More housing in Much Wenlock?

Much WenlockThe Shropshire Local Plan currently comprises the Core Strategy (adopted 2011) and the Site Allocations and Management of Development (SAMDev) Plan (adopted 2015), together with the adopted Neighbourhood Plans for Much Wenlock and Shifnal. These documents set out proposals for the use of land and policies to guide future development in order to help to deliver the sustainable growth in Shropshire for the period up to 2026.

Local Planning Authorities are required to keep under review any matters that may affect the development of its area or the planning of its development. There is a requirement to objectively assess the development needs of the County and this also permits a longer term view to be taken for the period to 2036. To meet the requirements of national policy, the Local Plan needs to identify enough land to provide for future housing and employment to reflect Shropshire’s future needs.

All of this (and much more) may be found on Shropshire Council’s website in Planning Policy. This process is now at the stage of consultation on issues and strategic options. This includes a “call for sites” which is a request to private, public, and voluntary sector bodies and individuals to submit potential development sites for consideration within the Strategic Land Availability Assessment (SLAA). The SLAA represents a key component of the evidence base which will support the partial review of the Local Plan. However, whilst the SLAA is an important technical document, it does not allocate land for development or include all locations where future housing growth might occur. The SLAA simply provides information which will be investigated further through the plan-making process.

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The Much Wenlock Neighbourhood Plan is under review at present. The Assessor, in his report in January 2014, recommended “a modification that the Plan is reviewed after a three year rather than a five year period. That review should focus on housing delivery and will be able to assess progress on the granting of planning permissions and/or the delivery of housing in the Plan area. If necessary the review of the Plan will be the trigger either for the modification of some of its policies and/or the allocation of a suitable urban extension site that itself meets the basic conditions.”

This is all background. At the Much Wenlock Town Council meeting at the beginning of July the Town Clerk announced that “a letter had been received from Berry’s on behalf of Wenlock Estates which advised that land adjoining the primary school at Hunters Gate had been put forward for development of approximately 90 dwellings in response to Shropshire Council’s ‘Call for Sites’ & Local Plan Review. The letter offered the Town Council an opportunity to discuss the plans in more detail and the Town Clerk recommended that a meeting should be arranged.”

The meeting with Berrys was arranged for the Town Council’s Planning Committee on 5th September. Four of the five members of the Planning Committee along with a further three Town Councillors and over twenty members of the public were in the Council Chamber at 9:30am. Seated next to the Committee Chairman, Cllr Mary Hill and the Town Clerk were Stuart Thomas from Berrys and Gavin Loynes.

After the formalities were over, Cllr Hill asked Stuart Thomas to speak on the proposal. He said that the proposals was in response to Shropshire Council’s “call for sites” in March, and emphasised that this is not a planning application. He anticipated that at the end of this stage of the Local Plan Review, Shropshire Council would publish its “preferred site options” whereupon there would be public consultation. There were a number of questions and statements (and these are my notes, not verbatim) from members of the Committee as follows:

Q:  What numbers are proposed and would they all be open market housing or would there be some element of affordable housing? A:  The proposal would included affordable housing and open space.
Q: The proposal is outside of the development boundary confirmed by the Neighbourhood Plan. The housing growth set out in the Neighbourhood Plan is on target and, on the basis of current projections, will remain so until 2026. Is this proposal only going to be implemented after 2026? A: This depends upon the outcome of the Shropshire Council consultation. The Local Plan Review rolls the plan forward to 2036. How Shropshire Council chooses to phase housing growth across the county is not a matter for Berrys. The phasing will be dependent on the target for housing growth. The review of the Much Wenlock Neighbourhood Plan needs to remain compliant with Shropshire Council’s policies.
Q: Is not the “call for sites” for post-2026? A: It is unusual that a Local Planning Authority is undertaking a review so early in the life of its Local Plan. The Review should be complete by late 2018/early 2019.
Q: Is it not the case that Shropshire Council is under pressure from the government to deliver more housing faster? Hence the greater housing density level of this site vs. Hunter Gate… A: Agreed
Q: There is no recognition of this high risk flood catchment in the proposal – one of only two in Shropshire. We assume there will be a really good flood alleviation scheme to protect Farley from flooding. A: The site would aim to mirror greenfield drainage.
Q: Given the scale of the development, is there any chance of amenities being incorporated, such as a doctors’ surgery? A: To a large extent this is a blank canvas. If Shropshire Council included the site in its preferred options, there would be further discussion about this and similar uses. The Community Infrastructure Level attracted to the community would be significant.

Cllr Hill then thanked Stuart Thomas and he left with Gavin Loynes.

She drew this agenda item to a close by saying that the Town Council would have to seek clarification from Shropshire Council as to the relationship of the Neighbourhood Plan to the Local Plan Review and as to whether further site allocations were for early development or for a period post-2026. She concluded by saying that there was no doubt that this site would be developed, what is not known is simply when it will be built.

This response to Shropshire Council’s “call for sites” is clearly one that will give cause for concern to immediate neighbours – people prefer certainty – and, despite the near-completion of flood attenuation ponds, folk living downstream of the town. It is, however, no surprise that Wenlock Estates are keen to see this land developed. They have made no secret of their view that this will satisfy housing demand and maintain the town’s economic viability.

I am keen that there should be transparency throughout this process. I will therefore write here and in the Wenlock Herald about further developments as they occur.