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District Plan

Chapter 2: Town Wide Policies - A Strategy for the District Plan

2.1 INTRODUCTION

2.1.1 The key issues which the overall strategy for the District Plan must address are:
(a) explicitly for the first time, sustainability;
(b) those matters which the County Structure Plan Review 1998 (the Structure Plan) emphasises and are relevant to Stevenage;
(c) government guidance;
(d) those issues which the Borough Council considers important in terms of land use planning policies; and
(e) those issues identified as important through public consultation.

2.1.2 Policies relating to issues of town-wide significance are set out in this chapter. Policies relating to specific land allocations and specific topics are set out in the following chapters.

2.1.3 A key element of this District Plan is the incorporation of the principles of sustainable development into the policies of the plan. Sustainable development was defined by the World Commission on Environment and Development (Brundtland definition) as:

“Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

The government has set out its approach to sustainable development in “A Better Quality of Life – a Sustainable Development Strategy for the UK”. The strategy is based on 4 objectives:

What this means for Stevenage is addressed in section 2.2.

2.1.4 Being the first New Town, Stevenage is at the forefront of creation of planned settlements. It provides opportunities for housing, leisure, employment and retailing close to home to meet peoples’ needs. The housing areas are based on neighbourhoods with everyday facilities within a short walking distance. It has an extensive segregated cycle way network that reduces reliance on the car for journeys within the town. There are facilities for public transport (bus and rail) which converge in the town centre and this again helps to reduce dependency on the private car. All of these are important factors in providing a good quality of life for residents in the town whilst minimising the impact on the world’s non-renewable resources.

2.1.5 The main objectives which must be addressed by the town-wide strategy are:
(a) to provide land for a wide range of development requirements and facilities to meet local needs - for housing (including affordable housing), employment, shopping, social, community and leisure uses;
(b) to provide a framework for the Stevenage West development;
(c) to maintain and enhance the urban structure of the town in terms of the built form, the natural environment and the open spaces whilst providing development opportunities;
(d) to maintain the neighbourhood structure of the town and thus the local service provision within each neighbourhood including open space, social, community and leisure facilities and local shopping;
(e) to maintain and enhance the sub-regional role of the town and particularly the town centre, thus providing a wide range of shopping and leisure facilities;
(f) to maintain and enhance the quality of the environment; and
(g) to reduce the need to travel and to make the use of passenger transport, cycling and walking more attractive than the use of private motorised transport.

2.1.6 Sustainability is at the heart of the strategy. Within the elements of the town-wide strategy set out in (a) to (g) above there is obviously a need to provide a balance between protecting the environment and ensuring that local needs are met. It is the purpose of this plan to ensure that this balance is maintained. The precautionary principle may need to be applied. It should not however be applied automatically if there is uncertainty about the effect of a proposal. Government advice in respect of the precautionary principle contained in “A Better Quality of Life”, is that there are no hard and fast rules on when to apply the principle. One risk may be so serious that it is not worth living with. Alternatively, society may be prepared to live with a risk because of the benefits it brings. The full definition of the precautionary principle is included in the appendices to this plan, Appendix C.

2.1.7 The development promoted in the Structure Plan at Stevenage West lies partly within the Borough of Stevenage and partly in the District of North Hertfordshire. One of the major considerations of the County Council in identifying this site, and supported by the Examination In Public (EIP) Panel, was the suitability of this location for a strategic housing allocation and the opportunities for a sustainable form of development integrated with Stevenage. Policies throughout this plan apply to the development and these are supplemented by specific policies in the Stevenage West chapter.

2.1.8 In all cases, policies in the plan should be read in conjunction with all other relevant policies. For ease of use only, specific cross references are identified , but this does not imply that these are the only linked policies or links here are stronger than elsewhere in the plan.

2.2 SUSTAINABILITY AND MEETING LOCAL NEEDS

Sustainability

2.2.1 It is clear that sustainable development is not just about protecting the environment, it also includes economic and social aspects and it relates to meeting needs now and in the future. It needs to be considered holistically, as objectives can be interdependent and conflicting. It also requires a long term commitment.

