Plain English Guide to Localism

The planning system helps decide who can build what, where and how. It makes sure that buildings and structures that the country needs (including homes, offices, schools, hospitals, roads, train lines, power stations, water pipes, reservoirs and more) get built in the right place and to the right standards. A good planning system is essential for the economy, environment and society.

There are, however, some significant flaws in the planning system as it stands. Planning does not give members of the public enough influence over decisions that make a big difference to their lives. Too often, power is exercised by people who are not directly affected by the decisions they are making. This means, understandably, that people often resent what they see as decisions and plans being forced on them. The result is a confrontational system where many applications end up being foughtover.

The Localism Bill contains proposals to make the planning system clearer, more democratic, and more effective.

Abolition of regional strategies

“Regional strategies” were first required by law in 2004. These strategies set out where new development needs to take place in each part of the country.   They include housing targets for different areas, set by central government. Local communities had relatively limited opportunities to influence the strategies.

The Government thinks that this centrally-driven approach to development is bureaucratic and undemocratic. Rather than helping get new houses built, it has had the effect of making people feel put upon and less likely to welcome new development.

The Secretary of State has already written to local authorities to tell them that the Government intends to abolish regional strategies. The Localism Bill will fulfil this intention, and get rid of the law that requires regional strategies.

Neighbourhood planning

Instead of local people being told what to do, the Government thinks that local communities should have genuine opportunities to influence the future of the places where they live. The Bill will introduce a new right for communities to draw up a “neighbourhood development plan.”

Neighbourhood planning will allow people to come together through a local parish council or neighbourhood forum and say where they think new houses, businesses and shops should go – and what they should look like. These neighbourhood development plans could be very simple, or go into considerable detail where people want. Local communities would also be able to grant full or outline planning permission in areas where they most want to see new homes and businesses, making it easier and quicker for development to go ahead.

Provided a neighbourhood development plan is in line with national planning policy, with the strategic vision for the wider area set by the local authority, and with other legal requirements, local people will be able to vote on it in a referendum. If the plan is approved by a majority, then the local authority will bring it into force.

Local planning authorities will be required to provide technical advice and support as neighbourhoods draw up their plans. The Government will also fund sources of help and advice for communities. This will help people take advantage of the opportunity to exercise influence  over decisions that make a big difference to their lives.

Community right to build

As part of neighbourhood planning, the Bill will give groups of local people the ability to bring forward small developments. These might include new homes, businesses and shops. The benefits of the development, for example, profits made from letting the homes, will stay within the community.

Requirement to consult communities before submitting very large planning applications

To further strengthen the role of local communities in planning, the Bill will introduce a new requirement for developers to consult local communities before submitting planning applications for very large developments. This will give local people a chance to comment when there is still genuine scope to make changes to proposals.

Strengthening enforcement rules

For people to have a real sense that the planning system is working for them, they need to know that the rules they draw up will be respected. The Localism Bill will strengthen planning authorities’ powers to tackle abuses of the planning system, such as making deliberately misleading planning applications.

Reforming the community infrastructure levy

As well as being able to influence planning decisions, local people should be able to feel the benefits of new development in their neighbourhood. Local authorities are allowed to ask developers to pay a levy (charge) when they build new houses, businesses or shops. The money raised must go to support new infrastructure – such as roads and schools. This is called the community infrastructure levy.

The Localism Bill proposes changes to the levy to make it more flexible. It will allow the money raised to be spent on maintaining infrastructure, as well as building new infrastructure. It will give local authorities greater freedom in setting the rate that developers should pay in different areas. And crucially, the Bill will give the Government the power to require that some of the money
raised goes directly to the neighbourhoods where development takes place.  This will help ensure that the people who say “yes” to new development feel the benefit of that decision.

Reform the way local plans are made

Local planning authorities play a crucial role in local life, setting a vision, in consultation with local people, about what their area should look like in the future. The plans that local authorities draw up set out where new buildings, shops, businesses and infrastructure need to go, and what they should look like. .

