Mr Chay Dempster
Spatial Planning and Economy Unit
CHN216 County Hall
26 May 2019
BISHOP’S STORTFORD SOUTH (BSS)
THE BOYS HIGH SCHOOL (TBSHS)
Your ref: PL/0095/19
- I am writing on behalf of the Bishop’s Stortford Civic Federation to object to this application. I should say at the outset that we object to the principle of developing the BSS site, but we recognise nevertheless that East Herts Council (EHDC) has resolved to grant planning permission for a mixed use development including a secondary school of up to 8 Forms of Entry (FE).
- In these circumstances, this application is redundant, but the applicant explains that it may be some time before the decision notice for BSS can be issued and so the County Council is making this application to itself because it has the power to do so. Nevertheless, if not redundant, we think this application is premature. If for any reason EHDC were unable to make a formal determination covering the whole of the site, then any permission granted by the County Council would necessarily be incapable of delivery. If permission were to be granted by EHDC, then it might contain terms and conditions which differed from those being contemplated under this application. Which permission would then take precedence?
- Leaving aside our objection to the principle of development here, we have specific objections to this proposal, assuming that BSS is developed broadly on the lines of the proposals already considered by EHDC. The grounds of our objection are education need and transport.
- The Education Planning Area (EPA) covering Bishop’s Stortford also includes Sawbridgeworth. The recently adopted District Plan for East Herts allocates a minimum of 4426 dwellings to Bishop’s Stortford and 500 to Sawbridgeworth. In the case of Bishop’s Stortford the declared allocation in the Plan is an understatement and the following need to be added to its total
118 dwellings in Southmill Road and South Street which were granted permission and completed during the consideration of the Plan but for some reason were never included in the housing total for the town.
30 dwellings in Rye Street currently under construction.
150 additional dwellings at St Michaels Hurst for which an application has been lodged but as yet no decision made.
c200 dwellings on sites which will become available at Bishop’s Stortford North as a result of the County Council’s decision to serve ASRs 3-5 of the development with a single 3 FE JMI school rather than with two smaller schools. (No applications have been made for these sites yet and so the eventual total may be higher).
Therefore, including smaller windfall developments, the total of new housing for Bishop’s Stortford can be expected to be a minimum of 5000 dwellings – ie 5500 for the area covered by the EPA.
- For purposes of planning secondary school places the County Council uses a metric of 500 new dwellings creating 1 FE of additional demand. The additional demand generated by new development within the EPA can therefore be expected to be 11 FE. Somewhat surprisingly the applicant’s Design and Access Statement (para 2.4) puts the housing total slightly lower at 5200 dwellings but the pupil yield a little higher at 12 FE.
- However, whichever figure is chosen, it relates to pupil demand arising from development within the boundary of the EPA. But for many years, because of its location and the quality of the schools within the EPA, about a third of the total demand for secondary school places arises from outside the EPA. In 2018 34% and in 2019 31% of admissions came from outside the County and in addition there will have been admissions from within the County who live outside the EPA. This share has remained constant with previous increases in school places and there is no reason to suppose that this external demand will tail off in the future. On the contrary, major developments are still taking place in Stansted Mountfitchet and Takeley, and Uttlesford’s Draft Local Plan proposes a string of new settlements along the A120.
- Moreover, EHDC’s District Plan includes a major new settlement in Hertfordshire, but outside the EPA, at Harlow North. While in due course this will no doubt include its own education provision, the County Council’s commissioning of new schools in Bishop’s Stortford North gives no grounds for confidence that this will occur in a timely manner. Construction of new homes is well under way and occupation has started, but the County Council has only recently embarked on the process of identifying a sponsor for the new schools which will have to be built and then take several years to provide education across the full age range. In the meantime, new residents have to send their children to existing schools (if they can find a place) and once they have done so, will no doubt want to send their siblings there too
- It would therefore be prudent to increase provision of new places by about a third within the EPA to cater for demand arising from outside it. Each school is its own admissions authority, and to refuse to admit children purely because they live in a different administrative area has been found to be unlawful discrimination. So there is little if any scope for massaging down demand by tinkering with admissions policies and the County Council ought therefore to expect to have to meet demand for at least an additional 15 FE of secondary school places within the EPA.
