Meeting of Eden District Council Scrutiny Committee 20 September 2018
Questions addressed to Council Officers and Portfolio Holder Re Item 4
Asked by Adrian Hill of Woodside Farm Brougham on behalf of the 750 residents of the District who have signed the Keep Penrith Special Petition against the Penrith Strategic Masterplan (Masterplan) issued by EDC on 10th September.
Written answers from EDC below and a Keep Penrith Special plain English translation.
Q 1.Why does neither the website, or any document issued by EDC in respect of the Masterplan, state what the purpose is of this consultation and what would be the next steps? This is well established as a fundamental requirement of any fair consultation.
A1) Eden District Council’s Executive on 4 September 2018 approved the publication of the Penrith Strategic Masterplan – A Vision to 2050. This is a document that sets out the Council’s proposals for how the area can grow over the next 32 years, with the creation of three new villages on the edge of Penrith and 73 hectares of employment land close to Junction 41 of the M6.
Councillors also agreed to commence an eight week public engagement process for the Masterplan starting on Monday 10 September and closing on Friday 2 November 2018.
The aim of the engagement is to provide the residents of Eden to have their views on the proposal heard through a series of events around the district.
This is a series of public engagement events ensuring we hear the views from all parts of the local population. Both the foreword to the ‘Vision to 2050’ and the executive summary of the supporting ‘Technical Analysis’ confirm that the purpose of the engagement process is to is to provide a long term vision for growth to ensure that Penrith remains a vibrant market town. The next steps are again specified within both documents. Section 16 of the Vision to 2050 headed ”Get involved & Next Steps’ and section 7.2 ‘Further work to progress the Penrith Strategic Masterplan’ confirm the next steps.
Translation – We need to be able to find some public ‘endorsement’ to support an application for Garden Village money from the Government. We also need to fudge the fact we have kept the real next stage of this masterplan secret, in that that Garden application ( which we need to do before Christmas) isn’t mentioned anywhere in the Masterplan or on the timeline…so let’s waffle on about Visions.
Q2. Why there are no details available about this consultation or the Masterplan availability on EDC own website? This is also a fundamental requirement of a fair consultation.
A2) Details of the engagement, details where the public can find out more about the public engagement and the Penrith Strategic Masterplan and other news events can be found towards the bottom of the front page of Eden District Council’s website. There is also a dedicated page within the Planning Policy section.
In addition we have separate web site to handle all the queries and issues associated with the Strategic Masterplan. The new web site is clearly identified as www.beaconvillages.co.uk
Translation – We cant possibly admit that at launch there was nothing on our own website. Now we have fixed that, no one will be the wiser.
Q3. Why do the questions in the survey assume the development will take place? More particularly, why is there no question which would enable a respondent to signify objection to the principle of the development (as opposed to its detail or location)?
A3) Even at current rates of growth established during the recent hearings into the Eden Local Plan 2014-32 it is anticipated that there will be a need for some 121 dwellings per year to be provided in Penrith over the plan period. After the plan period and up to 2050 there will be a continued rate of growth, which will need to be planned for. Indeed, regarding employment land the existing allocations of the Local Plan are largely committed and there is a need now to plan for future growth in this sector.
It is also appropriate to consider where the next stages of residential growth should develop as almost without exception the existing allocations have either been completed or have commenced. It is therefore fair to say that the issue is primarily of what will be the direction for new development around Penrith in the future rather than whether there is actually a need for new development, which is why we must consider the detail and location of future allocations.
Within the questionnaire there are a number of free text boxes where specific views can be recorded. Feedback we have received from other members of the public is positive in relation to the free text boxes.
Translation- Difficult one this. Let’s just waffle about other things and try suggesting that the free text box is good enough. No one will notice that KPS’s pesky Legal Opinion says it isn’t.
Q4. Why is question 6 asked in such a way that the only site which will emerge from responses will be the one recommended by EDC?