The Government thinks it is important to give local planning authorities greater freedom to get on with this important job without undue interference from central government. The Localism Bill will limit the discretion of planning inspectors to insert their own wording into local plans. It will also ensure that rather than focusing on reporting plans’ progress to central government,
authorities focus on reporting progress to local communities.

Duty to cooperate

Not all planning decisions can, or should, be made at a neighbourhood or local level. In many cases there are very strong reasons for neighbouring local authorities, or groups of authorities, to work together on planning issues in the interests of all their local residents. This might include working together on environmental issues (like flooding), public transport networks (such as trams), or major new retail parks.

In the past, regional strategies formed an unaccountable bureaucratic layer on  top of local government. Instead, the Government thinks that local authorities and other public bodies should work together on planning issues in ways that reflect genuine shared interests and opportunities to make common cause.  The duty will require local authorities and other public bodies to work together on planning issues.

Nationally significant infrastructure projects

Some planning decisions are so important to our overall economy and society that they can only be taken at a national level. These include decisions on nationally significant infrastructure projects such as major train lines and power stations. Currently, these decisions lie in the hands of an unelected public body, called the Infrastructure Planning Commission. It is not directly
accountable to the public. The Government thinks that these important decisions should be taken by Government Ministers, who are democratically accountable to the public. The Localism Bill will abolish the Infrastructure Planning Commission and restore its responsibility for taking decisions to Government Ministers. It will also ensure the National Policy Statements, which will be used to guide decisions by Ministers, can be voted on by parliament. Ministers intend to make sure that major planning decisions are made under new arrangements at least as quickly as the present system.

APPENDIX 2

Neighbourhood planning – The Government’s proposals in the Localism Bill

 1.   The Localism Bill (published in December 2010) makes new provisions for neighbourhood planning, which would create a radical new element in the planning system in England. Through these provisions, local community groups (where designated as neighbourhood forums) and parish councils will be empowered to bring forward proposals for a development plan for their neighbourhood area or for an order granting planning permission(s) in that area. They will beable to require the local planning authority (LPA) to assist them in the preparation of their proposals and require them to take the proposals to independent examination. Proposals for plans or orders which are carried in a referendum will need to be brought into force by the local planning authority In this way, neighbourhood communities will be given real power to shape the way that the areas in which they live develop and grow.  Neighbourhood planning also provides for community organisations to bring forward site specific development proposals through a Community Right to Build Order.

2. More specifically, it is envisaged that the neighbourhood planning process will be undertaken as follows:

  • Parish councils and other certain community organisation would approach the local authority with a request to define an area for the purposes of neighbourhood planning. In parished areas, the applicant would have to be a parish council and the expectation is that in considering any application is that such areas will be followed. A local planning authority will need to have clear reasons relating to the planning of its area, if it does not follow parish boundaries in approving neighbourhood areas. In non-parished areas, the applicant would need to be an organisation that is capable of being designated as a neighbourhood forum.
  • Once a neighbourhood area has been designated, a local planning authority will have to start considering applications from organisations to be designated as the neighbourhood forum for that area. Once an organisation has been designated, it will be free to bring forward proposals for neighbourhood development plans and orders. A parish council will be free to bring forward such proposals in respects of its neighbourhood area once that area has been defined, provided it has the consent of the other parish councils (if any) whose areas are wholly or partly within the neighbourhood area.
    • Local planning authorities would be subject to a duty to support the parish councils and forums in the development of their proposals. Support provided might include, for example, the provision of advice or assistance on good practice in plan-making, and alignment with national policy, EU law and local plans. There would be no duty on the local planning authority to provide financial assistance.
    • If the proposed plan or order was compliant with certain legislative requirements, it would have to be submitted to an independent examination by a qualified assessor (normally held only by written representations). The examination would lead to a report which would be given to the parish council or forum promoting the plan or order and the local planning authority. The report would not be binding except in the case of Community Right to Build orders.
    • Following the independent examination (and following any modifications), as long as the draft plan or order meets certain tests including ones relating to national policy, EU law and the strategic elements of local plans, the local authority concerned would need to hold a local referendum on whether the draft plan or order should be brought into force.
    • Where the draft plan or order receives the support of more than 50 per cent of voters at the referendum (subject to compatibility with EU law and Convention rights), the local planning authority would required to bring the plan or order into effect.  Within the neighbourhood planning process is the Community Right to Build.  Under Community Right to Build, community organisations, established as a corporate body for the express purpose of furthering the economic, social and environmental well-being of an area, would be able to bring forward a proposal for a site specific development where the benefit, or receipts, from the development will be retained for the benefit of the local community. The process for applying for a Community Right to Build Order would largely follows that for a neighbourhood development order, but has been adapted so it is proportionate to the types of schemes envisaged. A Community Right to Build Order could be instigated independently of a plan or order being promoted by a neighbourhood forum or parish council.

