Bowes Gate gets go ahead

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Despite being submitted in April 2015 the Bowes Gate Road application (15/1666N) has only recently been granted consent at the end of September this year. I had thought this had already gone through despite the massive opposition to its location. The application was made by the Rural Housing Trust and will result in 4 socially rentable properties and 4 intermediate affordable properties (shared equity) plus 3 ‘market’ houses. Again the affordable housing is 2 bedded (6 dwellings) and 2 three bedded properties. No single bedded dwellings.

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Need and Want in the Housing Crisis

Are we getting the houses we need or the dwellings we want? In a recent survey of affordable housing, CPRE found that where developers appealed (23) against the number of affordable houses they were required to provide, most (17) were granted and a total of 478 affordable houses were lost. At the national level, a similar picture is revealed with only 55% of affordable housing in rural areas being delivered.
There are three categories of housing need if that is the right word. Social Housing is normally available to rent from Local Authorities and Housing associations and is intended for people on low income who are in housing need and are unable to provide suitable accommodation from their own resources. (ref Shelter). The rents in this sector are usually between 40 – 60% of market rents. It is a secure tenancy, potentially for life.

Affordable Housing is a little different and is defined by the government as “social rented, affordable rented and intermediate housing provided to specified eligible households whose needs are not met by the market”. Most of this housing is also rented at 65 – 80% of market rents and it is not as secure as social housing. In addition, ‘intermediate housing’ is available through shared ownership schemes. This allows people to buy a share of a home and rent the rest. You can gradually increase your share, or equity, in the property to own it outright.

Housing need can be measured. It can be assessed from the people who come forward and are identified as in need. This task is undertaken by Local Authorities (Cheshire East) and published as the Strategic housing market assessment (SHMA). The current one for Bunbury was produced in 2013. Here is a copy.
However, a great deal of confusion occurs around the terms ‘need’ and ‘want’;. The government NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework) confuses both these terms, as this quote shows:
‘Need’ as referring to ‘the scale and mix of housing and the range of tenures that is likely to be needed in the housing market area over the plan period – and should cater for the housing demand of the area and identify the scale of housing supply necessary to meet this need’
They then go on to measure progress as ‘sustainable development’ whether affordable or otherwise. In this post, I want to make a distinction between these two terms as they have very different implications for housing provision and the solution to the housing crisis.

Housing DEMAND is not the same as NEED. We can define demand, as ‘the housing people choose to live in that reflects their preferences and ability to pay’;. So the demand depends upon things such as wealth, cost of mortgages, ease of selling existing properties, and aspirations. Clearly developers are more focused on this sector of the housing market. A recent survey by the big estate agents Savills found in London the properties being built in the next 5 years were overwhelmingly above £450K and very little was intended to be built at lower prices despite the huge ‘need’ for such dwellings. Where social and affordable housing is needed, ‘executive’ homes are built instead.

The largest number of new households are young. Between 2011 and 2031 the number of new households is 363,000 per annum (DCLG white paper 2017, on the TPS website, 25 to under 45 by2031). This group relies on the cheaper housing to rather than the new stock designed mainly for those ‘moving up’;. As a result, this age group (25- under 45) has had to resort to the private rented market.

What is the situation in Bunbury? Based on the SHMA 2013 data 75.6% of dwellings are owner-occupied, 15.3% privately rented and 9.1% affordable housing (social and intermediate) If we look at what affordable dwellings are NEEDED (per year) the analysis say 18 one bedroom properties and 1 four bedroomed house. During the last four years therefore 76 affordable houses were needed in Bunbury So how does current building plans (i.e. given consent) match this need?

Market 67 builds granted
Affordable 37 builds granted

I am using the term ‘Market’ to refer to speculative houses built during this period. The term is used in this sense by Cheshire East. That gives a shortfall of 35 dwellings needed in Bunbury.

