Category Archives: Woodbridge

Strategy for Woodbridge must not forget our housing needs

Market Hill, Woodbridge 150 years back. Instantly recognisable. Will it still be recognisable in 150 years time?

These are the comments I sent to SCDC on the First Draft of Suffolk Coastal’s Local Plan, in my role as County Councillor for Woodbridge. (My comments are therefore specifically restricted to Woodbridge):

I fully endorse the District’s statement that Woodbridge “is an important retail and employment centre and provides a variety of leisure, medical, education and transport facilities which serve the surrounding rural settlements. The town is also popular with visitors and tourists who wish to experience the historic town, cultural attractions, riverside character and access to the rest of the District.

I add my concerns to those articulated in the Plan as to the likely impact of potential Ipswich Northern Bypass routes on the town, and in particular, to possible subsequent development west of the A12.  I support very strongly the Local Plan’s intention to continue a policy of restricting westward development ( eg to the western side of the A12) “until such time as further detail and justification is available“.

I note the Plan’s aspiration  that “ in order to maintain the vitality of Woodbridge, the need to improve links between the different parts of the town, namely the riverside, Thoroughfare and Market Hill will be supported by the Council over the plan period. The riverside and town centre complement one another and serve residents, businesses, visitors and tourists.” I would hope this will mean that the Council will do everything within its power – that is, both financially, and strategically –  to support the Woodbridge 20mph and associated calming plan, approved by SCC in February 2017 http://carolinepage.blog.suffolk.libdems.org/20mph-woodbridge/

I note the Plan refers (at 12.218) to the fact that the built up area of Woodbridge is  “constrained”, meaning development opportunities are limited.  However I question the wording later on in the paragraph. While technically true that ”development opportunities have come forward on previously developed land through conversions and reuse which has maintained a level of housing delivery in the town, or within the parishes of Martlesham and Melton which adjoin Woodbridge which has provided housing opportunities in the area, this paragraph does not adequately describe the limitations of the developments within Woodbridge which seem to be exclusively aimed at the ‘affluent purchaser’ market, rather than the balanced tenure referred to at the beginning of this Local Plan.

I therefore welcome the aspirations enshrined in section 5.2 of the Plan (the Local Plan seeks to diversify the supply of housing through delivering a range of different sizes of sites in a variety of locations, and ensuring that the mix of housing types and tenures reflects the needs of the District’s population. The East Suffolk Housing Strategy also sets out the ways in which the Council will continue to pursue a range of models for housing delivery, including through working with Housing Associations and providing support to community led housing initiatives”) and would urge the Council to ensure that this aspiration becomes a special priority for Woodbridge, because of past failures.

This would ensure that Woodbridge remains a viable and fully functioning town by ensuring a sustainable demographic mix ( by social, age-group, and employment background and status) , rather than one comprising the largely affluent and elderly who can afford the current high average house price of £408,000. 

This means that the priorities listed in 12.219 need to be more fully articulated to ensure that the Plan’s wording “Any residential development that comes forward over the plan period will be expected to target the ageing population and provide lower cost housing opportunities to meet locally generated needs” is fully disambiguated:

 Yes, housing needs to be provided for the elderly residents of Woodbridge wishing to downsize. It does not need to be built with the purpose of encouraging additional older people to move into the area. Instead, a concentrated effort needs to be made to ensure that young people, disabled people, key workers, (even poor people) are not forced to move out of the area!

As a county councillor I thoroughly endorse the retention, maintenance and protection of all parks, open spaces and playing fields within the Woodbridge area.  I totally agree that these areas provide recreational opportunities and promote healthy communities and well-being and it is essential they are retained and protected over the plan period to support the needs of the existing and future communities.

I acknowledge and endorse Section 12.221’s statement  “The Local Plan acknowledges the Air Quality Management Area and seeks to direct new development away from this area.” I find it hard to square this with the immediately succeeding statement:  “Where redevelopment opportunities come forward over the plan period, the impact of these on the Air Quality Management Area will need to be considered alongside other material planning considerations.” How can this be? If  one directs new development away from this sensitive area (where no Air Quality solution has been found since the problem was first identified), then what other material planning considerations can there be? The air quality is inadequate – no mitigation has been successful, and further development could only exacerbate the situation.

