Call In Public Inquiry relating to planning applications for redevelopment of phases II & III of the former Bell Green Gas Works site, Bell Green, London SE26
The Sydenham Society (“the Society”) objects to the grant of planning permission to National Grid Property Holdings Ltd. and Castlemore Securities Ltd. (“the Applicants”) for the implementation of its proposals (“the proposals”) to redevelop the former Bell Green Gas Works Site, London SE26 (“the Site”).
- Preliminary matters: designation of phase II land
- Retail: quantitative and qualitative need
- Retail: sequential test
- Retail: impact on vitality and viability of town centres
- Alternative use for phase II land
- Traffic and the Environment
Preliminary matters: designation of phase II land
The First Secretary of State is invited to distinguish the proposal designation of the Site as ‘development site 17’ under Schedule 1 to the Lewisham UDP 2004 (“the UDP”) from a site allocation for retail use, in light of the observations historically made by the Inspector to the UDP inquiry that draft UDP policy STC 2A should be deleted from those to be incorporated within the UDP and to be adopted by the London Borough of Lewisham (“Lewisham”). The inquiry Inspector concluded that there was an insufficient relationship between any identified need for retail floor space and the allocation of Bell Green for non-food bulky goods floor space.
We also submit that it is highly significant for present purposes that the site 17 designation fails to quantify any amount of retail floorspace and includes no assessment of any need for non-food bulky goods retail at Bell Green. Furthermore, irrespective of the extant planning permissions for retail use that remain unimplemented in relation to phase I and phase II land, we submit that the Site does not present an established retail use within the context of the relatively larger retail element of the proposals. Rather, the size of gross retail floorspace corresponding to the proposals is materially distinguishable from the unimplemented floorspace provision.
The Applicants suggest that the extant retail permission will be implemented in the event that planning permission is not granted in relation to the proposals. The credibility of the implementation of the fall-back consent is doubted by the Society in light of the observation accepted by Lewisham accepted that the implementation of the phase II extant permission would give rise the commercial under-use of that land. Although the Society acknowledges that the retail floor space corresponding to the unimplemented consent would not be insignificant, it would enable only a small store. Furthermore, the extant permission would restrict the retail use to non-food goods only. In light of the fact that the extant permissions arising from 1993 have not been implemented thus far, we submit that there is no evidence to support the obvious suggestion of the Applicant that the fall-back position would be implemented.
Retail: quantitative and qualitative need
In relation to the assessment of quantitative need for retail floorspace in accordance with Planning Policy Statement 6: Planning for Town Centres (“PPS 6”), the defined need catchment area is of instrumental importance to calculating market share. Mr. Jones, on behalf of the Applicants, confirmed at inquiry that the process of defining the catchment is essentially a judgment exercise. The catchment area defined by the Applicants is a 10 minutes (off-peak) drive-time isochrone. We submit that this is unrealistically small in light of the amount of gross retail floorspace under the phase II proposal and that the catchment has been so defined by the Applicants so as to support their contention that the Bell Green catchment would not overlay with other catchments corresponding to those competing, proximately sited non-food bulky goods retail stores (set out below).
In absence of any specific guidance as to the defining of catchment areas, PPS 6 advises (para 3.10) that the catchment area to be used in assessing future need should be “realistic and well related to the size and function of the proposed development and take account of competing sites”. It is therefore plain that the catchment must be adequately reasoned in order to be justified as realistic and a well-related area in PPS 6 terms. We submit that the Applicants have failed to properly reason the catchment area defined where account is taken of the substantial size of gross retail floorspace to which it relates.
On the basis that the catchment area should be relatively larger than that defined by the Applicants, we submit that viable alternative non-food retail sites would adequately accommodate any identified need around Bell Green for non-food bulky goods retail floorspace. These include in-Borough out-of-centre sites (i.e. Catford Bridge (Wicks and Halfords), Ravensborne Retail Park, Penge (Homebase) and Beckenham Hill Road (Homebase)). As to garden centre uses, we submit that various in-Borough out-of-centre garden centres that are sited at Penerley Road (Phoebes), Stanstead Road (Shannons) and Winn Road (Phoebes) would adequately satisfy any identified need deriving from the area defining the Bell Green catchment.
Furthermore we submit that the Applicants have inadequately assessed the potential for alternative in-Borough out-of-centre non-food bulky goods retail sites to be redeveloped and to incorporate additional floorspace that could impact on any identified need for the provision of retail floorspace at Bell Green. The inadequacy of that assessment is significant given that a surplus of large format capacity floorspace would exist in 2011 (equivalent to – Â£0.27 overall large format capacity expenditure: LBC 1: fig. 5.19, table 3) should the proposals be implemented and on assumption that retail development at Lewisham Gateway is not completed by 2011.
We further submit that the Applicants have failed to present robust evidence to support their contention that there is an identified qualitative need. PPS 6 (para 2.37) confirms that benefits of area regeneration and employment do not constitute indicators for the qualitative need of additional floorspace. That those factors are nevertheless material considerations to be taken into account in the assessment of qualitative need, an overriding consideration in determining need is that the key objective of promoting the vitality and viability of town centres is upheld. We submit that the satisfaction of this key objective would mean that qualitative need could not be upheld in relation to the proposals. The view of the Sydenham Society on retail impact is set out below.
In so far as numerous assumptions have been made in order for the Applicants to assert that a sufficient quantitative and qualitative need exists in terms of the retail element of the proposals, we consider that the analysis may not be robust wherever the margins of the assumption are inaccurate and where growth on the assumption is factored. For the reasons set out above, we submit that there is insufficient evidence of the quantitative and qualitative need for the proposals.
Should the Secretary of State consider that sufficient need is disclosed, the evidence shows that there are alternative sequentially preferable sites to Bell Green that may accommodate elements of that need. Our view that sequentially preferential sites exist is strengthened by the failure of the Applicants to incorporate any sufficient flexibility within their business model and in relation to the size and format of the retail element for phase II land. The Applicants have undertaken no assessment of the scope for disaggregating the retail units that comprise the phase II retail proposal, as presupposed by PPS 6.