- The County Council’s actual plans fall well short of this requirement. For Bishop’s Stortford North, a 6 FE school is planned which, with the additional housing now in prospect, will be just sufficient to meet the demand generated by development in that area. The County Council has said that it would not be able to expand that school any further. EHDC’s planning resolution in respect of BSS includes a developer contribution of nearly £5m to enable the Herts and Essex School for Girls to expand from 6 to 8 FE. Although it will now have sufficient playing fields on a nearby site to support such an expansion, it is far from obvious that the school site itself and the road network surrounding it could support any more growth or that the developer contribution would come anywhere near funding it. To the best of our knowledge the Academy and its Trust have no plans for such an expansion.
- In the case of TBSHS, relocation of itself creates no new places at all. Indeed because the site it would vacate would also be used for housing it would exacerbate the shortfall in places. Expanding from its present size to 6 FE would absorb only a small amount of the demand which BSS would generate – and only if you are a boy. If it were to expand to 8 FE and the Herts and Essex School were to do the same, though this is highly questionable – see above – then a total of 10 additional FE would have been provided compared with a likely requirement of at least 15 FE.
- We accept that if the BSS development goes ahead a significant part of the site will be needed for educational purposes. However, the site which is the subject of this application is the only remaining one in the EPA on which a new school could be built. So rather than planning to fail to meet demand, which would be the inevitable consequence of approving this application, we suggest that the County Council should recognise the need to reserve the site for a new co-educational secondary school of 6-8 FE for which there will be more than enough demand. TBSHS should be redeveloped on its present site, perhaps sharing sports facilities with the new BSS school from which it will be only a short distance away.
- The applicant relies primarily on the transport assessment provided by Mayer Brown in relation to the BSS development as a whole, supplemented by one from Stonor, which concentrates mainly on the issues of the transport demand generated by the school in its new location. The assessment claims to reflect the impact of the school moving and its replacement with housing on its present site on the operation of the road network. However, no application has been submitted for the replacement housing, presumably because the applicant hopes that once the BSS site has been approved for development with whatever transport measures are required, this extra housing will simply be treated as having only a marginally incremental adverse impact. This salami slicing approach to avoid assessing the full impact of development is one with which we are all too familiar in Bishop’s Stortford and should not be allowed to go unchallenged on this occasion.
- It should also be noted that TBSHS has the most extensive geographical catchment area of all the Bishop’s Stortford schools. While it is just about within walking distance of the bus and train stations on its present site, the new location is too far away to walk to. This is likely to encourage more parents who rely on public transport provision at the moment (or whose children live near enough to walk there) to drive their children to school, particularly if they have children who attend more than one school in the town. Moreover, it is commonly the case that, however well conceived a school travel plan is at the outset (and TBSHS no doubt has one already) the effect wears off with rising car ownership and the intake of a new generation of pupils. These issues also point to the need for a fresh transport assessment.
- Carrying out a fresh transport assessment would also enable the many shortcomings in it which we have previously identified to be addressed. In summary, the ones relevant to this application are
The assessment appears to have been carried out before the adoption of the current local transport plan (LTP4) and of the District Plan and as a result makes no reference to the transport policies which are currently in force.
The assessment’s claim that there has been no increase in traffic growth at Hockerill junction over a four year period is either incorrect or predates the opening of an Aldi supermarket close to the junction. Traffic backing up on London Road as a result of congestion in the supermarket car park is a regular occurrence. Hockerill junction has been designated an Air Quality Management Area because of the pollution caused by traffic congestion.
The highway mitigation measures proposed comprise the relocation of a bus stop on London Road and the introduction of parking restrictions on London Road opposite the junction of Thorley Hill. It is hard to believe that this will have any more than a trivial impact on the additional traffic flows which the BSS development will generate. Moreover, it appears to be inconsistent with Condition 14 of EHDC’s permission (still under review) which contemplates a different set of traffic monitoring and mitigation measures.
