Baxters Fields, Summer Street, Stroud – Appeal refused!

Baxters Fields, Summer Street, Stroud – Appeal refused!

Controversial proposals for housing on this site were put forward in 2013. The Civic Society, along with many others, submitted an objection, quoted below.  There is much more background on the Save Slad Valley website http://www.savesladvalley.org.uk/home.html

The applications (there were two, one a revision) were turned down, but the decisions were appealed. The Appeals have now (22nd July) been turned down. This is excellent news for both Stroud and the Slad valley. The appeal decision is accessible here http://www.savesladvalley.org.uk/DECISION.pdf.

Our objection, from January, is given below.

OBJECTION TO THE PROPOSAL FOR 112 DWELLINGS ON ‘BAXTER’S FIELDS’

Outline application for land at Summer Street No. S.13/2451/OUT

Commentary prepared by Hugh Barton, Emeritus Professor of planning, health and sustainability at the University of the West of England, Bristol, on behalf of Stroud Civic Society. Home address: 69 Bisley Road, Stroud, GL5 1HF

This application is a revised version of S.13/0166/OUT for housing on land to the north of Summer Street in the Slad Valley. The new application has reduced the scale of development from three fields to two, and reduced the number of dwellings from 140 to 112. The essential arguments about the quality of the proposal, however, remain the same.

The site lies outside the settlement boundary of Stroud in the approved Local Plan. The new Local Plan, submitted by Stroud District Council (SDC) just before Christmas after public consultation, reaffirms the settlement boundary. The site is close to the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), and affects its setting very significantly. The proposal is poorly related to local facilities and would be a very car-dependent development. It fails both the environmental and the social tests of ‘sustainable development’.

Stroud Civic Society strongly objects to the proposed housing development for the following reasons

Its impact on the landscape setting of Stroud and the Cotswold AONB:

  • The finger of open countryside including Baxter’s fields is part of the distinctive landscape and setting of Stroud, with wedges of green down the valleys and ridges coming close to the heart of the town. The fields in question are very visibly part of the undeveloped finger stretching along the Slad Valley. From across the valley in the residential area of Uplands and the important key recreational route of Folly Lane, the fields are very important visually – much more so than the lower area which is proposed as a country park.
  • The proposed development affects the immediate setting of the Cotswold AONB. The AONB Board’s Position Statement emphasizes the importance of context and setting, including views in and out. These fields read as part of the Slad valley, which is almost all within the designation. The Valley has huge cultural significance, not only because of its association with the classic book ‘Cider with Rosie’, but because of its striking beauty.
  • The valley’s distinctive character has been recognized in the official Landscape Character Assessment (LCA), published in 2000 and approved by SDC as Supplementary Planning Guidance. The ‘secluded valley’ of Slad is typified by steep sides, pastoral character, and quiet character. The LCA policy is for stringent control over the siting and design of any new development to maintain the character of the landscape. The current proposal conspicuously fails to maintain the character.
  • The proposed housing would create an estate down the hill on the north side of Summer Street where at present there is simply frontage development, with views through to fields, including some cottages which are listed grade 2. This would undermine the pleasant feel and scale of the street.
  • We see the proposed park on the lower slopes as a sweetener or bribe to the community. Even if a desirable feature, it does not justify allowing undesirable housing development. However, as a park it is in any case far from ideal, essentially because of poor access: vehicle access is very poor indeed; the footpath access from above and below is steep; there is no footpath existing or proposed along the bottom of the valley which could tie the proposed park into an attractive network.

