Pre-application advice

The scheme was reviewed by BANES on the 8th January 2013 with written feedback received on the 4th February 2013.

General Principles of Development

The site that you have asked us to consider is currently occupied by two out of a row of three recent commercial buildings which front onto the southern side of the western section of James Street West, immediately to the west of the former Green Park Station. The buildings that are included in your site are each used for office purposes, whilst the third building (not part of your site) is occupied as a health centre. The whole of this frontage is included within the area covered by the Bath Western Riverside Supplementary Planning Document (BWR SPD), and by the associated Policy GDS.1/B.1 in the Bath and North East Somerset Local Plan. The Local Plan was adopted in October 2007, and the SPD was adopted in March 2008.

The Local Plan policy seeks to facilitate the regeneration of a large area of the western city, and the SPD provides a strategic framework to guide the submission and determination of planning applications within the area designated within the Local Plan. The main purpose of the SPD is to strongly discourage piecemeal development in favour of a comprehensive approach to regeneration within which all parts of the SPD area will be expected to contribute to the provision and improvement of strategic infrastructure and to the costs of preparing land for development through decontamination, flood protection works, etc. In addition, the provision of an enhanced public transport system serving the western part of the city is a key element in the Council’s strategy. Any development proposals that do not contribute to the delivery of BWR can be expected to be refused.

The Local Plan and the SPD can be found using the following links to the Council’s web site:

http://www.bathnes.gov.uk/services/planning-and-building-control/planning-policy/local-plan

http://www.bathnes.gov.uk/services/planning-and-building-control/planning-policysupplementary-planning-documents-spds

The Development Team considered your proposals in the light of the General Principles included in the documents referenced above, and the implications of these documents were discussed in some detail. The Development Team concluded that as a matter of principle your proposals could not be supported by Officers for the following reasons:

1. The SPD requires all planning applications relating to land within the SPD’s designated area to come forward in the context of an acceptable Context Plan. These Context Plans (i.e. Master Plans) are required to be provided for the whole of each of two extensive Development Zones – referred to as BWR West and BWR East.

2. One such plan has so far been prepared and agreed, and this forms a central part of the Outline Planning Permission granted to Crest Nicholson in December 2010, relating to the development of “BWR West”. This Development Zone broadly extends from Victoria Bridge Road westwards to Windsor Bridge Road (see Page 52 of the SPD document and Planning Permission 06/01733/EOUT – the planning application’s documents including the Master Plan can be seen at http://idox.bathnes.gov.uk/WAM/showCaseFile.do?appNumber=06/01733/EOUT).

3. The Outline permission granted to Crest Nicholson thus provides a framework against which all subsequent development schemes within BWR West can be assessed, and includes residential development, student accommodation and a new primary school. The first stages of the permission have already been implemented.

4. The permission granted to Crest Nicholson also provides for a strategic west-east public transport route to be constructed through the BWR area, and this route currently re-joins the existing highway network at the Pinesway Gyratory system adjacent to the Homebase premises.

5. No Context Plan has yet been submitted or even prepared in respect of the BWR East Development Zone identified within the BWR SPD. The current pre-application enquiry land occupies a relatively small part of the overall BWR East Development Zone area, but has a significant frontage onto James Street West, which is one of the key major traffic routes in this part of the city, and immediately adjoins the former Green Park Station, which is a key listed building in a strategic position at the entrance into BWR from the north and east. In the view of the Development Team, your clients’ site can only come forward successfully for redevelopment if it can be shown that the proposed development will make a positive contribution to the regeneration of the whole of BWR East, through the preparation of a Context Plan for the eastern Development Zone of BWR.

6. On the face of it, the current pre-application proposals are incompatible with the adopted BWR SPD, in that the submitted scheme seeks to redevelop your Clients’ land on a piecemeal basis. Whilst you have submitted sketch options to demonstrate how your proposals could be extended on a modular basis into the immediately adjoining land, these tentative steps stop a long way short of assessing the extent to which the Johnson's Group land might make a much more beneficial strategic contribution to the regeneration of BWR East as a whole. The BWR SPD is principally aimed at avoiding the pitfalls of piecemeal development, where major strategic enhancements and benefits can never come forward, and where short-term gain is sought at the expense of the long-term benefits promoted by the SPD.

