• EDDC’s response to my paper on Local Plan

    6th July 2012 | News | Claire
  • Introduction

    1.1 The East Devon Local Plan provides land allocations and criteria based policy that seeks to encourage, facilitate and support better job provision in the District.  Objectives in the plan (Development Management Committee – 8 May 2011), Jobs and Economic Growth, are:
    • Improve average income levels.
    • Diversify the sectors where jobs can be found.
    • Improve local job opportunities.
    • Reduce the need to travel by car to secure work and jobs.

    1.2 The Local Plan is therefore supportive of and takes a positive view towards job creation and provision.  In this respect it is fully consistent with the National Planning Policy Framework which advises at paragraph 7 that in support of sustainable development planning has:
    “an economic role – contributing to building a strong, responsive and competitive economy, by ensuring that sufficient land of the right type is available in the right places and at the right time to support growth and innovation; and by identifying and coordinating development requirements, including the provision of infrastructure”.

    1.3 The Local Plan definition of employment, Paragraph 6.10, advises:
    “We will take a broad view of the types of activity (retail, commercial, industrial, service sector) that can be classed as ‘employment’ in making our land allocations; we do however see future B1 employment development (office developments), and jobs in this class, as being key”. 

    1.4 It is critically important to be aware, therefore, that policy addressing land for employment covers any use that creates jobs (not just ‘B’ Use Class employment – such as offices, manufacturing and warehouses).  In our numerical assessment of employment land take we have included, for example, recent supermarket developments in Ottery St Mary and Seaton.

    2 Studies Undertaken by Atkins and Roger Tym and Partners

    2.1 The Council have commissioned two studies in respect of employment land and jobs in recent years.  These reports, alongside other work, provide evidence to inform the Local Plan, they are advisory in nature and they do not state what policy must say. That is a decision for the Council.

    2.2 The Atkins report, see:
    http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/0018_-_ed_employment_land_review_2006-26.pdf
    at, Paragraph1.4, clearly sets out that:

    “The study is concerned specifically with employment land and premises that fall
    within the “B-Class” of the Town and County Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 (the
    “UCO”).”

    2.3 The Atkins report did not, by design address all types of employment uses.  It retains some validity but its completion in 2007 now makes it a somewhat dated document.  What it does do is look at potential new ‘B’ Use Class jobs and draw conclusions on how much land would be needed to accommodate those jobs.  Of note, in paragraph 4.54 of their report, Atkins advise:
    “In order to ensure that an adequate choice of employment land and premises are available to meet the various needs of inward investors, including their medium-term expansion plans, and indigenous businesses more employment land should be allocated than the quantitative analysis suggests is actually required. The magnitude of the portfolio in comparison to the actual level of need will depend on the nature of the District sub-area. As a minimum it should be assumed that land will not be fully occupied due to natural market churn. It should also be noted that in areas where demand is relatively weak and where the council plan to drive growth through the use of policy measures, more land may need to be allocated in order to increase the range of sites and therefore the attractiveness of the area to potential employers.”

    2.4 Flexibility in ‘over-supply’ is therefore a reasonable policy approach and is applied in the Local Plan.  This flexibility reflects such considerations as:
    • Some land owners not wanting to brings sites to market;
    • Land owners not being flexible in releasing sites on the freehold market;
    • Land owners retaining/reserving land for their own longer term expansion plans;
    • Planned/required infrastructure not being in place to facilitate immediate/early site development.
    • The importance of having a range and choice of sites in differing localities to meet differing developer/business needs.

    2.5 In their work the employment TAFF were reflecting on these and others issues and were concerned that although many sites could or should come forward in the longer term in many cases they were not immediately available.  In practical terms businesses looking for premises to purchase or occupy and secure relevant   permissions and be on-site and trading in a short time period had very limited real choices.

    2.6 The Roger Tym and Partners report, see:
    http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/plg_lp_edhousingstudy.pdf
    covered housing and employment issues but for employment issues it followed a similar approach to Atkins. 

    2.7 The Tyms report also quantified site/area need figures for just B Use Class uses.  At Paragraph 2.2 the report notes “some 35% of jobs in East Devon are within the B-space sectors”.  Most of the jobs (62%), and space for jobs in East Devon, is not in the B Use Class sector.  The Tym’s report does not take into account land needed to provide for this majority sector of employment needs, including such jobs as teachers, nurses, care workers, hotel workers and shop assistants.

    2.8 Also of relevance is that whilst the Tyms assessment builds in a small over provision factor, to reflect churn and some vacancy levels, it does not build in a site over-provision element in order to provide real site choice and flexibility. 

    3 East Devon Report on Quantifying Land Provision

    3.1 In order to help determine appropriate employment land allocations and provision, that is for jobs in both B Use Class sectors and other job types, the Council produced a land assessment paper that was presented to the Local Plan panel.  See:
    http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/0100_-_provision_of_employment_land_in_consultation_draft_local_plan.pdf

    3.2 This paper took as desirable outcome the issues of:
    • Wanting to see one new job in the locality of each new house built; and
    • reducing (halving) gross out-commuting levels from localities

    3.3 The assessment was applied in the seven main towns of East Devon and quantified land allocations.  It should be noted that the paper includes a mistake in a table heading that refers too halving ‘net’ and should advise of halving ‘gross’ out commuting.  Also actual housing levels in the new draft of the plan vary in some cases from those used in the table.