The BSS developers are also proposing the introduction of bus priority measures (ie allowing buses to trigger favourable aspects on traffic lights). However, such measures are only effective where, as in Harlow, there is land available to create dedicated bus lanes which enable the buses to overtake queueing traffic. The road network from BSS to the train station and town centre has no room for additional bus lanes. Buses will be stuck in the same congestion as other traffic and will gain no advantage from triggering favourable traffic signals. This in turn calls into question the supposed benefits of the other soft transport measures (such as bus passes) which are intended to persuade people to get out of their cars.
The assessment appears to have assumed that traffic demand will be alleviated on the informal bypass of Pig Lane and Haymeads Lane/Beldams Lane as a result of a new link road currently under construction through the station goods yard. However, this assumption overlooks the fact that, on the insistence of Herts Highways, the link road is to be reserved purely for public service vehicles and will not be open to general traffic.
- This last point deserves a more detailed examination. Current levels of use of this informal bypass cause significant congestion on London Road. Close to the London Road junction there is a railway bridge on Pig Lane which is signal controlled because it is only wide enough for one line of vehicles in one direction at a time. The operation of this set of signals does not appear to have been modelled in the assessment and there are no proposals for controlling access into and out of Pig Lane from London Road. Pig Lane has no footpaths, numerous bends and other parts where the carriageway is too narrow for traffic to pass. It is wholly unsuitable for its current level of use and could certainly not support the increase which the BSS development will inevitably generate.
- Another section of this informal bypass (Beldams Lane/Haymeads Lane) is likely to be severely affected by the opening of the new sports centre for the Herts and Essex School which is currently nearing completion. Not only will the centre itself generate more traffic but it will also be used as a supplementary drop off/pick up point by parents whose children will start or end the day with a sports lesson. No attempt appears to have been made to model the cumulative impact of this, the BSS development and the development of housing on the existing TBSHS site on the informal bypass route. Neither the applicant nor the Highway Authority offers any proposals which might mitigate the increase in traffic on this route, if not reduce it. Indeed the officer report to EHDC on these highway issues displayed such an unfamiliarity with local topography as to suggest that its author had not visited the site.
- While Pig Lane is in Hertfordshire, its junction with the A1060 is in Essex. In 2017 a strategic highway impact assessment was carried out to support the Examination in Public of the District Plan using the transport models of both Herts and Essex County Councils (they use different models). This showed that the highest morning and evening trip generation flows from the Bishop’s Stortford South development to junction 8 of the M11 and Stansted Airport are via Whittington Way, London Road and Pig Lane on to the A1060 in Essex. Herts Highways made no requirement for the applicant’s transport assessment to look at junction or traffic flow impacts in Essex and sought no advice from the relevant Highway Authority or District Council about the impact of the development.
- We therefore believe that the County Council in the exercise of its planning authority functions should refuse permission for this application because
The application would be redundant if East Herts Council issues a formal determination notice granting permission for BSS (which might or might not be on the terms anticipated in this application) and would be undeliverable if no such determination notice were issued. It is therefore premature if not redundant.
The County Council does not appear to have plans which would meet the demand for secondary school places which new housing in the EPA and the areas surrounding it will generate. This will create more than sufficient demand to support a new co-educational secondary school.
The site in question is the last available site in the EPA on which such a school could be provided.
Relocating TBSHS to the site creates hardly any new places at all. Even an expansion to 8 FE (not requested in this application) would create extra places only for boys. Even if the Herts and Essex School were to expand to create an equivalent number of extra places for girls (and such expansion has not been shown to be feasible or desired by the Academy and Trust) there would still be a substantial shortfall in places compared with demand.
TBSHS should therefore redevelop on its present site, sharing sports facilities if necessary with any new school to be provided on BSS.
The transport assessment appears to have been prepared some years ago, contains material inaccuracies, does not address current transport policies and does not allow for the consequences of relocating TBSHS, the redevelopment of its current site and for the cumulative impact of this and the new sports centre in Beldams Lane.
Both the authors of the assessment and those who have reviewed it appear to be ignorant of the existence of the informal bypass to the south of Bishop’s Stortford and the impact of the BSS development upon it. Nor have they consulted the neighbouring highways authority whose network will also suffer an adverse impact.
- I am copying this letter to Sara Saunders, Head of Planning and Building Control at East Herts Council.