Hill Close struggle continues

The recent battle over the access to Hill Close has been lost. Despite a strong case against the developer’s variation of the conditions of the consent, the Planning Officer has recommended approval. Apparently, they can’t (due to legal precedent) refuse permission on account of an unresolved legal battle over land ownership. The PO points to the condition that states these must be resolved before the development goes ahead anyway.

The majority of the objections raise concerns over the narrow nature of Hill Close and the potential for conflicts with pedestrians and passing vehicles. The PO doesn’t answer the main point but just say ‘In this case, the width of the carriageway at 4.5m would not change as part of this application.’ Yes, it remains the same but the real question is it safe for pedestrians? To which the developer answers, and the PO concurs, it will be little used as most people will use the footpath to the village centre. However, older children going to Tarporley High may well use this in the morning rush hour as it could be the shortest route to the bus pick-up point.

What this shows, again, is that once consent is given the developer has a much-improved prospect of altering conditions in a direction that suits their purposes rather than the community. Has anyone seen a case locally where post-consent variations have been refused?

Where are all our Hedgehogs?

Seen a Hedgehog recently? No, neither have I. They were very common when I was a lad. Some put the numbers in the 1950’s as high as 30 million or more. We would often leave milk and bread out food on a winter evening. Of course it should have been something like dog food, but back then nobody worried about the disappearance of the little fellow as they were always ‘there’. This morning, on the radio, they had a piece on the decline in Hedgehog numbers that caught my ear. Tom Holland and companions were out looking for signs in a nearby wood. They couldn’t find any signs of the wee fellows despite setting up little food traps to record their passing. No wonder with numbers down just over 1 Million. The graph below records the rapid decline since 2000.

What the radio item did not do was try to explain was why? Badgers eat Hedgehogs and have been blamed. Their rapid rise in numbers during this period does coincide with the Hedgehogs decline. They also compete for the same food. However, the decline in Hedgehogs is the same in areas where Badger numbers are low or non-existent. Other environmental factors are at play.

The evidence suggests:
In rural areas:
⚫ Widespread use of pesticides reduces the invertebrates hedgehogs eat
⚫ Larger field sizes makes it difficult for hedgehogs to move around the landscape
⚫ Hedgerow management by flailing now leads to the hedges with gappy bases, poor for nesting
⚫ Intensive management of pastures with herbicides and fertilizers reduce the amount of invertebrates
⚫ Increasing badgers – the main natural predator – may have an effect where habitat is already degraded
⚫ Permanent pastures are also lost to the plough

Urban hedgehogs:

⚫ Impermeable garden fencing and walls limits the area of connected land available
⚫ Gardens lost to car parking or decking directly reduces foraging area
⚫ Busy roads cause mortalities and they can also disrupt dispersal routes for hedgehogs
⚫ New developments usually lack any connectivity between gardens
⚫ Hibernation habitat, typically scrubby or
brambly areas, are frequently lost through overmanagement or development
⚫ Over-tidy gardening can remove dead wood, replace foraging areas with drives and decking and clear away overgrown corners
⚫ Use of pesticides and slug pellets can poison animals and kills the invertebrates ‘hogs eat

What can we do?

Well, we can make our gardens a bit more untidy with Log piles, compost heaps, leaf piles, overgrown corners, and wildflower patches. I appear to have a number of these features already! They encourage the bugs, creepy-crawlies etc that the hedge pigs need. For the more ambitious how about a hedgehog purpose-built home. But the really important thing is to think of our gardens as part of a larger habitat for the hedgehog and enable them to move around the area with more ease. make sure they can find routes to the next garden or field and are not trapped.


Many a slip from Outline to Completion

Is outline planning consent a gateway round the more detailed full consent that enables developers to ‘sneak in’ features that would be objectionable if declared at the start? Often, as you can see along the A51 through Alphraham and next to the Medical Centre in Bunbury, outline planning consent is a prelude to the sale of the land to a developer. But this is not always the way. In the Outspan development in Sadlers Wells, we have a case in point.

