Highways disputes and mediocre plans for trees delay progress on 340 Ludlow homes

Delays continue in getting final planning approval for the housing developments at Foldgate Lane and Bromfield Road. Trees and highways are the main issues. Network Rail has also warned about the potential for a future increase in noise from trains affecting the Bromfield Road site.  

Delays are not unusual in planning matters though approval Foldgate Lane, which has received a third “stop notice” from Highways England, is rather dragging on.

On 19 December, Highways England issued a statutory notice instructing Shropshire Council not to grant final planning permission for the development of 137 homes at Foldgate Lane for three months (18/02413/REM). The roads agency is concerned that its previous concerns over the boundary between Highways England land on the A49 and the development site has not been addressed, neither has a discrepancy in details of footpaths in submitted drawings. This is the third “stop notice” imposed on the scheme by Highways England, previous notices were issued in June and Sept.

Discussions are underway between Shropshire Council’s planning and highways officers and the agents for Crest Nicolson. More than forty new documents have been submitted and we are waiting for those to be uploaded onto the planning portal. Once they are published, it is expected that the council will launch a new 21-day public consultation. This will be a consultation on details, mostly highways issues, not on the overall principle of the development. That has already been approved by a planning inspector and cannot be challenged.

The council has also asked for further clarification on the felling and replacement of trees along the A49. After Highways England intervened, more trees must be felled along the A49 than expected. The plan is to fell around 450 metres of trees along the A49 to ensure visibility for vehicles approaching and exiting the T-junction which will be the only road access to the estate. After a recent meeting with officers, the developers have promised to provide further clarification on landscape mitigation. That means planting replacement trees and maintaining them. Aftercare is a bit of an issue. The developer cannot maintain trees land that is not part of the public highway. What’s more, the usual way of agreeing highways details will only lock the developer into three years of aftercare.

That brings us to highways matters. Some of the work demanded by Highways England lies outside the approved boundary for this development (the “red line”). Developers can do works outside the permitted area under Section 278 of the Highways Act 1980. But it is not entirely clear that applies in this case. It may be a separate planning application is required. Legal representatives are due to advise on this.

All this means that final planning permission for the Foldgate Lane development is unlikely before Easter.

We are beginning to see similar issues arising at the Bromfield Road A49 development (18/05461/REM). This development of 213 homes is at an earlier stage than Foldgate Lane. It has outline planning permission, awarded at appeal. That means that love it or hate it, the principle of development cannot be challenged. Now it is a case of making an approved development as good as it can be.

The Bromfield Road application has a long history. One of the issues that led to the South Planning Committee rejecting the scheme was noise and danger from the railway. The way planning rules were then written, Shropshire Council felt it could not defend this reason for refusal in front of a planning inspector at the public inquiry. But it still matters. It will matter most for the residents in the affordable housing jammed between the A49, Bromfield Road and the rail line in the northwest corner of the site.

Network Rail has issued an informative comment on the application. It warns about noise and vibration from the railway and says:

“The current level of railway usage may be subject to change at any time without prior notification including increased frequency of trains, night time train running and heavy freight trains.”

“There is also potential for maintenance works to be carried out on the trains, which is undertaken at night and means leaving the trains’ motors running which can lead to increase levels of noise.”

The rail company says the planning application should be assessed in the context of the National Planning Policy Framework. The revised NPPF published in July introduces an agent of change principle. This makes clear that it is the responsibility of developers to mitigate the impact of any noise dust or any other impacts if they build next to an existing business. In this case, no restrictions can be placed on Network Rail and Transport for Wales who will be allowed to continue their business even if it disrupts residents. It is for the developer and council to ensure adequate sound insulation of safety measures.

The Bromfield Road development is also facing a challenge over its landscaping policy. Shropshire Council’s tree team describe the proposals for landscape planting as “mediocre” and focused on volume at the expense of quality. Trees will be planted too close to the kerb and the roots of the planned prunus (cherry) trees could cause root damage to pavements.  

The tree screen proposed on the north east side of the railway “has potential to provide a screen” but this will only work if there is a clear vision for the mature woodland and three thinning operations take place over a period of 20 to 30 years.

Use of carpinus betulis ‘fastigiata’. Along the eastern boundary of the development alongside the open space represents a missed opportunity to plant genuinely striking and long-lived landscape feature such as could be gained using longer lived and better formed trees such as quercus robur costa or lime trees.

The tree team objects to the removal of dead wood from a veteran oak tree in the centre of the field. The development intrudes into the root zone of another mature oak tree and to trim back its crown so that it does not overshadow the house. The tree team say this is unacceptable. No attempt has been made to retain existing hedgerows.

Bromfield Road A49 development with affordable housing in red

A point the tree team hasn’t commented on is that very limited tree screening is planned for the affordable housing squeezed between the railway line, Bromfield Road and the retail store – other than a few pyrus (pear) trees. I fear this area will offer poor quality living with so much noise and air pollution that residents will not be able to open their windows. The affordable housing on the Foldgate Lane development is much better positioned.

There are several problems to sort out for both developments. This does not mean that they will be halted, only that they won’t get underway for some months while the details are sorted out.

There are different opinions in the town about how much new housing is needed. But we certainly need the more than sixty new affordable homes these developments will supply.

Foldgate Lane: affordable housing in blue (rented) and pink (intermediate)