CIVIC SOCIETY NEWS
CIVIC SOCIETY NEWS
We welcome the opportunity to comment on four guidance documents published by Kirklees Council in October as Supplementary Planning Documents (SPD), which it hopes 'will encourage a higher standard of design of residential developments in the area'. The are:
We note a government summary of the purpose of SPDs:
'Supplementary planning documents (SPDs) should build upon and provide more detailed advice or guidance on policies in an adopted local plan. As they do not form part of the development plan, they cannot introduce new planning policies into the development plan.
They are however a material consideration in decision-making. They should not add unnecessarily to the financial burdens on development.'
HCS applauds the intentions underlying many of the proposals contained in the SPDs regarding how national and local planning policies, as stated in the Local Plan, should be interpreted in Kirklees. However, we are concerned that, in their current – or similar - form, we believe they may well fail to achieve their objectives.
There is much general or introductory text which may fit better in a planning textbook rather than in an SPD, eg “Food Growth: Green space on the site can be used to grow food and could form part of a wider urban agriculture scheme” and “a Design Code can set out a set of rules regarding the scale and massing of new homes; but allow for a rich diversity in architectural styles”.
Whilst some text is specific to Kirklees much is not, so does it belong in a Kirklees SPD? Also, some important items are omitted, eg a requirement for consultation on major residential developments with affected residents in neighbourhoods nearby and to state how this should be done.
In attempting to cover the application of policies to many different development circumstances it becomes difficult to follow what does, or does not, apply in any one specific circumstance, eg in a conservation area or in a space-constrained site. Which advice items here can be ignored if they conflict with a requirement stated in the relevant Conservation Area Appraisal? What happens if the shape or slope of a site does not allow 35+ dwellings per hectare?
The coverage of a large number of local and national policy items, many of which are imprecise as well as advisory, potentially results in a higher level of subjectivity in how many of these advisory items might be interpreted – and therefore assessed - for approval or rejection. This may result in an increase in the number of Planning disputes and appeals. We also note several advisory items have examples which appear to ‘water down’ NPPF policy statements.
HCS also finds it hard to see what, in some of these items, might help and inspire an individual, business or hoped-for Developer to come to Kirklees and improve our built and natural environment, rather than go to another district that might offer either greater simplicity of guidelines or more certainty of outcome.
Many of the images that accompany sections of the guide refer to commendable developments outside Kirklees, e.g. by CITU in Leeds, but do not necessarily map clearly to a specific requirement for a developer to include in a typical development in Kirklees.
It is also unclear how these SPDs might fit with possible changes that may be proposed along the lines of the government’s recent “Planning for the Future” White Paper and whether time might be better spent now on matters such as preparing the type of Design Guide mentioned in the White Paper.
HCS sees three possible approaches to address these concerns:
We appreciate that these alternative solutions might themselves introduce further complications, the first because care would be needed not to fall foul of the legal requirement (referenced previously) for an SPD not to “introduce new planning policies” and the second because of there possibly not being an agreed single set of priority items that covers all common planning applications. The third, while meaning there needs to be more cross referencing, would potentially mitigate some of the issues with the first two and could provide a more focused approach to Kirklees requirements. However, this only goes to show why we think an attempt to use SPDs to provide an additional layer of guidance across the full scope of the approved Local Plan policies leaves the door open to ambiguity.
Open Space SPD
HCS welcomes several elements here, such as offering worked examples of the calculations a Developer should make concerning the types and size of open spaces suggested for their proposed development and the precise amount of S106 contribution to the Council it should make if unable to provide each element.
However, we are unclear whether much of this precision will be of practical use – it is rare that a developer of a discrete number of houses will be proposing small pockets of appropriate size of each type of green space or that the Council will be able to compensate nearby with small increments of each type of space from the calculated S106 contribution. Perhaps there needs be a link required to community ideas to assess which of the 'Open Space Types' has greatest value for a specific location i.e it may be a playground or it could be enhancement of nearby woodland or wetland features.
Open space also means the permeability of gardens as wildlife corridors and one that allows affective planting. There may be an argument for encouraging different approaches to types of green space, eg some reduction in private garden space matched by increased communal, or public, green space to introduce a flow through of public, play and semi-naturalised areas with appropriate management regimes. However, we are worried that such a finely detailed approach risks encouraging a ‘tick-box’ response with more tiny green spaces incorporated into designs, which may be of little practical use for each claimed purpose.
We suggest that Kirklees Council should itself have a higher involvement by providing clarity in the allocation, or provision, of each type of open space in its overall plan for an area – covering both existing and future housing – into which a Developer can then submit plans for consideration. Such an approach also fits well with the philosophy of the “Planning for the Future” White Paper.