4.   Neighbourhood planning will be additional to – and not a replacement for – the existing planning system in England.However, following enactment of the Localism Bill, we anticipate that development plan documents prepared by local authorities will be strongly informed by  neighbourhood planning initiatives within their areas.

5.  The contents of a neighbourhood plan or order under the Localism Bill is very flexible and they could be more or less detailed [or] prescriptive. It may contain the following:

A Neighbourhood Development Plan – Generic or specific neighbourhood policies against which traditional planning applications could be judged.  These policies may augment or refine or add to the policies in the local authority plan. Policies within a neighbourhood development plan could cover:

  • planning objectives for the neighbourhood
  • the broad planning context (e.g. transport connections), local facilities, services
  • key neighbourhood projects and infrastructure priorities
  • development management policies on housing, economic development, environment
  • site-specific policies on housing, economic development and environmental issues
  • changes in the coverage of some planning designations.

Neighbourhood Development Orders – A Neighbourhood Development Order which would directly grant planning permission for certain specified kinds of developments within the neighbourhood area. Permission could be full or outline, and could have conditions attached and it could be site specific or an order could grant more generalised development rights across the neighbourhood area. A Community Right to Build Order will be a special kind of Neighbourhood Development Order brought forward under the Community Right to Build and will be subject to similar requirements as a Neighbourhood Development Order in respect of independent examination and its requirements in respect of legal and policy provisions.

An overview of planning in Lymington

AN OVERVIEW OF PLANNING IN LYMINGTON
by Jonathan Huthchinson

The Lymington Society exists, inter alia, to foster good development in the town of Lymington and its immediate surroundings;  to watch in a critical and constructive way the activities of and decisions made by all levels of government and local authority where they affect its interests;  and to provide a public forum for the welfare of the town and to enable residents to express their personal views.

Redevelopment goes on all the time as part of a general process of renewal, and it is not the business of the Society to oppose it on principle.   Rather, we seek to influence it and to keep it within bounds of aesthetics, practicality and scale defined by the historical shape and texture of the town.

The purpose of this note is to trace the evolution of the town during the past quarter of a century and to assess the extent to which development has been contained within the bounds set by the town’s history and location.

Lymington is a town with a long history and has been well described in the Local Authority’s various planning documents.   Three main threads are woven into its special character:  the Forest, the sea and its history as a market town.   It is not, and has never been, a dormitory town, and there are good reasons why it should not become one in an age dedicated to the idea of sustainability.   The Georgian town centre and the conservation area surrounding it show some scars, but have on the whole been well preserved from the worst effects of redevelopment, and in some instances, notably improved by it.   Canterbury House in Gosport Street, the Round House at the west end of St Thomas Street and the recent rebuilding of the Angel Yard are outstanding examples of urban renewal which enhance the quality of their surroundings.   This summary focuses on the outer circle surrounding the conservation area, in which the greatest threat lies.

The changed economic circumstances following the Second World War saw major changes as former large estates on the town’s fringes were broken up and sold off for what is nowadays known as redevelopment.   Many of the buildings dating from that time stand in generous gardens off leafy lanes among mature trees and shrubs which, together with their modest height and low density, set the standard for the outer town’s character and appearance.   Subsequent development during the last quarter of the twentieth century filled in open spaces with housing estates, such as Farnley’s Mead off Belmore Lane, Vitre Gardens offStanley Road, the extensive developments west of Marsh Lane and Old Orchards off Broad Lane.   These estates reflect the architectural fashions of their time and to today’s eye some are more appealing than others, but on the whole they match the low-rise, medium density idiom of the earlier town and have matured well to merge into their backgrounds.

