Chairman's Report for FoBRA Committee 20th Sept 16
Placemaking Plan – Examination in Public
By the time you read this report, the 3-week Examination in Public will be under way in the Guildhall. FoBRA is taking part in the following "Matters":
• 2 – Overall approach – pm 13th Sept
• 4 – Environmental quality – am 14th Sept
• 7&8 – A36/46 and Traffic Planning – pm 15th Sept
• 12 – Site allocations (including flooding) – pm 20th Sept
• 13 – Universities – all day 21st Sept
• 15 – Transport, infrastructure & delivery – all day 22nd Sept
All sessions are open to the public. Details at: http://www.bathnes.gov.uk/services/planning-and-building-control/planning-policy/placemaking-plan/placemaking-plan-examinati-0. I shall be reporting on progress at the 20th Sept Committee meeting.
National Organization of Residents' Associations (NORA)
Having sought advice from Ian Perkins of TARA, FoBRA submitted its response to The House of Lords' Select Committee on the Licensing Act 2003. This was circulated to representatives on 29th Aug 16.
The Law Commission invites proposals for law reform annually, and NORA has sought ideas from its members. The Secretary has responded on the subject of Leasehold Law.
NORA, in association with the University of Durham, staged a national conference about Student Housing Policy on 20th July. Caroline Kay, Chief Executive of the Bath Preservation Trust, attended, and will be reporting to us about it at the 20th Sept Committee meeting (as no FoBRA representative was available). The NORA note on proceedings at the conference can be found at Annex A.
As last year, I formed part of the NORA team at its annual meeting with the Chief Planner, Steve Quartermain, in the Department for Communities and Local Government on 17th Aug 16. We discussed the following subjects:
• Space Standards – apparently due to be reviewed by Ministers, so there's hope, despite the unsatisfactory reply to our MP on the subject!
• Developers' improper behaviour.
• The shortage of housing
• Legislative conflicts
• Student housing
• Brownfield first
• National population explosion
The minutes can be found at Annex B.
The Government has just published the Neighbourhood Planning Bill, which is designed to improve the procedures for implementing Neighbourhood Plans. There are two consultation papers seeking a response from those involved in preparing and implementing the planning regime in Neighbourhood Plans and ensuring the legality of them and the support of local authorities. If anyone is interested, please contact me.
Student Housing Policy
Members will be aware of FoBRA's campaign to ensure the Council adopts a Student Housing policy. We have submitted evidence to the Placemaking Plan Inspector of relevant developments at Durham, and will be discussing these at the Examination in Public on 21st Sept - see Annex C. Secondly, we wrote to the Chronicle about the agreement between town and gown in Oxford, which could act as a model here; and this letter was published (twice!) – see 'FoBRA Papers' on our website.
Council Refuse Policy
I wrote in my last Report about the Council's new refuse policy, with a mixture of both wheelie bins and more black gull-proof waste bags being considered in tackling the continuing litter problem in Bath. We have an agenda item on this at the 20th Sept meeting, with pressure from several members, particularly in questioning the advisability of fortnightly collections and of gull-proof sacks in Georgian streets where many houses are divided and few have room for storage.
Related to this is a new national anti-litter movement called 'Zilch UK' which aims to make littering the streets as unacceptable as (say) smoking in public places. Visit www.zilch.org.uk to find out more, including free badges!
Parliamentary Constituency Boundary Change Proposals:
The proposed Parliamentary boundary changes for Bath would bring in a big swathe of the environs – see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-32695546
At Annex D you will find a report from the Lansdown Crescent Association on the unexploded bomb incident there last May, with 'Lessons Identified'. Item 3 is worthy of discussion more widely.
Bath Dementia Action Alliance (BDAA)
I have received an approach from BDAA. I'm not sure this is applicable to FoBRA as an organization, but it might be for individual members. Find out more at: www.dementiaaction.org.uk/south_west/17986_bath_north_east_somerset .
