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Proposed Submission Core Strategy

Representation ID: 21016

Received: 11/11/2011

Respondent: Marchfield Strategic Land Ltd

Agent: JB Planning Associates Ltd.


This representation relates to refereces at paragraphs 1.14, 7.22 and 7.31 in the Core Strategy to the supporting Sustainability Appraisal (SA).

The lack of consistency and rigour in the analysis that is displayed, coupled with the lack of clarity as to exactly what is being tested against what, means that the document fails to achieve the necessary standard required to meet the Directive.

The lack of clarity and definition of options , and how they are tested, does not provide any clear rationale or substantive base for informed judgement.

The SA is defective and the Core Strategy procedurally unsound.

Full text:

That the Council has undertaken a Sustainability Appraisal is not in doubt, since
there is a June 2011 document that bears that label, but we do question, in the
light of the many specific comments raised in this submission, whether or not the
Sustainability Appraisal presented is of the standard necessary to meet the
requirements of Article 12(2) of the Directive, which seeks to ensure that
environmental reports are of a "sufficient quality".

As summarised by Mr Justice Collins in the Forest Heath case:

"Quality involves ensuring that a report is based on proper information and
expertise and covers all of the potential effects of the plan or programme
in question. In addition, since one of the purposes of the Directive is to
allow members of the public to be consulted about plans or programmes
which may affect them, the report should enable them to understand why
the proposals are said to be environmentally sound."

As presented, the Sustainability Appraisal of this Core Strategy falls well short of
the quality required, both in terms of its technical assessment (in particular in
respect of Options B, C and D) and in respect of the presentation of its findings.

We have limited our analysis of the SA to the assessment of Options B, C and D, since they are the issues in which we have greatest interest. The lack of comment on other parts of the SA does not mean that we agree with the findings or the analysis, simply that we have not subjected it to the same level of scrutiny.

Firstly, we are concerned at the lack of clarity in the SA regarding the substance of the options tested. The SA is a self-contained document, and in theory at least the findings of the SA process should inform the substance of the Core Strategy, notwithstanding that the production of the two documents may occur in tandem. It is essential therefore that a reader of the SA has a clear understanding of what is being assessed, and on what basis the assessment has taken place.

In many instances, the definition of the options presented in the SA is vague or obscure. So for example in respect of issue B and the overall scale of growth, it is firstly apparent that "growth" in this context only means "housing numbers", and secondly that the description of the two different variants is not consistent. Option B1 relates to a specific and quantifiable level of housing development over a set period (5,600 between 2006-2026), whilst Option B2 refers to a much vaguer alternative of "a lower rate of development ... in recognition of changed circumstances."

There is no clarity in the SA itself as to what the 'lower rate of development' or the changed circumstances are. Although it may well be that the 'lower rate' assessed is the rate of development proposed in the Core Strategy, there is no clarity in the SA of what has been assessed against what.

Similarly, in respect of Option C, the SA provides three alternatives that speak of a "focus" of new development at different locations, but the SA does not define what this means in practice. Are the quantums of development envisaged under the variants the same, or does a "focus" at North Bexhill mean something different to a "focus" at North-East Bexhill? Does "focus" mean all non-committed development is ascribed to those locations for just a proportion, and if the latter, what proportion?

In respect of Option D, we are unclear as to why no reference is made to Option D in the summary on pages 47-50, which means the only information relating to this option is buried in the SA on pages 136 and 137. Again, there is a contrast between the description of the rejected option D1, which refers to continuing the scale and rate of development set out in the previous iteration of the Core Strategy (which although not quoted in the SA, is a quantifiable figure), and the preferred Option D2 which assesses an unspecified "lower rate of development".

It may well be that a diligent reader can deduce from reading the current Core Strategy and previous iterations of the Core Strategy what the difference between Options D1 and D2 might be, but taken at face value, the SA document provides the reader with no information as to the alternatives being assessed or the real difference between them, and therefore it fails in its duty to present the environmental analysis in a manner which is easy to understand, and moreover in a manner which is clear and unambiguous.

Turning then secondly to the substance of the analysis of the options presented in the relevant tables (pages 131-132 for the 'B' options, 133-135 for the 'C' options, and 136-137 for the 'D' options), we are concerned that the quality of the analysis presented falls well short of the standard for such a document. The following specific points illustrate our concerns.

