We have submitted our objection to Stevenage Borough Council on the Planning Application 22/00781/RMM for St Nicholas Meadow or as they prefer, the 'Country Park'. To read the details of our objection, and where we believe the council has failed to follow process, please click on the attachment at the bottom of the article.
Our petition SCRAP THE PLAN TO BUILD A CAR PARK ON FORSTER COUNTRY AND DO PROPER CONSULTATION has now reached 1,000 to force full Council consideration of our views. Please keep sharing WIDELY! More signatures will carry more weight in the debate. Thank you.
We have a suggested letter - see below using "Read More" button - for you to post on the SBC website to object to the Council's plan for a municipal park on Forster Country. You can cut and paste the letter directly into the 'comment' box. You do need to have registered to leave a comment and you may wish to amend 'I/we am/are' at the second paragraph.
I/we am/are writing to strongly object to the proposals to turn these heritage fields into a municipal inspired park that will include within it:
- a 50-car car park,
- a toilet block,
- a storage facility
- an electricity grounding station
- a ‘mound’ built from thousands of cubic meters of landfill from the neighbouring development site
- A 2.5km 3.5-meter wide ‘road’ around and through the fields
- And the placement of speed humps, bollards, litter, bins, steel height restrictions and a host of other urban artefacts throughout the countryside
The detailed plans for this overly designed urban park were developed with no public consultation by the Council and then conveyed as instructions to developers in a series of private meetings in late 2021 and early 2022.
The Council’s proposals do not respect heritage recommendations or environmental and biodiversity advice. They do not respect best practice on disability access and inclusion. They run in direct contravention of the council’s own plan to hit net zero targets on carbon emissions by 2030. They do not return the meadows to something that Forster himself would have recognised, as was promised when the outline planning application was approved.
We ask the Council to go back to drawing board and consult with us properly.
My/Our detailed comments on the planning application are set out below:
OBJECTIONS TO 22/00781/RMM – Country Park
NEW DEVELOPMENTS INCLUDED WITHIN THE RESERVED MATTERS APPLICATION [RMA]
The proposals due to be considered under reserved matters [RM] are a significant departure from the original propositions for St Nicholas Meadows set out in the outline permission. There are several additions to the proposed development which were not included in the masterplan that formed the basis of the planning consent in 2020.
This is important because the restoration of the meadows was a key justification in the original planning application for allowing houses to be built elsewhere in the conservation area. The argument was that the harm caused by the houses would be balanced by the benefit of the restored meadows.
Obviously by adding a car park, toilet block, road, grounding station and host of other things into the remained of the conservation - more harm is being caused, not less.
Conservation matters are paramount, and material matters for the Planning and Development Committee to consider in their determination. The cumulative impact of additional harm to the conservation is reason enough to reject this planning application and we call upon the Committee to do just that
In addition to this, in our view, due process has not been followed in properly assessing both the need for these developments or the impact of their harm for reasons explained in greater detail below:
NEW CAR PARK AND AMENITY FACILITY WITHIN THE CONSERVATION AREA
Need Not Established
Planning policy demands that any development in a conservation area requires a clear justification. No compelling justification has been given for the car park by either the developer or the Council. In fact, the Active Travel Plan/Framework that accompanied the Outline Planning Application made no reference to the car park or the need for one. Indeed, the whole thrust of that document was to reduce car travel, not encourage it. What changed? The original plans objectives were to:
- “Reduce the level of car traffic generated by the development.
- Provide a choice of travel modes for residents’, pupils, staff and visitors.
- Promote healthy lifestyles and sustainable, vibrant communities; and
- Encourage a permeable development which will promote walking and cycling trips on routes that are safe, logical, convenient, and attractive”.
Meanwhile, the Local Plan Policy NH8: North Stevenage Country Park envisaged at paragraph 14.54 “small scale developments which facilitate public access and use of this land […] and the need to maintain and enhance the conservation area will be supported”.