Pressure from developers has grown substantially during the past five years.   It has followed partly from the response of central government to what it sees as demographic trends, and partly from the housing bubble and the consequent opportunities for the pursuit of profit.   As the results have assumed a recognisable shape and taken a clear direction, the Society has become increasingly concerned by the growing threat to the historic character of the wider town.   As open space has dwindled, developers have increasingly turned towards demolition of familiar and perfectly serviceable buildings in spacious plots, to make room for densely packed dwellings, often of three storeys or more.   Inevitably, and in spite of the imposition by the planning authority of arboricultural conditions, greenery is being lost or diminished and the relationship between space, buildings and greenery, essential to the character of the town, is being irreversibly altered.   There is good evidence of the activities of predatory developers seeking to buy up houses everywhere in the town where spacious sites are to be found, particularly along the margins of the semi-rural lanes such as Church Lane, Belmore Lane and Southampton Road which give the outer town its essential character.   The recent collapse of the housing market has seen a reduction in this activity, but it is unlikely to be permanent.   Recent developments along Avenue Road, in Belmore Lane and in Waterford Lane and Waterford Close show clearly how this remorseless pressure will, if it continues along its present path, change the character and appearance of the outer town very substantially within a generation.

Attached (Annex A) is a list of 48 planning applications, the majority of them submitted within the past five years.   The list is limited arbitrarily to five locations (Avenue Road, Belmore Lane/Fairfield Close, Cannon Street, Southampton Road and Waterford Lane/Close because those are the areas whose character is currently most threatened.   The redevelopment of the former industrial site between the quay and the causeway known as “the former Webb’s chicken factory” is not included because it is of a different order, being more of a lost opportunity than an assault on a familiar neighbourhood.   The town centre is also excluded, being subject to rather tighter rules and so less threatened.

Several points stand out from a study of the list:

a.   Every application listed has succeeded in the end without major alteration.   (It is difficult to find any developer’s application which has been successfully resisted  through the appeal stage)

b.   The very large majority of the listed applications are much more densely packed into the sites of the houses and gardens they replace.   Less obviously, most are also a storey or more higher.

c.   While there is evidence of a general lack of response from the public during the consultation process, where there has been a response it has always been overwhelmingly opposed to what is proposed.   The 3 cases allowed at appeal did not muster a single supporting submission from the public.

d.   To the outside observer there is no obvious pattern in the level at which applications are decided.   A particularly egregious case was 87241.   Two earlier applications were refused under delegated powers and one appeal was dismissed, yet a third application of similar scale (currently the subject of a fourth, retrospective application to vary the terms of consent) was granted.   Although self-evidently controversial, none of the applications was considered by the full Development Control Committee.   Another case, 92050, never was settled by the LPA, apparently because of internal differences between planning officers as to the proper level, and was eventually allowed by the Inspector on appeal.   The consequences of this indecision have yet to unfold, but they amount to a serious defeat for the Society in its aim to foster good development.

e.   It is clear that developers are ready to go to appeal whenever an application is refused.   The system might have been designed to encourage them to do so, as there is no penalty for failure and they can readily afford the costs in time and money, while the likelihood of success is good (The latest NFDC figures show that in the year ending July 2008 40% of appeals were allowed).   One example arose from 91226.   The application was opposed by every one of the 13 neighbours who chose to respond and was refused by the LPA under delegated powers on the recommendation of the Town Council.   A second application was refused by the full DCC, also on the Town’s recommendation, at a meeting attended by every interested neighbour.   A second appeal promptly followed.   Several months later the Inspector allowed the first appeal (heard under written representations) and the second was withdrawn.   The views of the inhabitants, the Town Council and the DCC were thus all set aside, reducing any pretence of local democracy to dust.

f.   There is growing evidence in the papers supporting applications that each new development approved is swiftly taken into the body of argument put forward by developers to demonstrate the suitability of further, similar development.   Thus the character of Avenue Road is on the brink of irreversible change from the leafy ambiance implied by its name to one of higher, denser blocks of flats and terraces.   Planning Officers seem reluctant to resist such argument, being content at best to settle for a halfway compromise.

