Saxmundham Neighbourhood Plan

Inspector proposes to keep South Sax “Garden Neighbourhood” plan, but safeguard The Layers

Saturday, February 15th, 2020 5:32 pm

The Planning Inspector who is checking the District Council’s draft Local Plan for “soundness” has provisionally backed local calls to safeguard The Layers – the open area to the south of Saxmundham – from development.

He does however propose to uphold the controversial proposal for a new “Garden Neighbourhood” of some 800 dwellings, to be built between railway line and A12 bypass.

In a letter dated 30 January but only recently posted (reference J30) on the District Council’s Local Plan website, the Inspector, Philip Lewis, says

“My comments are based on all that I have read, heard and seen to date… However, I emphasise that the examination is not yet concluded and consultation on main modifications is still to take place. Therefore, these comments are without prejudice to my final conclusions on the Plan.”

In technical terms, the Inspector proposes (see page 7 of his letter) that the land designated as part of the Garden Neighbourhood but to the east of the railway should not be included in the town’s “settlement boundary”, within which there is a general presumption in favour of development. He concludes:

“As submitted the Plan is not clear and would not be effective in this form. Having regard to all that I have read and heard at the hearing, I consider that it is feasible to achieve approximately 800 homes and a community hub on the land identified between the A12 road and the railway line as proposed in the South Saxmundham Garden Neighbourhood. The settlement boundary should be redrawn to exclude the part of the allocation to the east of the railway. Whilst the land to the east of the railway should be retained within the [Garden Neighbourhood] allocation, the Policy criteria should be clear that land within the allocation to the east of the railway is allocated for open space/SANG only.” [Our emphasis]

(SANG = Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace)

Saxmundham Town Council and Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group have argued that the amount of new housing in Saxmundham in the draft Plan is too high and should be limited to 500 or 600 new dwellings, and that these would be mainly better located to the east of the town. The Council and Steering Group had however also strongly opposed the concept of development on The Layers, on landscape, heritage and other grounds.

There has also been strong local community opposition to the proposals to potentially permit built development on The Layers, including from the Leave the Layers Alone group (LTLA)

Town Council Chairman Jeremy Smith said

“We give a cautious welcome to the Inspector’s conclusion, at this stage, that The Layers and land east of the railway should be preserved as open space. We call on the District Council to accept this conclusion, which is in line with the views of the vast majority of our residents, as expressed in our Household Survey.

We want to see our town grow and prosper, but remain however far from persuaded that a development on the scale and in the location proposed is in the best interests of Saxmundham or the wider district, and hope that the District Council will now look again at the whole concept.”

The issue of the extent of the settlement boundary (and thus of whether building on The Layers would be acceptable) had first been raised by the Town Council in its written response to the draft Plan back in February 2019:

However the policies  set out in Policy SCLP12.29 (and indicative masterplan) rightly exclude housing, employment or town centre-type development on The Layers, for reasons including heritage, landscape etc. Yet the whole site is specified as being within the Saxmundham Settlement Boundary, which according to the general policy here in 3.3. seems to place the burden of proof on those arguing against development on the site.  Either the policy needs to be amended to deal with such a situation, or the Saxmundham Site Boundary must be changed to exclude The Layers (and preferably land to the east of the railway).” [Our emphasis]

The same point was taken up again in August, before last summer’s public examination of the Plan. In its response to the Inspector’s questions, the Town Council had argued:

“In our view, the proposed settlement boundary for Saxmundham is wrong and not justified. The land forming part of the proposed Garden Neighbourhood to the east of the railway is proposed to be used for informal/open space and/or SANG, and is not (as per SCLP3.3) “New residential, employment and town centre development…”

At the end of his letter, the Inspector says

“On the evidence I have read and heard to date, all of the main modifications I set out in this letter are necessary for the Plan to be sound. I should be grateful if the Council would let me know its response.”

We look forward to hearing from the District Council, and to working together in the best interests of Saxmundham.