Retail: sequential test
By paragraph 3.18, PPS 6 establishes that the responsibility of the applicant to satisfy the sequential approach is discharged where the scope for disaggregation has adequately been considered. It further presupposes that an applicant may only claim that the commercial reality of the development will impede the flexible division of the proposed development into separate sites where disaggregation has already been considered in the first instance. The Applicants suggest that it is not commercially viable to disaggregate the proposed development but, unsatisfactorily, have provided no evidence of this or of their consideration given to flexibly construing the business model. PPS 6 also advises that where sequentially preferable sites are inappropriate for the proposed development by reason of availability, suitability or viability, “clear evidence” should be provided to demonstrate the impracticability.
The Applicants have suggested that the Thurston Road site, as an edge-of-centre location, would be unavailable in PPS 6 terms given a “bespoke design” for the building that would accommodate the requirements of B&Q. We submit that in PPS 6 terms, the fact that a full application has been submitted would be irrelevant in terms of assessing availability, suitability or viability for the very reason that the application is yet to be determined and implemented. It is submitted that the naming of a potential occupier for the site is similarly irrelevant. To the extent that it may at all relate to determining site availability, the provisional naming of B&Q would not prevent any subsequent marketing of the site for an alternative operator in the event that it was subsequently decided not to lease the site to B&Q.
It is plain that should the site be characterised as being available within PPS 6 terms under the sequential test, as we submit, that it would be sequentially preferable and could accommodate various retail units forming part of the proposal. The assessment made by Mr. Goldsmith that no small ground floor units proposed at Thurston Road could accommodate the smallest units proposed for phase II land predicates that the larger floor units proposed at Thurston Road are unavailable in PPS 6 terms. This interpretation of site availability is not accepted and we submit that analysis of disaggregation in relation to this site has been inadequate.
In relation to the Lewisham Gateway site, the Applicants consider the site to be unavailable on assessment that its potential availability within 3-4 years would not render it available within a reasonable period of time. That the time elapse contemplated by PPS 6 is not clearly defined, we submit that account should be taken of the period that corresponds with an assessment of the quantitative need for retail floorspace under PPS 6, namely a period of up to 5 years (para 3.10). Where this analysis is adopted, we submit that the Lewisham Gateway site would be available in PPS 6 terms. Mr. Smith has suggested that Lewisham intends to pursue a marketing strategy in relation to the site to the exclusion of non-food retail bulky goods. It is however apparent that the strategy has so far not been implemented and may not be fully drafted.
At paragraphs 3.6 to 3.8 of LBC 1, it has been stated that no allowance has been made for the Lewisham Gateway site. A further reason for not assessing the Lewisham Gateway site as being accessible is the supposed aim of the developer to provide for a higher provider use. PPS 6 however does not incorporate the same distinction for the purposes of assessing need. We submit therefore that the observation of Mr. Goldsmith as to higher provider use is irrelevant to determining the sequential approach. Furthermore, that the Lewisham Gateway site is sequentially preferable and may be defined as available for the proposals in PPS 6 terms.
In relation to the Lewisham Centre, it is acknowledged that the site may accommodate 6,000 sq. m. gross of additional non-food floorspace within the medium term (up to 2011). It is however contended on behalf of the Applicants that the site would not be available within a reasonable period of time in PPS 6 terms. The Society does not accept that sufficient efforts have been taken pursuant to inquiring of the landowner as to whether development of the site would be dependent on the likely outcome of the Gateway scheme. In any event, where it is considered that the proposals for the Gateway scheme may be forthcoming within a reasonable period of time, we submit that the Lewisham centre site is sequentially preferable and is available in PPS 6 terms.
In relation to the Old Market Site at Catford the Society submits that it may be available in PPS 6 terms should the redevelopment of the site be completed by 2011. The Society also refutes any suggestion that the unlikelihood of the site being developed on its own would impede its availability, as a minimum, to accommodate a disaggregated small retail unit of 929 sq. m. that forms part of the proposals.
In relation to the Forest Hill/Perry Vale, various sites that surround the Forest Hill train station demonstrate a clear regenerative need that is equal to that of Bell Green. The need for regeneration of the Forest Hill/Perry Vale area is clear from the on-going consultation involving the Interim Executive Director for Regeneration at Lewisham, Head of Highways at Lewisham, the Mayor of Lewisham and numerous rail companies from which it has been commended that a promotion strategy to make Forest Hill marketable should immediately be undertaken (SS 9). To the extent that the consultation is not concluded the intention that regeneration should in substantial part comprise retail development mirrors the regeneration scheme set out under the Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG adopted March 2003) that concerns the Forest Hill Urban Design Framework and Development Strategy (SS 10).
The SPG establishes (page 29) four privately-owed areas (including the ‘Finch site’) which may presently accommodate, as part of a disaggregated assessment of the retail element of the proposals, some of the non-food bulky goods retail floorspace proposed for Bell Green. To the extent that the SPG does not identify the relative footprint of each site, the development principles clearly outline that their development should include multi-story retail use as part of mixed retail/residential use development. At development principle 3 (SS 10: fig. 5.1.2 of page 29) it is stated that “new development flanking and fronting onto the central public space should be of three or four storeys with retail/cafÃ© ground floor uses and residential/offices uses above”. Furthermore, at development principle 6 (SS 10: fig. 5.1.2 of page 29) it is stated “redeveloping the underused Perry Vale parcels comprehensively with commercial (offices and shops) on the ground floor and two or three storeys of residential accommodation above”.