    3.4 Based on the assumptions and aspirations above, the paper directly informed the quantified land allocations that appear in the Local Plan (note that in Honiton a different approach was taken).  In quantifying land employment uses, account was taken of existing vacant employment sites (under the current adopted Local Plan policy) as well as proposed allocations.

    4 Use of Employment Sites for Non-Employment Uses

    4.1 There is and always has been the potential for an applicant to seek to secure planning permission on employment land (or any land) for a non-employment use.  In respect of new allocations we have a robust case to argue a logical case for use for job generating purposes.  An inspector at appeal is highly unlikely to support non-job uses for a site that has only very recently been allocated/identified.  Furthermore if monitoring shows there is no evidence of need or demand for a site it can be de-allocated at a later stage of plan review..

    4.2 Some of the longer term allocated sites, sites shown as allocations in the existing East Devon Local Plan, may be more ‘vulnerable’ to a non-employment planning application, though there are probably few sites that fall into this category at which non employment uses (this in all probability means housing) would be deemed acceptable.  For example it is highly unlikely that currently undeveloped land in the Heathpark Industrial Estate at Honiton, next to business or industrial uses, would be deemed suitable for housing use. When we looked at employment sites we considered that there were no cases of existing employment land being deemed so unsuitable to warrant a non-employment and alternative use designation.

    5 Land Allocations at the West End

    5.1 Land allocations at the West End are specifically made in response to a sub-regional need.  It would be inappropriat to simply categorise West End provision as just part of an overall East Devon allocation.  The strategic scale of sites is such that they distort any crude/simple East Devon wide ‘number crunching’.  All of the strategic West End sites are large scale and expensive to develop, we do not know what build out and occupancy rates will look like and the sites will need to be subject to re-appraisal in subsequent reviews of the plan.  Development of some employment sites may extend beyond the 2026 date. 

    5.2 The intermodal site is not and we have not historically counted it as part of the employment land provision.  Its very specialist nature is such that it is looked upon separately.

    6 Land Allocations at East Devon Towns

    6.1 Provision at East Devon towns is far more modest and is designed around encouraging the towns of East Devon to flourish and diversify and expand on job potential.  In most towns there are limited allocations in the existing local plan that are rolled over into this plan and on top of these are some new allocations.  In some cases the costs involved in opening up sites, eg getting in highway access, are such that land availability could stretch beyond 2026.  But without the larger allocations business confidence may not exist to invest the required money to get sites started.

    6.2 Axminster – the higher level of land for employment uses is a product of the large number of homes being proposed and as an integral part of a strategic allocation.  It could provide for such uses as a neighbourhood centre, shops, possibly a school and health facilities as well as B Use class types of uses.

    6.3 Budleigh Salterton – very modest employment provision is proposed, there are no identified vacant employment sites in the town.

    6.4 Exmouth – much of the new employment provision is at Littleham and already has planning permission.  This development could help free up sites in the town that should support regeneration initiatives and should help create jobs in retail and tourism sectors as well as other employment sectors.

    6.5 Honiton – this is the town where the proposed new allocation of 15 hectares exceeds the quantified assessment figure.  We have identified Honiton as a central town in the District with strong potential to serve a more than local role for job and wealth creation.  The proposed strategic allocation is planned to come forward over phases and monitoring of the plan will allow review of the plan in future years. 

    6.6 Ottery St Mary – vacant land at the Finnimore industrial estate is retained for employment uses, the land has a prominent frontage and its presence in a floodplain (even though it is defended) could make other uses (potentially residential) non- credible options.  With respect to other (3 ha) employment land the new supermarket is taken into account for 1 hectare and the developer of the proposed strategic allocation has proposed a care home and school use that could account for the remaining 2 hectares.

    6.7 Seaton – at Seaton a large part of the provision is taken up by development of the Tesco with other tourism and commercial uses likely to also account for employment development.

    6.8 Sidmouth – the Alexandra Industrial Estate has very limited available land and poor highway access.  The proposed phased allocation, allowing for plan review after monitoring, is being promoted by local company Fords of Sidmouth.  The site has potential for a range of occupies and the agents acting for Fords have advised of local business interest in site occupancy.  The AONB setting of the site is such that high quality development will be essential.  Elsewhere in Sidmouth there are employment uses that are struggling to function on their existing constrained sites. Relocation of business not needing/being appropriate in town centres may, for example, free up sites for other employment uses.  The Doctors Surgery is one employment use known to be looking for more space.

    7 Policy for Rural Areas

    7.1 Policy does not allocate land in villages rather the onus is on criteria based policy, amongst other things seeking to match new homes to new jobs. However should Parishes wish to bring employment land forward through neighbourhood plans or other local initiatives they have this option.

    8 Conclusions and Soundness of Proposals

    8.1 The overall approach to employment land provision in the local plan to employment land provision is deemed entirely sound, reasonable and evidence based.  All local plans will be subject to challenges (we can expect objections that we have over-allocated and also that we have under-allocated).  And also all plans can expect to receive recommendation for changes by Inspectors.  But this is an entirely different matter from being found sound.  On the strength of the evidence put forward and the process taken in plan production the plan is considered sound and there is no reason to believe an Inspector would consider otherwise.