Supporters of Ashton Gardens

SOAG exists to protect, preserve and enhance Ashton Gardens

The Ashton Institute before its removal
 

           

Planning Policy

The 2001 Newfield Jones Homes 
Outline Planning Applications 01/0474  and 0488

"Flowers not Flats" logoThe application sought to demolish an original, characterful and attractive pavilion that forms an appropriate backdrop to the Grade II Registered Park and, as an original building, makes a significant contribution to the historic importance of the park

The application also required the removal of at least three trees, which are outside the area of control by the applicant, and outside the area for which planning permission was sought. These trees were shown on the printed drawing referenced 2662/SD/00, but not referred to in the planning report.

The report to Planning Committee describes the height as being "similar" to the existing bingo hall and garage. This is misleading. It is approximately one metre taller. More particularly, it will be much taller on the boundary with Ashton Gardens than is the existing Ashton Institute.

There are only car parking spaces for 26 cars. This proportion is too low when a majority are two bedroom flats and has,  already proved a problem on the other sites developed by the same applicant.


    

PLANNING MATTERS - INTRODUCTION

At the time of this application there were two versions of the Fylde Borough Local Plan in being. The "Adopted Plan" which had passed its expected expiry date, and the "Revised Deposit Draft" which -  intended to run from 1996 to 2006.

Both were currently valid and relevant, but the "Revised Deposit Draft" expounds the most recent policies and was, in the main, the principal source of reference for the policies identified by the Director of Planning and Technical Services in his report to the Committee (hereafter "planning report").

That report lists the policies relevant to applications numbered 01/0474 and 01/0488 (to erect a four storey apartment style development, and to demolish the "Ashton Institute" respectively) as being:

The Fylde Borough Local Plan (Adopted):
Policy EP 11

The Fylde Borough Revised Deposit Draft 1996-2006:
Policy SH3 "Retail"; Policy EP3 "Conservation Areas"; Policy EP1 "Environment"; Policy EP2 "Open spaces"; and Policy EP6 "Gardens"

The planning report also refers to Structure Plan Policy 22, and to Government Guidance via:
PPG 6 Town Centres and Retail Development
PPG15 "Planning and the Historic Environment"
Circular 14/97

None of the Local Plan Policies were rehearsed, explained or developed in the planning report; they were simply listed as above. Without the intimate knowledge of the officers who prepare the reports, this makes it difficult for Councillors to see whether the proposals conform to the local plan or if they depart from them, and they are principally reliant on advice from their officers.

The applications for demolition and re-development submitted by Newfield Jones Homes were not offered by the Council for calling-in by the Secretary of State. This appears to indicate that the planning officers did not feel that they were a departure from the local plan.

This text will look at the policies set out in the planning report and address

  • A more detailed look at the impact of the proposals in relation to the planning policies set out in the planning report.

  • Whether either or both of the applications do, in fact, depart from the policies.

  • Policies which are relevant to the applications but which were not included in the planning report considered by Councillors.


WHAT FITS WHERE?

The Council's planning policies are supported by a "proposals map" that identifies certain specific areas of land, and links it to the text of particular policies. Thus an area coloured green on the proposals map may be public open space and so on.

Not all the policies are related in this way, some are either not possible or not practical to illustrate on a land based area map or plan.

The Proposals map that accompanies the Revised Deposit Draft plan shows the centre of St Annes in good detail, and it is fairly easy to identify quite small features and the policies that have been related to them.

The area affected by the Newfield Jones Homes applications includes or affects some parts of Ashton Gardens. Specifically, the conservation area demolition consent refers to the "Ashton Institute" a black and white pavilion style building.

The development application includes land comprising the Ashton Institute, together with a footpath from St Georges Road to the Bowling Green, and an area to the east of the Ashton Institute known locally as "Red Cabin Yard".

In addition, the application will require the removal of three trees from Ashton Gardens generally, outside the area for which the applications are submitted.

The Revised Deposit Draft Proposals Map shows the following policies as being relevant to the following features.

