Category Archives: East Suffolk Council

Toothless? Is Suffolk’s heritage coast still protected?

 

Southwold beach with little children playing. Behind them is the sea, in the distance, SizewellSizewell
Southwold beach, looking towards Sizewell

As the County Councillor for Woodbridge I raised following significant concerns about East Suffolk’s final modifications to the wording -and in my opinion, the intentions – of the  Suffolk Coastal Local Plan.  The two most concerning points are:

1 Weakening of conditions concerning Major Infrastructure Projects in Suffolk Coastal
First and foremost, I am deeply concerned about the nature of several of these last-minute changes – which lead to the clear weakening of local powers in relation to Major Infrastructure Projects, and a consequent negative impact on local communities and the Suffolk coastal countryside.

 Worryingly, in terms of the recent Sizewell C submission and the Scottish Power application, the community benefits which in the previous document the SCPL stated “will need to be delivered” from major energy development projects now only “may be required.” This is a very concerning reduction in emphasis and leaves many local communities at significant risk.

Previously the Local Plan called for packages “ to offset and compensate” “ the burden and disturbance” experienced by local communities. These words have now been watered down to merely express an ambition that these companies should “mitigate the impacts.” This is milquetoast wording and again is letting down local communities who will significantly disbenefit from major energy infrastructure projects.

 

Again,the rewording of this policy (SCLP3.5) now reduces the obligation of developers, so they only contribute to infrastructure “as necessary.” Who defines what is necessary? What if the developers choose to disagree? This change must not be made if this plan is to benefit the residents of Suffolk rather than the developers.

I am told that the explanation East Suffolk has given for these changes “ is to better align the policy with the National Planning Policy Framework, which the plan needs to be compatible with.” I am afraid I do not believe this is the case, especially as this lack of alignment seems only to have been discovered at the eleventh hour.

It is clear that the interests of the people of Suffolk Coastal would require that the original wording was retained.

Woodbridge Shire Hall in the nineteenth century

2 In “Areas to be protected from development”: I notice with concern that an entire policy (Policy SLP11.9 Areas to be Protected from Development, and supporting text) has simply been deleted.

Within modifications doc, Modifications MM49, it simply says “Delete Policy SLP11.9 Areas to be Protected from Development, and supporting text.” To refresh failing memories:

Policy SCLP11.9 was : Areas to be Protected from Development Areas to be protected from development as identified on the Policies Map comprise local scale sites, gaps, gardens and spaces that make an important contribution to the character and setting of a settlement in their unaltered form. In some locations these areas maintain settlement separation. Accordingly, development within these areas will be severely restricted to maintain the character of the area and ensure settlement coalescence is not compromised.

Martlesham creek: people have lived along this stretch of the Deben for many thousands of years

My question is Why has Policy SCLP11.9 been deleted? My concern is, Why should it be deleted? It is concerning for residents thoughout Suffolk Coastal , and for me as Woodbridge County Councillor as of course a lot of Woodbridge consists of areas to be protected from development. When read in relation to point 1 above, it is particularly concerning

I am told that this deletion is is because the inspector wished to be given greater evidence of the need to have a specific designation on these areas of land. East Suffolk did not elect to provide this evidence – which is extremely worrying.

I have been assured the protection remains, covered by other documents. I wish I could be certain. By the time one says ‘Ooops’ – it is generally too late. This is particularly the case with the heritage coast.

I raised other significant issues -especially in relation to reduction in 1 and 2 person housing numbers, and the need for more teeth in asserting public transport needs which I am happy to share.

However these two points above are crucial in terms of the long-term survival, wellbeing – indeed the very existence of our heritage coast.  That these major modifications to the wording and intention of this document should  occur so late and in such an opaque fashion should concern everyone.

Staverton Thicks – – an emblem of the unchanging nature of our Suffolk Coastal countryside

I hope my District Council colleagues will pick this one up and hold the council to account.

 

 

Melton Hill – Decision Day

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Caroline Page speaks about the need for affordable housing in Woodbridge. Picture: Charmian Berry

Update: despite all representations, the East Suffolk planning committee  agreed the development, with two dissenting voices. One was Woodbridge LibDem District Councillor, Kay Yule.

We will now see what the next step will be

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Today is the day when the District Planning Committee decide whether the Melton Hill (Cheese wedge) development goes ahead.

Yesterday I accompanied the planning committee around the sites, in company with several Town Councillors, to view the impact on the town and neighbours.

The media  would like us to believe it is a done deal, but decisions are made by elected councillors not officers.

Viewing the site from Sutton Hoo

This is the third time this developer has come to the council with plans for the site.  Each time, the benefit to the community has reduced. Active Urban is obliged under legislation to provide 30% of the units as affordable units.  “Affordable housing” should mean housing  that can be afforded by the local people who we rely on and who so desperately need it. This is not what is on offer. Indeed, each offer seems to provide less affordable space.

https://suffolklibdems.org/carolinepage/2019/08/10/melton-hill-not-only-how-but-who/  et al.