Two further sites that are Lewisham holdings and are not identified in the SS10 are located within the immediate vicinity of the four undeveloped privately owned sites set out in SS10. Irrespective of their present temporary uses, the two sites (the Portakabin site and a car-park) would form, when assimilated with the four privately owned sites identified in SS10, a cluster of development areas that should, we submit, have been fully assessed as part of the sequential test. These sites may be properly characterised as in-centre or as a minimum, edge-of-centre, and are sequentially preferable to Bell Green in accordance with PPS 6. We submit that a flexible assessment by Lewisham of the business model could and should have involved an assessment of the commercial attractiveness of the cluster of all 6 undeveloped private and Lewisham owned sites. We consider that the sites would offer an available location that could accommodate much disaggregated retail floor space relating to the proposals.
That the cluster of privately owned sites identified in SS10 may have previously been noted by Lewisham as part of assessing retail capacity need, we submit that the assessment has been unsatisfactory in PPS 6 terms and has ignored the potential for disaggregating the various retail units under the proposals in relation to all privately owned sites. Consideration of the scope for disaggregating the retail element of the proposals is not an optional requirement under PPS 6 but rather, must be complied with. No evidence has been given by the Applicant or by Lewisham that would enable the Secretary of State to identify that sufficient assessment has been made of the scope for disaggregation regarding the SPG sites.Â The PPS 6 test is not satisfied.
Retail: impact on vitality and viability of town centres
PPS 6 (para 3.22) advises that when assessing the impact of new retail development on town centre sites, attention should be given to the likely impact on trade/turnover in addition to the vitality and viability of existing centres. In terms of those town centres most likely to be affected by retail on phase II land, namely Catford, Sydenham and Forest Hill, it is submitted that the loss of trade and turnover will be relatively substantial and is likely to prompt the closure of comparison good stores and cause an increase in the vacancy rate of retail units located within these centres. The Applicants are guided by the assumption that implementation of the retail proposals may attract a market share increase of 22-30 % to support the overall contention of a sufficient need for non-food bulky goods floorspace at Bell Green. This amount of market share is substantial and would clearly indicate the potential for trade diversion from in-borough town centres (e.g. Catford, Sydenham and Forest Hill) in addition to in-borough out-of-centre retail sites and garden centres.
PPS 6 (para 3.22) further advises that when assessing the impact on vitality and viability, account should be taken of any change to the range of services offered by subsisting in-centre retail units likely to be attributable to new retail development. It has been acknowledged on behalf of the Applicants that, as a consequence of the implementation the proposals, some independent retail units located within affected town centres would need to ‘adapt’. To the extent that this would require affected independent retailers to completely modify the range of goods sold so as not to overlay with those sold at the Site, the range of goods sold within the boundaries of the town centre would diminish. PPS 6 (para 3.22) does not advise that the range of services should be defined to include those offered outside of town centre sites. The consideration of Bell Green is therefore irrelevant.
The Society submits that the ‘adaptation’ of independent retailers may also reasonably be construed to incorporate the closure of comparison goods stores. Where closures may occur, PPS 6 requires that account should be taken of the impact of the retail proposal on the vacancy rates within primary shopping areas and the potential changes to the quality, attractiveness and character of the centre and its role in the economic and social life of the community. It is plain that in terms of the engaged impact assessment criteria of PPS 6 (para 3.22) the retail proposal would have a significant adverse impact on neighbouring town centres.
Even where the closure of comparison goods stores is not inevitable, neither the Applicants nor Lewisham have surveyed an independent retailer most likely to be affected by the retail proposal in order to research the commercial viability of modification, or its specific financial implications. The Applicants’ observation that ‘adaptation’ may be possible is wholly speculative.
The Applicants have not adequately researched the breadth of comparison goods floor space that may be provided by the various likely non-food bulky retail occupants of the units proposed for phase II and phase III land. The retail units, and particularly Homebase, would be able to diversify the range of goods sold to the extent permitted under the relevant planning condition governing retail diversification. Even if the condition is observed, the Society anticipates that any permitted diversification by Homebase would far exceed conventional hardware goods. The present scheme of diversification contemplated by Homebase (e.g. sale of vehicle accessories and homeware goods) should be taken into account when assessing the breadth of comparison goods floor space in terms of relative impact on established non-food bulky goods retail sites and independent retailers located within proximate town centres.
It is plain that the current operational style of Homebase could not reasonably be circumscribed by use of a planning condition. That the range of goods that may be presently sold includes such items as household cleaning products, children’s toys and games, kitchen accessories and seasonal items, we submit that even without further diversification, the comparison goods retail floorspace would significantly overlay with goods that are presently sold by independent retailers located within town centres that include Catford, Forest Hill and Sydenham.
By reason of the popularity for combined shopping trips, the trade draw from the town centres of Catford, Sydenham, and Forest Hill is highly likely to encompass not only comparison non-food bulky goods but, we submit, will substantially affect convenience goods stores that offer comparison goods to those of the Sainsbury’s store on phase I land, Bell Green. Appendix 6 of the appendices to LBC 1 contains the health centre checks disclosing the relative retail representation within Catford, Sydenham and Forest Hill. These confirm that each town centre has a higher proportion of convenience units than the national average.
To the extent that a visitor to any one of the retail units proposed for phase II or phase III land may seek to make a combined shopping trip to Sainsbury’s as a convenience shop, it is plain that implementation of the proposal will cause a general loss of footfall within each town centre so that proportionately less people would convenience shop within town centres. The impact in terms of loss of footfall properly accounts for those people who would presently not visit the Sainsbury’s to convenience shop but would elect to use that store upon the development of a cluster of retail stores in relation to which a combined shopping trip could be made. The potential cumulative impact on existing town centres from combined shopping trips is substantial when the retail floorspace of the Sainsbury’s store and of the proposed retail element is combined, and the diversification of gross retail floorspace between the separate retail units is considered.
For the reasons set out above, we submit that there will be a material impact on the vitality and viability of nearby town centres.
