Agenda item

Questions from members of the public

The Leader, or his nominee, to answer any questions raised by members of the public in accordance with Standing Order 13.


The Mayor reported that, under Standing Order 14, seven questions had been received from  members of the public.


 Question from Mr A McLuskey:


Can the Leader explain why, given the multiple calls on its resources here in Spelthorne, the Borough has lent 10 million pounds to Thurrock Council?”


Response from Councillor J Boughtflower, Leader of the Council


Councils routinely lend to each other, for relatively short periods (one month to twelve months), funds  not required in the immediate short term but which will be required in the longer term, in order to manage cashflow. . Spelthorne, acting within the Treasury Management Strategy parameters set by Councillors each year and within the advice provided by our treasury management advisers, lends short term cash funds until they are required in order to earn interest on that cash and generate a contribution towards the Revenue Budget. In 2021-22, within the overall contribution, supporting the cost of services. of £1.7m from treasury management investments, £135k came from short term lending.  


Spelthorne lent Thurrock Council £10m in March 2022, well before the recent news of their financial affairs and before it was made known that the Government would be intervening in that Council’s affairs. These were routine short-term ‘local authority to local authority’ loans which are maturing at the beginning of January 2023, and it should be noted that councils have almost as high a credit status as the UK Government.


 As you may be aware, the Government is not going to allow any council, including Thurrock, to default on its liabilities. Indeed, the Public Works Loan Board (PWLB), as part of the Bank of England, has made a formal announcement making it  explicitly clear that they will, if necessary, lend funds to Thurrock to enable them to refinance any outstanding loans from any council.   


This means that there is zero risk of non-repayment to this Council. Spelthorne,  therefore expects to be fully repaid its £10m, plus interest, on the due dates in January 2023. 


Furthermore, on 4 October 2022, Spelthorne received a letter from Thurrock Council confirming that, through the PWLB, that Thurrock Council has refinanced its short-term borrowing and that the outstanding capital and interest due to this Council will be repaid in line with the agreed terms of the loans. 


Moving forward we will not be making any further loans to Thurrock for the time being. 



Question and Statement of Context from Nigel Rowe:


In the vicinity of Staines, there are significant ground water flows through gravel and sand substrates for more than a mile either side of the river. The foundations of buildings create a barrier to the flow of water through these substrates, inhibiting flow rate, exacerbating water table levels, and increasing flood risk. The taller a building is, the deeper its foundations are required to be, and the greater their effect as barriers to water flow. Every new development further increases the flood risk. It is widely accepted that most of Staines and much of its hinterland is already deemed to be at high risk of river/fluvial flooding. According to an Environment Agency scientist at the recent Eco Fayre in Egham, if people knew then what is known today, it is highly unlikely a town would have been established where Staines is sited.




“Is there anything in the above statement that members of the Committee believe to be untrue or unreliable, and to what extent are members of the Committee concerned about increasing the already problematic risk of flooding in Staines by adding a significant number of tall buildings with deep foundations?”


Response from Councillor I Beardsmore, Chair of the Environment and Sustainability Committee:


“The Strategic Flood Risk Assessment (SFRA) forms a key part of the Local Plan evidence base. The SFRA Level one, considers groundwater flooding and discusses the Borough’s geology. The SFRA Level 2 looks at individual allocation site and site specific flood issues.


Local Plan representations have also been received on this issue and it has been raised with Aecom, who are expert flooding consultants and have produced the SFRA, for specific advice.  The SFRA level one is currently being updated to reflected changes to national guidance in August 2022.  In addition to these updates, the latest version will incorporate specific reference to when hydro geological risk assessments (sometimes called Basement Impact Assessments) are required to accompany planning applications. 


All of the Local Plan representations will be passed to the Planning Inspectorate when the Local Plan is submitted. The Planning Inspector may request that Aecom appear at the Examination to provide detailed evidence in person”.


Question and Statement of Context from John de Pear which, in his absence was read out by the Mayor:


The Introduction to the Local Plan says that it meets the requirement for “a strategy to make sure that there is infrastructure in place to support existing and future residents, with a delivery plan that sets out how this will be achieved and funded.