Ashton Institute

  • Policy EP 2 - Open Spaces within Towns and Villages

  • Policy EP 6 - Historic parks and gardens

  • Policy EP 3 - Conservation Areas

  • Policy TR 13 - St Annes Town Centre: Traffic Management

  • Policy SH 3 - New large food store, St Annes

Footpath from St Georges Road to the bowling green

  • The map scale makes it difficult to determine which policies apply here.

"Red Cabin Yard"

  • Policy EP 2 - Open Spaces within Towns and Villages

  • Policy EP 3 - Conservation Areas (most, but not all of the area)

  • Policy EP 6 - Historic parks and gardens

  • Policy TREC 13 - Public Open Space

  • Policy TR 13 - St Annes Town Centre: Traffic Management

  • Policy SH 3 - New large food store, St Annes

Ashton Gardens Generally

  • Policy EP 2 - Open Spaces within Towns and Villages

  • Policy EP 3 - Conservation Areas (most, but not all of the area)

  • Policy EP 6 - Historic parks and gardens

  • Policy TREC 13 - Public Open Space

By comparing the policy designations on the proposals map with those set out in the report, some discrepancies are noted. The report refers to Policy EP1, which is not shown on the map. This is not exceptional. Not all applicable policies can be displayed on the map, and undoubtedly some will only be found in the text of the Local Plan. However, Policy TR 13 is not referred to, nor is Policy TREC 13. The latter is a significant omission.

Additionally, there are other policies in the Revised Deposit Draft that apply to the site of the application(s) which have been omitted from the report to Councillors, one of which is very significant and will be detailed later.


THE POLICIES IN THE PLANNING REPORT

This section takes a more detailed look at the policies and how the applications submitted by Newfield Jones Homes relate to them.

The first of these is from the Adopted Local Plan and to do with Conservation areas. It is not immediately clear why this residual policy from the "old" local plan has been included when the comparable Revised Deposit Draft policy is also referred to in the planning report.


The Adopted Plan:

"Within designated conservation areas, new development, including extensions, will only be permitted if it respects the existing character of the area including existing uses, layout features, design and scale of properties and their surroundings and it would make a positive and appropriate contribution to the appearance of the area. Proposals involving building or other demolition where this would involve the loss of a historic or visually important feature will not normally be permitted except where a building is wholly beyond repair or where demolition is necessary to allow approved alternative development to take place".

The first issue is whether the proposed new development "respects the existing character of the area including existing uses". The (last) existing use of the Ashton Institute was recreation (ie a youth club preceded by use as a sports club). The proposed use does not respect that use. The current use of the remainder of Ashton Gardens is tourism, recreation and leisure. The flats will not respect that use. It is also difficult to see how the proposed flats within the area of the gardens meet the other criteria required by this policy, and the only real issue here is whether alternative development (the flats) is to be approved. If it is, then it would be permissible with this policy to demolish the Ashton Institute.

However, there are other policies in the Revised Deposit Draft that deal more effectively with these matters.
 

The Revised Deposit Draft:

POLICY SH3 - "Town Centre and Retail Developments" (page 230) 
This is of no relevance at all to the current planning applications, and has presumably been included in the planning report only because it is shown as being applicable on the Revised Deposit Draft Proposals Map. There it remains a testament to the Council's earlier but unfulfilled desire to include this part of Ashton Gardens within area occupied by a retail food store. The policy says:

  • "The Council will permit the development of a new large food store or an extension to the existing food store within St Annes Town Centre as shown on the proposals map subject to the following criteria:

  • The development is appropriate in scale to the St Annes Town Centre and would not harm the vitality and viability of the town centre as a whole

  • The development would not harm the visual amenities of the physical and historic characteristics of the town centre

  • The development can be provided with appropriate access arrangements and would not overload the local highway network."

There is no relevance in this policy being referred to in the planning report unless there is an intention to make it appear that residential flats will somehow convey the same retail benefits to the town as would a larger food store.

POLICY EP1 - "Built Environment" (page 187). 
This simply defines areas for environmental improvement schemes, and these include St Annes Town Centre.

