Thursday, 29 May 2008

Eco-towns Select Committee - Day 3

Summary Statement – Thursday 29th May 2008

All sides are agreed that more work needs to be done on the economic impact. FAVG have agreed to participate in an economic impact assessment with the Council, and this is very welcome, but that does make it difficult to see how we can make decisions without this further information. However:

Once again, the A27/Arundel bypass is a critical factor – the difficulties and challenges posed by delivering any significant employment in this part of the world, let alone high-end business, can only be overcome by improved road access, and so the bypass must be a pre-requisite. However, we have heard that even this may not be enough, given the macro-accessibility challenges of the area.

A key element of the FAVG offer is energy production, and the potential to support long term governance over employment and business investment. We will be debating energy production tomorrow, but we are not sure at this stage how location-specific this is, as energy is relatively efficient to move around.

It seems to us that there must, at some level, be some competition and therefore conflict with current regeneration programmes in Littlehampton and Bognor Regis, and we have heard that while good progress is being made with these schemes, they are still at a relatively early and somewhat fragile stage of delivery, so any threat to them is a matter of serious concern. There is also concern over the future of employment sites in Littlehampton and Bognor Regis, and the loss of local jobs to the Eco Town.

We have heard the FEH concept of a Science Park being doubted by FAVG, and this does seem to emerge as a significant difference between the bids. There was common acceptance that we would not get a Science Park on this site, and it is not clear whether the main factors for even a Technology Park would be present. The very fact the energy subsidy/long term governance are key factors implies that subsidy is required for the business/employment mix, so this again becomes a further area of uncertainty, both for initial delivery, and long term sustainability.

On planned housing provision, the SE Plan panel have recommended that Arun District should provide 11,300 dwellings in the period 2006-2026 – an increase of 2,000 on the SEERA recommended provision. The panel report makes reference to the strategic potential of the broad area to the West of the river Arun, and also that this should support regeneration in Littlehampton and Bognor Regis. However, it also says that this could be provided without coalescence of existing communities. Some of this is consistent with Ford as a strategic location, but some of it is not.

Work at Arun District Council has identified urban extensions as the solutions most likely to meet Arun’s needs in an acceptable and sustainable way. However, this work also identifies a shortfall of 4,500 dwellings post 2016, and when probed, the Councils witness could not indicate whether this could be satisfactorily provided as further, or more intensive urban extensions.

With regard to housing need, it typically takes 5/7 years to move from the housing register into accommodation at present, and the register currently has about 1400 households in bands A, B and C, where there is a degree of need and 2,600 households in band D where the need is less. We were also told that local people will strongly resist relocating, even at the promise of improved housing.

All affordable housing locally depends on private developments through s106 agreements, and there is a significant shortfall in delivery.

The Council’s witness argued that delivery through an Eco Town would be no more reliable than delivery through urban extensions, as they both depend on private funding and the market. The promoters claim that the scale and
comprehensive nature of their scheme and the longer term resilience of the housing and property market support their commitment to achieve 5,000 dwellings and 40% affordable housing across the scheme as a whole. They also explained in some detail how they would procure the affordable housing, in partnership with the local authority and a selected group of RSLs.

It does seem to the Select Committee that there are severe housing problems facing the District, both immediately, and in terms of housing delivery through the planning process. The here and now problems cannot be addressed by the Eco Town, but the current poor delivery rate means that these problems are likely to be chronic, rather than short term, and in the long run, the planning delivery problems are going to need radical solutions to which there are no easy answers. The SE Plan report does seem to be contradictory in relation to location, but on housing delivery grounds alone, the Eco Town proposals and location would provide a solution. However, the Select Committee were not persuaded that the Eco Town is the best solution, as there was insufficient evidence available about other alternatives, such as urban extensions. It seems to the Select Committee that giving a commitment to a whole new town is too serious to decide on the evidence which happens to be available to us today, and we believe it is imperative and urgent that further work is done to explore all alternatives for dealing with these housing problems, rather than just supporting an Eco Town because it’s all that’s being offered..

We discussed the question of whether the site can properly be described as Previously Developed Land, and while the promoters claim that a significant part of the site is properly PDL in terms of the government definition, local people perceive it to be mostly open and productive farmland, and furthermore, that the remaining structures within the Eco Town area have
largely blended into the landscape, which would exclude it from the governments definition. However, this discussion will continue on day 5, under ‘Environment’.

Inquiry supporting documents can be found here.


Geoff Dixon said...

I guess we won the Science Park argument pretty easily then!

If this goes ahead and they end up with ANY net increase in jobs in the area I will eat my great big hat!

Geoff Dixon said...

I guess we won the Science Park argument pretty easily then!

If this goes ahead and they end up with ANY net increase in jobs in the area I will eat my great big hat!