PLANNING PANEL REPORTS

Worcester Civic Society: Planning Panel Report to the AGM November 2020

During the last year the Panel has continued its consideration of, and comment on, key strategic policy documents affecting the development of the city in the future. It has also considered individual major developments and smaller developments affecting listed buildings and conservation areas in the city through its engagement with the Conservation Advisory Panel (CAP).

Due to lockdown, face to face meetings of the Panel were suspended from March but we have continued to meet as a group via Zoom. I would like to thank all the members of the Panel for their contributions over the past 12 months and for continuing their engagement and activity in spite of all the restrictions that the current situation has placed upon us.

Planning policy

1; South Worcestershire Development Plan (SWDP) Review

The ‘Preferred Options’ public consultation ran from 4th November to 16th December 2019. The Panel convened an open meeting for members in the Hive to input their views. These were collated into an eight-page response to specific policies submitted on behalf of the Society, with key points being raised about housing, employment and retail policies and Worcester city allocations, transport issues, open and green spaces and environmental enhancement and protection. Receipt of our comments was noted but feedback on this and the publication of the final revised document have been delayed. During 2020 there have been calls for sites for low carbon and renewable energy schemes, a country park site and sites for travellers and travelling show people (need for open land so not really sites in the city that could be considered. There is a revised timescale for the SWDP with further consultation periods for six weeks in March/April 2021 (further preferred options consultation) and October/November 2021 (public consultation on final revised document)

2; Towns Deal Fund

The City have been putting together a bid for funding from this scheme and drawing up ideas for projects that would be part of a bid. We suggested that proposed ideas for funding might be centred on the Shrub Hill Development based on ideas in the City Masterplan that we had looked to build on with our own ideas. We submitted our ideas through to the consultants supporting the Council in preparing their bid and posted a suggestion on the the Town Investment Plan on the ‘mytown’ campaign website: https://mytown.communities.gov.uk/town/worcester/#

“Worcester Civic Society propose that Towns Fund investment focuses on the Shrub Hill Opportunity Area (SHOA). We want to see SHOA becoming an attractive destination for businesses, residents and visitors arriving by train and key gateway to our city with better connectivity to the city centre. As a Civic Society, we feel it is particularly important that the Grade II listed Heenan and Froude ‘Engine House’ is refurbished and repurposed as part of any redevelopment scheme, preserving an important part of Worcester’s heritage but also utilising it as a key element of the city’s future. A community hub/arts, performance and cultural venue in the Engine House, with a landscaped terrace outside, could serve as a community centre for new and existing residents in the area. The building could also provide a hub for much needed small business start-ups and incubator units.”

The Town Investment Vision statement has been prepared, and proposals submitted for funding are being assessed to refine what goes into the final bid (probably now in the New Year). Shrub Hill gets a mention as part of the vision statement as a focus for connection, investment and the visitor economy:

“Worcester will become better connected both physically and digitally, with Shrub Hill providing sustainable transport links with new employment and residential opportunities, both within Worcester and beyond. Our connected City will provide access to jobs for our most deprived communities, whilst sustaining and improving our natural environment.”

The challenge is now to think of strategies to get the Engine House included in the proposals as at the moment it is not included.

3; Worcester City Draft Environmental Sustainability Strategy

The city consulted on a draft document back in July. It is encouraging to see the city producing such a document but the initial ideas did lack ambition in comparison to work evident in other cities. Panel members attended consultation events held and fed back to the city on the draft strategy. We were generally supportive of document but felt work to do on supporting building retrofitting, transport, green economy and a possible ‘hub’ at Shrub Hill, use of river open space and trees, opportunities to repair/reuse of goods (city shop?) and learning from best practice in other similar cities. We had some positive feedback to our ideas and comments, such as in relation to green space along the river and a green economy hub, but some sticking points remain in relation to expanding plans for retrofitting of buildings and energy performance guidelines for new buildings and no real commitment to on street electric charging points and general proposals relating to transport developments.