2.2.2 Stevenage’s vision of sustainable development is based on the objectives set out in paragraph 2.1.3 and has been developed from the aims set out in the Structure Plan (these together with Policy 1 of the Structure Plan are included in Appendix D). These aims are wide reaching and it should be recognised that that they go beyond what can be achieved through a District Plan. Sustainable development requires co-ordination between a range of policy areas including the Local Agenda 21 work.

The aims are to:
(a) reduce demand for resources (including land and water);
(b) make the most efficient use of renewable and non-renewable resources (including land);
(c) increase the use of renewable resources where it would not be detrimental to other aims;
(d) maintain and enhance biological diversity;
(e) mitigate the possible causes and effects of climate change;
(f) increase the rate of carbon fixing;
(g) reduce pollution and the effects it has on ecosystems and human health;
(h) maintain critical national and local environmental assets, which would be impossible or very difficult to replace;
(i) maintain and where possible increase stocks of less critical environmental assets;
(j) improve the overall quality of life, meeting housing, employment, health, education, recreation and other human needs with a safe, healthy, diverse, and pleasant environment;
(k) increase community awareness and involvement;
(l) improve equality of opportunity in economic and social terms;
(m) to take the precautionary principle into account where the potential for damage to the environment is uncertain and significant.

These aims have been translated into the land use objectives which are included in individual chapters.

Local needs

2.2.3 One of the main elements of the town-wide strategy is to meet local needs, not only in the provision of housing, jobs, leisure, community, shopping and transport services but also in terms of protecting the environment. To meet these needs this plan will guide and allocate the scarce resource of land as effectively as possible.

2.2.4 As the physical development of the town is limited by its administrative boundary it is essential that a balance is maintained between competing land uses. This plan specifically allocates land to meet local needs, this is based on the presumption that land and buildings already existing in particular uses will, in the main, continue in such uses. This does not mean that changes to the use of land or buildings not allocated in this plan will in all cases be refused. However, it is necessary to ensure that in the main existing land uses are maintained and that changes other than those specifically allocated in this plan should be minimised.

Comprehensive Settlement Appraisals

2.2.5 Achieving more sustainable development will require the involvement of local communities. Policy 3 in the Structure Plan, which this council supports, encourages “comprehensive settlement appraisals”, as a way of improving the involvement of communities. In the development of this plan a considerable amount of public consultation has been undertaken through focus groups, market research and the “Key Issues for Public Consultation” document. This accords with the Comprehensive Settlement Appraisal approach. A definition of a Comprehensive Settlement Appraisal is included in Appendix E.

POLICY TW1: SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

All activities and development in Stevenage will be required to be carried out consistently with the principles of sustainable development and the general aims set out in policy 1 of the Hertfordshire County Structure Plan Review 1991 - 2011.

2.3 STRUCTURAL OPEN SPACES

2.3.1 A major element in the strategy of the District Plan is the maintenance of the urban structure of the town. In addition, the development at Stevenage West will need to be integrated with the existing town to ensure that the inherent quality of the environment of Stevenage is maintained and enhanced.

2.3.2 The development of the town was based on broad landscape and open space policies. The Master Plans incorporated existing natural land forms and landscaping into the town as parks, school playing fields, allotments, informal open spaces and woodlands. These areas remain important features and need to be maintained and enhanced to ensure their continuing role in the urban structure of the town. Several of the open spaces also serve to alleviate the risk of flooding, storing and controlling surface water run off. Many of the elements which make up the urban structure of the Town are protected by specific policies in this plan. These are set out in the Environment and Leisure and Recreation chapters.

2.3.3 However, there are other landscape features and open spaces which contribute to the urban structure of the town but which may not be of major significance individually. These features include grass verges, the cemeteries and informal open spaces which are incorporated into the design of the residential areas. It is necessary to protect these important features.

2.3.4 There is also a need to accommodate new development within the town, and at increasing densities. The importance of this aim needs to be balanced against the need to protect open spaces and maintain the environment and avoid over development. The urban structure of the town should not be compromised.

2.3.5 There will be specific cases where individual elements of the urban structure serve more than one purpose. An example is the water meadows in the town which are important areas of open space, of nature conservation value and essential to the operations of the water authorities. Where this is the case, it is not the purpose of policy TW2 to restrict the ability of the statutory undertaker to fulfil their obligations in relation to surface water management or other operational requirements. However, should such areas of open space become surplus to operational requirements, their importance in terms of the urban structure of the town will still be vital and their loss will be resisted.