The whole paragraph 12.222  is unclear. You say, “The 2001 Local Plan had a number of area specific policies which related to areas of Woodbridge. A number of these are still extant policies (Policies AP236, AP249, AP250, and AP252) but over time Woodbridge has evolved and the objectives of the policies are, in some circumstances no longer relevant. However the principles of riverside character which seek to protect the area from inappropriate development whilst seeking opportunities to enhance the character of the area are to be retained within this plan period. Proposals in riverside locations however, need to be balanced against the principles of visitor management of the Deben Estuary, as outlined in the Deben Estuary Plan, and the Suffolk Coastal Recreational Avoidance and Mitigation Strategy,”  This is a distinctly woolly sentiment, lacking any clear focus or definition. What does “Proposals in riverside locations however, need to be balanced against the principles of visitor management” mean? Disambiguation of this entire paragraph is needed.

Looking overall at the draft strategy for Woodbridge (below*) I am specifically concerned that this Strategy for Woodbridge at no point acknowledges the inbalance of housing type within our town and the consequent demographic shift noticeable even over the last two decades.

I reiterate what I have said above. I welcome the aspirations enshrined in section 5.2  of this draft plan (“the Local Plan seeks to diversify the supply of housing through delivering a range of different sizes of sites in a variety of locations, and ensuring that the mix of housing types and tenures reflects the needs of the District’s population. The East Suffolk Housing Strategy also sets out the ways in which the Council will continue to pursue a range of models for housing delivery, including through working with Housing Associations and providing support to community led housing initiatives”) and regret that these aspirations are not currently followed through in the draft strategy for Woodbridge. I would urge the Council to ensure that these aspirations become a special priority for Woodbridge, because of past failures.

Caroline Page
Liberal Democrat County Councillor for Woodbridge

Policy SCLP12.28: Strategy for Woodbridge

The strategy for Woodbridge is to balance opportunities with the acknowledged physical and environmental constraints in order to maintain and enhance its role as a market town, an employment centre and a tourist destination.

Opportunities to enhance the historic environment and the riverside character area of the town will be supported where they bring economic and social benefits which do not have a significant adverse impact on the environmental designations.

Residential development will be expected to come forward on sites within the Settlement Boundary, consisting of infill or small scale redevelopments which make the most appropriate use of previously developed land.

The strategy, therefore is to consolidate a town that:

a) Retains the special quality of the built environment including Conservation Areas and Listed Buildings and the character of the riverside and estuary;

b) Retains the A12 as a firm edge to the town;

c) Enhances the links between the town centre and the riverside;

d) Enhances the town centre through the retention of national and independent shopping opportunities;

e) Actively manages traffic and visitors to the town and surrounding areas through the use of appropriate traffic management, suitable car parking and signage;

f) Promotes improvements to air quality; and

g) Supports the further provision of open space and recreational facilities to meet the needs of the town over the plan period

 

Whats happening, Woodbridge, August/September 2018

SCC predicts financial shortfall  Last week, SCC admitted that it is not managing to control spending against the budget agreed by councillors in February 2018. Projections show the council will overspend by £8.6 million this financial year unless it is successful in reducing costs and making savings between now and 31 March 2019. This would mean that the council would have to dip into its reserves to balance the books.

We are told that rising demand for services and increased costs in Children and Young People’s Services account for almost £5 million of the projected overspend. This includes services for looked-after children, specialist social care for children and home-to-school transport. It is hard to see how any further savings can be made in statutory responsibilities.

There are also smaller, but significant, overspends in other council departments, including Adult Care and Corporate Services. Staff have been told by the new CEO that while SCC is committed to the pay and reward agreement agreed in April, it is currently at risk unless creative ways can be found to save money.

Woodbridge Cyclists were among hundreds cross county to support the motion

SCC agrees costed five-year cycling plan – but not ringfenced money!  At the Suffolk County Council full council meeting on 19 July, I seconded two motions asking for a commitment to investing in Suffolk’s cycling infrastructure.

The first motion asked the council to set up a cross-party group tasked with drawing up a costed five-year cycling plan, whilst the second motion asked the council to commit to ring-fencing at least 5% of its annual Integrated Transport Block for cycling infrastructure. In total 896 emails were sent from residents to councillors in support of this motion – which is apparently a phenomenal amount for a local authority area! (To put it in perspective, In Warwickshire, with a similar motion, 420 emails were sent). There were, unsurprisingly a significant number from Woodbridge.

Whilst there was unanimous support for motion 1, the administration would not support a commitment of funding for cycling infrastructure, and so unfortunately motion 2 was rejected.

