Update on Lutterworth East
Late on the evening of Tuesday 9th October (yesterday), I found out that there was a Hearing being held this morning (10th October 2018) at the Harborough District Council offices regarding the Lutterworth East proposal. I don't think that it had been publicised, at least I didn't know about it, however I decided to go along.
The Hearing was in front of an Inspector appointed by the Secretary of State (Mr Jonathan Bore) who declared at the outset that the purpose of the Hearing was to determine whether the plan had been prepared in line with the relevant legal requirements (including the Duty to Cooperate) and whether it is “sound”. The National Planning Policy Framework sets out four elements of soundness that Local Plans are considered against when they are examined. Local Plans must be:
consistent with national policy
This was not a hearing that would approve planning permission in any way.
As part of the Hearing, the Inspector has the ability to comment on any aspect of the plan that causes him concern, and can make recommendations. The Council is then obliged to accept these recommendations and incorporate them within the plan - if they fail to do this the Inspector can find that the plan is not "sound" and it won't be adopted.
The Inspector had already reviewed a multitude of documents relating to the plan, and the Hearing was targeted at those areas where he believed he needed more information. As follows:
The physical links between the new development and the existing Lutterworth Town Centre
The Inspector stated very clearly that he was concerned that the plan as it stands effectively creates a new settlement on the eastern side of the M1, whereas the Policy document clearly states that the new development is part of Lutterworth - it is not, and should not be, stand alone. If this was allowed to continue, the plan would not be "sound" and could not be adopted.
The Inspector was particularly keen on the links relating to pedestrians and cyclists, and how they would move between the two centres while being protected from noise and pollution from the M1.
He was further concerned that the M1, the Spine Road and the proposed employment area effectively severed the two halves of Lutterworth, thus making them two separate developments, which is clearly not the requirement as stated in the Policy document.
In response to this, Marrons (the planners) produced a new plan which nobody else had seen up to this point (shown at the end of the text). The key features of this plan are as follows:
Connectivity between the two halves of Lutterworth would be provided by 5 crossing points, these being
The new Spine Road, which would incorporate both a dedicated footpath and a separate cycle path
The existing Gilmorton Road, which while it would ultimately be closed to normal traffic would still allow for bus, cycle and pedestrian routes
The current "Farm Link" pathway over the pedestrian bridge
The existing pathway underneath the M1
This would be part of the proposed Swift Valley Community Park which in the original plan existed on the eastern side of the motorway only, but which in the new plan would extend under the motorway to the western side
The existing M1 crossing at Junction 20
That the new development would now be arranged as three separate component communities
Gilmorton Fields to the north
West Thornborough adjacent to the motorway
Upper Thornborough to the south east
That in order to reduce the separation of the east and west communities, the proposed industrial units and offices that are currently planned along the eastern side of the M1 would be moved, with all employment being relocated to the north of Gilmorton Fields and south of Upper Thornborough. There was no clarity given regarding the additional warehouse units to the south of Junction 20.
The Inspector considered the plan, and raised the following points
Why close Gilmorton Road? This seems to be the most direct access from the new development to the centre of Lutterworth.
That there was a substantial amount of pedestrian and cycle access through green spaces, and while that was desirable as far as an enjoyable journey was concerned, he was very worried that the pathways were not highly visible or over looked by buildings. His point was that people will only use these types of pathways if they are safe, and that the users feel safe - pathways that are bordered by hedges and that are not plainly visible are considered to be a risk to personal safety.
In reviewing the plan, the Inspector actually made the comment that perhaps Marrons should take it away and start again! He felt that they had formed the plan based mainly on complying with numerous requirements, rather than producing a plan that was the best design, and incorporating the requirements within it. He felt that key urban design principles had been ignored
The Inspector was not convinced that the plan provided for a sustainable community that is linked with Lutterworth centre, and instructed Harborough Planners to demonstrate how the policy can be adapted to allow for an integrated community with the current Lutterworth centre
At this point, Lutterworth Town Councillor David Gair made three points
That Lutterworth Town Council supported the development in principle, however this was based on the requirement within the policy to significantly reduce the amount of heavy goods traffic running through Lutterworth on the A426 Leicester Road. Nothing in the plan so far allows for that, despite the fact that original discussions with planners had centered on the provision of a Lutterworth by-pass
That the proposed cycle ways don't link with the current cycle way to Walcote, meaning that there is still the need to cross over two motorway slip roads when travelling from the A4304 in to Lutterworth centre
That all proposed cycle and pedestrian ways effectively end at their junctions with the A426, meaning that high traffic volumes and high pedestrian / cycle volumes all come together. Hardly a recipe for safety.