The Applicants contend that the business, industrial, warehousing, restaurant and retail elements of the proposals would stimulate circa 450-470 employment opportunities. No robust evidence has been presented to support this employment projection and any methodology that may have been used in calculating an approximate employment density, remains undisclosed.
The Applicants rely in part on a forecast of sustainable consumer demand for non-food bulky goods retail (especially DIY goods) to support its projection of retail employment at the Site. The commercial reality of marginal or stagnant growth in consumer demand for this type of retail is not in accordance with the optimistic forecast. The relative downturn in consumer demand is however supported within the informative to the employment use policies contained within the UDP and the London Plan which omit all reference to non-food retail employment as being a viable source of future employment gain.
The Applicants apparently suggest that there is sufficient tenant demand for the Site. Mr. Jones accepted at inquiry that there is no evidence of an employment tenant demand for the Site in excess of that which would satisfy the defendant’s employment proposals. We however submit that it is incredible for it to be suggested that there is sufficient employment tenant demand for the Site where no breakdown of employment opportunities to be generated by each employing tenant has been provided.
The only publication that has been used to assist the estimation of the density has been The English Partnerships document. That document, although prepared by consultants on behalf of Lewisham, does not enable an approximate employment density to be defined in any given case given that it is neither site-specific and provides skeletal guidance only. In the absence of any human resource plan that could and should have been produced on behalf of the Applicants to substantiate their projection, basic information outlining employment densities and the projection of 470 opportunities is outstanding. The projection as has been presented is wholly unsustainable.
Furthermore, there are no breakdown estimates for full-time/part-time or short-term/long-term staffing, or as to the proportion of staffing requirements that would be satisfied through the transfer of persons already employed within outlets located outside the local area, rather than the recruitment of those unemployed and resident within. The inquiry has heard no evidence to rebut the reasonable appearance that many of the employment opportunities would not be made available to the unemployed who are resident within the Borough. Mr. Sharp of Lewisham commented, when referring to the provision of employment car-parking spacing under the proposals, that such spacing would be necessary to accommodate the quantity of employees that would be anticipated to commute to the Site by car and from outside of the local area.
In the absence of robust evidence, we submit that the estimation of employment density likely to be generated by the proposals is ambiguous, and where it is construed to mean only new employment and is net of job losses elsewhere, that estimation is a gross exaggeration. Familiar employment trends relating to non-food retail warehousing and small industrial premises support this conclusion: namely, the propensity for non-food retail warehousing, small industrial premises and drive-thru restaurants not to be labour-intensive.
That the Society would support employment use for the Site (in addition to or as an alternative to residential use) this is conditional upon the suitability and viability of the particular employment projection. The projection as set out by the Applicants is ambiguous and lacks any credible evidential basis.
Whatever the level of employment to be generated from the proposals, no account has been made by the Applicants of the retail unemployment that is likely to be caused through local comparison and convenience goods store closures or necessary streamlining as a consequence of the effects of trade diversion from independent retail units proximately located within competing town centres to include Catford, Sydenham and Forest Hill.
We submit that the key objectives of Planning Policy Guidance Note 13: Transport (“PPG 13”), would not be satisfied by the proposals. In relation to retail and employment sites, PPS 6 and PPG 13 require that sustainable transport choices are made available to enable sufficient access to and from the Sites by means of public transport. For a transport choice to be defined as sustainable in PPG 13 terms and in relation to the proposals, it must, we submit, present a viable and practicable option that may be exercised to accommodate recurrent visits to the Site. A transport choice is not sustainable where it provides merely a theoretical means of access that proves unattractive to users because of impracticality. To access and return from the non-food bulky goods retail element of the Site with numerous bulky good purchases would clearly infringe the principle of sustainable access. This conclusion is consistent the Society’s view that the phase II land may be suitably accessible from Lower Sydenham station in circumstances where it is used for residential purposes given that, in contrast to a retail use, a residential use is unlikely to be reliant on using a car and is further unlikely to involve journeys to and from the station whilst carrying items similar to bulky goods.
The bus catchment area defined by the Applicants comprises a walk, wait and ride time. Mr. Bird suggested on behalf of the Applicants that the ride time may be, as a maximum, approximately 20 minutes along an indirect route, and by that premise, that the bus catchment area would comprise a smaller geographical area than that relating to the car catchment area (10 minutes travel time, off-peak). By the Applicants’ own bus catchment definition, any area accessible only by an indirect bus route (and which required at least one change of bus) was discounted. This renders the residential areas east of Forest Hill, Downham, south of Honor Oak and Bellingham to the east of Bell Green, inaccessible in PPS 6 terms. To the extent that persons located outside of the bus catchment area are nevertheless included within the retail need catchment, access to the Site by bus would not be a sustainable transport choice. The inquiry has heard no evidence that a relevant bus company that would operate services to the Site would seek to extend the range of those services into the identified inaccessible areas in response to the implementation of the proposals. PPS 6 implies that accessibility should be adjudged in terms of present transport services and not on a wholly speculative analysis of whether and to what extent transport services may be extended following the implementation of a retail proposal.
Where public transport access is unsustainable in PPS 6 and PPG 13 terms, we submit that other relevant transport planning policies also conflict with the development. These include policy 3C.1 of the London Plan that provides that the Mayor will support high-trip generating development only at locations that disclose high levels of public transport accessibility and capacity. We submit that accessibility for the purposes of the London Plan must be construed consistently with that contemplated under PPS 6 and PPG 13 and include adequate appreciation of the sustainability of the particular means of access.
The non-food retail element of the Site will be a net attractor of private vehicle users. By the Applicants’ own assessment, the modal split in relation to the site suggests that 77% of persons visiting the site will attend by car (APP 15: para 6.5).
