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: an Important Habitat

Thanks to the Oxfordshire Badger Group for this video, showing the importance of this habitat and what has recently been done to it by Oxford City Council – it is shocking and utterly wrong.

See more on the officially designated wildlife status of the site.

Seacourt P&R – proposed extension

We are very strongly opposed to the proposed extension by Oxford City Council  of Seacourt Park and Ride on the Botley Road, which has been mentioned here before.

If you want to see our latest objections go to http://public.oxford.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=summary&keyVal=OFE2FHMFIAV00  where you can see not only ours but the serious objections from others too.

If that doesn’t take you there direct go via https://www.oxford.gov.uk/info/20066/planning_applications  click ‘View and comment on planning applications’, twice, and then search for Seacourt or 16/02745/CT3.

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 extension proposal: potential risk to life

Liz Sawyer, who recently joined the OFA Steering Group, addressed Oxford City’s Full Council on 6 February 2017, about the potential risk to life posed by the proposed extension to Seacourt P&R.

There is also, as the photograph above shows so vividly, the potential for damage to the car park itself – and of course to vehicles. The Automobile Association’s ‘Flood Facts’ quoted in Liz’s address set out the risks of floodwaters very clearly.

Liz’s address can be downloaded here (pdf).

Seacourt P&R – Key Point 5: Green Belt

The proposal is inconsistent with both national and local Green Belt policy:

  • The site is in the Oxford Green Belt where the presumption is that development is inappropriate. Preservation of ‘openness’ is a key objective of Green Belt policy, The NPPF places great emphasis on it. Attempting to hide the development from view by landscaping does not constitute preserving openness.
  • The proposal will also clearly breach Oxford City’s own Core Strategy key policy CS4 for the protection of Green Belt land.

 

Seacourt P&R – Key Point 4: Oxford City’s Planning Strategy

cs2

Within Oxford City Council’s main strategic planning document, the Core Strategy, Core Strategy 2 (CS2, see above) states:

‘Greenfield land will not be allocated for development if any part of the development would be on Flood Zone 3b.’ 

Our comment: The proposed site for the new car park is greenfield, and in functional Flood Zone 3b.

CS2 also says that ‘development will only be permitted on greenfield land if it is specifically allocated for that use in the [Oxford City Council’s] Local Development Framework’.

Our comment: This site is not so allocated.

Core Strategy 11 (CS11) says:

‘Planning permission will not be granted for any development in the functional flood plain (Flood Zone 3b) except water-compatible uses and essential infrastructure.’

Our comment: The proposed site is neither ‘water-compatible’ (a category intended for developments such as marinas), nor ‘essential infrastructure’ (which includes projects such as water treatment works, or roads which have to pass through a floodplain).

In our view the position could not be clearer – this proposal is, in fact, precisely the kind of development that the Council’s own strategic planning policy is there to prevent.

Further comment on Network Rail’s planning application for track-raising

We submitted our comments on the latest revision (A02) of Network Rail’s flood risk assessment (FRA) for their planning application for track-raising yesterday.

The planning application is number 15/03703 and details can be found on Oxford City Council’s planning portal https://www.oxford.gov.uk/info/20066/planning_applications/328/view_and_comment_on_planning_applications

The application is going to West Area Planning Committee for determination on 3 May at 2 pm at the Town Hall.

See also our earlier post https://oxfordfloodalliance.org.uk/2016/03/28/network-rails-planning-application-for-track-raising/

Network Rail’s planning application for track-raising

Network Rail (NR) has applied for planning permission in relation to its plan to raise a particularly low area of the mainline track to London, beneath and either side of the old Abingdon Road bridge (Redbridge) near Kennington, to reduce the risk of the line flooding. Doing only this would increase the risk of flooding to the west of the line by raising the height of what is already a dam to the free flow of flood water. So NR propose a new culvert beneath the railway to compensate for this.

We have no objection to this plan in principle, but it must be done properly to ensure that the flood risk to properties and roads is not increased. If the mitigating culvert is too big areas to the east would be affected, too small and those to the west would suffer.

NR then need to convince the planning authority that their proposal gets the balance right and does not increase anyone’s flood risk. This is done mainly by modelling of flood flows and levels and reporting the results as part of a Flood Risk Assessment (FRA) which is at the heart of the planning application. This was first submitted in February. We went over this with a fine-tooth comb and found gaps and serious inconsistencies in the data presented. We did not believe that the document allowed the necessary judgement to be made, indeed it raised more questions than it answered. We made a submission to the planning authority, Oxford City Council, suggesting that, on the available evidence, it would be unwise to allow the application. The FRA, our comments, and many other documents can be seen on the council’s planning website – application number 15/03703/FUL. Our comments: OFA comments on 15/03703/FUL – Construction of a culvert.

A revised FRA (Revision AO1) was tabled by NR on 25 February in response to comments made by the Environment Agency to them. Because of the timing this revision  did not deal with our questions. We submitted further comments on AO1, reiterating and expanding on key points, on 9 March. We again gave our opinion that the evidence presented in the FRA was such that it could not allow a safe and proper decision to be made. This submission: 15:03703:FUL OFA Comments on the revised FRA (revision AO1, Feb 2016) F

After making our second submission to the planners we met with representatives of NR and their advisers. They confirmed that there were indeed the errors we had drawn attention to, in both the original and AO1 revision of the FRA. They said they had identified the reason for these errors and explained this. We understand that they will be filing a further revision, plus an amended version of an associated document, GRIP3, which is referred to in the FRA.

We have discussed our concerns with the planning officer at the Council who has been helpful and attentive to our arguments. A decision on the application has now been deferred to allow time for the revised documents from NR to be reviewed by the public and by Council planning staff.

Postscript: we were later asked to review the maps associated with the FRA, to compare what the model suggested with what we know ‘on the ground’. Our comments: 15:03703:FUL – OFA Review of flood model maps.