There will hopefully be further opportunities for input and discussion once the plan is adopted in November as a city forum is proposed to be set up and there are also plans for an annual Green Summit which should hopefully help drive commitments and actions in the document forward.

4; Planning for the Future

There was an important current national consultation on the Government White Paper: Planning for the Future between August and October this year. The paper proposes to radically reform the current English planning system to make it a ‘significantly simpler, faster and more predictable system’. It states that there is little incentive for high quality design and the current system simply does not build enough homes. The ambition is for 300,000 homes to be built annually.

Panel members considered this document and also attended briefing webinars put on by Civic Voice to inform our discussions. Civic Voice had been urging civic societies to respond individually to this consultation in addition to sending their views into Civic Voice to support their overall response to the White Paper. We submitted a detailed response on behalf of the Society, broadly welcoming the proposals to simplify and streamline the plan-making system and encourage good design but cautioning that there needed to remain genuine opportunities for meaningful community engagement and input at all stages of the planning system to ensure that local views and considerations fed in. Needs in terms of housing and infrastructure need to be locally sensitive along with ideas about design, rather than being imposed form the top-down with little opportunity for variation. We also stressed the need for any new system to be properly funded to ensure appropriate skills to support engagement of communities.

5; Coronavirus and the Planning System

We responded to a CPRE campaign to MPs to stress the need not to cut back on public consultation in planning as a result of the crisis, pushing schemes through. A copy of their standard email letter was sent to Robin Walker on behalf of the Society and we received a response that he had raised the matter with the government Minister concerned and received a copy of the letter he received back.

6; High Street Recovery

We met with the Worcester City Centre Manager (employed by the city since January 2020) to discuss high street recovery. The city has been working on this issue even before Covid-19 and lockdown and a county wide plan for recovery being produced. Key areas were identified where Civic Society could contribute:

  • Help with information and raising of city profile
  • Providing ideas for use of vacant units, and offers of practical help
  • Lobbying to influence main bodies or interest groups in the city centre:

We put forward to specific suggestions, one for a display in a vacant unit in Cathedral Square preferably in conjunction with other History and Archaeological Societies. We need to get a team together to develop displays.

As another action, we have had further heritage trail leaflets printed to distribute to local independent businesses and to get feedback on their use.

Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas  

During 2019-20, CAP commented on a wide range of applications, from major schemes to applications for new signage and shopfronts. From April 2020 face to face meetings were suspended due to lockdown and responses on applications were by comment only and CAP member continued to comment on key applications this way. In November we resumed meetings via Zoom. Due to lockdown the number of major schemes coming through has been low, some of the key/contentious schemes that were considered are:

  • Sherriff Street development/Shrub Hill – commented on this scheme and the significant changes proposed; the seemingly increased scale of this already over-large development and the proposals for housing blocks to be developed first – less small-scale business and leisure provision. However, revised scheme unfortunately approved by the City Planning Committee. Issues remain for traffic in the area.
  • Phoenix House, 42 Broad Street – a modern infill building at end of Broad Street which needs refurbishment but the proposal had a poor rear elevation treatment on prominent CA corner.
  • (Site of) The Bedroom Centre, City Walls Road – the principle of re development here is fine but another unacceptable over-large development on this important site within the conservation area.
  • Land at Darwin Avenue – much needed affordable housing but a rather dense and unimaginative scheme. Streetscape dominated by parking as with many we have seen recently and the relationship between housing and the green space retained is poor.
  • Ketch Field, Broomhall Way – development of 91 new affordable dwellings which is to be welcomed but the layout of the development, landscaping and the design of dwellings is not well considered or inspiring.
  • The Arches, Croft Walk – a number of small schemes which have come forward which are positive developments which bring back arches into use and use similar glass fronts to already refurbished arches – good consistency).
  • Land including and between Gheluvelt Park – a positive scheme which will provide much needed pedestrian and cycle connection across the river to the north and the design of the bridge reflects that of the Sabrina and Diglis Bridges further down-stream.
  • Conservation area appraisals – the City has continued on its programme of updating and revising the appraisal documents for the city’s conservation area, with Field Terrace being approved in February. The new proposed Park Avenue Conservation Area had boundaries revised and went out again for consultation. In the summer there was a general consultation questionnaire open for the Historic City Conservation Area which members were encouraged to contribute to. No appraisal document is yet out for consultation.
  • 20/00649/FUL – Lowesmoor Wharf, Lowesmoor. We have heard that a significant proposal has come in for Lowesmoor Basin comprising a large number of dwellings (far higher than that proposed in the SWDP) in a range of 6,7,9 and a 12 storey block. Buildings along Lowemoor/Bridge Street would be demolished including Vesta Tilley House and the Bridge Inn. Having looked at the proposal, this is an appalling scheme which would do great harm to the city and we feel that the Society needs to make a strong stand against this. We will be drafting a full response objecting to the scheme, in addition to our initial objection lodged on the planning application website and comments we will make via CAP. Key national heritage organisations have also sent in letters of objection (Historic England and SAVE) and groups such as the Georgian and Victorian Society have been contacted for comment.

