FREEDOM OF INFORMATION REQUEST to Bradford Council

freedom-of-information-request-oct-2016On 18 October, on behalf of WARD, a Freedom of Information request was submitted to Bradford Council relating to the Council’s own comment in the SHLAA that “a significant number of sites with planning permission within Bradford City Centre … on the advice of volume house builder representatives on the SHLAA Working Group, have been completely left out of the 5 year (housing) supply due to the collapse in the market for city centre flats and apartments.” That comment was made in 2010 in preparation for the issue of the first version of the SHLAA in 2011.

However, there have been two revisions of the SHLAA since then, in 2013 and 2015 and it is not clear whether this “significant number of sites” have been included. The housing market, we are told, is in crisis and people need houses close to where they work. That’s a key part of Bradford Council’s Policy statements, but not one they seem to be adhering to. The housing market has strengthened substantially since 2010 (in the aftermath of the economic crash), and what possible legitimate reason could there be for NOT developing sites in Bradford City Centre, where people wouldn’t need to commute to work, where there are shops which need more custom, and where they would assist Bradford’s regeneration?

Given that these sites weren’t included in the first version of the SHLAA, so not even identified, how are we to know whether they’ve been included subsequently? The Freedom of Information request requires Bradford Council to identify the sites, reveal whether they have now been included and, if not, why they are still ‘sitting there’ with planning permission. If Bradford Council is allowing developers to keep sites in their ‘land bank’, how can they at the same time demand that small communities remote from the city give up Green Belt land for housing when it’s not needed there, and there are no local jobs?

The FOI request was due to be answered within 20 days of receipt, ie. by 17 November but has been delayed because (to quote) a member of staff is on leave, so we are told to expect a reply within a further 20 working days, so by 15 December 2016, or hopefully “before then”.

Menston development plans may be ‘called-in’ by Secretary of State

Philip Davies, MP for Shipley, has kindly forwarded a letter he has received from the Department for Communities & Local Government.  This relates to plans for housing on Bingley Road, Menston – 2 sites, one for 12 dwellings and the other for 137 dwellings.

The Minister’s letter notes that public concern about these proposed developments has been brought to attention previously, but that Bradford MDC nevertheless proceeded to grant Planning Permission for another site in Menston, on Derry Hill. As regards the two sites in Bingley Road, however …

  • In respect of the site proposed for development by Chartford Homes, the Minister has issued “an Article 25 Direction … to allow the Secretary of State time to consider your request to call in.”
  • In relation to the larger development proposed by Taylor Wimpey, the Minister notes the concerns about flood risk and groundwater emergence (which have repeatedly been drawn to the attention of Bradford Council).  The Minister further notes that a decision was deferred at the Regulatory & Appeals Committee Meeting on 15 October, so that an independent expert’s detailed study and report on groundwater and drainage can be undertaken, to investigate the issues raised by objectors.

The Department of Communities & Local Government is “actively monitoring” the Bingley Road application, and the Minister undertakes that “Should the Council resolve to grant planning permission, rest assured the Secretary of State will consider your request to call in the application, and in doing so, will take account of all your representations.”

There is ample evidence, which Officers of Bradford Council have never fully disclosed to members of the Regulatory & Appeals Committee, to show that the Chartford Homes site has been specifically designed as a catchment area (detention basin) for groundwater and surface water from the moorland above Bingley Road, and that the site floods regularly to a depth of 40cms, and sometimes more. How anyone could contemplate construction (or buying) a home on that site defies explanation, as it was designed to flood, and would!

Chartford Homes site in flood

Chartford Homes site in flood

 

A letter from the DCLG on behalf of the Secretary of State, specifically to Stewart Currie, Planning Officer at CBMDC, says: “The Secretary of State hereby directs your Council not to grant permission on this application (re. Chartford Homes/Bingley Road) without specific authorisation.  This direction is issued to enable him (the Secretary of State) to consider whether …. the application should be referred to him for determination.”  The letter also requires Mr Currie to submit a wide range of documentation and evidence to the Secretary of State, including the flood risk assessments.  Hopefully, the Officers will not be able to conceal evidence from the Secretary of State in the way they appear to have done from the community and those Councillors who have sat on the R&A Committee.