A4). The current proposals for the Penrith Strategic Masterplan has been through a high level option appraisal process which considered some 32 sites around Penrith. Question 6 does not preclude the consideration of alternative sites and seeks comments on how to locate a new settlement in Eden. It covers key considerations and provides a free text box for any further views to be added.
Translation- We will just have to evade this one. Obviously they are onto the idea that the questionnaire was deliberately designed in this way so that we could use the data gathered to support the masterplan. So let’s say that consultees can use a free text box to register their opposition. Let’s ignore that pesky Legal Opinion that says it isn’t good enough to do this.
Q5.Why is there no option to say you want the Council to reject this Masterplan and to go back and reconsider the project from the start?
A5).This is an engagement process the Council has already undertaken a high level option appraisal process to inform how best to secure the future development of Penrith. If it is the case that there is concern that we are not developing in the most appropriate direction then there is the opportunity to step back and re-consider alternative sites around Penrith. There is the opportunity to put this view forward in question 6, but it is also important to clarify the reason for this stance to enable the discussion to proceed.
As with the answer to question 3 within the questionnaire there are a number of free text boxes where specific views can be recorded.
Translation- We, the Masters of the Masterplan, have decided this for you. If you want to object you have to send a 1500 word essay to us ( in writing as we don’t intend to accept a digital petition) with good empirical reasons supported by evidence and consultants advice. Otherwise we intend to ignore you.
Q6.Why does question 11 assume that development on the Beacon is desirable at all? Why is there no option to say that you want no development at all on the Beacon?
A6). Question 11 allows consideration of what use could be appropriate for the Beacon. At the end of the options there is opportunity to provide comments. This gives an opportunity confirm an opinion that the Beacon should remain unaltered as woodland use with no development to take place on it at all.
Translation-Let’s just admit, whilst doffing our caps, that you should be enormously grateful to be allowed to walk on the Beacon which is owned by Lowther. Best to ignore the fact that your ancestors have walked there for centuries. We think that the owners must be allowed to make squillions of money by building a gated community to look down on you. We really don’t really want your views, but have to go through the motions, so we have chosen your replies for you. Object if you must in the free text box you irritating tree huggers.
Q7.Why is the development on the Beacon coloured in a slightly lighter shade of green against dark green? Why is it described as ‘low density ‘development without any details being provided about what is actually meant by that?
A7).We have received a lot of feedback on the use of multiple shades of green on the map and which has meant that the map is not as clear as it might have been. The use of multiple green shades was not intended to mislead. The areas in multiple shades of green represent existing and proposed green space and low density development. These are intended to demonstrate that those areas will remain largely green in nature. The feedback is accepted and there was no intention to cause any confusion. We will consider alternative options for colouring the map in terms of any future revisions in response to the consultation feedback.
Translation- We have been caught there…but we didn’t mean to do it, honest.
Q8.Was this (heavily slanted) questionnaire approved by the Officers, and have they confirmed that they believe it complies with best practice for a fair consultation? Did they take advice about the fairness and comprehensiveness of the documentation and survey?
A8). questionnaire was approved by the project corporate team covering a range of questions to which views were sought. The questionnaire is simply an attempt to seek the views of the public and to establish whether the Strategic Masterplan is moving in the most appropriate direction for the future development of Penrith. It is considered that this is a fair and reasonable engagement.
Translation – No we didn’t take advice about that irritating thing called the Law. We decided the Law for ourselves.
Q9.Why is the development on the Beacon itself in phase 1, although completely geographically separated from the phase 1 area?
A.9). The phasing and delivery proposal was prepared by our consultants (LUC) and is simply though to be the most pragmatic way of commencing development with least infrastructure costs, at this stage. Further investigation into infrastructure requirements and costs, will enable future decisions to be made about more detailed phasing and delivery timescales.
Translation- Perhaps we should have twigged LUC are or have been advisers to Lowther. Let’s try to wriggle off the hook.
Q10.Did the Officers carry out a thorough check on the conflicts of interests of all advisers?
A.10) Officers employed environmental planning, design and management specialists LUC to provide advice and produce the Penrith Strategic Masterplan.