The Development Team were particularly frustrated by the fact that almost the entire BWR Eastern Development Zone is currently the subject of pre-application proposals at varying stages of evolution. The very much larger Sainsbury’s project has been the subject of repeated public presentations by the retailer, but itself falls short of the comprehensiveness sought by the SPD. The failure of even that very substantial project to address the requirements of the SPD means that there are strategic opportunities – for example those associated with the potential delivery of enhanced public transport opportunities – that are simply not being considered at all as things stand.

The Development Team consequently came to the view that piecemeal development should be strongly discouraged at every opportunity, in order to increase the perception that there may be benefits to all concerned from adopting a more collaborative approach to the master planning of the BWR East Development Zone. A comprehensive Master Plan could facilitate the implementation of constituent parts within quite separate time-frames, as long as we could all be reassured that the optimal regeneration of the whole area is being enhanced rather than prejudiced.

In our view, the current draft proposals would best be withdrawn, and then re-submitted once the opportunity has been taken to reconfigure the submission so as to demonstrate proper regard to the Council’s formal commitment to the delivery of BWR. At the very least, a new Context Plan is needed for the whole of BWR East, which we feel should then be considered afresh through the Development Team process. The Context Plan will clearly be more robust if all significant ownership and development interests are involved, and in addition this facilitates an equitable division /allocation of strategic site preparation and infrastructure costs between the various parties

DETAILED CONSIDERATIONS

You are strongly advised to regard the comments above as the most significant part of this letter. However, the Development Team process also allows more detailed comments to be discussed, and these are set out in the second part of this letter on a topic basis. The comments that follow are without prejudice to the broader strategic concerns expressed above.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Our Local Plan policy for BWR is aimed at promoting the future westwards expansion of the city centre along James Street West, through Green Park Station and into BWR East. This policy, which is rolled forward into the current Draft Core Strategy, will generate significant and increasing levels of economic activity within the whole of BWR East, including the site that is the subject of the current proposals. In that context, and without the benefit of a Context Plan, the use of your clients’ land for student accommodation may not represent the most beneficial medium to long-term strategy.

However, in the current circumstances, there is no over-riding requirement for the existing commercial uses to be retained and the site can be considered suitable in economic development terms, for a range of potential city-centre uses. There is therefore no economic development objection to the principle of the proposed use, subject to it being demonstrated that the piecemeal development of this site can take place without prejudicing the strategic policy for the BWR East Development Zone.

URBAN DESIGN AND HISTORIC ENVIRONMENT

The Development Team assessed these two (normally separate) issues together. It was recognised that whilst the site sits within a sensitive historic environment provided by Green Park Station and by the smaller, domestic scale buildings on the northern side of James Street West (all forming part of the Bath World Heritage Site and the City of Bath Conservation Area), the existing buildings on the site are modern in design and materials and their replacement offers an opportunity to improve the overall character of this part of the city.

The site is within the BWR SPD area, but from an urban design perspective the approach adopted in the submissions does not represent a suitably comprehensive approach to development and does not propose land uses that can be assumed to be compatible with the SPD unless the proposals form part of a single comprehensive agreed master plan developed in a committed partnership between land owners.

The proposal does not even present a comprehensive approach to the development of this frontage onto James St West, as the scheme omits the NHS Walk-in Centre. It is therefore not possible to assess the longer-term implications upon this street in a positive manner.

The rear elements of this development need to be considered in the context of a comprehensive approach to the Sainsbury site, so as to avoid prejudicing the development of both areas, and your recognition of this linkage is suggested also by the inclusion of sketch development options.

The two buildings within the site are both capable of continued active employment use. Notwithstanding Economic Development considerations, in Urban Design terms there is an issue associated with economic activity and land use in this area. Whilst a narrative concerning Building 1 may indicate it is soon to be empty and beyond viable use, no information is provided concerning building two (or the adjoining NHS building). There is therefore neither evidence to support the loss of employment, nor an evidence base to justify omission of the remainder of the frontage, and also no evidence to justify a wholly student accommodation use in the context of a comprehensive land use approach to BWR East. The proposed land use may not be incompatible with the sustainability of the location. However, it will consume valuable land in the central area potentially capable of supporting employment and commercial uses best suited to the future proposals for an expanded city centre.

The height and continuous nature of the terrace will impose significant enclosure and shadow over James Street West. It will impose an awkward overbearing relationship with lower scaled and varied mews property along the north side and may impact adversely on amenity. These impacts are at odds with the general expectation that within the historic city centre in particular, new development will be of a scale that sits comfortably within its surroundings and which does not have an overbearing impact upon the character and amenities of adjoining properties.