What the Government said after floods in 2014.

What the Government said after floods in 2014.

 

The larger site, which Taylor Wimpey wish to develop, is riddled with seasonal springs, aquifers and culverts, and ample evidence has already been presented to show that the developers and Bradford Council have underestimated the amount of water going through and under that site, by a factor of ten! Once again, the Officers have not given the Councillors on the R&A Committee this evidence nor have they explained the implications, either for houses built on the site, or for those below the site, which would be in the direct line of potential flood.

Whilst we can only now await the hydrology report and, in particular, the groundwater issue – which has never featured in Bradford Council’s consideration – it is reassuring that the Secretary of State now has these matters ‘on his radar’, and for that it is right to thank Philip Davies for his persistence in bringing the concerns of Menston’s residents to the Minister’s attention.

Meanwhile, Menston Action Group has reissued its appeal to Menston residents to make financial contributions towards the cost of the independent flooding and drainage report, and to meet anticipated costs of legal representation if it becomes necessary to request a Judicial Review.  It can’t be right that a small community, threatened with plans for volume development which would overwhelm its infrastructure and change its whole character, should have to rely upon financial sacrifices of its residents to contest the plans of huge corporations such as Taylor Wimpey.  Whatever happened to “localism” and the priority being given to the wishes of the local population?

Menston development plans to go for expert investigation

At a Bradford Council Planning Panel (Regulatory & Appeals Committee) on 15 October 2014, faced with division about the risk of flooding on the proposed site at Bingley Road, Menston Action Group offered the Committee funding to ensure that an independent expert be instructed to provide a substantive report on the hydrology issues relative to the specific site and other proposed development sites in Menston.

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Menston Community Association lodges official complaints

Two complaints have been lodged by the MCA in relation to breaches of procedure by Bradford Council in respect of Planning Applications in the village.  One of the complaints, launched by Alan Elsegood, is directed to The City Solicitor.  This follows a challenge to Councillors on the Regulatory & Advisory Committee (formerly called the Planning Panel) about the fact that they were denied the opportunity to consider the flooding and drainage reports for the two sites, and four of the Councillors who had never seen the sites before and who didn’t even get off the bus for the “site visit”, voted without any understanding of the evidence.  The complaint also alleges that the Councillors were misdirected by Legal Officers as to what was, and what wasn’t, a legitimate concern under planning law, and the Chairman of the R&A Committee (Leader of the Labour group on Bradford Council) put pressure on the Labour Councillors to vote on party lines.  This complaint has also been submitted to the Local Government Ombudsman, as earlier complaints have not been answered or the LGO has been misinformed to the effect that the complaints had been resolved under Bradford Council’s internal procedures.  Hopefully, the LGO will not be deceived this time and will conduct a thorough independent investigation.

Chairman of the MCA, Steve Ellams, (appointed last October) had raised a complaint with the Local Government Ombudsman about procedural irregularities and the trivialisation by Bradford’s Planning Officers of the enormous number of complaints by residents of Menston, which were reduced to a handful of ‘bullet-points’ in the Officers’ report to the R&A Committee.

Confirmation of receipt of the complaints has been received, and the LGO advises that it has allocated the complaints to an Investigator.  We await developments.

PETITION AND DEMO AT BRADFORD CITY HALL

A large number of ‘the usual suspects’ attended the Full Council meeting at Bradford City Hall on Tuesday 10 December, to present a petition in defence of Green Belt and green spaces, and to demonstrate about those issues in the city centre.

Dr Steve Ellams, Chairman of Menston Community Association, presented the petition to the Council, verbally and in writing (bearing 1,500 signatures), requesting that the Council acknowledge that the National Planning Policy Framework contains provisions that Green Belt and green land should only be built on after brownfield land (previously built-on) had been consumed and only in exceptional circumstances.  Green areas are vital to separate communities, to provide recreational space, wildlife habitats and to protect and preserve the special character of areas.  All these valuable benefits are under threat from plans for construction in Bradford District, which have not been subject to proper consultation, and which seem to be far in excess of what anyone can understand to be needed.