Its vehicle-dependent location, compromising healthy lifestyles

  • The location of this development, and its relationship to the town, is such that any housing development will be highly car dependent. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) stresses the three aspects of sustainable development: economic, environmental and social. In respect of social it stresses ‘healthy communities’ (paragraph 7).  Later it emphasizes the importance of giving people a real choice about how they travel (para 29) and the importance of local community facilities (para 70).
  • This theme is further reinforced by the Department for Health’s white paper: Healthy lives, healthy people (2010). It states “active travel and physical activity need to become the norm in communities” (para 3.32), and “We want to create an environment that supports people in making healthy choices, and makes these choices easier” (para 3.62). Active travel is defined as ‘walking and cycling to get to work, local facilities and social contacts’.
  • The proposal would not do these things. On the contrary it would exacerbate the likelihood of car-based, sedentary lives, and therefore the risks associated with obesity. The information on accessibility appended to the outline planning application is both inaccurate and misleading. The actual distance from the middle of the housing site to the town centre is 1400m, and much of this distance – up Parliament Street and the Old Bisley Road – is a steep hill.
  • Summer Street is cut off from other parts of the town by the nature of the road layout, and steep slopes above and below. The rough footpath down the hill across the proposed park area to Slad Road is very steep indeed and often muddy. The outline plan does not appear to improve this, and could only do so at the cost of greatly increasing the walking distance. The route up the hill (to the nearest primary school) involves very many steep steps. Even the route straight along Summer Street is sub-optimal: effectively it is a single track road for part of its length, lacking a pavement on one side.
  • There are no significant local facilities within easy walking distance.  Almost all journeys to local facilities would by necessity involve trips to Stroud town centre or beyond. Both the distance and the steep route mean that few people would choose to walk into town. Most ‘local’ trips would be by car, van or motorbike.
  • Buses provide only a residual service. The Cotswold Green service along summer Street runs only three times a day Monday-Friday. The nearest stop on the round-the-town bus service, an hourly service which runs down Bisley Old Road, is 700 metres from the centre of the site, and both too far and too infrequent to constitute a realistic alternative to car use. Both services are in any case subsidized – not dependable long-term.

That the proposal would not constitute ‘sustainable development’:

  • Government  policy, evident through recent appeals, permits development that can be justified as ‘sustainable development’ outside the planned settlement boundaries if an approved Local Plan is not in place. Appeals have been allowed in Stroud District a result. We will not comment on the arguments over the validity of emerging plans or available land for housing in the Stroud area, but we do contend that the Summer Street proposal fails the test of sustainable development set out in the NPPF.
  • The Framework states unequivocally that to quality as sustainable development , “economic, social and environmental gains should be sought jointly and simultaneously”…”The planning system should play an active role in guiding development to sustainable solutions” (para 8). As demonstrated below, this proposal fails on two out of the three counts: environmental and social.
  • On the environmental side, we have argued that the landscape impact of the proposed housing estate would be bad. There is in our view no justification for the sacrifice of a valued part of Stroud area’s cultural and visual heritage. The proposal compromises the distinctive and beautiful landscape of the Slad Valley and the stated policy of the AONB Board.
  • Other environmental factors working against the development are
    • Likely high carbon emissions per household because of high car use, against NPPF principles
    • The lack of significant solar access (and passive solar gain) for several winter months due to the north-facing slope the housing would be built on. This also has a potential mental well-being dimension due to ‘seasonal affective disorder’.
  • On the social side the residents of this proposed development would be heavy car users and have little incentive for active travel – i.e. walking and cycling to get to work and facilities – because of the hills and distances involved. The health impacts of lack of physical activity, particularly for poorer households, can be severe.
  • Walkable access to facilities, including schools, shops and café’s, is poor. Those without access to a vehicle (for example children, older or disabled people no longer able to drive, unemployed) can find themselves socially excluded, which increases health inequality.
  • The need for households to own one or two cars, even if they can barely afford them, reduces the surplus spending power for other purposes and increases stress for poorer households and those struggling to pay mortgages.

Conclusion

The submitted Core Strategy/Local Plan for the Stroud District does not allocate this site for housing or any other urban use. We strongly support this position, and contend that there is sufficient land already available for housing development to satisfy need until the Plan is completed, including sites coming forward as a result of the Local Plan process. There is no logical justification for releasing an inappropriate, unsustainable and potentially unhealthy site such as Baxter’s Fields.

Chair of Stroud Civic Society: Juliet Shipman
and Professor Hugh Barton


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