The purpose of this report to Strategic Planning Committee is not intended to pre-judge any Greater Exeter Strategic Plan (GESP) detailed assessment and evidence gathering but simply to start the debate to establish broad principles and locations for growth.
The continued growth of the district and the future incentives form a vital element in the mitigation of the future financial pressures anticipated in East Devon from 2020/21.
GESP gives an opportunity for councils to negotiate deals with the government to fund additional infrastructure in association with growth. Much infrastructure funding comes from development, central government grants and the Councils themselves. Other Councils have worked with the Government to agree ‘infrastructure deals’ to provide more and higher quality homes in return for infrastructure investment e.g. Oxfordshire have agreed a deal where the Government provides up to £215 million towards infrastructure and housing in return for a commitment to a specific number of homes being built. We realise that new development, transport and infrastructure need to be thought about together and more detail on those issues will be identified and consulted on in the draft GESP in the summer of 2019.
Up to 2040, extra large-scale infrastructure is likely to cost more than £1 Billion. This will be determined to a large extent by future development sites in the plan but these sites are not yet determined. The infrastructure we may need to provide up to 2040 in the GESP area are:
New primary and secondary schools; Relief to major junctions on the M5; Improvements to the A30/A303; A number of new Park and Ride sites on the main roads into Exeter; Walking and cycling routes in and between towns and Exeter; Improvements to rail and bus routes and buses; Low carbon energy generation and a smart grid; New, accessible green space; Healthcare facilities; Community facilities; Internet connectivity and mobile communications and this is likely to cost around £700m. Projects are funded in part but there is still a large ‘funding gap’.
Providing more, better and a wider variety of new homes is the main way to improve the present unbalanced housing situation. New NPPF policies require a baseline of a minimum of 844 homes per year to be accommodated in East Devon although this is less than the 950 new homes per year already agreed in the East Devon Local Plan to 2031. However, the baseline of 844 homes does not account for any additional need that the Council may agree to accommodate with neighbouring authorities in GESP which may lead to an increase in the overall number.
Therefore, if Councils deliver more than the minimum total provision of 2,600 housing per year for the combined GESP areas, then the Government will provide more funding for infrastructure. Prompt housing delivery could also be Government funded for affordable housing lost through right to buy sales in our high value housing Districts which continues to be problematic. Additionally, East Devon’s aspiration of one job per home will also need to deliver enough employment space to accommodate a minimum of 844 jobs per year with Councils in the South West agreeing that they will also try to double the size of the local economy by 2036 to increase local prosperity. Evidence suggests that the area has a high number of entrepreneurs and small businesses and encouraging these businesses and providing suitable accommodation for them to expand and grow will be an important factor for accommodating growth.
The NPPF recommends the effective use of previously developed or ‘brownfield’ land for meeting development needs but avoiding low density to make optimal use of sites with allocated sites and those with outline permissions being commenced within five years.
The government intend that viability assessment work is primarily undertaken at the plan making stage. The onus is on local authorities to undertake robust viability assessments which are open and transparent and publically available. The revised NPPF addresses the importance of good design (“Paragraph 124. The creation of high quality buildings and places is fundamental to what the planning and development process should achieve. Good design is a key aspect of sustainable development, creates better places in which to live and work and helps make development acceptable to communities”).
However, decision making in relation to flood risk and heritage assets remains unchanged in the revised NPPF with one of the Key Issues in the Report to Committee stating
- Flood zones – Clearly we should not be planning for new homes in areas at high risk of flooding and so areas within flood zones 2 and 3 should be excluded from any search for locations to accommodate growth.
Two of the main principles for growth are to
- Accommodate growth outside of areas within flood zones 2 and 3 and ensure that sustainable drainage systems are incorporated to ensure that surface water is wherever possible dealt with on site.
- Locate growth in locations well served by jobs and services to minimise the need to travel and encourage the use of walking, cycling and public transport to promote sustainable travel.
Suitable locations for accommodating growth recommend the west end of the district as it is less constrained. There may be some scope for further growth at Cranbrook but it is not likely to be close to the scale of growth accommodated in the last two local plans in this area.
- Options for growth in the North West quadrant of the district
The western most quadrant of the district to the north of Exmouth and west of Ottery St Mary is the least constrained part of the district for accommodating growth. The land is relatively flat with no landscape designations. It is well served by main roads with good vehicle access via the M5, A30, A3052 and A376 and has good existing public transport links with the railway line and existing bus routes. The main constraints in this area of the district are the airport safeguarding and noise zones but these cover a relatively small part of the area and development could readily be accommodated outside of these zones.
