Seacourt P&R: Planning Review Committee meeting

Oxford City Council’s Planning Review Committee met last night to reconsider the application to extend Seacourt park and ride. This had previously been approved by West Area Planning Committee but a review had been requested by concerned councillors.

The review committee confirmed the previous decision.

There is a report in the Oxford Mail.

We believe this decision is a huge mistake and we are disturbed by aspects of the decision-making process.

There is no lack of parking spaces here, nor overall. Should it ever be needed, better usage of existing parking could easily be achieved by live signage on the ring road. We have collected online data and visited the site over the very busy pre and post Christmas periods – the existing car park has never once been full. Opening of the new Westgate has not caused problems and many people clearly choose to drive into the city rather then use park and ride.

The cost is huge, £4.1 million is already budgeted. And there are many other urgent calls on the public purse. People are homeless and sleeping on the streets just a mile away.

The site floods from groundwater – an aspect that has received scant attention, despite our highlighting it repeatedly. Because of groundwater flooding there will be a net loss of floodplain if this development goes ahead. The site will also flood when the rivers flood. This will make it expensive to pump out, maintain and repair.

The decision is undoubtedly contrary to national planning guidance (NPPF) which is there to protect the floodplain and Green Belt. A previous extremely similar application on the site was the subject of a Planning Enquiry in 1998 and refused by the Secretary of State in 1999. Since 2007 the guidance has been strengthened following the Pitt Report on the Oxford and nation-wide flooding in 2007.

It is possible that the present application will be Called-in by the present Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid:  we have requested, jointly with Layla Moran MP, that this should happen. If the application is Called-in a Public Enquiry will follow. The reason for our request is that a decision to develop a car park in the floodplain sets a serious national precedent. Building in the floodplain is deplorable, except in the most exceptional cases – which this most certainly is not.

If the extension does eventually go ahead it is not impossible that the Council will in time come to regret it – as construction costs rise, maintenance is expensive due to recurrent flooding (exacerbated by climate change) and occupancy is low. But that will be no comfort  – much better it should never happen in the first place.

 

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Seacourt – Possible Costs

This seems a potentially costly proposal.

Capital 

1) Present budget £4.1 million

2) Difficulty of building in low-lying ground with a high groundwater level in winter

3) Possible need to stabilise unstable ground by treating it with lime to a metre depth

4) Difficulties of creating a working SuDS in a flood plain

Income

5) Occupancy likely to be low

6) Periodically out of use due to groundwater and fluvial flooding, pumping out, repair and maintenance

Maintenance

7) Pumping out (will be required according to the Applicant)

8) Repair of damage to surfaces and buildings – may be extensive after major floods

9) Cleaning and restoration of the porous surfaces required for SuDS

Other

Given the risks associated with large floods and the likely depths and flow rates here, possibly

  • compensation for damage to vehicles, including any swept away
  • compensation for loss of life.

Expensive

An article in today’s online Oxford Mail – £400,000 has already been spent in consultancy fees and other expenses on this unnecessary plan. If it goes ahead the present budget is over £4 million, a lot of public money to no good purpose.

http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/15705321.Revealed__more_than___400_000_spent_on_building_Seacourt_expansion_case/#comments-anchor

Seacourt P&R in the Oxford Mail; smart signs, plus risk to life

This article in the Oxford Mail talks about the possibility of  ‘smart signs’ – electronic boards – on the ring road, to alert drivers to where there are empty park and ride spaces around Oxford. This could obviate the (claimed) need to increase the number of spaces at Seacourt, instead pointing drivers to (say) nearby Redbridge. According to an earlier report in the Oxford Mail there is apparently so much spare capacity at Redbridge that the City Council proposes to remove 270 parking spaces, and is quoted in the newspaper as saying that the loss of these spaces would be ‘marginal’.

It seems to us to be inconsistent for the City Council to argue that removing 270 spaces at Redbridge is perfectly ok, while at the same time arguing a burning need to build new spaces at Seacourt – in the floodplain, on Green Belt land, contrary to local and national planning guidance and, as far as the present application goes, creating a potential risk to life (see towards the end of the first newspaper article and our previous post). Never mind the cost, which has already risen from about £2million to over £4 million.

 

Seacourt P&R planning application vs. proposals for Redbridge P&R – comment

We have made further comments (our fourth) on the Seacourt P&R planning application to the Planning Officer today, 19 December 2016:

Planning Application 16/02745/CT3

We wrote to you earlier with regard to the validity of the so called ‘sequential test’ carried out for the Seacourt P&R extension. In addition to our previous argument about the existence of an option of negotiating with the landlord to erect decking on the current site, we have further grounds for objection to the ‘sequential test’.

The City Council Executive Board papers for 15 December 2016 include proposals for removing 270 parking spaces at Redbridge to accommodate a new waste transfer facility. It appears there is excess capacity at Redbridge P&R. The analysis of occupancy of Redbridge and Seacourt P&Rs included in the Executive Board papers, show that there is existing spare capacity at Redbridge, and but for the planned waste facility this could relieve Seacourt during the week. There is also capacity at both car parks sufficient to adsorb expected increases in weekend traffic once the Westend development completes.

The Planning Statement for the Seacourt extention makes no mention of the surplus capacity available at Redbridge. The review of Redbridge in the ‘sequential test’ simple says that there is limited scope to ‘expand’ Redbridge. This is deeply misleading. There is clearly scope to redirect surplus traffic from Seacourt to Redbridge, which might be achieved at no cost simply by use of differential pricing – i.e. making Seacourt more expensive. In the Seacourt application we’re told Seacourt has to expand because there isn’t an option at Redbridge. But the Redbridge proposal is using the possible expansion of Seacourt to justify closing parts of Redbridge. So the need to expand Seacourt is at least in part being created by the Council’s wish to re-purpose part of the Redbridge site. This is clearly an unacceptable justification for the Seacourt extending into the floodplain on Green Belt land.

Given the existence of sufficient capacity to deal with any increased weekend traffic related to the Westend, the arguments for the extension, contained in 3.20 of the Planning Statement, appear extremely general. Is this really the best justification the Council can offer for breaching its own core strategy, national policy on Green Belt, and guidance on development in the floodplain? The justification for this move appears to rely wholly on longer term projections about potential increases in traffic resulting from a growth in the city and county during the next 15 years. Such needs should be addressed through a strategic planning process.

We understand that the Council has to increasingly rely on the revenue it earns, and perhaps the real, unstated reason why this proposal has come forward is financial. But even this doesn’t make sense. The capital cost has now doubled from the original budget to £4.1m. Extra income from the extension, assuming rates increase from £2 to £3 a day, is projected at £160,000 a year according to the Executive Board papers. Even assuming this revenue is achievable the investment would take more than 26 years to pay back, and that is without discounting for the cost of capital. If, as we believe is likely, the site floods regularly, has to be closed part of the year, and faces significant maintenance costs, the payback period will be much longer.

This scheme is a nonsense and should not proceed.