"Lichfield will lose its unique character if housing developments which cram
brick into every green space is allowed to continue" says Michael Fabricant.
"Government planning laws are the culprit which demand 30-50 homes per
hectare. I shall be initiating a debate on this subject in the House of
Commons. It affects not only Lichfield, but areas throughout the midlands".
Over the last few months, Michael has been discussing the nature of
new-build in Lichfield with the City Council and Lichfield District Council.
"Lichfield District Council is being forced to allow the construction of
densely packed housing estates and to allow green spaces between existing
houses – often in gardens – to be used as building land. This is changing
the very nature of the leafy lanes of Lichfield" says Michael. "In the
past, large projects such as Boley Park took into account the provision of
large gardens and green spaces creating an attractive environment which
added to the quality of the City; this is no longer always the case. The
problem arises from the interpretation locally of Government planning laws
and guidance regulations issued by John Prescott’s department" says
Michael. "If Lichfield District Council dare to turn down such planning
applications, the Council could lose in a court battle and the council tax
payer in Lichfield will have to foot the bill from consequent damages and
costs. Meanwhile factories, filling stations, and other businesses are
closed down and the land sold for housing as the financial ‘return’ is much
greater – leading to a loss of local employment.
"I asked Peter Young, Town Clerk of Lichfield City Council, to write to me
with his views on the issue. While it is not for me to state a view on some
of the particular estates referred to in Peter Young’s letter – planning
decisions are in the hands of elected local councillors and not Members of
Parliament – I do agree that there is a very real problem in Lichfield and
elsewhere in the midlands arising from interpretation of regional and
planning policy guidance issued by this Government" says Michael Fabricant.
Peter Young wrote in his letter: "The City Council shares your concerns,
and since the early 1990’s we have been seeking to restrict further
large-scale residential growth in the City which would destroy its historic
character and unique setting.
"Revised PPG3, issued in March 2000, advocated high-density development in
existing settlements, with greater use of previously developed land.
Prompted by this the District Council has adopted a ‘Housing Strategy’ which
effectively abandons the Fradley new settlement in favour of increased
density development in Lichfield City. Although the new Local Development
Framework (which will replace the former Local Plan) has not yet been
prepared, the District Council is now using the ‘Housing Strategy’ to
allocate new residential development.
"My Council is concerned about the appropriateness of PPG3 design policies
when applied to historic and relatively small market towns such as
Lichfield. Walsall Road and Chesterfield Road were in the pipeline as
residential sites long before PPG3, but the developers (and District) have
used adherence to PPG3 to create high-density ‘inner city’ style residential
development on what are actually semi-rural locations on greenfield sites on
the city outskirts. The extent of this on Walsall Road is evidenced by the
ability to fit 1,100 dwellings onto a site originally allocated for 650.
The developers have certainly gained from this with many more units to sell,
but the new residents find themselves in three-storey (and now some
four-storey) dwellings which have very small gardens, very small rooms, and
which are so close to each other and front so tightly onto the narrow
roadways, that they are in almost permanent shade, even in summer.
"There are as yet no bus services to the Walsall Road estate, and the
narrowness of the roads will make finding bus routes through the estate very
difficult. Moreover, the estate does not link well to the city, with the
main ‘Cathedral Avenue’ – the central formal landscape feature – ending in a
view of the back of a 1930’s bungalow, and an almost impassable muddy
footpath link to the Bowling Green island.
"We have also been seeking to redress the serious imbalance between housing
and employment provision in the City. As you will be aware, the morning
traffic jams are heading out of Lichfield, because the number of jobs in the
city is far less than the working population. In terms of sustainability
this is far from ideal, and the city needs to achieve a much better balance
between employment and housing provision. We have achieved some success to
date with local planning policy, with the District Council bringing forward
preparation of its Employment Strategy to link with the Housing Strategy,
and potentially earmarking some additional employment land in the City.
"However, there is still some way to go to bring this to fruition, and again
PPG3 is not proving helpful. The value of a high-density residential site
is considerably greater than an employment site, and so existing employment
sites such as Bisons, SCA Packaging, the Magistrates Courts, and even petrol
filling stations, are being closed and the land sold for housing. This may
help to meet the quota for development on previously developed land, but it
only worsens the imbalance between housing and employment. Moreover, even
where land is earmarked for employment, developers hold back on developing
it as such, in the hope of eventually securing the much greater financial
gains from future residential use.