We submit that few consumers within the travel catchment areas (as defined by the Applicants) are likely to choose to access the proposed non-food bulky retail units by walking or by cycle. Policy TRN 1 of the UDP requires that proposals that generate a large volume of traffic or person movement must be located close to good public transport facilities. The Society considers that the proposals conflict with the requirements of policy TRN 1. More generally, the development proposals conflict with the objectives of PPG 13 (PPG 13: para 4) and the UDP in so far as sustainable transport choices for people are not promoted, the accessibility to the retail facilities on phase II and III land and services by public transport, walking and cycling would not be promoted, and the need to travel (especially by car) would not be reduced.
The provision of a substantial amount of retail car-park spacing that is marginally below the Annex D PPG 13, UDP, and London Plan levels would, we submit, support this conclusion. The substantial provision for retail car parking should be considered in light of the departure from the UDP and London Plan in relation to the employment parking provision. We therefore submit that the substantial provision of car parking is unacceptable despite the need for regeneration given that the need may be satisfied by the provision of alternative land uses that do not necessitate an equivalent level of car parking (namely employment and residential uses).
To the extent that the retail element of these proposals would produce a high trip generation, the Site is not served with bus services that satisfy the geographical area within the need catchment area. Furthermore, the location of the Lower Sydenham Station, at approximately 800 metres from the Site would not satisfy the requirement that the proposal be located sufficiently close to good transport facilities to render access by rail sustainable. It is submitted that pedestrian access from Lower Sydenham Station must be assessed with appropriate consideration of distance and convenience of route.
PPS 6 places emphasis on the relative importance of these specific criteria to determining whether access to retail facilities may be properly deemed as accessible. Furthermore the Walking Plan for London, issued by Transport for London (February 2004), describes ‘walkability’ in terms that refer to convenience and ease. The question as to whether a route may be accessible by walking therefore necessitates the sufficient appraisal of whether the passage is reasonably convenient over the distance required to be covered given the retail purchase loads that are likely to be carried. The planning guidance therefore distinguishes, by necessary implication, between accessibility to food, and non-food bulky goods retail sites. To the extent that a home delivery service may enable some bulky goods to be delivered, the relevant planning guidance does not establish an artificial distinction between accessibility to order as opposed to that which enables personal receipt of goods immediately upon their purchase.
Even on consideration of the improvements that may be forthcoming under any section 106 agreement relating to the system of controlled pedestrian crossing facilities located between Lower Sydenham station and the Site, the number of crossing points would remain to be traversed by any person travelling directly to and from the Site from the Lower Sydenham station. We submit that these crossings could not be traversed in a manner that demonstrates convenience where the pedestrian is carrying non-food bulky goods. This is irrespective of the improvements that may be secured under the 106 agreement.
Alternative use for phase II land
We submit that there are viable uses for phase II land that may be implemented as alternatives to retail use. The viable alternatives would comprise residential, employment, industrial or mixed use. By reference to the clear commercial success of proximate business parks located in Bromley (Worsley Bridge Road and Kangley Bridge Road), the Society considers that phase II land may suitably accommodate a business park/high-tech park use. Alternatively the phase II land could be re-designated under the Proposal Schedule 1 of the UDP as a defined employment area. This remains the position of the Society despite the repeated, albeit unsubstantiated, assertion of Lewisham that the phase II land is only suitable for retail use given the need for regeneration. To the extent that the Society shares Lewisham’s view that the Site requires regeneration, it remains crucial that redevelopment is undertaken in an appropriate form.
The view of the Society at the 2003 inquiry was that housing development would be unsuitable on phase II and III land owing to the level of ground contamination. This was as a consequence of the allocation within the then UDP (which has remained unchanged under the 2004 UDP) that residential use was inappropriate. This view was, at that time, wholly in accordance with the view of Lewisham and the developer. The Society now advocates the viability of residential use on both phase II and phase III land. This is consistent with its appreciation that phase II and III land is viable for residential use through the containment of contaminants and remediation respectively.
The contention of the Applicants that the residential use of phase II land would not be viable in financial terms because of a requirement for extensive and costly remediation works is based on a false assumption of the absolute requirement that remediation works must be undertaken to enable residential development. The Applicants have assessed that remediation must be undertaken given its perceived risk of disturbing contaminants either through construction or inhabitation of the land.
To the extent that phase II land is contaminated the Society disagrees with the need for remediation, and thus refutes the suggestion that the costs associated with that process would inevitably be incurred in order to deliver residential use on phase II land. There is no necessity to remediate phase II land so that the effects of minimal disturbance that may be caused to the land either through construction or inhabitation may be circumvented.
Those on behalf of the Applicants have misjudged the risk of the migration of contaminants during the construction phase of any housing development since it has been improperly assumed that development will require in-situ construction and will cause substantial disturbance. The Applicants have failed to properly assess the viability of the modular construction of housing (i.e. construction off-site) that would involve prefabricated components so that disturbance to the land may be greatly minimised, thus greatly diminishing the potential for contaminants to migrate. The building costs associated with this type of construction relative to those of in-situ construction would be substantially less given the absence of less-efficient, on-site labour. This has not been taken into account as part of the Applicants’ initial assessment of the total cost of providing housing on phase II land which is based on a model of in-situ construction only.
Those on behalf of the Applicants further assume disturbance to the land being caused by the exertion of loads imposed on the ground from conventional medium-density housing. This assumption does not address the fact that such loads may made be far lighter through the use of loads imposed from modular lightweight medium-density housing that may accommodate a particular number of storeys. The relative expediency of assembling lightweight dwellings and the cost associated with using lightweight materials in lieu of the conventional composite materials contemplated under the Applicants’ assessment would substantially diminish the total cost of providing residential development on phase II land. The relative environmental benefits associated with the construction of modular lightweight medium-density housing have been ignored by the Applicants. The Applicants have not undertaken any proper assessment of the commercial or functional viability of lightweight housing but have assessed only those construction and engineering costs associated with a conventional housing model.
