Planning - Whose thinking big?
This was written in 2002 but attempts to get the article published failed. It looks at the potential the southern perimeter has to enhance the city - But there is nobody doing the important job of planning.
Who is planning York? Planning is really the wrong title for the City’s professional planners. Their task it to regulate and react to the plans submitted to them. So it is unfair to blame the City planners. The City planners have neither the mandate nor the resources to put together large plans.
The City of York Council (COYC) recently completed another stage of their statuary consultations for its Structure Plan which might provide the ‘big plan’. But as a recent Government White Paper noted “Our current planning system is plan-led” and then goes on to show how this system has become over complex. Nevertheless, if a planning application appears to accord with the local plan, it is likely to be approved. The planner are allowed just one, small ‘get out’ clause called ‘material considerations’ that can lead to rejection.
The Government discussion paper goes on to say that over the years the system has become complex. “Rather than setting out a clear strategy for development, (plans) have become lengthy and inflexible rule-books for development control…As a result, local plans are failing their users.” Instead, the proposal is for a ‘Local Development Framework’ with core policies, some detailed action plans and a map.
Until a new system is agreed who supplies the big vision? Who looks at the wider opportunities that present themselves? The answer is that we have to rely on developers.
But what happens when the project is too big for any single developer? To the south of the City there are a set of large but independent developments. Without ‘a big plan’ opportunities to integrate them will be lost.
About 65 hectare (the precise amount of land seems to vary) of farmland between the Park & Ride and Heslington village has been approved for ‘Campus 3’. The result will be a 50% increase in undergraduate numbers.
The academic focus of the new campus is to be science. This is probably a sound investment for the city as the University provides a focus for future business developments and employment. So the expansion can set up virtuous cycle. Research generates opportunities for industrial spin-off. Profitable exploitation of research attracts more funding.
However, the planners and the space available are likely to limit the land available for business development. So where will the businesses, so vital to a viable university, be based?
If commuters were crows, they could fly to Elvington Airdrome from the university in a few minutes. Following the roads, however, puts this vacant space as far away at many of the existing business parks.
Why Elvington? The Cold War bequeathed to York a 3018m concrete strip which is one of the longest and toughest runways in the county. Surrounding the runway are extensive areas that the present owners would like to use as a business park. The potential for an imaginative development is obvious.
But this plan is in trouble and local objections have focused on the poor road access to the site. The answer would appear to be a new road link to the Ring Road minimising the traffic impact on the existing roads.
Ring Road access.
The city’s ring road is a little over a kilometre north of the airfield site and the university is less than a kilometre further north. So a new link could provide access to the ring road, diverting traffic from local roads. The residential hinterland of Elvington and Wheldrake could also enjoy the additional benefits of improved access to major centres of employment.
But road junctions on ring roads do not come cheap. The new junction at Bilborough is costing £10 million. Planners can impose ‘Planning Obligations’ to oblige developers to provide some infrastructure to support or mitigate the effect of their development.
Planning Obligations are contractual agreements between the local authority and applicant to help facilitate a development. According to the White Paper, these may include a financial contribution ‘such as the cost of providing a new site access route’ to serve the development. We already have 2 parties who will obtain some serious financial benefit from the creation of a new access road.
Would a new junction open up other opportunities and perhaps introduce other projects to share the cost?
The Fulford Golf ClubThere was a time that the Fulford Club played host to one of the top golfing tournaments. However, splitting the course with the Ring Road and the need to accommodate more spectators lost the course its ‘premier’ status in 1989. Perhaps it is time for a move?
Before the War, the club was located on the land opposite Bishopthorpe Palace where the River Ouse sweeps round in a semi circle. During the war the land was needed for agriculture production and the existing site was found. The new site was less prone to flooding where much of the old course could be turned into a water trap.
If a suitable deal could be done, the golf course could be consolidated, south of the ring road, with convenient access to the ring road as well as the city. With sufficient investment, a modified Fulford Course could again be competing for international tournaments.
The Greenish lung
There is a price to pay. Some of the green land occupied by the golf course would have to be sacrificed to provide the route to the new ring road access. With some imaginative development, this area could become a great cycling or rambling area and equally suitable for national cross country runners and orienteers. The football pitches on Walmgate Stray might even acquire some parking and changing facilities in the process.
With a new junction plus two large Park & Ride facilities just one junction away, the new access to the ring road could be an excellent location for a regional sports arena. Some creative thinking would be called for to put this proposal together but it is a facility that every vibrant city needs.
The economics of arenas are a nightmare as the FA is slowly discovering at Wembley and the Government discovered with its Millennium Dome. But the proximity of the University, a football club in search of a new home, a military and police HQ provide several possible clients. The shortage of world class training facilities in North or East Riding might help attract funding and subsidies.
The city plan calls for a substantial amount of new housing. The commendable policy of re-cycling central sites is not expected to be enough to accommodate the anticipated growth. The expansion of the university and any possible industrial spin-off will call for new housing in the area for those who do not want to commute by car to their workplace.
There is an existing proposal to build 600 units on the fields behind Fulford School on a site known as Germany Beck. One drawback of this development is the proposed access. The application submitted to the Planning Committee proposes that all the generated traffic should emerge onto the Fulford Road.
Just a few weeks before the battle of Hastings, an even bigger battle took place along the line of Germany Beck and a Lottery-funded project is underway to define the scope of this forgotten battle in the face of opposition from the would-be developers. The road proposed in the application would destroy the battle site of 1066.
Another access route, this time oriented towards the local employment and with easy access to the ring road for those who have to commute recruits the developer as a contributor to the cost of the infrastructure.
Does democracy work when it comes to planning?
In a democracy, there is a danger that present incumbents will be benefited at the expense of those to come. The present system encourages our elected representatives to placate the incumbents only to be forced by their new constituents to upgrade the facilities later at great expense to the community rather than the original developer. Those who live around the northern ring road will appreciate the endless roadworks that has proved necessary.
Somebody is adversely affected by every change. Broadway, for example, will experience a significant increase in traffic but there is scope to create a new roundabouts at the junction with Fulford Road. The junctions of Heslington Lane, Broadway and a new access road will need careful consideration to avoid isolation Walmgate from the green hinterland.
A small amount of farming land will be lost. However, 5% of agricultural land is set-aside as a crude, but effective measure to limit production and to benefit wild life. The diversion of some farmland to other uses would seem to be in keeping with modern priorities.
Finally, I would like to declare that I have no financial or business, professional or personal relationship with any consequence of these proposals. The one interest I would like to declare is to ensure that the site is the Battle of Fulford is not sacrificed to provide short-term access to a housing development.
An alternative planning model
The right-to-develop is a valuable asset. Agricultural land valued at £4k an acre could be worth £400k with planning consent for retail or housing use. In a free market, why are these consents not sold by auction or tender? If they were, the community, rather than the developer, would obtain the financial benefit from planning permission.
There would be a strong incentive on local authorities to maintain a flow of land for development because of the money the planning consent will bring. The market rate for housing and accommodation is well known so developers could work our how much they can bid for the land. There will be no impact on house prices or rent.
Under this model, suitable land would be identified and investigated by public bodies and only released to developers once proper investigations and consultations had been conducted. This would ensure that the heritage and environmental effects of any project could be debated within the community without pressure from developers.
Giving the community a financial stake in development consents could revitalise local democracy as well as the local coffers. The process of investigating significant tracts of land takes many years and it is right that the local population will be able to make their views known through the ballot box.
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The author of the content is Charles Jones - firstname.lastname@example.org Last updated April 2015
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