Rec Trust AGM
The Rec Trust AGM will be held at 1700 on Wed 28th Sept in the Ricoh suite (South stand) at the Rec. From 16th Sept the agenda can be found at www.bathrec.co.uk/blog/news/bath-recreation-ground-trust-annual-general-meeting .
Robin Kerr, draft 4, 14th Sept 16
Universities and the Community
In conjunction with the University of Durham, the National Organization of Residents' Association (NORA) recently co-sponsored a National Conference on "University & Community Matters". Delegates came from all over the country including delegates from universities, resident groups and local authorities. The dialogue between speakers and audience exposed several key planning issues.
The considerable expansion in university student numbers – there are now 2.5M in the UK – has led in term-time to an imbalance with the community. It is now the fourth largest UK industry. There is no national planning policy to manage and assess the impact of this industry on the amenity and the sustainability of the environment, and the issue is not covered by the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The temptation to expand the student intake, because it increases income, is often regardless of the impact on the environment and the amenity. Three issues are cogent issues.
1. The provision of student accommodation is uncontrolled. Universities provide some housing for first-year students, but subsequently most students depend on private landlords either in Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) or Purpose-built Student Accommodation (PBSA), now a burgeoning industry. The problem with HMO is that it reduces the available family housing, and the HMO is empty for up to a third of the year.
University PBSA is used for conferences out of term-time, and is clearly more efficient use of housing.
2. The loss of family homes can be so great in an area that the usual local services – retail shops, schools, medical practices, etc. – disappear, and the associated anti-social behaviour can be unacceptable. Essential police involvement and the loss of Council Tax on student housing are a burden on the community.
3. Delegates regarded the Article 4 Direction (A4D) and Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) mechanisms as inefficient, because it is complex, often piecemeal and short-term, and inadequate to control development.
a. There should be a national planning policy to limit student expansion where it is destroying the sustainability of the community. Strict control on student housing is essential to ensure the safety of students and protect the community.
Planning guidance on how to manage student housing is required.
b. A review of Permitted Development Rights is long overdue in particular with reference to HMO and extensions.
NOTE OF NORA MEETING WITH DEPARTMENT FOR COMMUNITIES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT
HELD ON 17TH AUGUST 2016 AT 2 MARSHAM STREET, LONDON
MEETING 1: 14.00 - 15.30 hrs
Present: Steve Quartermain (SQ), Tony Thompson (TT), Angus Hawkins (AH) - DCLG
Alan Shrank (AS), Robin Kerr (RK), John Ashby (JA) - NORA
Apologies: Simon Hill, Jerry Gillen, Alan Grant - NORA
1. Space standards
RK spoke to his précis suggesting that space standards should be made mandatory, with local authorities able to opt out only with justification. He provided a copy of the unsatisfactory letter from the Minister received via his MP on this topic. SQ responded that the issue of space standards is recognised, but Government's view is that there is a balance to be struck between costs and supply but local flexibility is needed to be able to respond to local market needs. Ministers are considering a review of the operation of the space standard. He would welcome submissions of concerns and proposals from NORA to that review. Action NORA.
2. Improper behaviour by developers
JA highlighted reputational damage for the planning system where developers appear to flout the rules. TT gave examples of effective enforcement in some high-profile cases and of the resourcefulness of particular local authorities. He noted that the National Association of Planning Enforcement Officers is gaining a higher profile and he offered to provide contact details. SQ added that Parish Councils and residents' associations are invaluable 'eyes and ears'. Action TT (done).
3. Housing shortage
AS summarised his note setting out how much more land is being granted planning permission for residential development compared with the rate at which houses are being built. The national housing shortage is not the fault of local planning authorities and yet 'planning' is often the scapegoat. AH explained that the need for more housing is at the forefront of the Department's work; there are many factors but a major one is that big sites take years to 'build out'. Another is that financial institutions are more risk-averse. A third is the argument that developers will not build houses if they cannot sell them. There is interest in encouraging greater range and diversity of small/medium builders. SQ re-iterated that there is insufficient approved developable land in the South East of England and that Government is fully committed to increasing the supply of housing.