POLICY EP2 - "Open Spaces Within Town and Villages" (Page 187). 
This says: "The Council will not permit development which would intrude on open areas which are considered to be essential to the setting, character or visual amenities of towns and villages"

First, whilst accepting that "intrude" is imprecisely defined, the development will occupy part of the existing open space (the footpath). It will require the removal of at least three trees from Ashton Gardens outside the area of the application (and outside the applicants control) and, because of its scale and proximity, (remember that it is four storeys tall) will unreasonably dominate the gardens, adversely affecting the existing the bowling green and preventing sunlight reaching it for a large part of the day, resulting in deterioration and additional maintenance costs. So, I contend that it does "intrude" on the open space, an area which, by the Council's own definition on the proposals map, includes the Ashton Institute building.

Second, given that the Council itself declared Ashton Gardens to be a Conservation Area, (the only public open space in St Annes which is so designated, and one of only nine such areas in the Borough) and this importance was subsequently recognised when the park was Registered as Grade II, it is difficult to envisage an open area that is considered more essential to the character, setting or visual amenities of the town.

I contend that the applications from Newfield Jones Homes are contrary to Policy EP 2, and that approval of the application would be a departure from the policies of the local plan.

POLICY EP3 - "Conservation Areas" (Page 188). 
This says: "New development within or affecting the setting of a designated conservation area will only be permitted where the character and appearance of the area are appropriately conserved or enhanced

Proposed development should be appropriately designed and should respect the quality of the total environment including: the physical setting of the area, settlement form, townscape, the character of buildings and other structures, the character of open spaces and any views into or out of the area.

The introduction of new uses or buildings will not be permitted when these would be prejudicial to the character or appearance of the area.

The demolition of buildings or other built elements where this would involve the loss of an historic or visually important element of townscape will not be permitted except where the building is wholly beyond repair or its demolition and re-development would produce substantial benefits for the community which would decisively outweigh the loss resulting from demolition

Where the principle of demolition is accepted by the Council, consent to demolish will only be given after a scheme of redevelopment or restoration has been agreed with the applicant, and a contract for the carrying out of these works has been entered into."

Taking each paragraph of this policy in turn,

"New development within or affecting the setting of a designated conservation area will only be permitted where the character and appearance of the area are appropriately conserved or enhanced" Given that part of the redevelopment area sought by the applicant is within a registered grade II park, and the remainder is immediately adjoining, it is therefore both "within" and "affecting". The advice from expert Statutory Consultees in this matter (English Heritage and the Garden History Society) is to oppose the application, as is that of the local Civic Society. Clearly the scheme will not "appropriately enhance" (or even simply enhance) the character of the area. Nor will it conserve the historic value and integrity of the park. It is therefore not in accord with the local plan in this regard.

"Proposed development should be appropriately designed and should respect the quality of the total environment including the physical setting of the area, settlement form, townscape, the character of buildings and other structures, the character of open spaces and any views into or out of the area." Most of this is subjective and open to several interpretations. However, the proposed development does not respect the character of the open space, as it both encroaches upon, and dominates it. Furthermore, views into and out of the area affected are not respected.

"The introduction of new uses or buildings will not be permitted when these would be prejudicial to the character or appearance of the area." The proposal involves both a new use and new buildings, and is prejudicial to the character of the area, which is a Grade II registered park because it will have an overbearing and negative impact on the park by presenting a four storey frontage rising sheer from the edge of the park. The application departs from the policies of the local plan in this respect.

"The demolition of buildings or other built elements where this would involve the loss of an historic or visually important element of townscape will not be permitted except where the building is wholly beyond repair or its demolition and re-development would produce substantial benefits for the community which would decisively outweigh the loss resulting from demolition" The Ashton Institute, together with its relationship to the park represents a historic and visually important element of townscape. It is not wholly beyond repair, neither will the proposed redevelopment produce "substantial benefits for the community that would decisively outweigh the loss resulting from demolition". Here again the application departs from the policies of the Local Plan.

"Where the principle of demolition is accepted by the Council, consent to demolish will only be given after a scheme of redevelopment or restoration has been agreed with the applicant, and a contract for the carrying out of these works has been entered into." Whilst accepting that a scheme of redevelopment or restoration would obviously be agreed if the redevelopment application is approved. It is not actually possible for the other condition of this paragraph to be met at all.