POLICY TW2: STRUCTURAL OPEN SPACE

Development proposals which have an unacceptable adverse impact on the structural open spaces of the town will not be permitted. When assessing the impact that a development proposal may have, the following criteria will be used:

(a) the size, form, function and character of the structural open space affected by the development proposal; and
the impact of the development proposal on the structural open space.

The structural open spaces covered by this policy are:

I. Principal open spaces (policy L10)
II. Fairlands Valley park (policy L11)
III. Green links (policy EN10)
IV. Wildlife sites (policy EN17)
V. Woodlands (policy EN12)
VI. Ancient lanes and hedgerows (policy EN15)
VII. River corridors and water meadows (policy EN32)
VIII. School playing fields (policy L12 and L13)
IX. Childrens play space (policy L14)
X. Allotments (policy L19)
XI. Cemeteries
XII. Highway verges
Xlll. Small informal open spaces.

Policies L10, L11, L12, L13, L14, L19, EN11, EN13, EN18, EN16, EN32,

2.4 NEIGHBOURHOODS

2.4.1 The development of the town was based on the neighbourhood principle. It provides residents with local shopping, services, leisure, social and community facilities within their immediate vicinity. It is part of the strategy of this plan to ensure that the principle of neighbourhoods is retained and such facilities continue to be provided.

2.4.2 Since their inception, lifestyle changes have altered the role of neighbourhood centres significantly. Specific policies on the provision of services and community facilities are in the relevant chapters, but in general, the Borough Council will resist the loss of any part of the neighbourhood provision unless it is satisfied there is no local need for the facility. The Borough Council will wish to ensure that any loss of community or social facilities on a town-wide or neighbourhood basis does not have a detrimental effect on the provision of that service.

POLICY TW3: EXISTING NEIGHBOURHOOD FACILITIES

Development proposals will not be permitted which involve the loss of neighbourhood facilities, except where it is proven that there is no need for the facility in its existing or any other social, community, education or leisure use.

POLICY TW4: NEW NEIGHBOURHOOD CENTRES

Major new residential developments should provide a neighbourhood centre or enhance existing provision at an appropriate scale to the community they serve.

2.5 THE SUB - REGIONAL ROLE

2.5.1 The town has a sub-regional role in terms of shopping and leisure services. This means that there is a wider range, type and size of service related to shopping and leisure uses than would usually be provided in relation to the size of the town. In performing this role it therefore provides facilities for a larger number of people than those living in the town and enables residents of Stevenage to have a wider choice and range of services. To a certain extent the town centre’s sub-regional role has changed over the past twenty years with new forms of retailing and developments in nearby towns. The council is keen to ensure that its sub-regional role is maintained and enhanced where necessary.

2.5.2 The role of the town as a sub-regional centre has implications in terms of services to be provided and car parking requirements to maintain this role and these will be considered in detail in later chapters. However, in general terms the Borough Council is committed to maintaining and enhancing the town's sub-regional role.

2.5.3 Over the past decade the town's sub-regional role has been threatened by the development of other sub-regional centres, as well as improved transport and changes to shopping patterns. This has resulted in people travelling further to shop, contrary to the principles of sustainability. The council is committed to maintaining and enhancing the town's sub-regional role and promoting town centre regeneration as set out in detail in the Town Centre and Retail chapter.

2.5.4 As the wide range of companies located in the town’s employment areas and other commercial areas provide jobs not only for Stevenage’s residents but also for people living in the wider area around the town, Stevenage is also a sub regional employment centre. The Borough Council will seek to maintain and enhance the Town’s sub-regional employment role where this will lead to sustainability benefits, particularly in reducing the use of private vehicles. The Employment chapter sets out how the plan will contribute towards this objective.

2.5.5 To assess whether a development proposal would have an unacceptable adverse effect on the environment, the importance of the development to the sub-regional role of the town will need to be considered against the quality of the environment and whether any features of particular merit would be effected.

POLICY TW5: SUB - REGIONAL ROLE OF STEVENAGE

Development proposals which enhance and support the role of the town as a sub-regional centre for shopping, employment and leisure will be permitted subject to there being no unacceptable adverse effect on the environment.