The Applicants further suggest that some disturbance to phase II land would inevitably be caused by works to remove sub-terrain foundations before any piling (to provide a suitable foundation structure) may be undertaken as part of a residential development process. The suggestion that a risk of disturbance would arise from foundation removal assumes that extensive sub-terrain foundations remain on the land and would be located such as would frustrate piling. The Applicants have undertaken no geo-physical assessment of phase II land to establish the extent to which that land may contain the sub-terrain foundations of former buildings that formerly belonged to the gas works. This form of sub-terrain survey is conventional in assessing the presence of foundations and could have provided satisfactory evidence as to the location of any foundation.
Instead the Applicants seek to rely exclusively on a plan (Plan D 1/2) that outlines exploratory holes and structures formerly sited on phase II land, and on the general assumption that the foundations relating to those buildings remain extant. The plan is neither sufficiently accurate in assessing the location of any extant foundations nor is determinative that such foundations in fact remain. Furthermore, even where foundations remain in existence, OS 1894 plan suggests that the structures associated with the former gas works were primarily sited on phase I land and not phase II land. In that it has not been sufficiently demonstrated that those foundations in fact exist and are located in a way that would frustrate the insertion of foundation piles, we submit that the Applicants have improperly dismissed the functional and commercial viability for residential development. The oversight is substantial given the established need for key-worker housing that could, to some extent, be satisfied by the residential use of phase II land. The Applicants could and should have fully considered the potential for off-setting the extra expenditure that could arise from the use of non-composite materials against the substantial savings that would be gained from the use of a modular construction technique. In the event the conclusion of the Applicants that residential use of the site would not be viable is unsubstantiated.
In the longer term and during the occupational phase of any residential development, the appropriate capping of phase II land would provide an impermeable barrier across the footprint of the land to provide a suitably robust and vapour and impact resistant layer to prevent the release of contaminants. The process of capping may be accomplished by use of protective barrier that would comprise a bituminised macadam layer, a membrane and a base granular layer to seal all contaminant vapours below ground. That the land could be efficiently capped in this manner, the contamination below ground would present no risk to the health of occupants.
The process of capping contaminated land for human habitation is well-established and has been employed in relation to phase I land where the same type and degree of contamination may be presumed to exist. It was suggested by Mr. Clark on behalf of the Applicants that the containment approach in lieu of remediation could give rise to property blight and prejudice the commercial interest for residential use of phase II land because of public concerns for the harmful effects on human health of contaminant leakage.
The Society considers this as being a highly speculative and unsound conclusion. It is also inconsistent with the commercial success of the neighbouring Sainsbury’s store where public reaction has clearly been indifferent to the presence of the same type and extent of contaminants. Where the transitory (albeit frequent) use of phase I land by the individual customer may be contrasted with the relative permanent occupation of phase II land for residential use, it may be assumed that J Sainsbury, as owner of phase I land, would have fully accounted for the impact of any concerns for human health arising from full-time staff who would remain on site for a comparable length of time to residents of phase II land. The Applicants have not suggested that the Sainsbury’s store has attracted any concerns for human health from either customers or staff that may blight the commercial success of the site. Rather, the Sainsbury’s store remains attractive both in terms of a commercial centre and as an employer.
The approach to containment through capping may be repeated in relation to the mound area that is located on phase II land. It is disputed that retention of the mound would render the residential use of the land unviable. Mr. Clark for the Applicants accepts that the fencing-off of the mound is a viable scheme yet suggests that Lewisham would consider that its retention would be unacceptable. Where that conclusion is supported by Lewisham, we submit that it is prompted without the full consideration of the possibility for its landscaping as an additional spacious feature that may complement surrounding housing development.
The process of vapour and impact-resistant capping could be undertaken in relation to the mound as it could in relation to the balance of the phase II footprint. The concern of National Grid that the retention of contaminated deposit beneath the site would be unacceptable appears to be based on an improper assessment that there would remain a risk to human health or to the commercial attractiveness of residential development on phase II land though the retention of contaminated material. We submit that the fencing-off and landscaping of the mound would present a viable alternative in terms of protecting human health, diminish the costs of remediation and provide a satisfactory landscape solution to neighbouring residential development. The scarcity of landfill sites to receive toxic material deposits strengthens our view that the functional and commercial viability of containing contaminants below the entire footprint of phase II land, as an alternative to land remediation, should be given full consideration.
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Traffic and the Environment
Where the retail element of the Site will not, for the reasons set out above, be accessible by sustainable pedestrian or cycle means of travel, it is restated that the retail element will prove a net attractor of private vehicles. The substantial amount of car-parking provision included within the proposals, although below the threshold set out in relevant planning guidance, supports this view. An assimilation of the subsisting car-parking provision relating to the Sainsbury’s store with that to be provided in relation to phase II land should, we submit, be taken into account by the First Secretary of State. when assessing the impact of the Site as a net attractor.
To the extent that the report of the Inspector to the First Secretary of State in relation to the 2003 inquiry suggested that taking into account the permitted provision of existing car parking would be unfair, we submit that that is not a view specifically endorsed by PPG 13 and improperly disregards the wider objectives of the policy guidance that seeks for access to a retail facility by means of public transport to be promoted and for the need to travel by car to be reduced. The incentive for accessing the Site by private vehicle in light of the substantial car-parking provision and the purchasing of non-food bulky goods is clearly established. The modal split relied on by the Applicants is neither realistic in light of the commercial scheme proposed nor is it sufficiently robust.
The substantial increase in access to the retail element of the Site by means of private vehicle will have substantial adverse effects on the local road network and on the local environment. The commercial success of the retail element envisaged by the Applicants will produce a proportionate increase in private and service vehicular traffic and a substantial increase in atmospheric pollution. The pollutants that comprise petrol and diesel vehicular emissions, to include nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, are various, and where emitted within a proximate distance of residential areas, would be damaging to human health in addition to the wider environment.