Option B comments

The difference between Option B1 and B2 is that option B1 provides more dwellings that Option B2 (although as per the above, the actual difference is not clear from the SA).

If we assume that the scale of housing growth in Option B1 is the South-East Plan figure of 5600 (2006-2026) plus 2 additional years to 2028 (at a rate of 280 per annum), then the total quantum of new homes is 6,160.

If we assume that the 'lower rate' in B2 is indeed the rate set out in the Core Strategy of 3,700-4,100 over the period 2011-2028, then taking in to account the number of completions 2006-2011 of 1,357, the equivalent figure being tested in B1 is 5,457 dwellings (we have taken the higher end of the range, and assume the SA would do this also).

The difference between B1 and B2 is therefore 703 dwellings over the period to 2028, significant in terms of the delivery of new homes and the provision of affordable housing, but much less significant in the context of an existing dwelling stock (as at the 2001 Census) of some 40,100 dwellings overall in Rother District.

Within that context, there are we would suggest four general failings in the analysis of the 'B' options that drive to the credibility of the assessment:

(1) Much of the analysis seems to be predicated on an assumption that additional homes equals additional people which equals additional waste/energy consumption etc. Building new homes does not create additional people on a global level. The people already exist, and therefore so does their energy consumption and waste generation etc;

(2) There is no sense of proportionality in the assessment in terms of the absolute difference between Option B1 and B2. As identified above, in terms of the overall housing stock in Rother, the difference between the options is absolute terms is limited, and when taken together with the fact that the identified effects are often uncertain or of limited significance as well, the SA is unrepresentative as to the magnitude of the effects;

(3) The appraisal is inconsistent in terms of recognising that in most instances it is not actually the number of houses built that would have an impact on the indicators provided, but where and how those houses are built. In some instances (e.g. items 7, 8, and to some extent item 16) the appraisal accepts that quantum of housing is not really the issue, whereas in other cases (e.g. items 10 and 11) the appraisal focuses on quantum without caveating the response in terms of the location/form of housing;

(4) New housing is built to higher environmental standards than existing housing, using less water and energy resources. Although there is an environmental cost in use of energy and materials to produce the house in the first place, the longer term operating cost is much lower than the older housing stock.

We are also concerned with specific inaccuracies in the analysis in items 12, 14 and 15. In each of these cases, the SA alleges specific harm in terms of the number of homes that the higher figure would require to be built in areas at risk of flooding, in areas of biodiversity importance, and in highly sensitive landscape areas such as AONB. In each case, the appraisal states a definitive correlation between the higher Option B1 figure and harm to those interests which is totally unjustified, since previous iterations of the Core Strategy which were premised on the SE Plan did not generate a need for development that compromised these assets.

If entries 12, 14 and 15 are corrected to avoid the inappropriate claim of harm to designated interests, and if the scoring more accurately represented the marginality/lack of certainty of the effects, it would be apparent that Option B1, which provides the homes that are needed in the area, is more sustainable than Option B2.

Option C Comments
Moving on to the 'C' Options, we would comment firstly on discrepancies within the summary of Options C2 (West Bexhill) and C3 (North Bexhill).

Option C1 (North-East Bexhill) is recorded as being in conformity with the South East Plan, which is reasonable, since Policy SCT3 of the South-East Plan specifically refers to mixed-use development sites at North-East Bexhill.

In respect of Option C2, the summary notes no conformity with other plans/policies. However, in respect of Option C3, the summary suggests there is conformity with the South-East Plan, albeit to a lesser extent than C1. This is simply incorrect. North Bexhill is not the same location as North-East Bexhill, and there is no more mention of North Bexhill in the SE Plan than there is of West Bexhill. The summaries on this issue should read the same.

In any event, since the basic approach to housing delivery set out in this Core Strategy is premised on the fact that the South-East Plan will no longer exist at the time of adoption, it is difficult to see what conformity with the South-East Plan is given any weight in the analysis at all.