Dr Heather Barrett

Planning Panel Chair, on behalf of the Panel

November 2020.

Worcester Civic Society: Planning Panel Report to the AGM November 2019

During the last year the Panel has continued its consideration of, and comment on, key strategic policy documents affecting the development of the city in the future. It also considered individual major developments and smaller developments affecting listed buildings and conservation areas in the city through its engagement with the Conservation Advisory Panel (CAP).

Planning Policies

1; South Worcestershire Development Plan (SWDP) Review – ‘Preferred Options’ public consultation from Monday 4th November to Monday 16th December 2019.

The SWDP was adopted in February 2016 and the South Worcestershire Councils are required to complete a review every five years. The SWDP Review will cover the period to 2041.  This current consultation sets out the Councils’ draft policies and identifies the sites which they think should be developed for housing, employment and mixed uses. The proposal is for an additional 14,000 homes in South Worcestershire by 2041. In the city boundary there are some small sites carried forward for housing and a few more proposed but the majority of growth is concentrated in three new strategic growth areas at Parkway, Throckmorton, and Rushwick, located around or abutting current or new railway stations.

The Society’s Planning Panel will be holding an open meeting in the Hive (Meeting Room 6) on Thursday 5th December 10.30am – 12.30pm which members are welcome to attend to input their views. Alternatively members can email their views to the Chair of the Planning Panel Dr Heather Barrett (h.barrett@worc.ac.uk). 

This is a large document, and the Planning Panel are asking that you focus on the following key issues of relevance to the city in order to provide feedback:

  1. Housing related issues including housing needs, scale and location of provision, and quality (size, sustainable design, etc.);
  2. Retail and employment issues including scale, location and range of sites;
  3. Transport in terms of coping with the scale and location of change, and particularly the need to increase use of non-car modes, reduce pollution, and address climate change;
  4. Green infrastructure provision in existing and new areas, together with community and health facilities;
  5. Historic environment and design issues, including the role of the city centre and opportunities for improvement.

 However, if there are other issues you think we need to respond to then please do pass these on.

 Members can view the SWDP documents and make comments on-line at:

https://swdp-consult.objective.co.uk/portal/swdp_review_preferred_options

2; City Centre Masterplan

The final version of the plan was adopted by the City council in July and is now published on the city council website: https://www.worcester.gov.uk/masterplan. The final version was not much changed from the original, with minor revisions arising from the consultation report published in December last year (some wording changes and revisions to car parking and the ideas for Hylton Road realignment at Cripplegate Park).

Whilst the Masterplan is an advisory, rather than statutory, planning document, elements of it may go into the revised South Worcestershire Development Plan (SWDP), as was the case with the previous Masterplan document. Consequently, Panel members continued to scrutinise and evaluate the proposals for each of the city’s ‘quarters’ identified in the Masterplan (Riverside, Shrub Hill/Canal-side and Historic Core).  We have continued to develop our ideas for the riverside; not having a cathedral footbridge; retaining and enhancing public open space along the riverside at Copenhagen Street and Croft Road and retaining important views of the railway viaduct, with no dense high-rise building development as proposed and we presented these ideas at the Society’s 60th Anniversary Conference in October. 