2.6 THE ENVIRONMENT

2.6.1 Detailed environmental issues are dealt with in chapter 7 of this plan. However there are two general environmental issues which are key elements in the strategy for this plan. One concerns the protection of open land around the edges of the town and relates to the definition of the inner Green Belt boundary around Stevenage. The second relates to the need to safeguard the environment by ensuring that where development does take place, certain standards and criteria are adhered to, thus providing the highest possible standard of development.

Green Belt

2.6.2 The general area of the Metropolitan Green Belt is defined in the Structure Plan and extends around London for some 12-15 miles, with limited extensions along the main radial transport corridors. One of these radial extensions is along the A1(M) and extends northwards beyond Stevenage. This means that the Green Belt surrounds Stevenage, although the main urban area is excluded.

2.6.3 PPG2 sets out the purposes for Green Belts as:
to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas;
to prevent neighbouring towns from merging into one another;
to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment;
to preserve the setting and special character of historic towns; and
to assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land.

2.6.4 In PPG2 the Government states that it attaches great importance to the Green Belt and reaffirms its primary characteristic as one of permanence and its protection as essential.

2.6.5 An adjustment to the Green Belt boundary is included in this plan and is referred to and explained in paragraphs 2.6.7 – 2.6.9. For the purposes of controlling development in the Green Belt, and in the Local Rural Areas, it is necessary to provide two general policies. The Green Belt policy is in accordance with that set out in Structure Plan Policy 5 and the criteria in PPG 2.

POLICY TW6: GREEN BELT

Within the green belt, except in very special circumstances, planning permission will not be granted for development for purposes other than:

(a) buildings for agriculture and forestry; or
(b) essential facilities for outdoor sport and outdoor recreation; or
(c) cemeteries; or
(d) limited extension, alteration or replacement of existing dwellings; or
(e) other uses which preserve the openness of the green belt and do not conflict with the purposes of including land in the green belt; or
(f) the re-use of buildings provided; the building is of a permanent and substantial construction and does not require major or complete reconstruction and; the building is of a form, bulk, and general design in keeping with its surroundings and; re-use would not have a materially greater impact than the present use on the openness of the green belt and the purposes of including land in the green belt and; it would not require extensive hardstanding or outdoor working and; it would not generate an unacceptable level of traffic and; would not be harmful to residential amenity.

Local Rural Areas

2.6.6 Local Rural Areas are shown on the Proposals Map at north Stevenage and at The Bury on Rectory Lane. The Local Rural Areas are to be safeguarded for meeting development needs other than uses that would be appropriate in the Green Belt. However, within the Local Rural Areas if development proposals for leisure, recreation, social and community needs come forward in the Plan period, the Borough Council will consider them in relation to meeting the needs of leisure, recreation, social and community needs in Stevenage.

POLICY TW7: LOCAL RURAL AREAS

Local rural areas are shown on the proposals map. In these areas planning permission will not be granted for development for purposes other than:

(a) buildings for agriculture and forestry use or the re-use and adaptation of existing redundant rural buildings in accordance with paragraphs 3.14 – 3.17 of PPG7; or
(b) essential facilities for outdoor sport and outdoor recreation; or
(c) cemeteries; or
(d) limited extensions, alteration or replacement of existing dwellings; or
(e) other uses appropriate to a rural area; or
(f) uses required to meet the needs of Stevenage for leisure, recreation, social and community needs including health care needs.

Green Belt Adjustments

2.6.7 It is part of the District Plan process to review the Green Belt boundaries. The context of these changes comes from Structure Plan Policy 5 which states that “Boundaries of the Green Belt around towns may be reviewed in local plans for the purposes of limited peripheral development…”. The Structure Plan also states that it will be necessary to review the Green Belt boundary to the west of the town which “will take account for the long term possibility of a total development of 10,000 dwellings”.

2.6.8 It is also necessary to ensure that any proposals affecting the Green Belt boundary review should be related to a timescale which is longer than that adopted for other aspects of the plan, i.e. beyond 2011. Where adjustments to the Green Belt boundary are made they should, where possible, use readily recognisable features such as roads, streams and woodland edges.