“Do Members of the Council agree that, for this to be true, the key infrastructure providers and consultees would need to have modelled the impact of 5,440 new homes in Staines and the consequential 50% increase to the town’s population. Are Members aware that this has not happened at all in the case of some providers (and found wanting in others), and do Members accept that the Local Plan cannot be sound because of this?”


Response from Councillor I Beardsmore, Chair of Environment and Sustainability Committee:


The delivery of different types of infrastructure in the Borough is the responsibility of a number of service providers, as detailed within the Infrastructure Delivery Plan. The Infrastructure Delivery Plan has been developed since 2020 and the most up to date housing requirements and locations of development, including draft site allocations, have been shared with service providers. The Infrastructure Delivery Plan has also been the subject of two separate periods of consultation with these providers in addition to the Regulation 19 consultation. This has presented opportunities for the service providers to provide comments and to set out what infrastructure requirements are needed to support the Local Plan.   


It is down to the individual service providers to determine their own methodology for the modelling used to set their requirements, based on the housing needs figures and locations of development as provided by the Council and this includes the development expected in Staines. If a service provider is not able to set out their requirements, then unfortunately the Local Planning Authority are not able to make assumptions on their behalf as legally we are not the competent body.


“The Infrastructure Delivery Plan Part 2 sets out known funding requirements that would need to be requested through the use of s106 planning obligations and Community Infrastructure Levy. The Infrastructure Delivery Plan is a ‘live’ document and can be updated when new information is provided that affects delivery or funding requirements. It is also key evidence to underpin the Local Plan and as such it will no doubt be scrutinised by the Inspector as part of the examination process and those who have made representations related to infrastructure will have the opportunity to appear at the public hearings. The Council will submit what it believes is a sound plan based on the planning judgement of its officers. The Plan as a whole, including the evidence base, will be examined by the Inspector who will ultimately decide whether the Plan is sound. The current view of officers, and with the benefit of external advice, is that the Plan is indeed sound and fit for submission”. 


Question and Statement of Context from Lynda Fuller:


According to a recent independently conducted survey (with 620 participants), support for limiting the height of new developments in sensitive areas of Staines is overwhelming: “very important” within 50 metres of the river (95%), “very important” in the Staines Conservation Area (95%), and “very important” immediately next to existing residential areas (87%). 90% believe there should be NO exceptions to the zoning restrictions. Less than 2% believe the Local Plan meets the “local housing need” or “successfully balances the economic, social and environmental needs of Staines and the wider area”. Only 5 of the 271 respondents to the survey who had also participated in earlier Council ‘public consultations’ on options being considered for the Local Plan believe their views were listened to.




“Do Council Members accept these findings and believe more account must be taken of residents’ views on the development of Staines, and do Members accept that the zoning arrangements do not offer anything like enough protection for sensitive areas?”


Response from Councillor I Beardsmore, Chair of Environment and Sustainability Committee:


“This Council is well aware of the opposition by some to high rise development in Staines. That is why the Staines Development Task Group has worked hard to respond to this concern with the proposals for zoning to protect the most sensitive areas of the town from taller buildings. It is simply not possible to cast any policy provision in stone as there will always be factors to take account of in the planning balance. What we have aimed to do is to set out examples of what exceptions could be considered because developers will seek to circumvent the policy anyway. This allows us the flexibility to consider where there may be a strong case for allowing an exception but only in very limited instances. Without that flexibility, we risk the policy being found unsound. I would remind you that even Green Belt policy has exceptions to it, and we are trying to demonstrate that we are taking a reasonable and pragmatic approach to development in Staines, where there will be a strong presumption in favour of optimising densities in the town. Let’s not forget that there will be plenty of developers arguing that the zoning should not be imposed at all. The policy provisions for zoning and the exception will be tested through the examination of our Local Plan and those who have responded to the Regulation 19 consultation have been given the opportunity to request an invitation to participate in the public hearing sessions, which I would encourage them to take up. But please don’t forget at an enquiry all that matters are facts and  evidence not opinions”.