Within the context of the BWR SPD, the back-of-pavement relationship to James Street West is questioned. Referenced contextual development highlights residential terraces set behind railings (with basements). Accordingly, the proposed development should be set back, and breaks in the terrace should be introduced to allow permeability and the passage of light, all within the context of a masterplan.

The building is very deep, producing a roof profile and potential materials at odds with the suggested attempt to mimic Georgian form. This may harm views of the World Heritage Site and Conservation Area from elevated viewpoints, and considerable analysis of this potential impact would be required. Such analysis would be best undertaken in respect of a more comprehensive set of regeneration proposals for BWR East, when local issues can potentially be overcome in design terms by utilising the interactions between proposed new buildings within a group in a positive manner. Piecemeal development tends to work in the opposite direction, which individual buildings providing competing visual demands and adding to an overall sense of disharmony.

The proposal provides minimum access from James Street West under a “bridge” forming part of the scheme. Whilst this feature is evidently a response to sewer alignment problems, it undeniably imposes limitations on access to the remainder of the Green Park Site and its capacity. A more comprehensive approach to design on a larger site could open opportunities for sewer access to be secured within a more responsive design and layout that better reflects the character of the surroundings.

The contra-flow bicycle lane within James Street West is of a temporary nature, and the comprehensive regeneration of BWR East would provide an opportunity for a broad enhancement of the pedestrian and cycling environment that is lost in the current scheme, but which will be so important to the occupiers of a no-car scheme.

The design has referenced Georgian terraces but has attempted to place smaller-scale accommodation behind the more imposing and barricade-like façade. However, in this location, where the building styles on the opposite side of James Street West are diverse and small in scale and where Green Park Station is a monumental building on a totally different scale, there is no historic need to reference Georgian terrace form. Green Park Station should retain its intended visual prominence, whereas your proposals will match it in scale to the detriment of the character of the setting of the Listed building.

Place-making objectives of the context together with the realities of designing for student accommodation should inform the approach, with a more creative use of contextual cues. The ground floor treatment is poor, providing minimal active uses and surveillance, and providing a lifeless frontage to James Street West that would be out of character with the lively domesticity of the opposite frontage. The two storey access and bridge section is unacceptable from a design perspective and this should simply be expressed as a side access.

There is a risk that the compromises imposed by the scale and operational requirements of the proposed use may lead to a harmful appearance, and whilst specification of materials may go some way to improve the contextual response, it is doubted if the building will be viewed as a positive contribution to Bath. The development form is institutional and appears inflexible, and there is doubt that it could respond positively to future changes in housing demand. As a large single block, there appears to be the opportunity to embed sustainable construction and renewable energy. Clearly a comprehensive approach to the Green Park quarter may enable wider measures, and the Development Team strongly felt that the overall design and character of the proposed scheme serves to demonstrate many of the problems associated with piecemeal development, particularly in an historic context.

CRIME PREVENTION

The Development Team considered comments made by the Avon and Somerset Police Liaison Officer. It was agreed that any application for planning permission should demonstrate that security and safety have been considered and how these will be achieved. Failure to include this at planning application stage will result in an objection. Students are seen as an easy target for burglaries, but there is less crime reported in purpose built accommodation in comparison to private rented accommodation. However, it is still important that security measures are considered including communal doors and areas, doors to individual students rooms, CCTV, cycle storage etc.

WASTE SERVICES

The Council’s Waste Services representative commented that a development of the size proposed would as a minimum require a substantial bin storage room at ground level on James Street West. This facility would need to be secured with a service entrance in close proximity to the road. There would need to be good vehicle access and dropped kerbs to allow bulk refuse and recycling containers to be wheeled out to the collection vehicles and returned.

You are advised that each residential unit should be provided with 100L of storage for waste, and 35L for recycling. On the basis of the accommodation arrangement shown in your plans, the development would need a storage facility able to hold the equivalent of 17 x 1100L wheeled bins for a weekly refuse collection. Alternatively, based on a commercial collection arrangement, at least 6 x 1100L bins for waste, and 2 x 1100L bins (or equivalent) for recycling would be required on a three times per week collection rota. For reference, the floor space required for 1 x 1100L bin is 1575mm x 1200mm.