4. Legislative conflict
AS expanded upon the précis seeking consistency between planning, licensing and highway consents as to hours of operation. AS drew attention to the House of Lords Select Committee currently taking evidence. SQ had attended to show that the Department has given guidance on liaison between sections of a local authority and that the issue is whether the local authorities are heeding that guidance. He remarked that licences can be subjected to review where the Police have concerns.
5. Student-University interface
AS described the recent NORA national conference in Durham on this matter. RK added the situation in Bath and the example of Oxford City Council and Oxford University agreeing a limit on numbers (which example SQ had noted and thought a helpful voluntary approach). TT requested a copy of the conference proceedings.
SQ confirmed that the Department was very aware of the issues and had changed Guidance so that student accommodation in purpose-built accommodation is counted towards meeting Objectively Assessed Need. Local Authorities must now have regard to student housing need. AS asked about a distinction in regulations regarding the registration and licensing of HMO in relation to the number of storeys; he will try to clarify this issue and asked TT also to pursue. Action AS and TT.
AS wondered whether the Department could require the sequential test notion to be applied to brownfield/greenfield sites as already applies to town centre/out-of-town retail development. SQ considered that the preference for developing brownfield land is in NPPF; local authorities now have lists of brownfield sites with automatic planning consent in principle and are best-placed to get the balance right in local circumstances.
All felt that the meeting had been both challenging and constructive in tone, with much common ground. The issues raised are already on the Department's radar and more information regarding student issues and licensing issues would be welcome. The précis arrangement had worked well in making best use of the time available. NORA greatly appreciates the opportunity provided by Steve Quartermain and his colleagues to make representations on behalf of residents' associations across the country.
This led on to a second meeting, on the National Population Explosion (overleaf).
National Population Explosion Meeting: 15.30 - 16.30 hrs
Present: Angus Hawkins (AH) - DCLG
Alan Shrank (AS), Robin Kerr (RK), John Ashby (JA) - NORA
Apologies: Stephen Aldridge - DCLG
Simon Hill, Jerry Gillen, Alan Grant - NORA
AS outlined the range of issues that arise from projections of the national population increasing by 20 million persons over the next 20 years; 8 million by net natural increase and 12 million by net in-migration. The implications for infrastructure and communities are immense - where are they all going to go? Is there any forward planning to accommodate so many extra people?
AH explained that the Office of National Statistics (ONS) provides the population projections at local authority level and DCLG converts these into household projections. These provide the starting point for local plans. In turn, each local plan shows how many people can be accommodated.
In discussion, it was noted that ONS have tended to under-estimate in-migration; that a range of possible scenarios are portrayed by ONS and moderated by an external panel; and that in spite of the wide range of predictions, political practicalities require a single projection to be adopted and published. The future impact of BREXIT and of improving economies in Eastern Europe (for example) could plausibly result in higher out-migration. The profile of in-migrants would have a significant effect on fertility rates, household formation rates and household sizes. The next round of household projections may be expected in July 2018.
"AH added that, whatever debates there are about the accuracy of prediction, actual population increase was likely to be large, and agreed that New Towns (à la Stevenage or Milton Keynes, both of which had turned out to be quite successful) were a possible solution". Ebbsfleet was an early (but rather small) example, to be built on redundant, Government-owned land.
AS concluded that provision of infrastructure, particularly housing, across the country is a major political issue he would wish to discuss with the Minister, and was advised that such an approach should be made through Steve Quartermain.
AS was warmly thanked for engaging most helpfully in the issue.
