On Wednesday 30 November 2016 Solihull’s Planning Committee (made up of fellow elected councillors) approved the planning application by IM Properties who sought to build on Blythe Valley Park; 750 homes, a 250 room care facility, a 200 room hotel and a commercial centre for the new development and existing offices. There was opposition from several local groups and residents deserve to know why I and fellow Blythe ward councillors (Cllrs Alex Insley and Richard Holt) supported the scheme in principle.
At the outset I must point out that Cheswick Green Parish Council, Cheswick Green Residents Association, Illshaw Heath Residents Association, Hockley Heath Parish Council, their Residents Association and Solihull borough councillors for Dorridge and Hockley Heath objected to the application but I must point out that they were not wholly in agreement and there were serious consequences for Cheswick Green and users of Creynolds Lane if the views of Hockley Heath objectors were adopted.
For the benefit of all readers the report to planning committee can be read via this link: http://eservices.solihull.gov.uk/mgInternet/documents/s43056/Report%20by%20the%20Head%20Of%20Development%20Regulatory%20Management%20-%20PL201600863MAOOT.pdf . Further details and access to a substantial number of documents relating to this application can be found via the council’s planning portal.
The site was included in the boroughs Local Development Plan (LDP) which was adopted in 2013. This identified that 600 homes could be developed on the business park and highlighted the need for transport and highway links to all local communicates; Cheswick Green, Hockley Heath, Knowle and Dorridge. The main thrust of any opposition though had not been one of serious objection to the development, but rather one of the necessity and location of a secondary access to the site.
Some did argue the existing access to BVP, via the A34/M42 traffic island, and egress, via the bridge onto the A3400, was suitable for the new residents of this development and that a second access was only required to help IM Properties sell the new houses. My answer to this is, would you really expect new residents to join BVP office workers to get into and out of their homes, driving though as much as half a mile of business park? Imagine pressures at peak times and having to take kids to or from school or various after school clubs? Imagine an ambulance having to fight through half a mile of business park to reach someone having a heart attack. I therefore proposed that it was not a case of whether the second access was necessary, but where it should be located.
At the planning committee meeting I stressed that the original LDP, as adopted by the council in December 2013, included as necessary links from BVP to all communities in the area (Cheswick Green, Hockley Heath, Knowle and Dorridge) – which was clearly identified in the report (see below):
This is quite clear. It had always stressed that just one community should not take all the brunt of any traffic and that if the consequences of the development can be shared then this will help in any mitigation.
Number of houses:
The 150 increase in number of houses on the site from that mentioned in the LDP can not be seen as significant and all objections that relied on that were always destined to fail. The government has set a target of 1 million new homes by 2020 and any planning inspector (on any appeal) would not judge an extra 150 homes on such a large site to be a problem. We need to get over this argument quickly.
Solihull Council has also recently published its draft Local Plan Review where we aim to build 13,500 new homes by 2030. This is not something we would like to do; this is something we will have to do by law. All local authorities are establishing development plans, with all neighbouring authorities taking tens of thousands of new homes themselves. It is therefore not a case of how many, but where they go.
In addition, because Solihull Council can not identify a ‘five year housing supply’ this means we are at risk of predatory attacks by developers who may use the planning legislation to seek planning permission on land they own and use the lack of a five year housing supply in seeking permission for development. This creates a problem for many local authorities and there are judgments made at the Court of Appeal that determine how planning authorities, developers and the planning inspectorate operate, two of which are:
In Gallagher v Solihull MBC (read my post on this here: https://cllrkenhawkins.co.uk/2014/05/05/judicial-review-of-solihull-ldp/ ) the developers sought to overturn a decision made by the council, and agreed by a planning inspector, wanting to return two previously identified sites (in Tidbury Green) as suitable for development to return to the green belt. This was later upheld by the Court of Appeal. This decision also meant the council had to add at least an extra 4,000 homes to its LDP and then take into consideration the needs of neighbours (such as Birmingham).
In Richborough Estates v Cheshire East Council (details can be read here: http://www.turley.co.uk/intelligence/appeal-court-provides-clarity-application-paragraph-49-nppf ) . In brief, the court decided that in the absence of a five year housing supply. This report states ‘The judgment will undoubtedly be welcomed by those promoting housing development, particularly in areas with dated local plans and/or a lack of housing land’.
Whether we like this or not we can not just ignore these judgements and when local residents claim the views of local people are being ignored they are not being ignored because of bloody mindedness by local planners, they are not being ignored but the law and its determination must take precedence over local wishes.
Were all objectors on the same hymn sheet?
The answer to this is a resounding ‘No’ with pretty well each body having different views in respect of the location of the second access. Some did in fact continue to oppose any second access, stating the existing access/egress was sufficient, but also proposed different second access points.
For example, Hockley Heath Parish Council and Residents Association were open in agreeing to the development as long as the second access was not in Kineton Lane. A meetings I attended, including one held by Hockley Heath Parish Council (attended by the council’s planners and highway officers, developers and their agents, Cheswick Green parish council, Dorridge and Hockley Heath ward councillors and myself and Cllr Alex Insley) saw the first suggestion of ‘building a road from BVP straight to Creynolds Lane’. They also liked another suggestion of the second access going through Winterton Farm onto Ilshaw Heath Road, nearer to Cheswick Green. Basically, they wanted the second access to be away from Kineton Lane which might have taken vehicles into Hockley Heath. I informed them they didn’t mind their young people driving onto BVP for jobs but did not want anyone driving to their shops and services.
I and all members of the planning committee received emails from the Chair of the Hockley Heath Residents Association calling for the road across open fields and a river onto Creynolds Lane. I replied that this was madness. This was one of the clear and present dangers if no one had stood up to them and their views may have found support from members of the committee (even through this would have meant putting a road across up to half a mile of open land). This can be seen from the text of an email sent to all members of the planning committee and borough planning officers on behalf of Hockley Heath Residents Association:
Dear Cllr Hawkins.
Thank you for your response of 28th November. I am very sorry indeed that you have concerns regarding the use of currently open farmland for direct access to Creynolds Lane. May I respectfully offer the following comments, hopefully for your further consideration.
1) The land required for access to BVP would be relatively very small and comprise a narrow strip c. 10 yards wide. The access road could readily be accommodated close to the present western boundary of the farmland in question (adjacent to Shirley Golf Course) and would result in the loss of a relatively small area of the present farmland.
2) The farmland in question is currently used for grazing only. It is generally inaccessible to public use and visibility from surrounding roads is very restricted indeed.
3) Whilst currently designated ‘Green Belt’, the location of this land, encompassed by Creynolds Lane and Illshaw Heath Road, must surely make it very vulnerable for ‘residential development’ at some point in the future.
4) I personally understand that this land was/is available for sale; however, I must confess that this is presently ‘hearsay’.
5) Such direct connection to/from BVP and Cheswick Green would fully achieve the stated objective of connectivity between these two areas, which Kineton Lane clearly fails to do.
Finally, I would respectfully stress that the connection to/from Kineton Lane, as currently proposed, would effectively provide new access points to the BVP development which are strung out along the existing A34 to the south of M42, namely :- 1) At A34 Box Trees roundabout and 2) A34/School Road, Hockley Heath. We consider that this would be a disaster for residents Hockley Heath and Illshaw Heath; even more so for the potential residents of BVP, who would be completely isolated.
From this, and similar emails, it is clear there was a substantial effort to establish the second access directly onto Creynolds Lane. This was to me a clear case of wanting to ensure that any traffic should go to Cheswick Green and not anywhere near to them.
Similarly, in the meetings I and Cllr Alex Insley held with Cheswick Green Residents Association it was agreed the threat of the second access being moved to Illshaw Heath Road (near to Winterton Farm) or Creynolds Lane was to be completely avoided. At these meetings I also highlighted possible complications because pretty well all the land to the west and south of BVP had been submitted for inclusion in the boroughs Local Development Plan Review (see map below showing submissions – BVP is 146). BVP had been agreed in the previous plan but all other sites numbered were new submissions.
Thankfully, both sites have not been included in the preferred options proposals although I am sure the owners/developers of these sites will petition the planning inspector to put them in.
I hope you have found this of some interest. As with all decisions there will be some who will not agree and that I and fellow ward councillors should have objected to anything. This is not a principled position to adopt and there is sometimes phoney objections. As I have hopefully explained, this site was always going to be developed and the issue at hand was ‘how to make sure any consequences were fairly distributed’ and make sure calls for everything to be dumped towards Cheswick Green failed. I hope I have made clear there was more to this that meets the eye and that all objectors were not really saying the same thing.
I did point out in my representation that the residents of Kineton Lane and Illshaw Heath would bear the brunt of the new traffic along this stretch of the road, but measures taken through highway works will help reduce the impact and also slow vehicles down, especially at the junction at School Lane near to the bakery.
Please feel free to make comment. It is important to me that any decision taken should be explained where requested.