Although the two motions were voted on separately, they are intrinsically linked: without a minor commitment of council funding, any future bids to the Department for Transport are likely to be unsuccessful. This has been the case for the past seven years, during which Suffolk has missed out on five opportunities to receive funding for cycling from the DfT. Currently, SCC spends approximately 10% of its Integrated Transport Block on cycling infrastructure, so the motion was not asking for additional money – just a firm commitment that a minimal level of funding would be available each year.

We are awaiting further information regarding the cross-party group that will draw up a cycling plan, and will keep you updated as this progresses.

Additional £6m borrowed to improve recycling centres  Suffolk’s administration has decided to borrow an additional £6m to fund improvement works for four of Suffolk’s recycling centres. The priority works are to:
• Deliver urgent improvements to the Foxhall (estimated cost £3 million) and Haverhill (estimated cost £1 million) recycling centres; and
• Secure sites for replacement recycling centres for Ipswich (estimated cost £1 million) and Stowmarket (estimated cost £1 million).

I have had contact from various residents unhappy with operations at the Foxhall site. My group has highlighted to the cabinet member responsible for waste services the importance of working with local councillors and residents when attempting to improve recycling centres.

Melton Hill ‘Cheesewedge’ development withdrawn, resubmitted  After my blog piece of 24 July articulating the benefit to the proposed erstwhile SCDC Melton Hill developer of replacing affordable housing with comparatively nugatory commutated payments – they withdrew their application to develop the site. It was swiftly replaced with another proposal , reducing affordable housing units from 33 to 15 on the spurious grounds of Vacant Building Credit. As you know, I spoke against this at the Woodbridge TC planning committee meeting of 4 Sept, and have written to the District articulating my concerns (attached). I would advise all interested individuals to do the same.

“Staying Close” scheme launched to support Suffolk care leavers  Suffolk County Council have been awarded funding by the Department of Education for a three-year pilot scheme to support young people leaving care in Suffolk. The “Staying Close” scheme intends to young people to start planning for independent living with the assistance and support of residential care workers from the age of 15.

Up till now, planning has often been left until close to the time a young person is due to move out, causing anxiety and distress. Early intervention and detailed planning from a younger age should help to alleviate this. Young people will then also continue to receive emotional and practical support from their children’s home and residential workers after they have moved out and started living independently.

The pilot scheme is being delivered in partnership with The Ryes Children’s Home in Sudbury, to test how this move-on care can be provided for young people who want to remain living close to their home.

Reduction in recycling rates harm “Greenest County” ambitions Recycling rates in Suffolk have dropped over the past 4 years, from 51% in 2013 to just 47% in 2017. Meanwhile, over 50% of waste in Suffolk is incinerated – much higher than the national average of 38%.

Although incineration may be a better option than landfill, it is still less environmentally-friendly than other methods of waste disposal. Furthermore, there are concerns that the level of harmful particles released by incinerators could pose a serious threat to public health.

The Suffolk Waste Partnership, as part of the Greenest County Partnership, set a target of recycling at least 60% of municipal waste by 2020. These latest figures suggest we are moving further away from this target. If Suffolk County Council truly wants Suffolk to be the “greenest county”, we need to start focusing on environmentally-friendly methods of waste disposal and ways to increase recycling levels in the county.

Jetty Lane Planning Application submitted The planning application for Jetty Lane Community Youth and Arts Centre has been submitted successfully. Community consultation takes place until 17 September.

It is not listed as Jetty Lane, but as,
DC/18/3456/FUL | Ground, Mezzanine and First floor Community centre and carparking. (Including accommodation for Art Studios / Art Exhibition Hall (Kingston Hall), Scout facilities (scout hall- Deben Hall and ancillary accommodation, Co-working office

It is not listed as Jetty Lane, but as,
DC/18/3456/FUL | Ground, Mezzanine and First floor Community centre and carparking. (Including accommodation for Art Studios / Art Exhibition Hall (Kingston Hall), Scout facilities (scout hall- Deben Hall and ancillary accommodation, Co-working office accommodation on the upper floor to generate revenue to sustain the other facilities offered to the community. Carparking, Vehicle crossover (existing location) | Woodbridge Community Resource Youth Centre The Avenue Woodbridge Suffolk

Please support this application and encourage others to do the same before 17 September, either via the district planning portal https://publicaccess.eastsuffolk.gov.uk/online-applications/ (and search for DC/18/3456/FUL)
Or by emailing comments directly to d.c.admin@eastsuffolk.gov.uk making sure DC/18/3456/FUL is in the subject line

Appendix:   My Letter to Suffolk Coastal re latest Melton Hill Development Application

Continue reading Whats happening, Woodbridge, August/September 2018

Woodbridge’s Affordable Cheese Wedges – Smoke and Mirrors

The deserted Suffolk Coastal  offices. Still undeveloped, still unaffordable?