Dr Ellams emphasised that, in accordance with the Localism Act, communities were to be fully involved in the planning of new developments, and to have a say on how many and what types of development should take place, with a view to protecting environments such as Wharfedale for future generations.  There was a risk of overdevelopment along the A65, such that Wharfedale could become a ribbon of concrete and tarmac, all the communities being linked together as the Green Belt was consumed by speculative building.  It was time for Bradford Council to put a stop to developers “land banking”, and ensure that the right housing was built in the right places and in a proper sequence, with ‘brownfield first’.

Part of the demo at Bradford City Hall
Part of the demo at Bradford City Hall

SURPRISE ANNOUNCEMENT

SIGNIFICANT REDUCTION IN HOUSING TARGET NUMBERS IN WHARFEDALE!

Bradford Council has revealed that fewer new houses are to be built in Wharfedale than were proposed in the original LDF.  Overall, the number of houses assessed to be needed in Bradford District between now and 2030 has been reduced from 45,500 to 42,100, and the total has been reallocated as between the areas which make up Bradford District.  The change is beneficial for Wharfedale, but will not be seen as good news for other areas.  The housing target for Wharfedale (one of WARD’s focus areas) has been reduced from 4,500 to 2,500.

This is welcome news, but still doesn’t answer the questions which WARD has been raising, nor will it help the overstretched infrastructure of Wharfedale’s communities along the busy A65.

Bradford’s Local Development Plan contains a number of welcome changes to the targets for housing previously indicated, such as:

  • Menston has been ‘stepped-back’ from being designated a “Local Growth Centre” to a “Local Service Centre”.  The number of houses which Menston is now indicated to accommodate by 2030 has been reduced from 900 to 400, in recognition of the fact that the village does not have the infrastructure to support such a large increase in population or traffic.
  • Burley in Wharfedale, also ‘relegated’ to a “Local Service Centre”, will see its target reduced from 500 to 200 new homes over the Plan period
  • Addingham, reduced from 400 to 200 new homes
  • Ilkley, Wharfedale’s “Principal Town”, reduced from 1,300 to 800 new homes.

So, compared with the original target of 3,100 new homes, Wharfedale’s new target in the revised Local Plan is 1,600, or an average of 200 homes per year over the next 16 years.  The BIG BENEFIT is the reduction in Green Belt and greenfield land to be “deleted” – a good word, because that’s exactly what happens to our green spaces when they build on them!  Once built on, it’s gone forever and lost to future generations.

WARD, and local groups such as Menston Action Group, Addingham Civic Society and others have been lobbying for several years to make Bradford Council aware of the need to recognise the uniqueness of Wharfedale’s environment and the value of green spaces for recreation, wildlife habitats, tourism and the intrinsic beauty of our fields and moors.  It seems that an unlikely ally has emerged, in the form of the European Habitats Regulations and the “European Strategic Environmental Assessment” requirements.  These draw the attention of the Council to Wharfedale’s location within the South Pennines National Park and the proximity of its settlements to the Rombalds Moor Special Protection Area.  Did Bradford Council not know about these matters before???

What is STILL not at all clear is how the supposed “housing need” has been assessed, and how accurate it is.  Bradford Council says “the Council commissioned consultants GVA to carry out a study to establish the district’s objectively assessed need for housing. GVA have proven experience in this field and have undertaken similar studies for a number of other Local Authorities including Leeds and Calderdale.” Indeed, GVA have undertaken such assessments all over the UK.  The company describes itself as “GVA – leading UK property consultants and commercial property management experts”.  They’ve no interest whatever then in encouraging the construction of more homes than might actually be needed?

Just have a look at GVA’s website at http://www.gva.co.uk/planning/ to see how their business has fingers in every planning ‘pie’ including “undertaking planning appraisals, negotiating and obtaining planning permission and advising on all aspects of planning policy, design requirements, mix of uses and planning conditions. We also provide expert witness advice.”  So, GVA provide the forecasts of “housing need”, they advise the Council where and in what sequence to undertake construction, negotiate the planning permission and conditions, and then their sales arm negotiates with the developers.  Do I smell an opportunity for financial advantage at every single stage of the process of robbing us of our heritage landscapes, or am I just becoming cynical after all the manipulation and double-speak in this Local Plan and its predecessors?