2.6.9 This plan proposes a Green Belt boundary review in the following part of the town, to take into account the longer term development needs of Stevenage:

(a) west of the A1(M) to accommodate the strategic housing development.

Environmental Safeguards

2.6.10 The Borough Council is concerned to ensure that the quality of the town is maintained and enhanced in terms of the standard of development. The current Environmental Safeguards will be extensively reviewed, in consultation with the public to take account of sustainability aims and criteria together with the Government’s revised Planning Policy Guidance regarding transport and access. For the purposes of this plan, the Environmental Safeguards Development Control Standards and Criteria shall be referred to in all other policies only as the Environmental Safeguards.

POLICY TW8: ENVIRONMENTAL SAFEGUARDS

All development proposals will be required to comply with the Environmental Safeguards, Development Control Standards and other relevant Supplementary Planning Guidance.

2.6.11 Good design standards are equally important for all developments, from the householder who requires a small extension to their house, to the largest residential and employment developments. All developments must meet the standards and criteria set out in the Borough Council's most up to date Environmental Safeguards. These standards refer to such matters as privacy, overlooking and noise. Supplementary planning guidance will be prepared on sustainable design in Stevenage based on the work commissioned by the Hertfordshire Technical Chief Officers Association. This will provide more detailed guidance on specific design issues including safety and security, disabled access, and sustainable design including energy and water conservation.

POLICY TW9: QUALITY IN DESIGN

All forms of development will be required to meet a high standard of design including:
(A) Form of built development; and
(B) Elevational treatment; and
(C) Materials; and
(D) Integration with the urban fabric of the town and surrounding countryside; and
(E) Relationship between buildings and open space; and
(F) Other aspects of landscape design; and
(G) Relevant aspects of sustainable design.

Developers will be encouraged to submit a design statement in accordance with Annex A to Planning Policy Guidance Note 1 (PPG1), which should include an assessment of the proposal against the sustainable development checklist in appendix f) of this plan.

Supplementary Planning Guidance will be prepared on sustainable design and development proposals will be considered in relation to it.

2.6.12 The revised Environmental Safeguards will provide advice regarding how the layout and design of developments helps to prevent crime. The Borough Council has also introduced a scheme for closed circuit television (CCTV). It may be appropriate to require developments which include public access to contribute to a programme of security measures.

POLICY TW10: CRIME PREVENTION

Contributions will be sought from developments with public access towards a programme of appropriate measures to deter crime and improve safety and security.

Planning Requirements

2.6.13 The statutory framework for planning requirements is set out in Circular 1/97, “Planning Obligations”. Appendix B states:

“Properly used, planning obligations may enhance the quality of development and enable proposals to go ahead which might otherwise be refused…… When used in this way they can be key elements in the implementation of planning policies in an area.”

Individual chapters of this plan detail when obligations will be sought for specific purposes.

2.6.14 The Borough Council wishes to ensure that, where development is proposed, sufficient control can be exercised to safeguard the environment and amenities of the town. Developments often have effects or requirements that have impacts beyond the site. There may be additional pressure on facilities in the town resulting from (particularly large) developments. The effects from developments will be controlled by planning conditions and obligations. Obligations will only be sought where conditions cannot be used.

TW11: PLANNING REQUIREMENTS

Planning obligations will be sought that ensure that on and off site works, facilities, services, and other needs required by the development or to offset the impact on the environment and local amenity, that are fairly and reasonably related in scale and kind to the proposed development and which are necessary to granting of planning permission are provided or contributed to by the developer.

2.7 MONITORING AND REVIEW

2.7.1 The strategy, and the policies developed from it, will be monitored annually to assess whether the plan is meeting its aims and objectives and to identify any emerging issues. Indicators will be developed, and where possible targets and benchmarks will be set. The supply of housing land and changes in employment floorspace have been monitored on an annual basis in the past. Initially, the following will also be monitored; dwellings built on previously developed land; whether sites identified for a particular use are then developed for that use and how many departures are permitted; affordable housing; environmental assets; neighbourhood facilities, and whether the District Plan provides a framework for the Stevenage West development. These results will be used to assess whether parts of, or the whole of the plan, needs to be reviewed.

2.7.2 If significant changes need to be made to parts of the plan an alteration will be proposed, which will be made available for public consultation.