The town’s, and the planning officers’, defences against the advance of mass development are few.   The Local Plan relies on a range of numbered and carefully crafted policies, of which the most commonly quoted is DW-E1:  “Development shall be appropriate and sympathetic in scale, appearance, materials, form, siting and layout, and shall not cause unacceptableeffects by reason of visual intrusion, overlooking, shading or other adverse impact on local amenities”.   But these standards are essentially abstract and easily subverted, as the record of decisions and appeal results shows.   Inside conservation areas and for listed buildings the rules are stricter and the hurdles for developers correspondingly higher, but at or close to their boundaries the tension between preservation and development is weighted in favour of the latter and opportunities abound to exploit ambiguities of words and responsibilities in favour of the big battalions with scant regard for the views of those most affected.   What is lacking, as the history of the last five years shows all too clearly, is a clear and unambiguous vision for the town’s long-term future, legitimised by the assent of those who have the most feeling and regard for it – the current inhabitants.   Instead, as each new application is approved or appeal allowed the range of precedent is extended, thus encouraging the developers to press for ever deeper inroads into the town’s disappearing heritage.

There are three possible defences against the threat:

a.   A new and enforceable strategy defining unambiguous boundaries to what is acceptable;

b.   Wider use of existing powers to define “Areas of Special Character”:

c.   Extension of the Conservation Zone

A New Strategy.   New strategies take years to write and require considerable verbal dexterity to accommodate all points of view while retaining any useful meaning.   The latest version of the Core Strategy, shortly to be adopted, which claims to embody a “vision” of the next 20 years, includes the following (the full text is at ANNEX B):

Lymington and Pennington

9.27  Lymington is an historic town  .  .  .  The main issues in the town are the maintenance of the attractive historic centre, traffic and parking, providing scope for continuing economic prosperity, and the affordability of housing for local people.   [note:  “Affordable housing” is a thread which runs through all planning policy, and few would disagree with the intention behind it, but it features in only one of the applications which appear in Annex A.   The redevelopments which threaten the town’s character are of a different order, a point it is important to emphasise in any discussion of the threat.]

9.28  .  .  .  .  The spatial strategy does not rely on continuing the recent trend, which has affected parts of Lymington in particular, of redeveloping large family homes with flatted developments.  .  .  .

9.31  The historic character of the town will be protected and enhanced.  Change will be managed to minimise any impact on the town’s historic character.  The Quay and riverfront have been enhanced to provide quality facilities for visitors and marina users.  Improvements will continue to be made to public access and enjoyment of the riverside where opportunities arise.

While this obviously reflects the recurring concerns advanced by the Society and others about Avenue Road, it is hardly a panacea for the wider town, and in view of the record of appeal outcomes it is probably no more than a vain hope in spite of the apparent recantation of earlier Government policy by PPS3.   The Inspector, unaccountable and apparently deaf to local opinion, will continue to decide.  Furthermore, the wording is already set in rapidly hardening cement and calls for amendment are unlikely to be welcome for several years at least.

Areas of Special Character.   One possible ready-made way to raise the defensive parapet does exist in the shape of “Areas of Special Character”, defined by Policy DW-E11 of the Local plan first alteration:

Within Areas of Special Character as defined on the proposals maps, development will only be permitted if it would not materially harm the character of the area.

C1.25 Within some built-up areas in the District, there are areas of residential development, spacious in character and distinguished by mature gardens and trees, that make a particular contribution to the quality of the settlements in which they are situated. They can be susceptible to pressures for infilling and redevelopment which could seriously threaten their defining characteristics. The policy seeks to ensure that in accordance with PPS1 advice that design should respond to local context and create or reinforce local distinctiveness, development within these areas is compatible with them in scale, layout and design, and does not damage the features that contribute to their character.

