Former Fire Station land: submission to Planning Inspectorate

The owners of the former Fire Station land have appealed against refusal of planning permission to allow a supermarket (Sainsburys) and other developments on the land. The Town Council has made the submission below to the Planning Inspectorate, making the case that the refusal of planning permission was the correct decision.

  1. Hebden Royd Town Council ('the town council') is an elected local council that represents three distinct but inter-related areas: Cragg Vale, Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd. It is a statutory consultee in the planning process. Its approach is to provide responsible and informed feedback to the local planning authority (LPA)  guided by planning law and the national planning policy framework (NPPF) and an awareness of commercial realities and local conditions. It tries to set these in a wider economic and social context to ensure that the peculiar factors that underlie the area's largely successful regeneration are strengthened by planning decisions. In addition to being a representative body, it also owns and manages the local cinema and so is an economic actor in the town.
  2. This document was written by the chair of the council, and the Mayor of Hebden Royd, Councillor Jonathan Timbers, who represents the ward in which the application is sited. He has experience of commercial development and law and is a qualified solicitor, though he is not acting in that capacity in this submission. He is also an unpaid director of Hebden Bridge partnership which brings together the voluntary sector and local businesses to discuss the town's future development. He does not practice locally, but is employed by a national regulatory body in a policy role.
  3. The town council has also initiated a neighbourhood plan, with the surrounding parishes of Blackshawhead, Wadsworth, Heptonstall and Erringden. Calderdale, the LPA, has designated the areas covered by the town and parish councils as a neighbourhood plan area. The author is also the chair of the joint parish Neighbourhood Plan committee. Discussions about the neighbourhood plan are at an early stage and it is unlikely that they constitute material considerations for the purpose of this application or, if they do, that much weight can be attached to them. However, they may still be relevant to the inspector because they may highlight matters that are relevant to the presumption in favour of sustainable development under the NPPF.
  4. The appeal helpfully draws the scope of the discussion around the application very widely. The town council is happy to adopt the same approach, particularly relating the appeal to over-riding principles in the LPA's Unitary Development Plan ('UDP') and the NPPF presumption in favour of sustainable development, as these lie at the heart of our continuing opposition to the application.
  5. We believe that in considering these matters, the inspector will find a brief history of the regeneration of Hebden Bridge and description of the economic factors that make the whole of Hebden Royd a model for sustainability in a globalised economy helpful in determining this appeal.
  6. The area of Hebden Royd constitutes three separate but complementary areas. Cragg Vale is a relatively wealthy rural village, with a very active voluntary community, several pubs and a church. It includes farms and wild moorland, as well as a local brewery and developing business parks. Mytholmroyd is a major centre of employment, with a business park that employs several thousand people and is the UK base of an international legal publisher and professional web-based information provider. It also has a vibrant voluntary sector, farmland, pubs, cafes and eateries. Its retail offer includes a Sainsbury's similar to the one being proposed. Hebden Bridge is a former mill town, which has regenerated largely because of an influx of small businesses and commuters benefitting from the semi-rural location, the diverse retail offer and the active arts and entertainment scene. Recently, there has been an increase in employment in creative industries, mainly in the form of sole traders offering business services, such as web and graphic design. Notwithstanding this, there are still substantial numbers of people employed in manufacturing and other trades. The current application seeks to take advantage of that regeneration rather than develop and reinforce it.
  7. The Calder Valley is very narrow around Hebden Bridge which has very limited amounts of flat land and by extension, parking. It is already difficult to drive around, as the roads are narrow and car ownership and use means that on-street parking is extensive. The Valley Road site is the only substantial site adjacent to the centre which is not yet built on. Much of the town was constructed up the slopes of the valley. There is only one road through the town and the topography of the valley makes a by-pass impracticable. Congestion is inevitable and the town's regeneration increases pressure on available space. Consequently, achieving the right balance is fundamental to sustaining economic development.
  8. Valley Road and the surrounding area is not part of Hebden Bridge's central business district, which consists of the area around Bridge Gate, Crown Street and Albert Street, and Market Street, which stretches down the A646, and has had difficulties in the past with shop closures. Given this history, Hebden Bridge has proved to be surprisingly resilient to the financial crash of 2007/8 and subsequent slow recovery. It seems likely that the increasing number of private sector creative industry workers and commuters have offset the decline in spending power of public sector employees and trades people, who have arguably found the last few years increasingly challenging. Clearly, demographic changes continue to drive Hebden Bridge's  economic sustainability, but these changes are not sufficient to guarantee success if the delicate balance between people and place that has made Hebden Bridge so successful to date is upset.
  9. One of the key developments in improving the town infrastructure since approval of the 2007 application for development of the site has been the town hall annex which lies at the bottom of Valley Road. It has encouraged a trade in wedding parties, become a centre for local festivals but perhaps more importantly hub for creative businesses which represent a new and thriving sector of activity in the town. Unfortunately, it removed 20 car parking spaces from its centre, whilst increasing journeys to and from the area. This was offset by the car parking on the Valley Road site. Any consideration of site development and congestion has to take into account the cumulative impact of these changes, including the removal of the car park on the Valley Road site. In this regard, the town council therefore endorses the reasoning of Mr Anthony Rae in his submission.