There was also stakeholder working group was made up of a range of cross party interest groups, considered appropriate to take the vision to 2050 forward. It was then for the Council’s consultants (LUC) to take these views forward into the development of the Masterplan.
Professional advisers have their own obligations to declare any conflicts to their clients and no conflicts were brought to the attention of the Council and neither were any identified by the Council.
Translation- No we didn’t ask about conflicts. If we had asked we might not have been able to use Lowther’s former consultants LUC. That would have been a nuisance.
Q11. Has all the evidence gathering been paid for by EDC, and can the Officers confirm that they not relied upon information paid for by interested third parties?
A.11) As stated above Officers employed environmental planning, design and management specialists LUC to provide advice and produce the Penrith Strategic Masterplan. Any other consultants such as those that provided transport advice were managed by LUC as part of their contracted work.
Translation – Nasty little question this. Let’s shift the blame to LUC.
Q12. Why is the fact that the topography of the site will require all the roads up there to be over the 5% gradient allowed for such developments under Cumbria County Council and Government policy not disclosed?
A12) The masterplan is a high level spatial review and has not looked specifically at individual gradients within and across the overall site. Generally roads have been located to run along the line of the contours so that they would be less than 5%. There may be some isolated locations where existing roads are used where this exceeds 5%.
LUC were aware of the topography of the site in bringing their proposals together and this is not raised as a fundamental issue by either Cumbria County Council or Highways England during the stakeholder review meetings held between February and May this year.
Translation- We chose a silly site, but we had to in order to give cover for the plan to allow building on the Beacon. Let’s say that Highways England never told us anything…. Damn, damn, damn ..the steep gradients are mentioned on p64 of the Technical Appraisal of the Masterplan when it says the Northern relief road would need crawler lanes…let’s forget about that and pretend we haven’t looked into this Technical issue or even read our own documents.
Q 13. Why is the significance of the climate on this site (due to its elevation above sea level) not considered in the document, together with the resulting environmental impact on fuel use, heating costs, transport issues etc.?
A13) The primary concern of the Masterplan is to consider the spatial relationship of an employment land and residential extension to Penrith. The significance of micro climate and the related issues of fuel use, heating costs and transport issues would be taken in to consideration as the masterplan is progressed.
The topography of the sites was considered as part of the masterplan process and the most exposed locations have been avoided. The new housing also avoids breaking the skyline in order to reduce the visual impact of the development. In terms of the location of the 3 villages, the first Beacon Village is generally at a height of between 170-200m AOD. The second Beacon Village is at a height of between 220-240m AOD and the Third Beacon Village between 180-220m AOD.
As a comparison with surrounding villages:
Greystoke – 210 AOD
Sockbridge – 180m AOD
Stainton – 180-200m AOD
Newton Reigny – 180m AOD
Skelton – 230m AOD
Askham – 220m AOD
Therefore the new Beacon Villages are not inconsistent with other nearby villages in terms of height above sea level.
Translation- Best not to mention that we don’t plan any new houses in any of these villages (because if we do it probably won’t meet the requirements of our new local plan) or mention that only a few hundred people live in each of these villages and that they are generally quite a bit lower than the proposed Beacon Villages/New Town. Let’s put all the heights in as AOD (Above Ordinance Datum) rather than as feet above sea level. That will confuse everyone who wont think its that high and they wont have the foggiest what we are talking about. Also 240 AOD the maximum height at Beacon Villages is 790 feet above sea level, but Sockbridge, Newton Reigny and most of Stainton is 180 AOD that’s 590 foot above sea level in real money. Bit of a bigger difference. Heh! Never mind we are here to help. Also lets tell a story about the skyline. We have never been up to the land involved so we don’t know that a lot of the proposed development can easily be seen from other places in the Eden Valley like Langwathby ( oddly enough because you can see these other places from these fields).
Q14). Are EDC the legal owners of the website www.beaconvillages.co.uk? Do the Officers Control the site and the content? If not, who does?
A14) EDC are the legal owners of the Web site and have control over its content.
Translation- Phew! We did that in time!