We also ask for more adequate enforcement of conditions by Kirklees Council that would enable better greening of an area.
Housebuilder Design Guide SPD
The Housebuilder Design Guide SPD adds little clarity in terms of Kirklees’ specific requirements to what is already available in the National Design Guide. As we highlighted earlier, it is important that the SPD requirements are clear and additional to the documents above the SPD in the hierarchy. We believe this SPD is not robust in giving clear ‘material requirements’ as to what the Authority expects as mandatory from a developer and whether requirements are mandatory at certain sizes of development or other parameters.
Principle 1 states ‘Developers are expected to…’, unfortunately the legitimate expectation appears to be lacking clarity and rigour in the specific requirements of expectation. It is unclear how the document can be appraised and scored against the planning and SPD requirements given so many imprecise requirements. An SPD is not an ‘ask’ document, a conflict shown in the following examples:
LP5 in the Local Plan states: A management plan must be produced as part of the master-planning process to demonstrate how infrastructure and community assets will be maintained and managed following completion of development.
Unfortunately, LP5 does not clarify which sites need a masterplan and to what degree masterplan detail is required to satisfy the Authority. Confusion arises because the legitimate expectation of LP5 is that a site will have master planning: ‘Masterplans will be developed in consultation with the council prior to the submission of a planning application. Masterplans would only be sought where feasible and appropriate.’
What is feasible and appropriate? This statement is subjective and unquantified. Isn’t it the role of the SPD to make clear, while using broad parameters, when a masterplan must be provided and what is appropriate? The opportunity to have clarity on when such a masterplan is required appears to have been missed.
To establish high quality environments, it is important that developers properly understand their obligations to those living in the area affected by the planned development(s) and using their properties. Therefore, we would like to see more mandatory consideration and evidence when planning applications are submitted, with less reliance on S106 conditions being made as these can often be whittled down in subsequent negotiations or just not complied with.
Example, cl 5.12 discusses the Urban Grain but only has a ‘should have regard to the existing urban grain’. A fundamental issue of the Context of a development is its surroundings. We would expect there to be a ‘must’ or ‘shall’ consider and then spell out the areas that the Authority needs considering. This should not add any additional onus on a developer worth their salt, as it is part of the design process, as the National Design Guide makes clear. If the Council is concerned about the impact on small developers, then minimum house volume thresholds could be introduced.
The above are just two example of many that we could highlight using the same principles for this SPD.
We agree that a ‘fabric first’ approach needs to be considered for energy conservation and we would like to see clear provisions of specific requirements on Council owned land and Council built properties.
There appears to be some disconnect between orientation of buildings in Section 7 Site Layout and potential provision for renewable energy. Solar Photovoltaic panels work optimally south facing at 30˚ elevation. Therefore, cl 8.3 Rooflines should have strong consideration, to not only green roofs and dormer windows, but also the ability to generate electricity or heat hot water (Solar Thermal systems). Solar Photovoltaic systems, combined with battery storage or Vehicle-2-Grid, provide reduced demand on the distribution network but require early consideration in site planning. Orientation is not only important to solar gain in terms of overheating and cooling, it is also important in terms of onsite energy generation.
It is important to note that heat pumps are an effective heating and cooling source in well insulated buildings, however, developers need to ensure that the harmonics of the grid are not affected by large developments, all installing heat pumps. Also, noise from heat pumps can cause issues for some. Each of these need to be considered by developers prior to development, even if the developer does not intend to install such systems themselves.
For large developments, developers need to consider alternative forms of localized energy generation, such as small-scale district heat networks.
We would therefore expect to see some requirements to consider how any such properties are to contribute to energy demand reduction over the life of the property. Given the Kirklees Climate Emergency Motion report and targets for Net-Zero Carbon by 2038, it should be incumbent on the Council to ensure such developments are not providing an overall negative effect. Developers should be expected to demonstrate how their sites would contribute to reductions, or increases, in emissions during the development and life of the properties. Some basic metrics could be used against a basic house of today’s standard build using national values. With the national trajectory being a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 68% by 2030 and to Net-Zero by 2050, it is anticipated that more stringent requirements will be placed on Councils and developers over the coming 5 years.
While the planning rules require electric chargepoints for all off-street properties, innovative solutions to charging electric vehicles needs to be provisioned for properties that do not have off-street parking. It is not always necessary for chargepoints to be adjacent to every property, however, it is important that developers have consideration of such charging requirements and engage experts in electric vehicle infrastructure where there are large volumes of on-street properties.