9.1 Centre growth around one or more existing villages
This scenario would identify a number of key villages with scope for significant expansion based on factors such as access to public transport, road infrastructure and the services and facilities available within the village. This option has the benefits of helping to support existing businesses and services potentially helping to secure the future of existing village shops, schools, pubs, churches etc. It could also encourage new services and facilities to be provided which are then beneficial to existing residents as well as new residents. This is something that the new NPPF encourages, however these issues would require further consideration on a village by village basis as in most cases growth would have to be quite substantial (in the region of 400 – 500 homes) to make it viable to deliver the required services and facilities to make the settlement suitably sustainable for growth and in the process could harm the character of the village and the existing community.
9.3 Establish a further new town – This scenario would involve the creation of a new community similar to Cranbrook within the western part of the district. Cranbrook has been successful in delivering a high number of new homes in a relatively short space of time and has delivered some significant infrastructure alongside such as schools, a community centre and the railway station. There is however still much to be delivered at Cranbrook and the creation of a similar new town in the district could harm delivery at Cranbrook. Cranbrook benefited from substantial government investment to get development started and there is no guarantee that such resources would be made available again. It has also been a private sector led development and there is some uncertainty whether the private sector would commit to a further new town delivered on a similar basis in the district. Cranbrook has also been criticised for delivering one type of housing which has successfully met the needs of young families but it has not to date provided a wide range of choice to meet the broad range of housing needs that exist in the district. The delivery of a town centre and some other key facilities at Cranbrook is still pending with the town needing to reach a critical mass to support these things. This in itself illustrates the scale a new community needs to achieve before such facilities can economically be provided.
9.5 Establish a number of new villages – This scenario would involve the creation of a series of modern Devon villages that could reflect to some degree the form of existing villages within the district. This option would potentially be the most sensitive option in landscape terms. If the villages were designed so that they had different characters and form then there would be the greatest potential to broaden the choice of housing in the district and maximise delivery rates by having several developers delivering different types of housing simultaneously across the area and is favoured in terms of delivery as there would be scope to have several builders delivering simultaneously with each village providing opportunities to develop their own form and character. A significant concern with this option is the ability of new villages to deliver the required service and facilities as well as jobs alongside the housing. Existing villages are struggling to maintain such facilities and providing new within a new village is likely to be even more difficult unless the villages are quite large and facilities are somehow shared with neighbouring settlements and good transport links provided between them.
Exmouth – Options for growth at Exmouth include sites that are locally sensitive and would potentially involve incursions into the Maer Valley or expansion of the town out into the Lympstone ward.
9.7 Each of these options raises issues but the new NPPF acknowledges that “The supply of large numbers of new homes can often be best achieved through planning for larger scale development, such as new settlements or significant extensions to existing villages and towns, provided they are well located and designed, and supported by the necessary infrastructure and facilities. By working with the support of their communities, and with other authorities if appropriate, strategic policymaking authorities should identify suitable locations for such development where this can help to meet identified needs in a sustainable way.”
9.8 The assessment of each of the options is at an early stage but Members views are sought on these options and any clear preferences that Members may have.
- A significant proportion of growth to be accommodated within the western part of the district.
- Accommodate growth in the existing towns focusing strategic growth around Axminster, Exmouth, Honiton and Ottery St Mary with the remaining towns taking more modest growth to meet the needs of those settlements.
- Villages to bring forward modest levels of growth to meet their own needs through neighbourhood plans.
- Focus development around main transport corridors where possible.
It is early days in terms of understanding how growth could be accommodated in the district and this report is not intended to pre-empt this work which will establish an evidence base to inform detailed consultation and discussion in the future. The principles included in this report are proposed as a baseline position to inform strategy development and work only but hopefully help to aid understanding of the issues and start the debate.
Greater Exeter Strategic Plan – Update and Vision
Since the previous consultation the GESP team has been busy analysing the consultation responses, the sites suggested and exploring issues for preparing the Draft Plan. A consultation will be held between 5 October and 30 November 2018 on a new vision for the plan, separated into three sections covering ‘the plan, ‘the place’ and ‘the priorities’ and includes the key areas of housing, a potential transport strategy and required infrastructure but no details about specific proposals will be published until the summer of 2019 (after the Local Elections in May 2019).