We have also developed ideas for the Shrub Hill/canal area, with ideas for improving traffic movement to and around the area, ideas for canal-side housing and mixed use development and also ideas for the best site for a transport interchange at Shrub Hill, with further development ideas depending on whether Elgar House removed or not. For the historic city, ideas have yet to be fully explored, but key issues are the development of the low-line (a good idea/support), King Street Car Park (not the right place for a car park and would be better developed as part of the city’s cultural/heritage offer?), Corn Market/City Walls Road a key space for redevelopment and traffic calming/improved pedestrian realm, Crowngate/Blackfriars – how this might be redeveloped and need for car park in the area and a transport interchange). Transport circulation improvements are key to a lot of the traffic calming/public realm improvements suggested.

3; Worcestershire Passenger Transport Strategy 2019-30  

We sent in a consultation response to this document (dealing principally with bus service provision in the county) in September. The Panel’s overall views was that this was a rather bland and uninspiring document, largely just setting out the County Council’s statutory obligations and procedures for making decisions on priorities for spending. The document did not really address current deficiencies in public transport service and infrastructure provision, or the significant challenges to be faced over the next 10 years with the proposed growth in housing and potential for increased congestion. Key concerns we identified were the need to provide more concrete detail in terms of key priorities and strategies to achieve these, along with the need for mechanisms for better partnership working between City and County, and with commercial operators and developers in terms of providing funding for improvements and infrastructure development and upgrades. A key issue is the need to tackle city car parking and revisit the idea of park and ride for the city and make it work, as in other historic towns and cities we know about. Equally, there is a need to develop a comprehensive plan for the integration of services (in terms of things such as tickets and timetables) and improvement to the provision of interchange facilities, in Worcester City centre particularly.

The Panel remain concerned about the state of transport planning for the city and note that although the Masterplan has been published, the City Centre Transport Plan has not yet been published (although the Local Transport Plan 4 indicated that it would be as soon as the Masterplan was adopted). As noted above, consideration of congestion and pollution issues, traffic flow around the city and transport infrastructure provision are key to Worcester’s future development and the successful implementation of planned policies. We also highlighted these issues and concerns in a presentation at the Society’s 60th Anniversary Conference in October.

Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas 

During 2018, CAP commented on a wide range of applications, from major schemes to applications for new signage and shopfronts. We continue to review and monitor the impact that our comments have on decision making on schemes within the city. Some of the key/contentious schemes that were considered are:  

  • Old Northwick Farm, Northwick Road: existing permission for houses – revised denser scheme for affordable housing.
  • Pope Iron Road: 8 new houses – issue of loss of employment land, number of homes and relationship to other buildings in the street.
  • Corner Silver Street and Lowesmoor: consent refused for extra story on scheme (existing permission for 5 storey scheme – of poor design for this important corner site).
  • Old Infirmary, Silver Street CAP visit – excellent refurbishment of this historic timber framed building to the rear for serviced holiday apartment rents with may important features retained and enhanced. Felt it should be recommended for an award.
  • Former Images night club, The Butts – demolition and new 100 bedroom 7 storey student residence – too much and important site needs consideration (Historic England feedback).
  • Sherriff Street development – details of the new build blocks in the approved outline scheme. 5 large blocks which appear of poor design, including a car park and a bridge across to Shrub Hill station.
  • Conservation area appraisals – documents for city conservation areas have continued to be reviewed and ‘refreshed’ this year with the appointment of Rebecca Barnett to replace Julia Shaduwa. Article 4 direction was approved for Shrubbery Avenue Conservation Area in May, Field Terrace draft conservation area appraisal out for consultation in November, revised documents for new area covering Park Avenue, Barbourne and revisions to the Riverside conservation area out for consultation in December. Noted that next year further areas, including the Historic City will be considered.

Dr Heather Barrett, Planning Panel Chair

November 2019

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