a predominantly rural District with an ageing population, the importance of maintaining access to valued local facilities will continue.

9.40 Under the Localism Act, however, the District Council is now required to maintain a list of assets of community value [5], which can be either land or buildings, nominated by local community groups or parish councils. When listed assets come up for sale or change of ownership, local community groups are given the time to develop a bid and raise the money to bid to buy the asset when it comes on the open market. Properties generally remain on the list for five years.

9.41 When offered for sale, there is an initial six-week interim period, during which a community group may express interest in bidding. If one does, a six-month moratorium begins from when the asset is put up for sale, i.e. including the six-week interim period, to allow a community interest group to put a bid together. Various Permitted Development and Change of Use rights do not apply to a property if it is listed in the Register of Assets of Community Value. Martock Post Office is an example which is currently listed in the District Council’s Register. The full Register can be found on the District Council’s website here.

9.42 The question therefore arises as to whether the Local Plan still needs to include Policy EP15, which seeks to provide a similar level of protection of local services and facilities to that provided by powers contained in the Localism Act.

Question 9.9

Given that communities can now seek protection of valued local services and facilities through measures provided by the Localism Act, is there still a need to continue to use Policy EP15 in the determination of planning applications?

Question 9.10

Are there any issues that have been missed from Section 9: Economic Prosperity?

5. Localism Act 2011 Part 5 Chapter 3 [back]