I am told by the planning department that as your County Councillor I have no official right to speak today, except as an individual. The three minutes allotted for protesters is already – ably -filled.

So I am putting out here the questions I hope will come to the Committee’s minds as they examine the evidence:

  1. Why is East Suffolk Council bending the rules, and allowing the developer such a flexible interpretation of ‘affordable’ ?
  2. Why is East Suffolk Council ignoring the needs and wishes of the people of East Suffolk?
  3. Why is East Suffolk Council failing to remember, we not they own this site?
  4. Why is East Suffolk Council bending the rules on sustainability?
  5. Why is East Suffolk Council destroying almost every mature tree on the site – including two rare mulberries?
  6. Why has East Suffolk Council suddenly failed to include the old office buildings (one, a pleasant early 19th century villa) within their new proposed conservation area? It was in the original proposals.
  7. Most importantly of all, why are East Suffolk officers seemingly bending over backwards to facilitate this particular developer?

There are many explanations on offer.

In no scenario are the needs and wishes of the people of East Suffolk anywhere in the picture. Yet we pay taxes.  East Suffolk Council hold the site in trust for us.  Melton Hill could be sensitively and sensibly developed for local and environmental benefit rather than individual gain – as the award-winning  Norwich development shows https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2019/jul/16/norwich-goldsmith-street-social-housing-green-design

So, please come and join us outside East Suffolk House, Tuesday 13:00 and join a cross-party  mass expression of  quiet concern to encourage the committee to come to the right decision

You can bring a banner or poster if you want, but most importantly, bring yourself.  And your children/grandchildren. It is half term. It is also their adult future in Woodbridge!


 

Melton Hill – not only how but who?

Looking at Melton Hill – or as Woodbridge residents have taken to calling it, the Cheese Wedges – it is hard for the outside viewer to disentangle the intentions of the developer, what with their sudden last-minute appeal on the second application AND this simultaneous  third application.

Firstly, I think it is perfectly reasonable that  developer’s intentions be viewed with suspicion.  Their first application promised 32/33 ‘affordable’ units and was withdrawn a year ago to be replaced with a further application on the spurious grounds that Active Urban  ‘had become aware of the ability to seek to claim Vacant Building Credit’. This, they claimed, would ‘legitimately reduce the level of affordable housing’ to 11 units because ‘AUWL have concerns about the scheme’s viability’ in ’this brownfield site.’

This is pretty cynical, bearing in mind that Melton Hill was vacated for this development.  It was working offices up till that moment.

Active Urban now say the site is too expensive – but this seems pretty par for the development course doesn’t it? It is a far from unusual justification of developers when they do not wish to build affordable housing.

The issue is therefore surely not whether Suffolk Coastal might have been too greedy in asking the price they did for the site – after all, Active Urban didn’t HAVE to offer for it – but that Suffolk Coastal made such a curious choice in seeking to monetise a publicly owned site for what seems such relatively small short-term gain.  A real case of pawning the family silver to pay for the housekeeping, instead of investing it in long-term benefits for the people who owned it – us.

As I have suggested before, making the site a Community Land Trust, providing housing at social rent – and maybe some housing that was shared-ownership, though never sold – would have been a wonderful and useful legacy for a District Council that had failed so dismally to provide the housing that local residents so clearly need. (See several blog pieces I have written to this effect over the last couple of years).

Some are maintaining that the third application has restored the status quo in terms of affordable housing?  Not quite.  The unit numbers may be the same but there are now 12.5% fewer bedrooms for affordable housing than there were on the first application. What is now on offer is a mere 8 x 1 bedroom flats for social rent and 24 flats (1 and 2 bedrooms) for intermediate housing – which is a much vaguer concept. The number, type, size and tenure are not in accordance with the Local Plan.

One cannot help but note that the  Growth and Infrastructure Act, introduced in 2013 to reduce the red tape that current governments are too willing to claim hampers growth, allows developers to renegotiate ‘economically unviable’ section 106 agreements  on stalled housing developments.  This of course makes it advantageous for the developer to feel stalled. It is recognised that this Act has a particular impact on affordable housing provision.

Another concern I have is the for-profit element in the affordable housing. The stated provider is Sage Housing – a for-profit organisation, majority-owned by the US real estate giant Blackstone. (You can find articles in the FT about these funds which aim to return 8% to investors at the expense of those who are in need of affordable homes). Sage finances  section106 agreements but then contracts out the day to day running of the affordable units. Their shared ownership plans seem to require a minimum 40% share to be acquired at market value (and sometimes 75%) which seems a far cry from the affordable needs of local people who will have to rent on top of that amount plus fees plus a management charge for the use of common areas.

We need to question whether Active Urban are behaving as if they are an appropriate developer for this site. I think the new East Suffolk council should look closely at the mess and confusion they have inherited, and consider again what might be the best way forward for the people of this area