23rd August 2016
Chris Banks,Programme Officer
C/O Banks Solutions
64 Lavinia Way
Dear Madam Inspector,
Student Housing in Bath
Since the deadline for the receipt of hearings statements, the Federation of Bath Residents' Associations (FoBRA) has been made aware, through the National Organization of Residents' Associations, of new information. We believe it is directly relevant to Matter 13 at your forthcoming Examination in Public (EiP) of Bath's Placemaking Plan (Bath's Universities) and we wish to bring it to your attention, as follows.
There are parallels between Durham and Bath regarding the issue of 'studentification'. Both are relatively small cities with highly successful universities. Durham (population 45,000) hosts 15,000 students, 43% of whom are provided with university-managed accommodation. Bath (population 94,000) hosts 24,000 students, only 25% of whom are provided with university-managed accommodation. Both cities therefore experience severe pressure in terms of demand for private sector student accommodation in the form of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) and Private Sector Accommodation Blocks (PSABs).
FoBRA and others have argued in representations and hearings statements that, in the absence of a joined-up Student Housing Strategy, policies B5, SB19 & SB20 in the draft Placemaking Plan which attempt to control the domination of private sector student accommodation across Bath are unlikely to succeed alone in preventing further imbalance of communities and the threat to achieving Government housing targets, particularly affordable housing.
FoBRA now discovers that Durham County Council is preparing a County Durham Local Plan for the second time, having had to withdraw the Plan submitted in April 2014 subsequent to a Judicial Review. The submitted, now withdrawn, County Durham Local Plan offered a policy on student accommodation that drew derision from residents' groups and rejection by the Inspector at Stage 1 of the EiP in October 2014. That policy was found lacking in the effective control of PSABs and HMOs.
The Inspector invited Durham County Council to work with residents' groups, the University and other stakeholders around the EiP table to develop a better policy. This resulted in two submissions - one from Durham County Council, the other from residents' groups.
In February 2015 the Inspector published his Interim Report in which he found the County Council's version potentially unsound, commended the alternative version and advised the County Council to withdraw the Plan. Submission of the new County Durham Local Plan is planned for December 2017.
Residents' groups suggested to Durham County Council that waiting so long for an effective policy on student accommodation would be 'shutting the stable door after the horse had bolted'. Instead, an Interim Policy should be adopted as soon as possible, accompanied by an effective Article 4 Direction. To its credit, Durham County Council agreed, and in July 2015 (after formal consultations) agreed an Interim Policy with almost entirely the wording submitted by residents' groups. An Article 4 Direction limiting HMOs to no more than 10% of properties in a given location (as proposed by FoBRA for Bath) will come into force on 17th September 2016; and significant changes are being made in the treatment of PSABs.
FoBRA regrets the fact that it was unable to bring the above to your attention within the designated timescale, but feels that the principle demonstrated in Durham is highly relevant to Bath's situation; ie that B&NES should heed Durham County Council's lesson and work urgently with stakeholders to produce a workable Student Housing Strategy that is so desperately needed.
Robin Kerr, Chairman
Unexploded Bomb May 2016 - Lessons Identified by LCA
The following concerns have been raised by the Association about the handling of this event:
1. Exclusion Zone: The exclusion/evacuation zone was too large, leading to too many residents being inconvenienced, some severely. However, no one can accuse the Council or Emergency Services of endangering anyone. The evidence from the YouTube video of a 250Kg bomb explosion indicates that, without the large sandbags , Nos 1-5 LPE would have been severely damaged, had this one detonated.
2. Emergency Accommodation: There were accusations that this was inadequate.
3. Prior Survey: The developer of the site (Acorn) did not conduct surveys of the ground they owned and were intending to excavate, despite the fact that German bombs had landed there during WW2 and the knowledge that about 10% of these did not detonate. Prior ground-penetrating survey apparently takes place in similarly risky areas of London. This could have saved both money and inconvenience, not to mention danger to the public and property.
4. Public Information: Evidence from those in the area suggests that the local BBC News was more timely and accurate than the Council's and Police's press releases and website (see over).
Robin Kerr, LCA Chairman, draft 1 - 23rd Aug 16