Question and Statement of Context from G Lock, which, in his absence was read out by the Mayor:


In the Local Plan policy on managing flood risk, there is reference to flood planning and would-be developers are directed to the Government's personal flood plan. However, the cumulative impact of nearly 5,500 new homes in Staines (mostly in tower blocks of flats) on the risk to people and property, and the implications of flooding, will need to have been fully evaluated in relation to mass evacuation routes and flood plans for Staines in particular.




“Where is the evidence that emergency response staff have been consulted and concur that such massive growth in new homes and population in such a high-risk area as Staines can be safely accommodated? Are Members aware that an Environment Agency scientist said (in relation to flood risk) at a recent Eco Fayre that “if people knew then what is known today it highly unlikely that a town would have been built where Staines is located”, and do Members challenge this assertion?”


Response from Councillor I Beardsmore, Chair of Environment and Sustainability Committee:


“I’m sure informal conversations are entered into at local publicity events with members of the public, but the Environment Agency (EA) have provided a formal response at each stage of consultation on the new Local Plan.  As one of the specific consultation bodies, we are required to consult them when preparing the new Local Plan and we will jointly produce a Duty to Cooperate statement with them showing our joint working.  When demonstrating we have adhered to the Town and Country Planning Regulations, we find formal consultation more effective than a casual conversation.  The EA have responded to us at each stage and have not made a request for Staines-upon-Thames to be moved from its current location. Indeed if you have an issue with the location of Staines I suggest you take it up with the Romans as they  are the responsible authority.


The Local Plan is supported by significant evidence base which includes a Strategic Flood Risk Assessment level one (looking at the borough as a whole), and level two (which considers specific site allocations and the individual flood risk).  Copies of these documents are sent to the EA for approval. These discussions will continue at the examination of the Local Plan, where the Inspector will consider representations from the public and statutory bodies.  


Multi-agency flood planning is undertaken each year. The Borough Council is constantly working with partners to plan for major flood events.  Emergency planning is something we take very seriously and is included as part of our corporate risk register”. 


Question and Statement of Context from K Sanders:


The strategic documents published for the Regulation 19 Local Plan give at best a mixed picture for Spelthorne. All roads appear to lead back to the Sustainability Appraisal (SA) which is where the strategic balancing of economic, social and environmental objectives should be evident in a logical and consistent way.


Spelthorne has chosen 12 sustainability objectives.


Notwithstanding the difficulties of a largely qualitative assessment, the Local Plan appears to be heavily weighted in favour of economic and, to a lesser degree, social sustainability objectives. This is apparent from Tables 12 and 13 on policies and site allocations respectively - basically, housing development wins out above all else.


Yet in Table 14 of the SA (under Section 7.3) it admits, in the overall scores, that the Reg 19 submission version is expected to have minor adverse cumulative effects on flood risk, pollution and water.


The pendulum has demonstrably swung too far and critical environment objectives are the clear losers even if all Local Plan policies can be fully implemented (see Question 2).




“Paragraphs 7-9 of the National Planning Policy Framework are at the heart of achieving sustainable development and the Sustainability Appraisal (SA) is the accepted tool for balancing economic, social and environmental objectives in “mutually-supportive ways”.


Ignoring any subjective bias in the weighting, the SA appears to claim in Section 7.3 that “overall, the Regulation 19 Draft Local Plan is expected to have a positive effect against all [12] sustainability objectives”. Yet it contradicts itself in Table 14.


Will the Council now admit that there isn’t an equitable balance overall between the economic, social and environmental objectives of its Local Plan?”


Response from Councillor I Beardsmore, Chair of Environment and Sustainability Committee:


“National Planning Policy requires local authorities to deliver ‘an appropriate strategy’ (as opposed to ‘the most appropriate’ strategy) meaning it is up to the Council to decide how best to deliver the Local Plan. The Council has assessed the potential alternative Local Plan strategies through the Sustainability Appraisal (SA), whilst also considering wider evidence, and this process has helped to determine that when weighed up against alternatives, the chosen strategy should be taken forward, as this has the most balanced impacts across the SA. The Plan was agreed by this Council on 19 May 2022 by a majority of 3:1 to progress to Regulation 19 and submission. 