Clearly this represents a significant design and access requirement, especially given the roadside terrace configuration of the proposals. A review of the design and layout associated with the Urban Design considerations set out above should also take on board storage and access arrangements for waste.

ACCESS

This is an area where the potential for enhancement associated with a more comprehensive regeneration of BWR East is particularly evident. Whilst students may not need cars, many do drive and even those who do not have a car will need to be able to move their belongings in and out at the start and end of each term or academic year. It would not be acceptable for James Street West to be used in this manner, and any student accommodation scheme for this site must therefore demonstrate how it is proposed to accommodate and manage all the access requirements associated with the use.

Your proposals are of a significant scale, but do not adequately address this issue. The temptation for students to utilise the car parking area within the curtilage of Green Park Station must also be designed out, as that area is already in heavy use and is, of course, privately owned and managed.

As part of a comprehensive Context Plan for BWR East Development Zone, proper provision could be made for all access and parking requirements, without ownership boundaries artificially constraining flexibility.

In respect of your specific proposals, the Council’s Highways Development Officer made the following comments which were endorsed by the Development Team:

• The site is well located on the edge of the city centre with good accessibility to existing facilities, shops, etc. within the city. It is not clear who will operate the proposed development or which University the development will provide student accommodation for. However, there is good access to bus stops and services servicing both Universities within easy walking distance of the site.

• Only 3 parking spaces are proposed to be provided on the site, one for the warden and two disabled spaces. This is a net reduction. As such, the proposed development will in theory encourage sustainable travel in accordance with current Policy, especially as the site is located within Controlled Parking Zone 6 and, by virtue of Single Executive Member Decision E11176 of 14th August 2006, residents of the proposed development will not be eligible to apply for residents' parking permits.

This potential advantage does, however come with a number of important caveats, and these are set out below:

1. Whilst car parking provision is very limited, adequate, convenient, secure, and sheltered cycle parking provision will be required to be provided. In this respect, the site is well located with regards provision for and access to cycling routes.

2. A Travel Plan will be required for the proposed development, such Plan focussing on the provision of travel information for residents and visitors together with the promotion of sustainable travel.

3. Information will be required as to how a ‘no car’ policy is to be enforced for residents in order to avoid increased parking demand and parking problems in uncontrolled areas away from the site.

4. Furthermore, the term ‘student’ will need to be defined (e.g. someone in full-time education?) in order to prevent abuse of accommodation.

5. With regards car ownership and bona fide students, it is recommended that occupancy and enforcement be carried out through agreement with one of the Universities, although we will need to be satisfied that there is adequate mechanism in place.to assure adequate enforcement will happen, in order to avoid the type of parking problems that have occurred elsewhere in the city associated with similar types of development.

• Given the location of the site, the proposed development will need to be the subject of a detailed Construction Management Plan.

• No indication is given as to how the site is to be serviced and what provision is to be made with regards loading and unloading when students arrive or depart. This will need to be the subject of a Site Management Plan that will show that no reliance will be placed upon James Street West or other local streets, or upon the adjoining Green Park Station private parking area.

• The proposed development will result in a substantial increase in pedestrian movements and pedestrian crossing demands in this locality which will need to be safely accommodated. As such, it is advised that the securing of developer contributions towards environmental and pedestrian improvements in the general locality will be required in the interests of highway safety.

• Finally, with regards encouraging use of public transport, consideration will need to be given at the time of any application with regards the need to secure funding to upgrade bus stops, e.g. provision of shelters and real time information, likely to be used by residents of the proposed development.

CONCLUSIONS

The Development Team concluded that this submission is unfortunately prejudiced by the absence of any attempt (either by your Clients or by others) to prepare a context plan for the development of the entire BWR East Development Zone as required by the BWR SPD. This site is within the Bath Conservation Area and World Heritage Site, and its development needs to be undertaken with appropriate care and on the basis of a more detailed analysis of the opportunities on offer. The Development Team regarded your submissions as something of a wasted opportunity that is particularly regrettable given the scope of change and opportunity that the Council’s policy framework provides for in this part of the city.

We will continue to work with you to secure the best possible form of development on this site, but we have to conclude that the scheme as currently presented falls short of our expectations in that it is an attempt to develop your Clients’ land on a piecemeal basis rather than as part of a more strategic approach to the BWR East area as a whole. Geoff Webber will be in touch in order to facilitate further discussions regarding the way forward.

Mark Reynolds

Team Leader, Development Management