It cannot be inferred that this statement’s intended meaning was a 50-space asphalt car park and vandal proof toilet block built all to be built within the conservation area. Moreover, neither of these proposals could reasonably be described as ‘small’
According to the Office of National Statistics, 20,480 people live within 500 meters of the proposed Country Park. This number rises to 55,773 within 1000 meters. This is before the new residents move into the 800 new homes. Why does the best part of 60,000 people need a new car park to travel to Forster Country?
This is especially the case when the Council already own and operate a 40 car-park on the very edge of the proposed Country Park on Weston Road. It's a car park that is rarely used – why does the conservation area need another Council run Car Park? It does not.
If the need for the car park has not been established, then the Planning and Development Committee should reject its development within the Conservation Area.
Heritage assessments not undertaken
The planning application published to the Council website contains none of the heritage assessments (including analysis of verified views) that developments of this nature, in a conservation area and within the setting of grade 1 listed buildings would demand. Moreover plans appear to have been developed between Council Officials and Developers in private meetings on the 14th December 2021 and the 12th January 2022. The Council’s heritage team were not involved in these meetings and do not appear to have been involved in the development of the plans.
In summary, in respect of the car park –
The committee should refuse permission because:
- The justification for the development has not been made
- The active travel plan for the development has not been revised and so due process hasn’t been followed
- Due process in respect of heritage assessments has not been followed
THE CREATION OF A ‘LANDSCAPED MOUND’ MADE FROM 1000’s OF CUBIC METERS OF EXCESS SPOIL
Need not established and heritage assessments not undertaken
The RMA proposes to utilise ‘surplus cut and fill material arising from the development’ and to dump it to a height of 1.7 meters in what the RMA refers to as a ‘landscaped mound’ in the northern part of the conservation.
If agreed, the proposal will forever alter the landscape of the conservation as it would have been known to Forster. It causes unnecessary harm to one of the most attractive parts of the conservation that is already beautifully contoured for no other apparent benefit apart from reduce the cost of waste disposal for the developer. Moreover, it will cause significant excess harm to the conservation over the construction period of around a decade.
In respect of the mound –
The committee should refuse permission because:
- Heritage assessment of the impact to the conservation because of this ‘landscaped mound’ as due process demands
- There is no compelling justification.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF A 2.5 KILOMETRE 3.5-METER-WIDE ORBITAL “OPEN SPACE MULTI- PURPOSE PATH” & AN EXCESSIVLY URBAN APPROACH TO INCLUSIVE ACCESS FOR RURAL SPACES AND HISTORICALLY SIGNFICANT SITES THAT IS NOT IN LINE WITH NATIONAL BEST PRACTICE
The plan for St Nicholas Meadows is an over designed and unnecessarily urban one. It has been led by a municipal parks vision that is not focused on restoring the rural heritage and charm of the meadows. The most concerning feature of this is the inclusion of a 2.5-kilometre 3.5 meter-wide orbital “open space multi-purpose path” made from “self-binding gravel”. To all intents and purposes this is a road, and certainly from a planning perspective is a permanent structure that should be considered as having the same impact on the conservation area as if it were an actual road for the reason stated below.
The justification for the width of this road (set out in highways technical note 19-188) is so that Council maintenance and pickup trucks up to 5 meters in length can drive around the meadows. This is completely unnecessary and completely wrong for rural open space in a conservation area. Once again, heritage assessments of this road have not been undertaken.
Moreover, the Council and developers appear not to have used nationally recognised best practice when it comes to the design of inclusive access in a rural setting. For example, the Charity Paths for all (a charity established to improve access to parks and rural settings for people with disabilities) national guidance “Country Side for All – Good Practice Guide” specifies that in rural areas, access for mobility impaired users can be achieved through the use of non-permanent hard surface paths of a width of 1 to 1.2 meters with seating places in a frequency of 200-300 meters. Adopting this guidance would enable the Meadows to become fully accessible, without the over designed measures set out in this application.
In respect of the multi-purpose path and overall design -
The committee should refuse permission because:
- Proper heritage assessments have not been undertaken of the design of the Meadows or the heritage of the proposed multi-purpose path/road.
- National best practice guidance on inclusive access has not been followed leading to a significantly over-developed design.