Pollutant emissions would substantially rise, and increase exponentially, with the increase in vehicular traffic anticipated to visit the retail element of the Site. The exponential increase in pollutants would be directly referable to the link between traffic flow saturation, high pressure weather conditions and the slowing of vehicular speed. The increase in traffic queuing around Bell Green in consequence of increased trip generation caused by the retail element of the proposals will give rise to this exponential increase. We submit that the Traffic Assessment undertaken by Savell, Bird and Axon and Air Quality Impact Assessment reported by Capita Symonds do not provide sufficiently robust evidence to disprove this view. For, those assessments have underestimated the increase in traffic flows that will be generated by the development, miscalculated the likely modal split by affording too little consideration to private vehicular traffic, and have not taken proper account of the exponential increase in pollution that is likely to result.
Mr. Barrowcliffe’s suggestion that pollution in the area will not increase to that extent is founded on the incorrect assumption that there may not be an exponential increase in the emission of pollutants to the extent as set out by Mr. Bryan. That the emission of pollutants may rise exponentially, rather than proportionately in relation to the increase in vehicular traffic on the local road network is a finding accepted by Mr. Barrowcliffe. Mr. Barrowcliffe has however not sought to quantify the exponential increase in pollutant emissions that he would envisage as a result of any given increase in vehicular traffic on the local road network.
The entire length of the Sydenham Road, the gyratory and all feeder roads except Perry Rise are included within the Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) that is designated within approximate distance of the Site (see fig. 4.2 map in UDP). The designation is made by Lewisham in response to the need to limit pollutant emissions within a geographical area that experiences an acute number of pedestrian trips and to safeguard the human health of those travelling within or to and from the site. The proximity of numerous schools located within the local area (SS1: plan – appendices), underlines the designation of the AQMA on an assessment of the likely level of human exposure to pollutant emissions. The purpose of the protection given to any area contained within an AQMA is to ensure that the level of pollutant emissions is suitably managed and local air quality adequately safeguarded. It therefore follows that the sources of pollutant emissions should be adequately restricted where any increase may infringe the very purpose for the AQMA designation.
That the Applicants suggest that the analysis in terms of traffic impact is sufficiently robust, it has not taken account of the directional split of traffic and the relative use of the principal roads that link around Bell Green. Therefore, in relation to the traffic flows that are suggested would be generated by the proposals, no evidence has been provided to rebut the contention that a significantly high percentage of additional vehicular traffic generated could choose to use particular feeder roads in preference to others, therefore exacerbating the congestion of those roads that already suffer traffic saturation.
Numerous residential roads have been accepted by Lewisham as familiar rat-runs used to avoid traffic around Bell Green. There is no evidence before the inquiry to suggest that those already frequently used roads would not experience further increases in traffic flows should the proposals be implemented.
The Western Screen Line Traffic Counts (LBC 5) produced by Lewisham provide a misleading assessment of historical traffic flows along the Sydenham Road between the years 2002 to 2005. The figures presented do not accurately take account of the extent or duration of extensive roadworks comprising the recurrent Transco works performed along Sydenham Road and Kirkdale Road and pedestrian accident reduction scheme (TfL/Lewisham partnership) works undertaken in relation to the Cobbs Corner roundabout. The extent of these works is detailed in Plan E. Their effect on the functioning of the local road network feeding Bell Green has been underestimated by Lewisham.
The traffic counts fail to describe satisfactorily the effect of the works and the provision of single lane access for traffic travelling in both directions along the Sydenham Road and Kirkdale Road. The counts fail to detail the likelihood that a high proportion of drivers that would normally have travelled along Sydenham Road would have instead elected other routes to avoid significant queuing. Furthermore, none of the ten sites at which the traffic counts were undertaken correspond with any of the familiar rat-run routes acknowledged by Lewisham. That the data purports to demonstrate the absence of a growth trend in traffic along the Sydenham Road and within Lewisham more generally over the years 2002 to 2005, it is misleading and we submit, should be disregarded.
No evidence has been produced to inquiry of traffic flows along routes that have been acknowledged by Lewisham as being popular rat-runs. These routes include the use of Priestfield Road, Lescombe Road and Garlies Road (feeding Perry Rise and Perry Hill to the north of Bell Green) (Plan G) and Silverdale Road, Queensthorpe Road, Bishopsthorpe Road, Burghill Road, and Adamsrill Road (feeding Sydenham Road to the south west of Bell Green) (Plan F). The use of these routes as rat-runs pre-supposes traffic saturation at daily peak times without taking further account of the anticipated increase in flows that will inevitably be caused by the retail element of the proposals.
The only updated figures relied on by Savell, Bird and Axon to support the contention of the Applicants that the proposals will not cause a substantial increase in traffic flows derive from an assessment of the local network undertaken during April 2006. It is curious that this assessment coincided in part with the Easter holiday period by which all vehicular traffic generated by the school-run and for all schools within the local area (Plan E), would have been absent from the roads during weekday peak times. During this time, it may also be inferred that considerably less traffic flows would have been generated at peak times on Saturday given the propensity for a substantial number of families to holiday away from home during that same period. Therefore, the only present-day up-date on which the Applicants rely to demonstrate a decrease in traffic flow is, we submit, misleading in its principal conclusion.
The historical increase in traffic flows adjacent to the Bell Green area during Friday PM and Saturday midday peak hours from 1988 and prior to the opening of the Sainsbury’s store, and in 2001 following its opening, is set out by Mr Bird (APP 15: table 5.7 at para. 5.54). Mr. Bird suggests that ‘there is no material change in observed traffic flows in the area’ when the figures are compared. This assessment is inconsistent with the approximate 25% increase in Saturday midday peak hour traffic flows over that time in relation to the Southend Lane Eastbound route and misrepresents the approximate 10% increase relating to the Southend Lane Westbound during the Friday PM peak hour. These periods are acknowledged to correspond to the busiest times at which a retail park that includes a convenience goods store will be visited.
