Newham is currently consulting (actually, approaching the end of a consultation) on the Detailed Sites and Policies Development Plan document. It’s a bit of a mouthful to say, and even more to read! If you look at the link above you’ll see there are a fair few documents linked to, and enormous amounts of information to read.
Even after six months on the Strategic Development Committee (which I have been finding tremendously interesting, have been meaning to blog about, and mention here only in order to make myself accountable) I still consider myself very new to planning. The more I learn, the more I find that I know very little, and am endlessly thankful to the many far more learned people than me providing detailed professional information to the committee about such diverse topics as policy, the legal framework, transport, design, air quality, and much more.
This particular consultation seems important, not only for the obvious reasons, but also because people in Forest Gate seem particularly interested in their physical environment. We see this not only in queries that we get about litter, and dog fouling, but also in resident reactions to planning proposals, and of course collective memories of the proposed Obsidian development on the high street, which provoked very strong reactions.
At our recent Community Neighbourhood meeting (a meeting of Forest Gate North and Forest Gate South councillors, led by our Community lead councillor Rohima, and supported by some of the staff who work in the Community Neighbourhood structure) we had some officers from planning policy attend to talk to us about the consultation. They focussed on only a couple of aspects of the consultation and gave more information, and asnwered our questions. We all listened closely, asked questions that we thought residents would want to know, and the information below is very imperfectly reproduced from notes I took. Needless to say, any inaccuracies are all mine and not the fault of officers, or anyone else!
Officers explained that the Core Strategy is the document which underpins Newham’s approach to planning, and is the main basis for planning decisions. There is a local plan, which forms part of the Core Strategy. In practical terms, this means that when an application is received, it’s judged against local policies, which form part of the plan.
The core strategy has been overall reasonably successful in promoting the Council’s planning objectives. But on reflection, some parts need strengthening, and that is what the current consultation seeks to do.
At this stage, this is an issues and options paper. It highlights various issues, looks at the evidence available, and presents different possible ways forward. In doing so, it pulls together issues that have come up since we adopted the Core Strategy. This includes comments from residents, and members on issues like betting shops, takeaways, and further protection against houses of multiple occupancy. The consultation runs until the 27th February. The consultation is asking whether people think all the issues are included, which option is best way forward, and whether other options might be a good idea.
There are two main sections to the consultation. First is thematic policies, and second is spatial allocations.
One part of the consultation looks at revising the boundaries to town centres. Effectively, outside town centre boundaries, housing is often prioritised in order to help meet the demand for housing. Inside the boundaries of town centres, you can protect town centre facilities. But defining town centre boundaries can be a difficult balance to strike. For example, you don’t want to draw boundaries too wide, because this ‘distills the effects of regeneration’.
The consultation also looks at ‘community facilities opportunity areas’. Currently policy states that community facilities (health, schools, etc.) should be inside town centre boundaries. But this can be difficult as town centre sites are often not available or are too expensive. Therefore some suggested secondary sites have been identified where planning applications for community facilites could be encouraged, provided that the applicants have looked at town centre sites first. Officers explained that a few issues have come up with applications, and this seeks to provide more detail to strengthen current policy.
Other issues being consulted on regarding community facilities are that we might make requirements of developments regarding their design, specifically that they should be ‘welcoming and inclusive’, and open to all members of the community (with some protection for sacred spaces that form part of places of worship). The consultation also looks at being more specific when talking about the ‘need’ or ‘demand’ for facilities, requiring more evidence of need, and wanting at least 67% of users to be ordinarily Newham residents. The consultation suggests that where post-16 education is proposed, should be about our growth sectors, providing recognised qualifications, with links to local employers.
The consultation also looks at what happens when one community group leaves a site, and needing more evidence before it can be released from community site designation.
Recognising that some sites are needed more than others, the documents suggest prioritising health, childcare and education.
Overall, officers described Forest Gate as, ‘not designated for growth, but maintenance and regeneration using the existing floor space, and the arrival of Crossrail’.
We asked about Maryland, and were told that a ‘local centre’ is proposed for there. We need to find out more about this but hope that this would facilitate more facilities and a greater sense of place in this area.
The other main area that we discussed from the consultation was about proposed ‘areas of townscape value’. This means highlighting a particular area that has characteristics that are worth preserving through planning, and was described as a kind of ‘conservation area lite’. Officers said that Newham has hardly any protected heritage areas compared to other boroughs (for example Islington, or Hackney). Apparently there is evidence that if you live in a conservation area, you are more likely to take pride in the area.
In Forest Gate North, the south side of Sebert Road has been suggested as an area of townscape (ATV) value due to the large quantity of attractive Victorian housing. If this goes ahead, it is intended to help to maintain the quality of the area. In practical terms, this means that people who want to carry out improvements to their home may find it costs more, but on the other hand an ATV creates a more decent environment overall and should help to make the area more pleasant.
We asked specifically about the Obsidian application (which has now been withdrawn and does not seem likely to reappear). Officers told us that the site of previous Obsidian application is designated for regeneration, which is already in core strategy. The framework for decision making essentially remains the same, and what’s being proposed here would not make any substantial difference to how an application like that would be considered. The Obsidian application was out of character with the existing high street, and anything similar would still be out of character.
We wondered how the public were being consulted, and officers told us that the consultation was launched on the 16th Jan. They had an advert in Newham Recorder, and a feature in Newham mag. With this consultation they haven’t held exhibitions, as they have found previously that responses are not huge. We invited them to come along to the next Forest Gate networking morning (which is tomorrow, as I type this up, the 25th February, at the Gate library). They said that anyone – including us! – has until midnight on the 27th February to respond.
I am aware that even this, intended to be an easy to read summary of some areas of the consultation, has turned into a blog post of massive proportions, and is itself not enormously easy to access.
In any case, I hope that the information above is useful. Do respond to the consultation if you’re able to. Do contact us if you have questions or concerns. We will almost certainly have to liaise with officers to get a proper answer, but we can definitely do that and get back to you.