  10. Both parking and congestion are on-going and related issues for the town. Local traders are extremely concerned about the limited provision of parking and believe this acts as a brake on the town's development (2). There is permission for a hotel and supermarket, of a size large enough to compete with the local co-op, on Mytholm fields on the Todmorden side of town. This will provide additional parking, including for the Church Lane area of town, which becomes very congested, particularly during the school run, but will probably not affect the area in the centre of town, which is about 10-15 minutes walk away, along a very busy road, with poor pedestrian access. In any event, the developer has not started construction work and there is no definite prospect that it will. On the other side of town, there are plans under development to extend the station car park and open it up to general visitors, but nothing has been agreed as yet. Both of these developments have been mooted because parking is seen as a problem (1)
  11. The success of the area and its economic viability and diversity depends on dealing with the pressures of development sensibly. Obviously, the neighbourhood plan must consider the future development of Valley Road and whether it can sustain increasing retail activity without causing decline in the main retail areas of town, particularly Market St. Congestion is central to this discussion, as is getting the mix between different uses right.
  12. Turning to the appeal statement, the town council believe that it is poorly written and the reasoning is faulty. It inaccurately represents the UDP in the following ways:
    1. The underlying principles in GP1 also refers to the need to achieve traffic reductions and safety and security issues
    2. The sequential test GP2 mentioned in the appeal statement would usually not be applied to a store of this size and location and the comments are therefore irrelevant.
    3. Policy GP4 mentioned in the appeal statement is redlined in the existing copy of the UDP available on the LPA's website
    4. Policy GS1 is relevant because the retail strategy is relates to the reasons for refusal as 'existing centres will be maintained to ensure that they remain attractive to shoppers and visitors'. A congested centre will not be so attractive.
    5. It does not mention policy GBE1: '[to] create roads, footpaths and public spaces that are attractive and safe', which relates to the reasons for refusal
    6. It ignores policy GT4 which sets out the matters that should be addressed in the transport statement.
    7. It omits to mention UDP guiding principles and key themes at 3.6 and 3.7, which predate, but strongly reflect, the NPPF's presumption for sustainable development. Key to these is ensuring that developments contribute to 'safe, sustainable and liveable communities'. Given the development pressures on the town, it is difficult to see how this is the case.
    8. It fails to acknowledge that the retail aspects of this application is of a different scale  and order from the two small shops that previously obtained permission but that in any event the dynamics of the town has changed substantially since then, as a result of the construction of the town hall annex. The town council endorses the arguments made about this by Mr Anthony Rae in his submission
  13. The town council respectfully submits that the appeal should be determined, in part, through understanding the grounds for refusal in context of the UDP as a whole, as indeed the developer's appeal statement suggests.
  14. The inspector must decide if there is sufficient reason to set the LPA's decision to refuse the application aside. We hope that we have shown that the application as it stands is not likely to add significantly to the economic development of the town, and therefore cannot rely on the presumption in favour of sustainable development. Although we dispute this, the appeal's presumption that the development will not add significantly to traffic underlines this. Rather, we think that the increased traffic it will cause in light of the overall decline in parking spaces, and the greater focus of traffic in and out, and along, the site, will worsen the town's infrastructure and undermine its economic viability. Our reasoning in this regard is once again very similar to Mr Anthony Rae's and we commend his detailed traffic analysis to you, which supports our arguments. In particular, we agree with his reasoning in dismissing the counter-factual claim that the development will increase parking spaces. In addition, we wish to point out that the appellant's traffic statement explicitly disagrees with the Road Safety Audit that said that further on street parking spaces would be lost as a result of goods traffic to the store (3). Looking at the tight corners and level of on-street parking, we think that further parking spaces must be lost to cope with the congestion the store will cause and agree with the Road Safety Audit.
  15. We have also considered whether it would be possible for the appellant to argue material considerations against congestion. Our thinking has been guided by a number of precedents, most notably Lidl UJ GmbH v Rhondda Cynon Taf BC [2015] 2015 PAD 18. The following questions are the essence of the argument:
    1. Would trips be shared?
    2. Would congestion be offset by reductions in traffic flow elsewhere?
    3. Would congestion coincide with peak retail periods?
  16. As Mr Rae has demonstrated, this development is likely to generate new journeys. However, the convenience store nature of the development is unlikely to lessen the need for major shopping trips to happen outside of town or reduce demand for supermarket deliveries. The town council shares Mr Rae's scepticism that the promise that deliveries will occur before 10am and after 5pm in practice but in any event, they now seem to be timed to co-incide with rush hours and school runs in a very busy part of town. Accordingly, we submit that the answers to those three questions are 'No, it would generate new journeys', 'No' and 'Not reliably so but in any event it would cause congestion at rush hours'.
  17. The town council hopes that we have helped the inspector to put this appeal in the wider context of the town and its potential for viable development. We think that the appeal should be turned down because it will harm that development and add significantly to congestion around Valley Road, undermining road safety.
  18. Finally, if the inspector is minded, against the town council's advice, to permit this development, further consideration should be given to the design of the store, including the loading bays, so that visual amenity is not lost in the conservation area. This also applies to signage and other matters to be dealt with by conditions.

(1) For instance, Hebden Bridge Partnership's Action Plan: 20 20 Vision states "The lack of adequate coach parking for visitors to Hebden Bridge has been identified as discouraging some walking parties who would otherwise visit".

(2) Parking in Hebden Bridge merits its own discussion thread in Tripadvisor. Last year, the first item for discussion of the reformed Hebden Bridge Business Forum was about the need to improve parking. (HebWeb News)

(3) Paragraph 4.7 says "The Road Safety Audit did suggest that the on street parking bays at either end of Regent Street and the relocated spaces on Hangingroyd Lane should be omitted from the scheme, to give additional room for commercial vehicles to manoeuvre, in the event that parked vehicles overhang the proposed parking spaces. This would result in the loss of four additional on street spaces."

Added: Friday, 24 April 2015