There remain several areas of the town which match this description very well, but curiously, there is only one such area shown on the town map (it can be found at http://www.newforest.gov.uk/media/adobe/i/g/Map_4_Lymington_and_Pennington.pdf ).   An earlier attempt by the Society to persuade the NFDC to designate some more appears to have been unsuccessful and might usefully be revived.   The attraction of the designation is that it is specific as to “compatibility in scale, layout and design”, which bears directly on the principal and repeated objections to the “demolish and squash in” practice of developers.

Extending the Conservation Area.   The origins of the Conservation Area are not easy to find, but there does not seem to be any reason why it should have lapidary status.   A case might be made for a modest extension.

Recommendation.   This note has been put together mainly as a mind-clearing exercise.   I recommend that we first discuss it in committee and, subject to what may emerge, that we seek to expose our concerns first to the NFDC’s planning officers and if necessary to its elected members.

Jonathan Hutchinson

15 December 2008

Overview of Planning on Lymington

Click Here for a Map of Lymington showing Recent Developments in Red
The Conservation Area is shown outlined in Pink, the current Area of Special Character filled in Yellow, and the Society’s thoughts for further Areas of Special Character outlined in Green

AN OVERVIEW OF PLANNING IN LYMINGTON
by Jonathan Huthchinson

The Lymington Society exists, inter alia, to foster good development in the town of Lymington and its immediate surroundings;  to watch in a critical and constructive way the activities of and decisions made by all levels of government and local authority where they affect its interests;  and to provide a public forum for the welfare of the town and to enable residents to express their personal views.

Redevelopment goes on all the time as part of a general process of renewal, and it is not the business of the Society to oppose it on principle.   Rather, we seek to influence it and to keep it within bounds of aesthetics, practicality and scale defined by the historical shape and texture of the town.

The purpose of this note is to trace the evolution of the town during the past quarter of a century and to assess the extent to which development has been contained within the bounds set by the town’s history and location.

Lymington is a town with a long history and has been well described in the Local Authority’s various planning documents.   Three main threads are woven into its special character:  the Forest, the sea and its history as a market town.   It is not, and has never been, a dormitory town, and there are good reasons why it should not become one in an age dedicated to the idea of sustainability.   The Georgian town centre and the conservation area surrounding it show some scars, but have on the whole been well preserved from the worst effects of redevelopment, and in some instances, notably improved by it.   Canterbury House in Gosport Street, the Round House at the west end of St Thomas Street and the recent rebuilding of the Angel Yard are outstanding examples of urban renewal which enhance the quality of their surroundings.   This summary focuses on the outer circle surrounding the conservation area, in which the greatest threat lies.

The changed economic circumstances following the Second World War saw major changes as former large estates on the town’s fringes were broken up and sold off for what is nowadays known as redevelopment.   Many of the buildings dating from that time stand in generous gardens off leafy lanes among mature trees and shrubs which, together with their modest height and low density, set the standard for the outer town’s character and appearance.   Subsequent development during the last quarter of the twentieth century filled in open spaces with housing estates, such as Farnley’s Mead off Belmore Lane, Vitre Gardens offStanley Road, the extensive developments west of Marsh Lane and Old Orchards off Broad Lane.   These estates reflect the architectural fashions of their time and to today’s eye some are more appealing than others, but on the whole they match the low-rise, medium density idiom of the earlier town and have matured well to merge into their backgrounds.

Pressure from developers has grown substantially during the past five years.   It has followed partly from the response of central government to what it sees as demographic trends, and partly from the housing bubble and the consequent opportunities for the pursuit of profit.   As the results have assumed a recognisable shape and taken a clear direction, the Society has become increasingly concerned by the growing threat to the historic character of the wider town.   As open space has dwindled, developers have increasingly turned towards demolition of familiar and perfectly serviceable buildings in spacious plots, to make room for densely packed dwellings, often of three storeys or more.   Inevitably, and in spite of the imposition by the planning authority of arboricultural conditions, greenery is being lost or diminished and the relationship between space, buildings and greenery, essential to the character of the town, is being irreversibly altered.   There is good evidence of the activities of predatory developers seeking to buy up houses everywhere in the town where spacious sites are to be found, particularly along the margins of the semi-rural lanes such as Church Lane, Belmore Lane and Southampton Road which give the outer town its essential character.   The recent collapse of the housing market has seen a reduction in this activity, but it is unlikely to be permanent.   Recent developments along Avenue Road, in Belmore Lane and in Waterford Lane and Waterford Close show clearly how this remorseless pressure will, if it continues along its present path, change the character and appearance of the outer town very substantially within a generation.

