To Government Office Of the West Midlands
5 St. Phillip's Place
17th April 2006
I write as a Councillor of Tamworth Borough Council to give my concerns regarding the Tamworth Local Plan.
The crux of this matter is a proposed 800 house development on Greenfield land - Tamworth's Anker Valley.
1. The Local Plan was debated in Council on 10th April. An opposition amendment to increase the yearly windfall estimates from 60 to 100 (on windfalls sites over 0.4 hectares), and reduce the Anker Valley development to 200, was rejected by the controlling group. Voting was strictly along party lines. As an Independent I voted with the opposition. The number of windfall developments have never been less than 68. It has averaged over 100 for the all of the plan period to date. A robust study of the past figures and present availability of sites suggests that this figure will continue for the rest of the Plan period to 2011.
I enclose an Independent Report that gives researched figures for this. The Council Officer admits that the figure of 60 he uses is a pure guestimated figure and does not give good reasons for coming to this figure otherwise. In other words it is not a robust assessment. Using a properly researched figure he would have to agree that the real figure should be around 100. This would allow over the Plan Period another 400 homes built on brownfield sites. And remove the need for 400 of the 800 homes from the Anker Valley Site.
Coming to the figure of 60 in this arbitrary way breaches Paragraphs 7.42, H7, 7.53, 7.55 and 7.57of the Staffordshire Structure Plan in that it is not a robust assessment, they have not properly considered the likelihood of new windfall sites, they have not taken proper account of the potential of windfall sites - which the structure plan says in "fundamental", the Council's windfall figure of 60 is certainly not a "realistic" figure; nor have they taken reasonable account of past rates and trends of windfall developments and completions.
In addition it breaches PPG3, the section on windfalls, sect. 33, 35 and 36 for similar reasons to the Structure Plan. And likewise for PPS3.
2. Your Offices objected to the use of a 10% flexibility allowance over and above the required Structure Plan number. Consequently our Planning department "accepted" your objection. But then, - when the Anker Valley site came down to only 645 homes - they immediately put in an arbitrary extra 155 onto the total to make up the 800 homes again - on the grounds that the development "wouldn't be financially viable" for the developers to put in required infrastructure (link-road and other facilities). In other words re-instating the flexibility allowance you objected to - then adding a bit more besides!
3. One very large "windfall site" is not even included in the Local Plan at all! This is the Doulton's Site. The 2000 Land Survey identified Doulton's as having sufficient space for 400 dwellings. The Local Plan Inspector said it would most likely be a "mixed" development. That would mean - with a very conservative estimate - a minimum of 130 homes. However an application appears to be imminent for 250 or even 300 homes. No estimate of this has been included to decide how much of the Greenfield
Anker Valley should be developed. It seems, quite wrongly to my mind, that the Doulton's site will be eventually be classified as "windfall" - but clearly the Council's windfall "guesstimate" takes no account of it in any case! Doulton's should have been in the Plan proper!
4. On a more minor issue, sites that already have permissions or even dwellings being built on them are not being included in the Councils figures simply because no 106 agreement has yet been concluded. This appears to be a new policy of the Council. Windfall sites currently have 35 dwellings on them currently not being included for this reason. Not to include sites for that reason distorts the figures. It is not justified by any past "failures" to sign - there were none!
5. In addition the Local Plan Inspector himself said that he would not be concerned at a 5% shortfall in housing allocation. That's 250 dwellings. Presumably this was from evidence presented that showed a year on year slow-down in completions over the Plan period to date. Therefore it is clear that not all the allocations will be built in any case! All the more reason to use the brownfield allocations first!
6. Originally the Local Plan was split into two phases 2001 to 2006 & 2006 to 2011 - for the very good reason to allow only brownfield developments in the first phase. Greenfield permissions could come later. Even using the figures the Council now prefers, greenfield allocations have dropped substantially since that policy was introduced. Which means, by the Council's own report figures brownfield allocations account for a much greater percentage of the allocations than previously. Because of this it becomes only reasonable to extend the up-to-2006 phase to 2008 instead to ensure brownfield development still took place before valuable greenfield land was used. This is very much in line with Staffordshire Structure Plan, and Government policy guidance.
At the Council meeting I tabled an amendment to that effect, supported by the Labour group, after their "windfall" amendment was defeated. This was also defeated by the ruling group.
I say "valuable greenfield land" because within Tamworth Greenfield space is much lower than in other towns. The Anker Valley is just about the last large area of land available. The allocation has been the subject of heated public protest and large attendances at Council meetings.
You can see by adding the figures underlined (in bold) that 970 dwellings appear possibly not to be needed. This would delete the need for the whole of the 800 dwellings allocated for the Anker Valley site (often also known as the Ashby Road site).
These over-allocation figures could be made even greater by showing that consistently greater densities of housing are finally being giving permissions than were originally allowed for. So under the circumstances the original opposition amendment still allowing 200 dwellings on the site was very reasonable.
In the Council report (copy enclosed) - and the debate - great play was made of the possible effects the Council being sued by the developers if the allocations did not go through for the Anker Valley. Figures ranging from £100,000 to £250,000 were mentioned - the developers were in the room at the time. I felt it unacceptable that councillors were bullied in this way. I find it inconceivable the Council could be sued for properly following the appropriate guidance.
So with the situation as it now exists, the Local Plan is out for a final public consultation before it's final adoption. I assume you are at this stage still a body that they should consult with. The Plan as it now stands will include an allocation of 800 dwellings on the greenfield Anker Valley (Ashby Road) site that is a) over-allocation and not needed & b) will most likely be built before other available brownfield allocations are used. This is contrary to guidance.
I would be very grateful if you could look at the Tamworth Plan in this latest consultation with a view to asking Tamworth Council to bring it back within guidance.
Cllr Chris Cooke
enc. 1. Independent Report - Mr. K. Forest
2. Council Report to Extraordinary Tamworth Council Meeting - 10th April 2006