In September 2014 consent was given for the removal of the existing property to be replaced by four dwellings, two detached and 2 semi-detached houses. No garages are shown on the initial plans. Apart from access, all other matters are reserved, i.e. everything they say in the initial plans is just for illustration and can be changed. The officer recommended consent based on the proposals.

In 2016 revised plans are submitted that changed the 2 semi-detached houses into detached properties. All four dwellings now have separate garages with pitched roofs. The two properties at the front of the plot ( previously semi-detached houses) now have additional parking spaces in front as well as at the back. The plans are amended after some objections are lodged by residents and the PC that the houses over dominate the neighbours. Approved.

To view the illustrative plot design at this stage click here

In the original consent, the pond at the rear of the two detached houses had to be retained. But about 20 trees were removed.

Then in December 2016, the developers seek to replace the pond with a ‘wetland scrape’ and remove the bluebells to the edge of the properties and to another ‘suitable’ site. The ecology strategy from the developers speaks of ‘mitigating the loss of the pond on the site which they describe as in a state of ‘ecological decline’;, by improving a different nearby pond instead. The published view of the Nature Conservation Officer is clear:
On the issue of the Bluebells: ‘I advise that the translocation of bluebells within the redline of the application is acceptable, but their relocation to an unspecified location off-site is not.’
On the loss of the pond: ‘I advise that I am not convinced that sufficient ecological enhancement works are being proposed to compensate for the loss of the existing pond and that the current proposals do not appear to be enforceable.’
What is the response of the Planning Officer?
The Councils Ecologist and Landscape officers have been consulted on the information and consider it to be a suitable compromise. It is therefore considered that varying the condition to relate to the new Landscape and Ecology information is acceptable.’ Approved. Just how do you explain that? Unpublished discussions and compromises?

In early 2017 along comes the next alteration. In fact, it’s another application to build an additional property on the same site. Yes, its 5 dwellings on the old site of a bungalow and large garden. It’s another 4 bedroom property with study and separate garage. Approved.

The final step, at present, is the alteration of the design of the dwellings. The original designs made some effort to link to the vernacular style of Cheshire ‘Whilst final design is a reserved matter it is envisaged that the dwellings will be consistent in terms of form and materials with the settlement and involve Cheshire brick with slate roofs (to be confirmed at Reserved Matters stage).’(original design statement). Now that has changed. The Planning Officer lists the alteration to be made under what is described as ‘non-material minor amendment'(s):

  1. 1. Replace all window designs and lintel details
    2. Gable Brick design detail changes front and rear elevations
    3. Change to the position of the string course details
    4. Additional obscure glazed window on side elevation due to internal floor plan changes
    5. Removal of window from first floor, and an additional window adjacent to the back door.

The Planning Officer comments:
‘Although the proposed design alterations will visually change the appearance of the dwellings from a [Cheshire] village style design to a more standard modern housing design the proposed changes are considered to be non-material in nature.’ Approved. View final house design here.

Now view the final(?) result of the changes here.

There was some resistance to the development but not a great deal. The PC was in the main happy to agree with the original application and raised no objections to the majority of the revisions. The resulting development is quite different from that originally described in the application. All 5 properties are large 4 bedroom properties of the type not ‘needed’ in the village (see local housing needs survey 2013). Initially, consideration was given to making ‘the two-storey proposal properties … more in character with those surrounding the site..‘ (Design Statement). The housing density is described as more in keeping with the village. So what happens when you increase the number of houses by 20% and remove vernacular design details to homogenise the building design? Large separate garages are added to the parking spaces (4 two car garages plus one single garage). Additional parking is also added to two of the two houses at the front. Much of the site is now covered in hard surfaces. The gardens at the front of each the  two houses appear much smaller. The pond has gone, the bluebells have been moved and reduced and many of the original trees (19) are to be removed. Clearly ‘reserved matter’ allows a lot of room for further development and changes even to the original conditions on which the consent was given. It’s all negotiable once you have outline consent! But have we ended up with what we thought we were going to get?