Attached (Annex A) is a list of 48 planning applications, the majority of them submitted within the past five years.   The list is limited arbitrarily to five locations (Avenue Road, Belmore Lane/Fairfield Close, Cannon Street, Southampton Road and Waterford Lane/Close because those are the areas whose character is currently most threatened.   The redevelopment of the former industrial site between the quay and the causeway known as “the former Webb’s chicken factory” is not included because it is of a different order, being more of a lost opportunity than an assault on a familiar neighbourhood.   The town centre is also excluded, being subject to rather tighter rules and so less threatened.

Several points stand out from a study of the list:

a.   Every application listed has succeeded in the end without major alteration.   (It is difficult to find any developer’s application which has been successfully resisted  through the appeal stage)

b.   The very large majority of the listed applications are much more densely packed into the sites of the houses and gardens they replace.   Less obviously, most are also a storey or more higher.

c.   While there is evidence of a general lack of response from the public during the consultation process, where there has been a response it has always been overwhelmingly opposed to what is proposed.   The 3 cases allowed at appeal did not muster a single supporting submission from the public.

d.   To the outside observer there is no obvious pattern in the level at which applications are decided.   A particularly egregious case was 87241.   Two earlier applications were refused under delegated powers and one appeal was dismissed, yet a third application of similar scale (currently the subject of a fourth, retrospective application to vary the terms of consent) was granted.   Although self-evidently controversial, none of the applications was considered by the full Development Control Committee.   Another case, 92050, never was settled by the LPA, apparently because of internal differences between planning officers as to the proper level, and was eventually allowed by the Inspector on appeal.   The consequences of this indecision have yet to unfold, but they amount to a serious defeat for the Society in its aim to foster good development.

e.   It is clear that developers are ready to go to appeal whenever an application is refused.   The system might have been designed to encourage them to do so, as there is no penalty for failure and they can readily afford the costs in time and money, while the likelihood of success is good (The latest NFDC figures show that in the year ending July 2008 40% of appeals were allowed).   One example arose from 91226.   The application was opposed by every one of the 13 neighbours who chose to respond and was refused by the LPA under delegated powers on the recommendation of the Town Council.   A second application was refused by the full DCC, also on the Town’s recommendation, at a meeting attended by every interested neighbour.   A second appeal promptly followed.   Several months later the Inspector allowed the first appeal (heard under written representations) and the second was withdrawn.   The views of the inhabitants, the Town Council and the DCC were thus all set aside, reducing any pretence of local democracy to dust.

f.   There is growing evidence in the papers supporting applications that each new development approved is swiftly taken into the body of argument put forward by developers to demonstrate the suitability of further, similar development.   Thus the character of Avenue Road is on the brink of irreversible change from the leafy ambiance implied by its name to one of higher, denser blocks of flats and terraces.   Planning Officers seem reluctant to resist such argument, being content at best to settle for a halfway compromise.

The town’s, and the planning officers’, defences against the advance of mass development are few.   The Local Plan relies on a range of numbered and carefully crafted policies, of which the most commonly quoted is DW-E1:  “Development shall be appropriate and sympathetic in scale, appearance, materials, form, siting and layout, and shall not cause unacceptableeffects by reason of visual intrusion, overlooking, shading or other adverse impact on local amenities”.   But these standards are essentially abstract and easily subverted, as the record of decisions and appeal results shows.   Inside conservation areas and for listed buildings the rules are stricter and the hurdles for developers correspondingly higher, but at or close to their boundaries the tension between preservation and development is weighted in favour of the latter and opportunities abound to exploit ambiguities of words and responsibilities in favour of the big battalions with scant regard for the views of those most affected.   What is lacking, as the history of the last five years shows all too clearly, is a clear and unambiguous vision for the town’s long-term future, legitimised by the assent of those who have the most feeling and regard for it – the current inhabitants.   Instead, as each new application is approved or appeal allowed the range of precedent is extended, thus encouraging the developers to press for ever deeper inroads into the town’s disappearing heritage.

