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How The New Planning Reforms Can Help Us

Following the Amersham and Chesham by election, the government had a wake up call as traditional Tory voters showed their discontent at proposed changes in planning laws that could lead to a developers charter. Since then the mood music has changed and Boris et al are looking to water down the "zonal approach" in which "growth" areas would receive automatic outline planning approval. However within the white paper there are proposals which could help us.

BRAG has been working hard to push back on various elements of the Ottershaw East development by showing how Richborough's masterplan fails to align with the current Runnymede design policies. However, the major issue is that the Surrey design codes are non specific and open to interpretation. The "rules" are weak and tend to be set by convention. For example, the requirement for separation distance between rear elevations of new housing to existing dwellings are a rule of thumb 20-25M. However there is no hard and fast rule so the guidance on "efficient use of land" and developer pressure can chip away at these conventions.

There has been a recognition by government that new housing standards have fallen. Different explanations were offered for this fall in standards, including the merger of Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) with the Design Council, builders being able to ignore local design codes, the stronger negotiating position of house-builders especially over design issues, and the tendency of schemes refused on design grounds to be overturned on appeal resulting in LPAs becoming risk averse about rejecting proposals.

BRAG has looked at many design guides from different planning authorities plus the national design guides and those produced by recognised professional bodies. Each has a different approach with some being much more prescriptive than others. Planning decisions are discretionary rather than rules-based: nearly all decisions to grant consent are undertaken on a case-by-case basis, rather than determined by clear rules for what can and cannot be done. The new proposals include a more specific design guide called the new National Model Design Code which sets out specifically what can and can't be done in a local area. It also raises the bar on design quality. BRAG has had meetings with our local MP, councillors and planners at RBC. We are making it very clear that the proposed scheme by Richborough not only fails to align with the current design guides but also fails miserably when set against the new standards within the NMDC and the white paper. We will be insisting that the council grow a spine and refuse to be bullied into recommending a poor design because of a misplaced fear of refusal of an inappropriate scheme being overturned on appeal. The Southcott Homes case plus the new direction coming from the government gives the planners and our councillors new muscularity to oppose this inappropriate and overly dense development proposed by Richborough Estates.

The government says "BUILD BACK BETTER" and we should insist they stick to their word

Robert Jenrick the housing minister stated

“There will be an expectation that good quality design will be approved while poor quality will be rejected, and includes a commitment to ensure that all streets are lined with trees.”

“[The changes] will enable local people to set the rules for what developments in their area should look like, ensuring that they reflect and enhance their surroundings and preserve our local character and identity.”

“Instead of developers forcing plans on locals, they will need to adapt to proposals from local people, ensuring that current and new residents alike will benefit from beautiful homes in well-designed neighbourhoods.”

The Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government (HCLG) released a statement in July 2021 stating that “Local communities will be at the heart of plans to make sure that new developments in their area are beautiful and well-designed” There will be a “greater emphasis on beauty and place-making, and to ensure that all new streets are lined with trees.”

The current masterplan presented by Richborough Estates does not achieve this. Due to the density caused by cramming, there is no room left over for placemaking within the development, and many of the streets cannot be considered “lined with trees”. There is no attempt at placemaking and no integrated social space or play areas within the development. There is serious doubt that Richborough’s masterplan can achieve a biodiversity net gain with the concrete footprint to green space ratio on this site and an obvious lack of adequate green corridors appropriate to a site which was formerly greenbelt and is still surrounded by greenbelt in a village location

The Local Plan for Ottershaw East stipulated around 200 dwellings but since not all the land came forward, proportionately this would mean the site capacity should be around 170 dwellings. Of this, 30% should be affordable, however, to increase the land value, Richborough’s masterplan proposes a large proportion of 3 & 4 bedroom houses with the 1 and 2 bedroom dwellings in apartment blocks leading to a high plot and floorspace to site ratio. Therefore, a disproportionate amount of the land is given over to buildings which explains the high density look of the masterplan. Affordable housing should not be concentrated into apartment blocks and should have adequate access to private green space. Not only should the scheme be examined for the high number of dwellings per hectare but also the high number of bedrooms per hectare which increases the concrete footprint, height, density, and massing of building on the site, crowding out the required green and amenity space. This cramming of living space onto the site along with the 25% increase in the number of proposed dwellings over the Local Plan to maximise profit makes it difficult to adhere to the good design principles as recommended in local and national design guides for a suburban village context such as Ottershaw. The new NMDC sets an even higher bar for quality for which this scheme falls short by a huge margin.

Any objective assessment of the application in its current form shows that it fails to adhere to the guiding NPPF principle;

To protect and enhance our natural, built, and historic environment.

BRAG will be insisting that RBC use the latest direction from the white paper to make sure the development complies with the high standards promised by the government. The current scheme needs to be substantially revised or refused.

Please continue to register your letters of objection. The deadline has been extended to December. The more pressure we can exert on RBC and our councillors the better.

Please see our planning page

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