It is the purpose of the SA to consider the overall impacts of the plan, however the SA process is an iterative one, meaning that the SA should be used to improve the plan. The SA scoring does not take account of any mitigation that could reduce potential adverse effects that the plan might otherwise have, and instead proposes how negative impacts may be overcome through the Local Plan. As such, when considered on balance, the chosen spatial strategy is considered to adequately consider the social, environmental and economic impacts of the Local Plan. If you disagree with the strategy or any aspect of the Local Plan, you had your opportunity during the Regulation 19 consultation to make your views known and will have been given the option to request to speak at the examination, where an inspector will scrutinise your arguments in full”. 


Question and Statement of Context from K Sanders:


Continuing on from my first question, it is, in any event, highly unlikely that the Local Plan policies will be enacted to their fullest extent, given the emerging issues around viability of at least some sites and questions around the suitability and availability of land,


Failure to deliver yields on particular sites or certain allocations altogether, will raise the spectre of the release of more Green Belt sites to make up the difference as we have already seen in the Stage 3 Assessment, only published on 22nd July and 11th August 2022. The approach to Green Belt in the Local Plan afterall is now even less of a strategy and more akin to it being viewed as just making up the difference.


No Green Belt site will be safe. It may be comforting to think that only a small amount will be released this time and the rest will be spared. However, Green Belt has become the defacto balancing figure and pursuit of Green Belt in Spelthorne will be relentless. Evidence of this can already be seen in recent property deals - e.g. the sale of the Angle Property site in Sunbury to Bellway Homes announced on 28th April (just after April’s E&S meeting) and Danescroft's acquisition of the freehold interest of 51 acres of Green Belt land at Sunbury Golf Course in October 2021, citing the rationale "the property offers significant asset management potential, as well as the medium to long term prospects of promotion through the local plan.




“The National Planning Policy Framework clearly states that local circumstances SHOULD be taken into account (para 9) and NPPF policies on Green Belt and flood risk CAN provide a strong reason for restricting the "overall scale" of development in the borough (para 11b).


Yet the Council has repeatedly said it has to meet the government "housing target" which patently does not consider at least two significant constraints at a strategic level.


Does the Council now accept that, strategically, the Local Plan makes Spelthorne’s Green Belt more susceptible to development, regardless of it being “weakly-performing” or “strongly-performing” under their own definition?”


Response from Councillor I Beardsmore, Chair of Environment and Sustainability Committee:


In producing a strategy for the new Local Plan, we have reviewed all the constraints, including Green Belt and flooding. We are required to aim to meet our housing need in full and that does mean balancing the release of Green Belt sites against a chronic under delivery of homes over the past few years that has left us vulnerable at appeal. 11a says ‘plans should positively seek opportunities to meet the development needs of their area’ Whilst 11b  stresses it is the ‘overall area’ that has to be taken into account not just a relatively small proportion subject to say flood risk.


 It was the decision of this Council that the best plan for the borough is one that defends us against development of our most precious sites, delivers much needed homes, including houses with gardens for families, enables greater provision of affordable housing, protection for the sensitive areas of Staines and offers community benefits, with a new 6th form college in Sunbury and replacement community centre in Ashford. We are also proposing policies that do more than ever to mitigate against the impacts of climate change and give additional protection to treasured public land in the urban area with the Local Green Space designation. Without the new Local Plan, we get none of these measures.  


Rather than making the borough more susceptible to Green Belt development,we are seeking to preserve what is important to us and ensure we have a robust defence when unwanted planning applications come in, because we will have an up to date Local Plan that meets our housing need. As I’ve said before, those that disagree with this approach will have their opportunity to participate in the examination process. And don’t forget, this opportunity is also open to those who want their own sites included or think we should release more Green Belt and dispense with zoning in Staines. We are confident we can withstand these threats with our agreed strategy. I am sure Spelthorne will spend a great deal of time at the enquiry defending  Green Belt and zoning. One update on this issue, in the last year or so a total of 22 Plans have tried to get to enquiry. Eighteen  have failed to even make it as far as we are now. Almost all are down to not meeting housing targets. Where is the evidence that we could do any better?




Supporting documents: