In my article on the decision to approve 215 homes off Bromfield Road last night, I said that I would be asking a question at the full Shropshire Council meeting on 17 December. This morning, the head of legal and democratic services said my question could not go to council. It should be answered by officers, not the planning portfolio holder. I now have a reply from the head of planning, Ian Kilby. He does not agree with my analysis that the approval of Bromfield Meadow blows apart our local plan, SAMDev. Here is what Ian said:
Shropshire Council did not defend SAMDev specifically at this appeal, because conflict with policy was not a reason for refusal, and consequently we were not given an opportunity to give evidence on this matter. Nevertheless, the relevant and most up-to-date information was put before the inspector for his consideration.
I do not think that the appeal decision has compromised the SAMDev plan or the reputation of the planning team. This was an independent decision taken by an independent planning inspector. In his decision the Inspector has relied on his interpretation of the development management policies in the SAMDev Plan. Specifically, policy MD3 sets out the circumstances where a non-allocated site, or a site that proposes development in excess of a settlement housing guideline, might be acceptable. In this the inspector has had regard to the scale of the proposed development in relation to Ludlow as a whole, the site specific context “..a logical extension to the town..” and also looked at housing delivery across the county as a whole rather than more localised ‘targets’.
I thank Ian for his reply and I respect it. He is after all a professional planner and I am a lay councillor. But I retain my opinion that this appeal decision damages the integrity and effectiveness of SAMDev.
We will soon know if I am wrong. The Bromfield Meadow decision is bound to encourage other developers to challenge SAMDev and we were expecting them to do that anyway. Key for Ludlow will be the appeal over the Foldgate Lane housing. Shropshire Council will be defending this decision, which was made by officers not the South Planning Committee. If that scheme is approved, and after all, it is very similar to Bromfield Meadows, then Ludlow will be well over its intended target for housing set out in SAMDev.
Policy S10 in SAMDev allocates 875 new dwellings to Ludlow (including Ludford) between 2006 and 2026. Many of these have been built or have planning permission. We need to allocate land for 280 further homes. A site behind the Nelson at Rocks Green will take 200 homes. Another 80 homes will be built between the Eco Park and Sheet village. This development has been agreed and planning permission is only held up by the need to conclude a S106 agreement to deliver affordable housing.
Bromfield Meadow will put us more than 250 homes above the 875 allocation (which is an indicative figure, not a target or a maximum). If Foldgate Lane gets through, we will be nearly 400 homes above the allocation.
Planning should be about sustainability. But so often the pace of development is ignored in arguments about whether a site is sustainable or not. If development proceeds too quickly, there isn’t time for local services to adjust. There isn’t time for local surgeries to recruit more GPs. There isn’t time to make all the adjustments to road junctions, traffic flows and car parks. There isn’t time to increase and reconfigure public transport. And, above all, there isn’t time or capacity for the existing community to embrace the new residents and introduce them to the way that towns like ours work.
Shifnal is a town that has expanded far too rapidly. We don’t have the same housing pressure here because we are not a commuter town. But we should not follow Shifnal in taking more housing than our very distinctive town can cope with at present. Our ambition should be to keep development at a steady pace. In my view, the Bromfield Meadow decision threatens that ambition.