The Council and Planners were instructed to review the policy and plans in order that the above points were satisfactorily taken in to account, and the issues resolved.
Noise and Air Quality
The Inspector wanted to know what steps were being taken in order to protect residents in these areas.
Marrons responded that the movement of employment areas away from the residential blocks would assist on both points, and that soil "bunds" and acoustic fences would minimise the impact of the M1 in terms of noise and pollution.
Councillor David Fair pointed out that absolutely nothing had been done to address the current levels of pollution within Lutterworth, and there was nothing in the plan to change this. The Spine Road would do nothing to improve the situation. He proposed that the concept of the by-pass be re-considered, thus taking vehicle movements and pollution out of Lutterworth centre.
The Inspector asked the Highways Dept how they would manage vehicles away from the A426 and on to the Spine Road. The reply was that drivers would naturally take the quicker route - unfortunately the shorter and quicker route to the M1 from the junction between the A426 and the Spine Road is straight through Lutterworth, thus defeating the solution and bringing us back to square one. This point will be a key part of the planning consideration going forward, so it should not yet be dismissed as lost.
Councillor Gair asked for the policy to be re-worded to specifically include the requirement to reduce or remove HGVs from the A426 through Lutterworth - the Inspector instructed the Council to amend the policy accordingly.
New Motorway Bridge, and the Whittle Roundabout.
The designs for the new motorway junction are currently being worked on between the planners and Highways England. No firm proposals are available as yet.
The Whittle Roundabout. Well, if you haven't taken a photograph of it and you want to, I suggest you get your camera out. The Whittle Roundabout will be removed in 2019, and replaced with a four way traffic light controlled junction. Nobody yet knows where the aeroplane will go, but it won't be in the middle of the road! For clarity, this is being done as part of the Magna Park extension, so the fact that it is definitely taking place has no bearing on where we are with the Lutterworth East proposal. Current experiences with the temporary traffic lights just below The Elms suggest that going forward, peak time queues heading out to the motorway will be substantial, especially when the additional Magna Park traffic is taken in to account.
A small amount of good news
Marrons reported that they had commenced Community Consultation with a two day event on 21st and 22nd September (the one where many of us didn't get the leaflets...). They reported that they had a fantastic response with over 900 people attending the event, and numerous positive comments. Further, they have received over 200 responses to their on-line feedback, and all comments and suggestions will be taken in to account. They then committed to a further consultation meeting, possibly in November, where revised plans can be presented and question and answer sessions can take place. Therefore, given that we now know a great deal more about the proposals, and also that they are changing in some material areas, this will be the opportunity to present a co-ordinated interrogation of the proposal so that no stone is left unturned.
Councillor Gair addressed his final comments to the subject of the Leisure Centre. He pointed out that the plans showed a "replacement" Leisure Centre / Sports facility on the Eastern development, and that we had been told at consultation that the current facility would be demolished in order to accommodate an extension to Lutterworth College. The Inspector was less than amused with this idea, and he agreed with Councillor Gair that the current facility was the centre of Lutterworth in both geographical and social terms. Harborough Council, under questioning, stated that there was no intention to close the Leisure Centre, and that the identification of land for the purpose on the Eastern development was to provide for replacement as and when the existing facility could not cope with demand. The Inspector stated that this is not an issue that should be part of the Master Plan, and should be part of consultation with the community before any decisions were taken. It is an issue that must be avoided, and therefore the Inspector instructed that it be removed from the policy and the plan.
In conclusion, the Inspector determined that the land allocation for the purpose of this development was sound, subject to the changes that he required. The next steps would be the revision of plans to take account of his comments, followed by continued consultation with stake holders and the community.
So, where does this leave us? Effectively, a development is going to be built as we all expected, however we are still at consultation and no formal planning process has commenced. We have been told that the Leisure Centre is secure, we will have further consultation meetings, but we are losing the Whittle Roundabout next year, No doubt we'll be asked for suggestions as to where the 'plane can go!
Outside of that, the Inspector has made it abundantly clear that the development MUST be planned as part of Lutterworth, not a separate community. Planners must make clear how links between the two halves will work, both in terms of west going east, as well as east coming west. The Inspector also made it clear that much of this plan was about supporting and developing the current centre of Lutterworth - he acknowledged the lack of car parking that inhibited trade in Lutterworth, but indicated that this would be dealt with separately.
At this stage, we don't have any clear detail on the quantities of each type of housing that will be built - this is important to many as lack of affordable housing is seen to be the main inhibitor to that first step on the housing ladder. Perhaps this is a starter question for the next round of consultation...
If I hear anything else, I'll update this article.