"While PPG3 may have helped the regeneration of urban areas, it has not
therefore been helpful to Lichfield. Redevelopment of brownfield sites
requires high land values, which are effectively achieved by restricting the
supply of development land elsewhere. This situation is unlikely to improve
in the foreseeable future, because the spatial strategy of the new Regional
Planning Guidance 11, published in June this year, involves moving from the
recent position of two houses built outside the Major Urban Areas for each
one within them, to less than one outside for each one within.
"Although on the face of it this is ‘good news’ for Lichfield in that it
should help restrict future large-scale growth, RPG11 seems to ignore the
fact that, although you can stop building houses in Lichfield, you can’t
stop people from all over the West Midlands wanting to move here. Without
the ‘safety valve’ of freely available housing land in areas such as
Fradley, then development land in ‘desirable’ places such as Lichfield City
is at an absolute premium – for example, the fifteen apartments currently
being created on the upper floors of the former Magistrates Court start at
£180,000 for a one-bedroom flat. RPG11 will only increase this pressure,
and much of the indigenous population of the area will soon be priced out."
Michael Fabricant then asked Keith Hill MP, Minister for Housing and
Planning in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, whether he would
clarify planning guidances 3 and 11 as they relate to Lichfield. In his
response to Michael Fabricant, the Minister for Housing and Planning wrote:
"The Government’s overall objective for-housing as set out in PPG3 is to
provide sufficient, well-designed housing and high-quality. living
environments that are accessible to all. To promote more sustainable
patterns of new development and to make better use of previously-developed
land, the focus for additional housing is towards existing towns and cities.
The policy advice contained within PPG3 is applicable to all areas, both
urban and rural. Whilst I note Mr Young’s concerns about the appropriateness
of PPG3 density and design policies when applied to historic and small
market towns such as Lichfield, the Government firmly believes that with
good design and layout, the density requirements set out within PPG3 can be
achieved without detriment to the local environment. I would point out that.
in addition to ensuring an efficient use of land through increased
densities, PPG3 also stresses the importance of good design and layout as an
integral part in improving the quality and attractiveness of residential
"As you are aware, Regional Planning Guidance for the West Midlands (RPG 11)
was issued by the Secretary of State in June 2004. Urban renaissance, a key
element of which is to be achieved through focussing future development
within the Major Urban Areas (MUAs) of Birmingham/Solihull, the Black
Country and the north Staffordshire conurbation forms a fundamental part of
the strategy. The approach within RPG 11 seeks to reverse the trend of
decentralisation from the MUAs and the consequential development and
environmental pressures that this process has placed on other parts of the
region. As recognised, this dispersal of population in the past led to
unsustainable forms of development as smaller settlements have suffered from
insufficient levels of economic activity to support a balanced population
leading to people having to travel greater distances to access services–and
job opportunities. A key aim behind the current RPG is that through creating
attractive residential environments within the MUAs, out-migration can be
stemmed. Outside the MUAs in settlements such as Lichfield, progressively
lower levels of housing growth are proposed, so that future growth continues
to accommodate local needs whilst not encouraging further decentralisation."
"It is clear" says Michael Fabricant "that the minister’s reply is vague and
does not reflect the reality on the ground. PPG 3 demands a density of
housing in both urban and rural areas of between 30-50 dwellings per hectare
with brownfield sites, such as petrol filling stations, being used first.
It is all very well the minister saying ‘the Government firmly believes that
with good design and layout, the density requirements set out within PPG3
can be achieved without detriment to the local environment’ but in
practice, closely packed housing cannot offer the same environment as that
found on Boley Park or north Lichfield. It is naïve to suggest that a
modern housing estate can duplicate the historic heart of Lichfield.
Instead, we are seeing the construction of high density ‘inner city’ style
residential development on what are rural or semi-rural sites; 3 and 4
storey dwellings fronting directly onto narrow streets and with very small
gardens which are always in the shade with little space for children to
"Lichfield District Council is being forced to accept housing plans which in
the past it would have turned down. Meanwhile, the City Council has put
forward a resolution to be debated at the Staffordshire Parish Councils’
Association AGM in November."
The motion states:
"That all Planning Authorities be asked not to consider PPG3 policies in
isolation but as only one of a large number of factors to be considered".
"However, even if the motion is passed, it will have no strength in law"
says Michael Fabricant. "Nevertheless, if the motion is passed, I will
initiate a planning debate in the House of Commons based on the
Staffordshire Parish Councils’ Association decision. The Government
Minister will have to respond and I hope he will consider amending planning
laws before they destroy the character of Lichfield forever."