Its been quiet on the Woodbridge Cheese Wedge (aka Suffolk Coastal’s old head office ) front for a long time. Too quiet…

The burning question? That same old story. It seems that the applicant would rather not build the affordable housing (32 units out of 100 dwellings) he is obligated to under policy DM2 of the local plan. Apparently it’s simply not ‘affordable’ – for him.

Suffolk Coastal’s Planning Committee’s response reminds one of jesting Pilate. They washed their hands and delegated agreement of the essential affordable housing provision to their Planning Officers. Who have negotiated a sum of money (a ‘commuted sum’) be paid “to provide affordable housing at the same level as approved, in the event that no affordable housing provider acquires some or all of the affordable housing in a reasonable timescale.

Lets park the cynical phrase  “to provide affordable housing at the same level as approved’ for one moment, and follow the money.

This decision clearly – presumably  unintentionally – gives the applicant an opportunity to elect to pay the commuted sum option instead of building 32 affordable units simply by refusing any offer for affordable units from any provider. (I have heard that at least one realistic offer has been made. )

It would very much benefit the developer to pay the commutated sum. It would provide no benefit whatsoever to the people of Woodbridge.

Why?  The amount the applicant would have to pay NOT to build the 32 affordable homes is a maximum of £100,000 per unit *. Multiply that by 32 and you see he would in effect be paying about £3 million to be allowed to build 32 extra houses of the same size to sell at market prices ( in Woodbridge, that’s a great deal more than £100,000 each). The greater the number of affordable housing units and the higher the sales price of market housing, the greater the incentive to commute.

So, when the Council agreed an increase of residences from 70 to 100, it increased the incentive for the applicant not to provide affordable housing. And by the combination of the Council agreeing an increase in residences and commuting the affordable housing provision, the applicant will receive a multi-million pound windfall. Talk about the law of unintended consequences!  Unless Suffolk Coastal ‘s Planning Committee takes immediate action, it looks like the public asset that is the old Council Offices is earmarked for private profit.

At the same time, that commutated sum of £3million – supposedly to provide “Affordable Housing at the same level as approved” – will do little to benefit the forgotten people of Woodbridge. It will certainly not provide 32 units of affordable housing within Woodbridge which is what we might consider the phrase ‘at the same level as approved’ to mean.

Although £3million is considered by Suffolk Coastal’s planners as fair reparation for NOT building 32 homes on a site that has already been purchased, it will NOT cover the purchase of land, design, planning and building of anything like 32 homes anywhere else! Experts suggest 14 maximum, which is less than half of those guaranteed to the committee and promised to the community. And, of course, wherever these affordable homes are, they will be unlikely to be in Woodbridge, where finding any housing below ‘market’ prices is daily less possible. There is no land within Woodbridge to buy.

How can it be right that an applicant purchasing a public asset gains by not providing the agreed affordable housing the locality so desperately needs? Indeed, has a positive incentive not to provide it?

To say that the development was unpopular was to put it mildly. It was overwhelmingly opposed by the residents of Woodbridge and Melton, the Woodbridge County Councillor (me), Woodbridge Town Council, Melton Parish Council, and local and national organisations, whose views were overridden by the planning officers and planning committee. Its only saving grace was the possibility of affordable housing in situ.

The District Council Planning Committee needs to step up to the plate, rescind its delegation to the Head of Planning, and revert to its October demand for a detailed scheme for the provision of affordable housing on-site and to wholly abandon using the offer of a commutation alternative.

 

*The amount payable by the applicant in the event of commutation is set according to the number of bedrooms per residence in the affordable housing and whether the area  in which the housing is to be provided is categorised high, medium or low cost. Woodbridge is categorised high cost and the figure per residence is in the region of £90,000 -£100,000. Thus a commutation of the 32 affordable residences in Woodbridge would require a commutation payment of about £3 million. How many homes can you buy in Woodbridge for £3 million? How many can you build?