Agenda item

Urgent business

To consider any business deemed as urgent by the Chair.

 

Petition - “Prevent tower-block developments in the Staines Conservation Area or overlooking the riverfront, and spread the planning housing growth target more evenly across the borough.”

 

The chair has agreed to this item being added to the agenda in accordance with Section 100B(4)(b) of the Local Government Act 1972 for the following reasons:

 

“The Local Plan Task Group and the Staines Development Task Group are currently assessing issues which are linked to the subject of the petition and therefore waiting until January will prevent this being considered appropriately.”

 

The item, which was omitted from the main agenda, was referred from Council on 14 October 2021, under the following resolution:


Resolved that the petition be referred to the Environment and Sustainability Committee for further consideration.

Decision:

It was resolved to refer the petition “Prevent tower-block developments in the Staines Conservation Area or overlooking the riverfront, and spread the planning housing growth target more evenly across the borough”to the Local Plan Task Group and Staines Development Task Group for further consideration and reported back to the Committee. 

 

 

Minutes:

A petition had been presented to Council on 14 October 2021 when it was agreed to refer it to the Environment and Sustainability Committee for consideration.

 

The petition had not been included in the published agenda but added as urgent business as it could not wait until the next meeting in January 2022.  The Local Plan Task Group (LPTG) and Staines Development Task Group (SDTG) were currently assessing this as part of their work in the coming months.  The Chair of the Committee suggested that the most appropriate course of action was for the petition to be considered by those task groups when meeting to progress the Local Plan and Staines Development Framework.

 

The Chair of the SDTG confirmed that the petition and the issues raised in it were in the forefront of the minds of those on the task group and would be borne in mind. 

 

A question was asked regarding adoption of the petition and the Committee was informed by the Principal Solicitor that the advice circulated at the time of the Council meeting still stood and that it would not be lawful for the Council to do so.  The most appropriate process would be for the task groups to consider the petition when doing their work and then report back to Environment and Sustainability Committee with their recommendations for consideration. 

 

The view was put forward that it was only fair for the housing target to be more evenly distributed across the borough, not predominantly in Staines and only an independent consultant could fairly facilitate this.  Furthermore, at a recent meeting Staines councillors had agreed that they would not support any development in the Staines conversation and riverside area of more than 5 or 6 storeys. 

 

The Group Head of Regeneration and Growth advised that from an officer perspective, the most appropriate way to deal with this would be for the SDTG to consider and discuss the matter fully and reach a stage where they were in agreement on the recommendations to be made. The SDTG would then meet jointly with the LPTG to discuss the recommendations they were putting forward. The LPTG would then consider those proposals before making a final recommendation to the Environment and Sustainability Committee for their consideration.

 

It was recognised that difficult decisions had to be made and that Staines town as the focal point for the borough needed to be the best design possible to maximise economic and residential opportunities.  All Staines councillors were members of the SDTG, and every ward was represented in the LPTG which was as politically proportionate as possible to ensure fair representation. Officers advised that the relevant task groups were holding regular meetings and councillors were challenging and questioning all aspects of their work.

 

A question was asked as to whether the outline planning permission granted in 2008 for the waterfront site still stood and therefore subsequent planning applications could exercise that permission.  The Chair believed, but could not confirm, that the last full permission had expired in January, and it could be argued that it no longer applied.  The Planning Development Manager advised that as it had expired it made it less material than if it was extant.

 

It was suggested to the committee that the number of signatures on the petition gave a clear indication of the depth of feeling of residents and the message conveyed should be taken into account.  It was important that the matter should be resolved as quickly as possible but must follow a legal process, and members asked how long it was anticipated that would take.  The Group Head of Regeneration and Growth advised that officers were still anticipating that a draft version of the Staines Development Framework was expected around March 2022 (in line with the Local Development Scheme). At Regulation 19 stage, the draft framework starts to carry very limited weight, and this gradually increases until full weight is applied once adopted in September 2023.  Officers advised that frequent task group meetings were being held, sometimes twice weekly, to try to accelerate matters and the Group Head undertook to speak to the Strategic Planning team and circulate key timelines to Committee members. 

 

It was suggested that an invitation should be extended to the local MP, Kwasi Kwarteng, to meet the Committee and answer questions on this issue.   The Chair advised that the Leader of the Council had drafted a letter to the local MP but was not sure of the present position regarding this.  The Deputy Leader agreed to follow this up with the Leader and advise members.

 

A Vision for the Borough was currently in draft format, having been put together by councillors during three workshops and this had been given to officers for comment.  The Vision was to be discussed by the LPTG this week.  The Group Head advised members that officers had voiced concern about three elements, namely height of buildings, green belt and seeking to tie in the Council as landowner to do certain things.  These were to be raised with the Leader and Deputy Leader before being circulated to councillors and the Committee was advised that it may be necessary to seek Counsel’s Opinion. 

 

One member raised a number of issues including whether other councils had included height restrictions in their local plan vision and questioned why it was an issue for this Council.  Officers asked that a copy of the relevant vision mentioned was sent to them.  The view of officers was that the vision was required to go through a process, with the most effective and proper way being through the local plan process.  Legal advice had stated that we could not apply a blanket height provision across the borough, but it was possible to apply through a nuanced approach taking into account the individual nature and character of each area.  This was currently being done by the Staines Development Task Group.  

 

It was stated that a blanket approach was not being sought, but one that was pertinent to a specific area in Staines and referred to alternative legal advice which they were aware of.  With regard to a fairer distribution of housing across the borough, it was suggested that either an independent consultant was appointed, or councillors collectively made a decision, as that councillor felt the groups were divisive and the situation unfair. 

 

The Group Head for Regeneration and Growth explained the local plan process that was being followed and the Council could not retrospectively link a new heigh restriction policy to the old adopted Local Plan.  The best method was to follow the local plan process and the LPTG and SDTG would meet to discuss and debate the options before the LPTG finally made a recommendation to the Environment and Sustainability Committee.  It was important that the plan was as sound and robust as possible which would stand up to examination by the Planning Inspectorate.

 

The Chair commented that the Council was constrained by central government and no councillor would want to build high storey buildings through choice.

Depending on the decisions made, it may be necessary to consider the release of green belt in order to obtain the housing numbers required.  The depth of feeling of members was acknowledged, that it was a very difficult process for all, and there would undoubtedly be some uncomfortable decisions to be made.  

 

Some members questioned where the impetus of the petition was going and felt it was important to follow the proper agreed process. Councillors were aware that they were required to make some unpalatable decisions but recognised and would take account of the different nature and character of areas of each ward and they were able to make informed decisions keeping in mind the best interests of the borough as a whole.

 

It was resolved to refer the petition “Prevent tower-block developments in the Staines Conservation Area or overlooking the riverfront and spread the planning housing growth target more evenly across the borough” to the Local Plan Task Group and Staines Development Task Group for further consideration and reported back to the Committee.