How come Bradford is said to need 42,100 new houses when its population increase has been 51,000 or 11% over the last 10 years (i.e. 1.1% per annum) and Bristol with a 10% increase in population over the same period (1% per annum) needs only 26,400?  Why does Leeds ‘need’ over 72,000 new houses when its population has increased by only 5% (39,000) over the last 10 years, yet Leicester’s population has increased by 17% (47,000) but it ‘needs’ only 21,500 new houses?  Don’t people live together in families in Leeds and Bradford?  Why are all these new houses ‘needed’ when whole districts of both Bradford and Leeds have vacant former industrial sites and massive numbers of houses for which planning permission has been given but not a brick laid?  When will Bradford start to clear the areas of near-derelict housing from its industrial past and build new eco-friendly (well insulated, easy-maintenance, well-designed) housing close to workplaces and shopping, so people don’t have to commute, clogging up the roads and issuing fumes and we can keep city-centre schools alive?  Answer: not whilst GVA keep recommending the Council pushes its population out of the city to the suburbs, leaving an economic wasteland in the centre.

Let’s take some credit for having brought a lot of these matters to Bradford Council’s attention, but still continue the fight to defend Wharfedale and its communities against unnecessary, inappropriate and excessive development plans.  When will the Council start to take notice of what sort and scale of development the residents of this area feel to be necessary?  That would require CONSULTATION, which we haven’t had yet!

Menston’s mis-treatment at the hands of Bradford MDC

If ever there was a catalogue of misinformation, denial of consultation, refusal to examine evidence and inaccurate reportage, the experience of the village of Menston at the hands of Bradford Council must be a prime example.

Some illustrations:

  • There’s never been a full dialogue or consultation exercise.  The so-called “public consultation” (22 July 2010) was in fact a sales exhibition by the developers and their agents. The Planning Officers of Bradford Council have never in 4 years taken the time to set out the full plans in any genuine consultation or dialogue with residents.
  • The Communities Minister (Greg Clark) told residents (9 July 2010)  that “localism Continue reading

LEEDS PLANNERS IGNORE BROWNFIELD AND CHOOSE GREENBELT AND GREENSPACE SITES FIRST!

Rigorous statistical analysis of Leeds City Council’s proposed Housing Site Allocations Plan has been undertaken by Professor David Cove of Leeds University, and makes alarming reading.

The Leeds Council data breaks down site allocations into green, yellow and red categories, the green category being the sites proposed for earliest development and the red category for the site not current considered suitable or practicable for the construction of housing.  The analogy with traffic lights – go now, proceed with caution and stop/wait – is inescapable.  Thus, both the green and yellow categories are imminently at risk of development.

Leaving aside for the moment that Leeds City Council is proposing the construction of a far higher proportion of housing than other cities with comparable population growth, and ignoring the fact that the Council has already approved planning consents for 22,500 properties, with another 15,000 unoccupied and out-of-use, their plans for development on brownfield sites are minute – only 8% of housing is proposed for previously-used or derelict sites.  What they are planning is for 90% of future housing sites to be on greenfield or Green Belt land.

As the diagram below shows:

  • Outer areas of Leeds are proposed to suffer significantly more housing development than inner areas;
  • Of the housing planned for the earliest construction (green category), 57% of the land (“site area”) is indicated to be wholly or partly in Green Belt;
  • Taking both the green category and the next earliest development (in the yellow category), up to 71% of housing is planned to consume Green Belt;
  • Of the total number of housing units (dwellings proposed), only 12% will be built on brownfield (previously used) land overall, and this reduces to 6% in the outer areas of the city;
  • When all the identified construction sites are considered (green, yellow and red categories), 92% of the housing units are intended to be constructed in the outer areas of the city, on Green belt land and current green spaces (see the highlighted area).