There are three possible defences against the threat:

a.   A new and enforceable strategy defining unambiguous boundaries to what is acceptable;

b.   Wider use of existing powers to define “Areas of Special Character”:

c.   Extension of the Conservation Zone

A New Strategy.   New strategies take years to write and require considerable verbal dexterity to accommodate all points of view while retaining any useful meaning.   The latest version of the Core Strategy, shortly to be adopted, which claims to embody a “vision” of the next 20 years, includes the following (the full text is at ANNEX B):

Lymington and Pennington

9.27  Lymington is an historic town  .  .  .  The main issues in the town are the maintenance of the attractive historic centre, traffic and parking, providing scope for continuing economic prosperity, and the affordability of housing for local people.   [note:  “Affordable housing” is a thread which runs through all planning policy, and few would disagree with the intention behind it, but it features in only one of the applications which appear in Annex A.   The redevelopments which threaten the town’s character are of a different order, a point it is important to emphasise in any discussion of the threat.]

9.28  .  .  .  .  The spatial strategy does not rely on continuing the recent trend, which has affected parts of Lymington in particular, of redeveloping large family homes with flatted developments.  .  .  .

9.31  The historic character of the town will be protected and enhanced.  Change will be managed to minimise any impact on the town’s historic character.  The Quay and riverfront have been enhanced to provide quality facilities for visitors and marina users.  Improvements will continue to be made to public access and enjoyment of the riverside where opportunities arise.

While this obviously reflects the recurring concerns advanced by the Society and others about Avenue Road, it is hardly a panacea for the wider town, and in view of the record of appeal outcomes it is probably no more than a vain hope in spite of the apparent recantation of earlier Government policy by PPS3.   The Inspector, unaccountable and apparently deaf to local opinion, will continue to decide.  Furthermore, the wording is already set in rapidly hardening cement and calls for amendment are unlikely to be welcome for several years at least.

Areas of Special Character.   One possible ready-made way to raise the defensive parapet does exist in the shape of “Areas of Special Character”, defined by Policy DW-E11 of the Local plan first alteration:

Within Areas of Special Character as defined on the proposals maps, development will only be permitted if it would not materially harm the character of the area.

C1.25 Within some built-up areas in the District, there are areas of residential development, spacious in character and distinguished by mature gardens and trees, that make a particular contribution to the quality of the settlements in which they are situated. They can be susceptible to pressures for infilling and redevelopment which could seriously threaten their defining characteristics. The policy seeks to ensure that in accordance with PPS1 advice that design should respond to local context and create or reinforce local distinctiveness, development within these areas is compatible with them in scale, layout and design, and does not damage the features that contribute to their character.

There remain several areas of the town which match this description very well, but curiously, there is only one such area shown on the town map (it can be found at http://www.newforest.gov.uk/media/adobe/i/g/Map_4_Lymington_and_Pennington.pdf ).   An earlier attempt by the Society to persuade the NFDC to designate some more appears to have been unsuccessful and might usefully be revived.   The attraction of the designation is that it is specific as to “compatibility in scale, layout and design”, which bears directly on the principal and repeated objections to the “demolish and squash in” practice of developers.

Extending the Conservation Area.   The origins of the Conservation Area are not easy to find, but there does not seem to be any reason why it should have lapidary status.   A case might be made for a modest extension.

Recommendation.   This note has been put together mainly as a mind-clearing exercise.   I recommend that we first discuss it in committee and, subject to what may emerge, that we seek to expose our concerns first to the NFDC’s planning officers and if necessary to its elected members.

Jonathan Hutchinson

15 December 2008