Dan Starr: Statement given at the Kier Hearing…

The following statement was delivered to the Kier Appeal by resident Dan Starr – 18 March 2015:

Good morning and thank you for the opportunity of addressing the appeal hearing.

Before I start I’d like to clarify two points that were made by the appellant’s [Kier] counsel yesterday. I assume these comments were made without malice and due to a genuine lack of research or understanding.

Firstly, it was implied a number of times that residents were at fault because they had not come forward with alternative locations for development in Saffron Walden. To be clear:

  1. it is not the resident’s job to do this, nor the appellant’s – neither are the planning authority;
  2. alternative locations are not needed at this time because the District Council has a demonstrable 5 year supply; and,
  3. actually residents are engaged in the creation of an emerging Neighbourhood Plan, with the Town Council, to consider a strategic plan for the next 20 years.

For the record the SHLAA [UDC’s Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment report, i.e. all land available for building] has identified a number of other more suitable and sustainable sites both in Saffron Walden and other locations. But it would seem that it is not the purpose of this appeal to review a beauty parade of such sites – surely it is to consider the appellant’s request to have their planning refusal reconsidered within the context of the of Saffron Walden and other recent approved developments?

Secondly, the Saffron Walden residents group was characterised as being against all new homes in Saffron Walden. This is untrue. And anyone who makes this assertion clearly has not done their homework. No community can be frozen in aspic and in fact the Saffron Walden resident group has not opposed many applications. Of the 982 new homes approved in the last 5 years, the residents group didn’t opposed well over half – 57% in fact (563 units).

The applications that were opposed all shared a common issue. They were all on the remote and unsustainable east of town. They would all create unmitigated traffic and pollution through our historic town centre and create rat-runs of our residential neighbourhoods.

East should be ceased, north, south or west is best.

With regard to this application, there are a number of good and worthy sports causes that would benefit from a land gift and they are represented at this appeal. But it’s not about the baubles being dangled by developers. In fact it is uncertain if land will even be made available to these clubs. If the Kier land were to be developed before Manor Oak [behind Shire Hill] , in all likelihood ECC would build a school on the appellant’s land and so it would be unavailable for sports. This is a distinct possibility. After nearly a year there is no signed Section-106 agreement between the Manor Oak promoter and UDC, and so the outline permission has not been sold on to a developer, and no work has started on a detailed planning application.

And there are other options for sports too. Carver barracks would like to jointly develop rugby and running facilities with the community and have started preliminary discussions with the Town Council.

The Kier application was refused on wholly legitimate and defensible grounds, namely that it would breach policies [UDC’s adopted Local Policies] S1, S7, ENV3, ENV5, ENV13 and would be contrary to the National Planning Policy Framework, including paragraphs 30, 34, 35, 58, 69, 72, 109. It was also refused on direct guidance for Saffron Walden from the Secretary of State for DEFRA. This guidance specifically advised that UDC should refuse applications that made the already illegal air quality in Saffron Walden worse. This application was found to be significantly unsustainable.

We heard yesterday how the appellant’s development will add traffic into an already congested road network to cross an AQMA [Air Quality Management Area – i.e. an emergency pollution zone] to access the transport networks. Peak queues forecast by the appellant’s own traffic report were discussed. To put this into context this showed queues of cars over a kilometre in length at a 2 key junctions in the town and over 1/2 km at 5 others. The town is only 2 km across. Tailbacks are predicted from key junctions that will block and gridlock other key junctions. It will affect the town and access from the surrounding villages it is a hub for. This development takes the town over the tipping point for traffic and pollution.

The Local Plan Inspector was also critical of the proposals for the east of Saffron Walden when he found the draft Plan unsound in December. Whilst he did say in his final report that the allocation for the east of Saffron Walden was “strategically sound”, he strongly called into question the effectiveness of the highways implementation of Policy Area 1, which includes the appellant’s site. He said (in section 3.12) that it was unsound without “major modifications” for highways, and those had not been brought forward. This application is part of the problem he specifically highlighted.

In his concluding remarks (section 4.4) he guided strongly towards a new settlement instead, citing the “limits as to how far relatively small towns with the characters of Saffron Walden and Great Dunmow can grow sustainably, attractively, and in an integrated way through successive phases of peripheral expansion.” This application is considered a “successive phase of peripheral expansion”.

With the dismissal of the draft Local Plan, the currently adopted Local Plan carries weight and the Kier land is protected for agricultural use and no longer part of any emerging allocation because the Local Plan has been sent back to the start.

With regard to the link road, ECC [Essex County Council] state that it is “essential” for development on the Kier site. But its deliverability is not assured; and even if delivered, as anyone looking at a map can see, it doesn’t solve the east-west traffic issues – all it does is move traffic from the east to the east – leaving it to cross town through residential streets and the AQMA. It is worth noting that both the southern Peaslands Rd and northern Church/Castle St corridors are both inside the AQMA.

There are other infrastructure issues. The only Saffron Walden secondary school is full. Two weeks ago at least 22 families in the catchment Priority Area have been refused places. This is unprecedented. It is one of the largest schools in the country, and the academy trust has said it doesn’t intent to significantly expand it. Some parents have been offered places in Dunmow – a 26 mile round trip. And there are still 500 approved homes in Saffron Walden yet to come online – that is a further 108 secondary school places required.

In summary:

This application has some merits; particularly the offer of land for sports, but this may be withdrawn and turned into a primary school anyway.

On balance the application has too many downsides and it fails on sustainability grounds. We heard yesterday how it fails on highways and air quality issues. It proposes to turn a parcel of protected agricultural land into housing. There are unresolved deliverability issues with regard to the link road, school provision and waste water.

Saffron Walden is at a tipping point without a significant infrastructure investment and none is proposed.

The Town Council is against this particular application as are many residents – over 2,000 sent individual letters of opposition to the District Council. It’s not right for the town – unlike other applications that haven’t been opposed. And finally it isn’t even needed. The District is able to provide a demonstrable 5 year land supply [of new homes, as required by the government].

Little merit. Not needed. Not right. Not sustainable.

I ask that the original planning refusal be upheld. Thank you.