Further figures presented by Savell, Bird and Axon that would suggest the effect, at daily peak and Saturday peak times, of residential development replacing retail and restaurant use on phase II is based on two core assumptions that concern the number of pass-by traffic and linked trips movements. The proportion of pass-by retail and restaurant traffic is assumed to be 30 % and the percentage of linked trips is assumed to be 20%. Where those assumptions may have overestimated the number of pass-by trips and linked trips to the retail and restaurant elements of phase II land and have, as a consequence, undervalued the amount of new trips generated in relation to that destination, the integrity of the assessment comparison between the retail/restaurant use of phase II land and its residential use, may be doubtful. There is clear potential for this assessment to present a distorted account of the traffic that may be generated in relation to the alternative use of the phase II land.
Furthermore, Mr. Bird sets out figures relating to the effect of pass-by and combined trips (APP 15). The analysis however incorporates multiple assumptions that include 50% of the trips to and from the proposed non-food retail development being of a primary nature to the exclusion of combined trips and 20% of trips to the non-food retail being a combined trip within the development or linked with an existing trip to Sainsbury’s.
The TRANSYT data produced by Savell, Bird and Axon detailing the Friday AM and PM and Saturday peak traffic flows on the existing road network invite the First Secretary of State to compare flows generated under the implementation of the extant retail planning permission for the Site and the level of flows anticipated to arise following the implementation of the proposals. This approach suggests that it would be irrelevant to make comparison between those traffic flows presently generated on the existing road network and flows that are predicted to arise following implementation of the proposals and the incorporation of new pedestrian crossings. The contrived approach that is invited to be taken finds no support within the UDP, London Plan or PPG13.
Where comparison is appropriately made of two way traffic flow predictions on streets within the vicinity of Bell Green and flows currently observed the substantial effect of traffic impact becomes apparent. Appendix A of Volume 2 of Mr. Bird’s proof of evidence (APP 15) documents that during the Saturday peak, the flow is predicted to increase by 8 % along Perry Hill (north of j/w Perry Rise), by 11.5 % along Perry Rise (NW of j/w Bell Green), by 14.2 % in Bell Green (Perry Rise to Southend Lane) and by 9.3 % along Sydenham Road (SW of Stanton Way). Where these predictions do not take account of a high growth increase in base flow, we submit that the assessment of the relative increase in traffic flow may yet be higher than the substantial increases set out.
To the extent that highway works may be undertaken pursuant to any section 106 agreement, we submit that they are likely not to prove sufficiently effective in relation to the areas that correspond with the above comparison flow predictions. Furthermore, the substantiated extent of the predicted increases in traffic flow along roads other than the Bell Green gyratory means that even where the Gyratory operates adequately without high levels of traffic saturation, as the Society readily concedes is the case, the impact of traffic on main feeder roads and along familiar rat-runs, remains unacceptably high.
Where comparison is properly made of traffic impact relating to the observed traffic existing road network and that relating to the development to include the pedestrian crossings, it is clear that various links would suffer a substantial increase in the degree of traffic saturation. These include links 40 and 41 concerning Perry Hill (APP 15: table 7.3), link 12 concerning Stanton Way, links 52 and 53 concerning Southend lane and Sainsbury’s exit left turn (APP 15: table 7.4), link 13 concerning Stanton Way right turn, link 40 concerning Perry Hill, and links 52, 53 and 54 concerning Southend Lane and the Sainsbury’s exit (APP 15: table 7.5).
No conclusion has been presented by Mr. Bird on the comparison between observed traffic flows on the existing road network and those flows relating to the proposed development incorporating pedestrian crossings. When this comparison is made in relation to the above specific links, the TRANSYT results disclose that the traffic flow expected to be generated by the proposals will have a substantial effect on the local network during the weekday AM and PM peak and Saturday peak times. The First Secretary of State is invited to consider the impact of substantial increases in flow, when assimilated with the likely substantial increased burden on residential rat-run routes located around the Perry Rise and Sydenham Road areas.
The headline conclusion made on behalf of the Applicants that the proposals will produce no discernable growth trend in the generation of traffic flows during weekday peak and Saturday peak times, is undermined by the misleading approach taken to comparing flows that ignores present levels of traffic generation. Where the proposed measures contained within the section 106 agreement and that relate to Perry Hill may contribute to pedestrian safety along this route, they will produce the incidental consequence of reducing overall traffic speed and are likely to promote extensive queuing.
When properly scrutinised, the analysis undertaken on behalf of the Applicants in relation to traffic fails to rebut the core submission made by the Sydenham Society, namely that he proposals would generate a significant number of new traffic flows on roads that feed into the Bell Green area and that will exacerbate existing traffic saturation at various pinch points and will promote further rat-running along residential roads that will prejudice their safety.
The Sydenham Road is acknowledged by Lewisham to be an area that has a significant annual accident rate. In addition, the road is acknowledged to be one of the busiest in the Borough in attracting approximately 22,000 vehicular movements each day. To the extent that traffic claming measures may be required to be implemented in relation to the Sydenham Road, those measures would slow vehicular traffic.
We submit that any measures to be implemented pursuant to the section 106 agreement in relation to traffic management (within the meaning of PPG 13 at para 64) would fail to complement the wider transport objectives by reason that traffic generation would, by scrutiny of the Applicants’ own assessment, increase substantially as a consequence of the development proposals (where these involve the retail element on phase II land). By PPG 13, measures may include (para 66) those that promote safe walking, cycling and public transport across the whole journey and measures that may help to avoid or manage congestion pressures which might arise in central areas. Against the background of a substantial increase in traffic flows, saturation points and rat-running, the Applicant has adduced no robust evidence as to the likely (beneficial) impact of any measure that may be implemented pursuant to the section 106 agreement. The Secretary of State is invited to conclude that the entirety of any measures to be implemented.
For the reasons set out above, we invite the First Secretary of State to refuse planning permission for the proposals.
(The Sydenham Society – Chair: Pat Trembath)