LEEDS HOUSING ANALYSISParagraphs 79, 80 and 81 of the National Planning Policy Framework (the NPPF, which came into force in April 2013) are about protecting Green Belt land and state clearly that the Green Belt serves five purposes, namely:

  •  to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas;
  • to prevent neighbouring towns merging into one another;
  • to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment;
  • to preserve the setting and special character of historic towns;  and
  • to assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land.

These plans from Leeds City Council clearly run contrary to Government policy as outlined in the NPPF.  What’s more, they do nothing “to assist in urban regeneration” as the vast acreage of brownfield sites in Leeds City Centre has been studiously ignored by the SHLAA Group.  Why is this?  This is an important question which the WARD group will put to the planning inspector next month when the ‘public hearing sessions’ begin.

 

MORE ON WIND-POWER ENERGY

Over the past few months, WARD has been harrangued by Friends of the Earth (Wharfedale Branch), who take the view that wind-power and wind turbines should be supported as environmentally friendly, and energy-effecient:  whereas WARD has  reflected its own opinions (based on scientific evidence) that wind turbines and wind farms do not ‘stack up’ as energy-efficient, economically viable in the longer term, and that they are damaging to the natural environment and tend to have a negative effect on property values locally to any turbine(s).  As the UK has a high proportion of owner-occupied properties, most of which are mortgaged and therefore equity values are crucial, the UK is more affected by property values than many other economies.  WARD recognises that we are a small nation with a limited land-mass (242,000 sq. km, including its islands), that we are heavily built-up, with limited open space between urban communities, and that green space is precious.

Hundreds of years ago, mankind’s more advanced economies abandoned wind power because it was unreliable, and found better/more reliable methods of generating energy. It is not necessary to burn coal or oil or gas to generate energy, and few of us are going to advocate nuclear power as a complete solution given the issues of decommissioning.  However, littering the country (or coastal waters) with huge turbines is not the answer either, and it seems Germany (the European country with the largest installed capacity of wind turbines) has come to the conclusion that wind is not the solution they had hoped, and has started building new coal-fired power stations (utilising clean-burn technology and particle capture which was developed and pioneered in the UK but, like other technologies, we failed to exploit it).  Germany has an installed wind-power capacity of 32GW, but its peak output was achieved in April 2013, at a mere 17 GW (53% of capacity) for some 2 hours before declining to 8GW.  During several days in April 2013, the peak output achieved from all Germany’s 22,300 turbines was 4GW.  For a recent anaysis of the conclusions in Germany, see http://www.forbes.com/sites/larrybell/2013/08/13/german-green-energy-bluster-running-out-of-wind/ and http://notrickszone.com/2013/04/28/wind-power-in-germany-puts-out-only-a-small-fraction-of-rated-capacity-in-april-standby-plants-losing-money/

WARD has based its view on its aims and objectives – of protecting the green spaces and our communities – and on an analysis of the available, independent, scientific evidence.  A wealth of which can be found through the Global Warming Policy Foundation whose aim is to restore balance and trust to the climate debate. Friends of the Earth (Wharfedale Branch) are free to express their own opinions on their own website,or in the comments section of ours, but it’s not for WARD to carry their ‘singular opinion’ or support their interpretation of data  without question.

For anyone who wants an independent assessment of the efficiency, costs and economics of wind power, we would encourage you to review the 2012 Report of the independent Renewable Energy Foundation (REF) at the following link: http://www.ref.org.uk/attachments/article/280/ref.hughes.19.12.12.pdf.

For Friends of the Earth response in support of the Menston Wind Turbine please see here.

 

Alan D Elsegood, Secretary, WARD

 

Menston – Developers Oppose Sensible Flooding Requirements

The position at 19 June 2013 is that the intending developers of the site at Bingley Road (Taylor Wimpey) have applied to Bradford Council for a variation of the condition which was attached to the Outline Planning Permission for this site, relating to the flood risk and the drainage implications downstream.  This is a matter which has to go before another meeting of the Regulatory & Appeals Committee (formerly the Planning Panel).  The date for such a meeting (with this item on the Agenda) has not yet been published, but it may be held in July.

Menston’s resident groups would and will oppose any attempt to have those conditions Continue reading