The summary for Option C2 (West Bexhill) also states that "AA cites habitats issues. Possible conflict with PPS9". The AA does not come to the conclusion that development at West Bexhill would have an adverse impact on biodiversity or habitats. Rather, it says that because of the Pevensey Levels to the west, it cannot rule out the possibility that effects on biodiversity could occur. In this respect, the SA misrepresents the AA, which in fact comes to no conclusion on the matter

Turning to the line by line analysis of C2 and C3, we are concerned by what appears to be an absence of consistency in the treatment of the two locations. Our specific comments include:

Item 1: The suggestion that housing at West Bexhill might be less suited to younger people/local families than housing at North Bexhill is wholly superficial and not borne out by any substantive evidence that we are aware of. In fact, our planning application for West Bexhill is proposing a high proportion of family housing, reflecting the identified needs arising from the SHMA.

Item 2: Generally in the SA analysis if there is any suggestion that North Bexhill may perform better than West Bexhill, then the scoring reflects this. Where, as in the case of item 2, the analysis suggests that West Bexhill performs better than North Bexhill, both options are scored the same.

Item 3: The appraisal of Option B1 in respect of this item notes generally that providing new homes can have a positive impact by reducing deprivation and social exclusion. The analysis of Options C1 and C3 both follow this route and assume that new housing to the North-East of Bexhill and North of Bexhill will have positive effects on reducing crime. Conversely, according to the appraisal at C2, new housing at West Bexhill will have no effect whatsoever on deprivation or social exclusion. There is no evidence whatsoever to support either the positive conclusions in respect of C1 and C3 (building new houses for sale next to deprived areas does not tackle deprivation, if this is indeed the thinking behind the analysis). Providing jobs and affordable housing could have an effect, and West Bexhill can achieve that as well as North Bexhill.

Item 4: Similar failings apply to the analysis in respect of this item. Additionally, the fact that West Bexhill might have an older demographic at the moment is largely a function of the existing housing stock. Providing new family housing will serve to change that, which would seem to be a positive effect.

Item 5: In reality, both West Bexhill and North Bexhill are broadly equidistant to centres of higher education at present. Moreover, access to University and indeed in many cases access to Colleges is not based on proximity to the door, but on selecting the right establishment for the course to be followed, and therefore this is not a micro-geographic issue in the same way that, say, access to a primary school is.

Item 6: It is wholly unclear as to why development at North Bexhill supports economic growth whereas West Bexhill does not.

Item 7: West Bexhill is noted as having "good proximity" to its local centre whereas North Bexhill has "reasonable proximity" to its closest centre. Both enjoy similar levels of accessibility to higher order facilities in Bexhill. However, although West Bexhill is superior in terms of 'doorstep' facilities, both Options are scored the same.

Item 8: Both sites are roughly equi-distant to Bexhill Town Centre. North Bexhill is closer to Ravenside (Leisure Centre, retail park, ten pin bowling), whilst West Bexhill offers better access to the sea front for water sports and leisure, better access to local golf courses, the Little Common Sports Ground, and access to the countryside for quiet enjoyment (none of which is recognised in the SA).

Item 9: Encouraging the prudent use of natural resources would include locating development in areas where walking, cycling, and use of public transport offer serious alternatives to car use. As recognised in item 10, North Bexhill will encourage car usage, due to its peripheral location and dependence on a new Link Road. West Bexhill offers more sustainable travel modes, including walking, cycling access to quality bus services and access to rail services, and should score more highly.

Item 10: See 9 above. It is clear from the analysis that Option C2 for West Bexhill performs better, but the SA does not reflect this.

Item 11: We disagree with the SA that providing new housing with a high environmental performance is likely to increase greenhouse gases. Since CO2 is a significant greenhouse gas, C2 (West Bexhill) performs better since it offers greater opportunities for non-car travel, but the SA does not reflect this.

Item 12: There are no proposals for development at West Bexhill to occur within the floodplain of the Picknell Green Stream, and hence the findings of the SA here are either plain wrong or at best highly misleading. Since Greenfield development is required to meet Greenfield run-off, neither location would increase surface water flooding. In either location, new development can in fact help to redress existing infrastructure issues.

Item 13: Rother District Council will be aware of consultations that we have had with both the EA and NE regarding the implementation of sustainable drainage systems which will ensure that development at West Bexhill will have no effect on either the quantity or quality of water entering the Pevensey Levels. Again, the reporting of the SA is either plain wrong or highly misleading.

Item 14: See item 13 above.

Item 15: The analysis for C2 and C3 records "some landscape impact". We would contend that the sensitivity of the landscape at West Bexhill is less and its ability to accommodate development greater than at North Bexhill.