The applicant is not the owner of the land enclosed within the gardens, and therefore cannot enter into a contact for carrying out the works unless he has control of this land or has an exclusive option (or similar instrument) to do so.

I cannot imagine that the Borough Council has disposed of its interest in this land, or given an option to purchase in advance of a planning permission without, for example, seeking bids for the disposal of land by open competitive tender according to its Standing Orders and Financial Regulations.

One might argue that this planning impasse may be met by a further condition on the permission proposed by the Planning Committee in respect of the demolition. However, there was no such condition contained in the officers report, nor was one proposed and seconded at the Planning Committee meeting, nor was such a condition included in the minutes of the Planning Committee meeting of 15 August 2001 as circulated to Councillors following that meeting. However, after this had been drawn to the attention of the Council, it did appear as a condition in the agenda considered by the meeting of the full Council of October 1st, as though it had been a decision of the Planning Committee, but one for which there was no record of its arising.

POLICY EP6 - "Historic Parks and Gardens" (Page 192). 
This says: "The Council will not permit development within a designated historic park or garden where this would prejudice its quality, character or appearance. Development outside an historic park or garden which would harm its setting will not be permitted"

Again, this judgment is subjective, but the Council's own appointed expert consultants on Ashton Gardens (Scott Wilson), together with the Government's own acknowledged experts in this matter (English Heritage and the Garden History Society) all hold the view that the proposed development would be prejudicial to the value of the park, and believe that the development adjacent to the park (including the demolition of the Ashton Institute) would harm its setting.

If the application to demolish and re-develop were to be approved, it would be a departure from the policies set out in the local plan.


POLICIES OMITTED FROM THE REPORT

There are also other policies that should have been considered in relation to the applications. They were not referred to in the report and have thus have not been drawn to the attention of, and therefore may not have been taken into account, by members of the Planning Committee. I have identified at least four; there may well be others. The first is not significant. The second two are to do with residential development (the application is to build flats). The fourth is to do with indoor leisure facilities (which was the last actual use of the Ashton Institute building).

POLICY TR 13 "Traffic Management." (Page 119). 
This was originally included in the Revised Deposit Draft in relation to traffic management in St Annes Town Centre. At the present time, the most recent revision sees it deleted. In any event, like the SH 3 Retail policy, it is irrelevant to the Newfield Jones Homes Applications, so its omission here is not material.

POLICY HL 2 "Housing Development on Non-Allocated Sites." (Page 59). 
This outlines the criteria against which housing proposals on non-allocated sites will be considered. As such, I contend it should have been addressed in the planning report. It says:

  • "Housing development on sites not allocated under Policy HL1 will be permitted within the defined limits of development of settlements in policy SP1 providing that the development:

  • 1. Is acceptable in principle having regard to nearby adjacent land uses

  • 2. Would be inkeeping with the character of the locality in terms of scale, siting, space around the buildings, density, materials and design.

  • 3. Would not adversely affect the amenity and privacy of neighbouring properties.

  • 4. Retains or replaces within the scheme important local features particularly trees, hedgerows, ponds, watercourses and areas of open space.

  • 5. Would not overload existing services including drainage

  • 6. Would not prejudice the future development of a larger area of developable land

  • 7. In cases involving 100 dwellings or more, is served satisfactorily by public transport or as a result of investment by the developer, is capable of being so served.

  • 8. Would have satisfactory access and parking and would not prejudice road safety

  • 9. Would not lead to a significant over-provision of housing land or prejudice the housing strategy of the development plan."

The Newfield Jones Homes applications are to develop residential accommodation. I cannot understand why policies relevant to housing were not considered by the Planning Committee.

I make no comment on points numbered 2, 5, 6, 7 or 9 (in brown above) but refer to the remaining paragraphs below.

"Is acceptable in principle having regard to nearby adjacent land uses" Both English Heritage and the Garden History Society have advised the Council that the scheme is not appropriate having regard to the Grade II Registered Park.

"Would not adversely affect the amenity and privacy of neighbouring properties." It is a four-story building, and will adversely affect the amenity and privacy of park users, both in general, and more specifically those who use the Bowling Green. There appear to be French or patio doors or some other form of opening at ground floor level that open directly into the park, for example. Furthermore, unlike the nearby flats at Ashton Gardens Court, there is insufficient space between the proposed flats and the path around the Bowling Green to provide a belt of trees to screen the park users from the development. This means the development will inhibit the privacy of people in the most important public park in the Council's ownership.