House Extensions and Alterations SPD
This document contains many good suggestions for those wishing to extend or improve their homes and how to interpret applicable Local Plan and NPPF policies. By its nature, the scope of this subject is very broad, given the very wide range of house types and local circumstances across Kirklees.
However, we are unclear as to whether much of this document would therefore suit better as an introductory guide to the subject of house extensions, rather than being a formal document attempting to cover the applicability of Local Plan and NPPF policies across such a wide range of circumstances. An example is text in 4.27 “Microgeneration of renewable energy can support a strong reduction in household greenhouse gas emissions...”
Whilst much of the guidance appears sound, it is often unclear what will happen if items stated as advisory cannot be met, eg if there is no means a practical extension to a property can meeting the requirement (Item 4.10) of having the recommended space of 21metres to a habitable room of nearby premises?
Conversely, there are some occasions where this SPD appears to conflict with, or extend, the guidance currently stated in the underlying Local Plan Policy. Item 4.21 states that if an extension fails to meet various outdoor space requirements it ‘will be refused’, a far stricter statement than in Local Plan Policy 24 open which this is based.
In summary, we are concerned that it is unrealistic to provide a guide to the very broad subject of house extensions and alterations in the form of an SPD.
Biodiversity Net Gain in Kirklees Technical Advice Note
We support the Local Plan (LP30) requirement for development proposals to “provide net biodiversity gains through good design by incorporating biodiversity enhancements and habitat creation”. In particular, we support the requirement that developers apply the Mitigation Hierarchy. In our opinion, this requirement (currently embedded in para 2.2.1 of the Technical Advice Note) should be given higher prominence and emphasis, namely:
“The NPPF and policy LP 30 both require development proposals to apply the ecological mitigation hierarchy in order to result in no significant ecological harm. Through the hierarchy, significant harm should be avoided in the first instance, mitigated where impacts cannot be avoided and compensated for only as a last resort.”
We support the clear delineation of the Stages of submitting major development applications within Kirklees (Table 1 in para 3.3.3), but flag the following concern regarding the proposed validation process (Fig 3 in para 3.3.4): There is no doubt that developers will need to ‘invest’ significant time, effort and expertise in navigating the guidance in, and connected with this Technical Advice Note. Whilst Biodiversity Metric 2.0 has our full support, its use in calculating Baseline and Future Biodiversity Units to determine Biodiversity Net Gain (or Loss) is a complex process. This in turn raises the risk that some developers will seek to avoid this ‘investment’ by leapfrogging early steps in the Mitigation Hierarchy, i.e.the ‘Avoid’ and ‘Mitigate’ steps. For example, by leaping straight into off-site compensation schemes, developers may see cost and time advantages to their projects, at the expense of on-site biodiversity. This leapfrogging route should be blocked and reflected in a revised Validation Process Flowchart (fig 3).
iii) Supporting Documentation
Although they sit outside the Biodiversity Net Gain in Kirklees Technical Advice Note, we offer feedback on two documents crucial to its success: a) The Kirklees Biodiversity Strategy, and b) the Biodiversity Opportunity Zones Map. Both seem to us to be valuable assets, not just for SPD purposes, but for wider public awareness of our local landscape and biodiversity in the context of the Council’s Declaration of Climate Emergency.
a) The Kirklees Biodiversity Strategy:
We support this document and recommend developing it further with public engagement, and subsequent wider communication.
b) Biodiversity Opportunity Zones Map:
We support its aim and intended use but identify the need to see the mapping at a larger scale which sits behind it. As a very high level, small scale summary map it doesn’t provide the site detail for developers or the public to pinpoint the location of proposed infrastructure / housing developments. As it stands, it risks inaccurate assumptions / assessments being made about the location and biodiversity impacts of these.
The colour coded Legend for distinct Biodiversity Opportunity Zones is well supported by definitions in the Background document and also in the Habitats & Species Tables. However, ‘Annotations’ in the map covering Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Networks are not similarly supported by any definitions. This information gap has the biggest detrimental impact regarding ‘Ecological Connectivity Priorities (see para 2.2, Background) and significantly constrains effective use of the Map.
This point links with section ii) above. Should developers move through the first three stages in the Mitigation Hierarchy (see above), and reach the Offset stage, we recommend that their opportunities for offsetting should be provided by local NGOs / Charities already active in this field, for example:
Environment Kirklees (incl. Greenstreams)
Moors for the Future
West Yorkshire Wildlife Trust
Holme River Connections
Stirley Farm (Yorkshire Wildlife Trust)
Calder Rivers Trust
Victoria Tower, Castle Hill picture by Vinny Tyrell
Comments may be made at the end of a story