Item 16: Since the closest civic amenity tip lies on the eastern side of Hastings in the Glyne Gap, both locations are roughly equidistant, and both would involve trips across the town, such that neither has a significant advantage over the other. Provision of on-site recycling facilities would help to reduce the number of movements in both cases.

We accept of course that any SA includes an element of subjective analysis, but in this case, the comparative analysis of Options C2 and C3 is so skewed as to raise serious concerns for the validity of the exercise as a whole.

We are particularly concerned that the SA largely skirts over the 'elephant in the room' in that Option C3 is premised on the development being served by a major new road, cutting through highly sensitive countryside, and linking to a new by-pass (i.e. the Bexhill-Hastings Link Road). Not only will the new access itself be detrimental in terms of its physical impact, but it will be impossible to achieve the more sustainable modes of travel that any major new development should be striving for when the whole focus of the development is ease of access by car.

Although item 10 of the C3 analysis does recognise that North Bexhill will increase car reliance, that recognition does not filter down in to the findings of the analysis on other issues (we have highlighted instances in our assessment above). Rather, the SA is dominated by analysis which seems to take the ease of travel (essentially by car) between destinations A and B as a proxy to sustainable development, when it should not be. The merits of West Bexhill as a location are that it offers genuine opportunities for modal shift (including rail travel, a factor ignored in the assessment), and it provides the ability for many local trips to be made without the need of a vehicle at all.

On any objective analysis, we would suggest that West Bexhill performs more strongly that North Bexhill, but irrespective of that argument, the RDC SA as presented, because of its many failings and inconsistency of application, cannot in any event be afforded any credibility.

Option D Comments
Our comments in respect of Option D reflect in part our comments in respect of Option B, in particular:

(a) That there is no clarity in the SA as to what the practical implications of the two options are, and that there is no clarity as to what option D2 comprises, since it is only described as being "a lower rate of development", without any quantification;

(b) That the SA pre-supposes negative effects arising from the higher level of development in Option D1, without any substantive evidence to support such assertions, whilst the SA at the same time ignores or underplays the benefits arising from new development;

(c) That there remains a substantial inconsistency in the analysis in that on the one hand, it often pre-supposes adverse consequences from new development, and on the other hand, the appraisal frequently also acknowledges both that the effects are hard to assess "without knowing the more specific locations that development would be re-directed to" and that many effects have nothing to so with quantum per se, but the manner in which new development is accommodated.

In short, half of the appraisal appears to be based on comparing other development locations less favourably to North East Bexhill, and the other half states that its is hard to assess the effects when the other development locations are not known.

The Option D appraisal however also introduces inconsistencies between it and the Option B analysis. So for example, under item 2, the B1 analysis accepts that additional housing development can improve health and well-being, but under Option D1 (the equivalent scenario, but looking in particular at Bexhill), a different conclusion is drawn, apparently based on the wholly spurious argument that development elsewhere in Bexhill in advance of North-East Bexhill may have adverse consequences, which is not only unjustified but totally irrelevant to the issue being examined under Option D1.

In the recent Forest Heath judgement, Mr Justice Collins noes that any Sustainability Appraisal should be of the quality required by Article 12(2) of the Directive, noting that:

'Quality involves ensuring that a report is based in proper information and expertise and covers all of the potential effects of the plan or programme in question. In addition, since one of the purposes of the Directive is to allow members of the public to be consulted about plans or programmes which may affect them, the report should enable them to understand why the proposals are said to be environmentally sound.'

A Sustainability Appraisal has been produced, but the lack of consistency and
rigour in the analysis that is displayed, coupled with a lack of clarity as to exactly
what is being tested against what, means that the document fails to achieve the
necessary standard required to meet the requirements of the Directive.

We note from paragraph 4.3.1 that the SA has been carried out internally by
Planning Officers at Rother District Council, "in accordance with advice received
from Baker Associates, whose support was co-ordinated via Planning Advisory
Service". This sentence provides no clarity as to the level of expertise of the
assessors, but it will be apparent from our general and specific comments on the
substance of the SA that we have serious concerns as to the depth and adequacy
of the assessment process.

Perhaps most significantly of all, the lack of clarity in the SA and definition of what
the options actually comprise, and the basis on which they have been tested,
means that the document does not provide any clear rationale or substantive
base upon which the reader can make informed judgements.

For all of the above reasons, the SA is defective and the Core Strategy
procedurally unsound.