"Retains or replaces within the scheme important local features particularly trees, hedgerows, ponds, watercourses and areas of open space." On the contrary, the scheme will remove parts of an important local feature (the Park) directly. It also requires the removal of at least three trees on land outside the applicants area, which is, and will remain, part of Ashton Gardens.

"Would have satisfactory access and parking and would not prejudice road safety" The parking provisions (at one space per two flats) are low bearing in mind that the majority are two bedroom properties.

If Planning Officers had included reference to, and rehearsed the arguments in relation to policy HL 2, the Planning Committee may have come to the view that the applications were not in accord with the Policy, and I contend that they represent a departure that was unspecified in the report of the planning application.

POLICY HL5 "Development of Apartments." (Page 64). 
This provides for permission to be granted on HL 2 sites where permission where: "......... Flats and Maisonettes would not adversely affect the amenity and privacy of neighbouring properties......."

The development will adversely affect the amenity and privacy of park users, both in general and as set out in the point about HL 2 above

POLICY TREC 12/13 "Indoor Leisure Facilities". (Page 158) 
There is likely to be some confusion over policy numbering here, because the text in the Revised Deposit Draft has had a new policy inserted at TREC 5. This sees what was originally TREC 12 shuffled along to become TREC 13. However the accompanying proposals map still shows TREC 13 as relating to "Public Open Space"

The Revised Deposit Draft policy relating to Indoor Leisure Facilities says:

"The Council will seek to retain all existing indoor public and private sport and recreation facilities. Proposals for the redevelopment of such facilities will not be permitted. Proposals to provide additional or improved sports and recreation facilities will be permitted within settlements providing the following criteria can be met." [The subsequent list includes: No conflict with other development policies; is inkeeping with the character scale siting etc; will not affect amenity, privacy, neighbouring properties etc; no loss of important local features; and other items]

The key point here is: "The Council will seek to retain all existing indoor public and private sport and recreation facilities. Proposals for the redevelopment of such facilities will not be permitted."

The Planning Officer I spoke with accepted orally that the last actual regular use of the Ashton Institute was recreation (youth club), and that its main previous use was as a sport and recreation facility (snooker, table tennis). It was argued that this policy did not apply because the Institute building was not shown as designated within this policy on the proposals map.

I contend that this attempt to exclude consideration of the Newfield Jones Homes applications in relation to Policy TREC 13 is a direct negative of the Council's stated aim, and a clear policy departure. The Council says it will not permit the redevelopment of such facilities.

The justification used to exclude consideration is also wrong. The paragraph is clearly intended to apply to numerous private sport and recreation facilities that are within the scope of the wording, but not designated thus on the proposals map.

In fact, throughout the whole Borough, the proposals map shows no facilities identified as being within this policy.

I am firmly of the view that the omission of reference to, and explanation of, this policy from the planning officers report would have a serious impact on the decision made by the Planning Committee.

If I am correct, and this policy was omitted in error from the planning officers report, how can approval of the application to demolish and redevelop the Ashton Institute be anything other than a departure from the local plan?


CONCLUSIONS

I contend that the applications depart from the policies of the local plan in many instances, and should be grateful if you would bring these to the attention of your fellow Councillors at the Council Meeting on 1 October.

I further contend that to approve the applications as submitted, marks a departure from the policies of the local plan, and that because of this, a recommendation for approval should have been preceded by an opportunity for the Secretary of State to call in and determine the application.

I also contend that, given the importance and sensitivity of the site, the Director of Planning and Technical services should not have allowed the site to be considered in outline, and should have provided detailed justification in his report in relation to Planning Policy Guidance Note 15 "Planning and the Historic Environment" to support his recommendation to approve the applications.

Perhaps the saddest aspect of all this matter, is the fact that the regeneration of the privately owned commercial buildings to residential flats can easily be effected without the need to demolish the Ashton Institute and/or dispose of land within the boundary of Ashton Gardens.

 


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