Saxmundham Neighbourhood Plan

The Suffolk Coastal Local Plan finally adopted – big implications for Saxmundham

Sunday, November 22nd, 2020 11:42 pm

By Jeremy Smith, Chair of Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group

First, my apologies for being slow in reporting on this – there’s been lots going on – but finally, after many months of consultations, discussion and public examination, the Suffolk Coastal Local Plan was adopted by the local planning authority (the district council) on 23rd September 2020. 

Since a Neighbourhood Plan (which we are working on for Saxmundham) must by law not conflict with the policies of the Local Plan, the terms of the policies in the Local Plan are of huge importance for us in Sax.  This is in large part because of the plan’s policy to create a new “South Saxmundham Garden Neighbourhood” of 800 dwellings, straddling the parishes of Saxmundham and Benhall. 

There will also be a new primary school, as well as certain community facilities, mainly geared to residents of the new neighbourhood.  All of the housing will be built between the railway line and the A12 by-pass.  The employment land is defined on a site on the west side of the  A12, which will require a new crossing point – presumably via a new roundabout – which is safe for pedestrians and cyclists.

In some respects, the final policy approved is an improvement on earlier drafts, thanks to the arguments put forward by many Saxmundham residents, as well as by the Town Council and our NP Steering Group.

In particular, the Planning Inspector who undertook last year’s public examination agreed with us that the Plan policy should be made firmer, to state that there should be no built development on The Layers and the rest of the land in the defined site to the east of the railway.   Moreover, the Inspector also agreed with our argument that this land should be excluded from the defined “settlement boundary” for Saxmundham, which again helps to preserve this land from being built upon in the foreseeable future.  (All that, of course, is subject to any changes in national planning policy..).

Our Steering Group will – now that the policy has been formally adopted – seek to implement the new policy in the best interests of the town and its residents, including the future new residents.  That commitment need of course to be shared by the developer also staying faithful to the defined site and ‘deliverables’.  One issue is that the site of the Garden Neighbourhood is split between different landowners, who will need to cooperate if the site is to be delivered in line with the policy.  Alternatively, as the Inspector flagged up, East Suffolk Council (the local planning authority) could CPO part of the site if need be (i.e. compulsorily purchase it).

 The detailed policy requirements for the Garden Neighbourhood are set out at page 300 of the Plan, and are given at the foot of this article.  The Plan of course covers a very wide range of subjects, including economy, housing, transport, tourism, energy, climate change, natural environment… There are also sections on town centre policies, which in general our Neighbourhood Plan supports.

The general strategy for Saxmundham (page 292) is probably not controversial – the issue is how to implement it successfully, with adequate resources:

“The strategy for Saxmundham is to:
a) Enhance the vitality and vibrancy of the town centre, including through protecting and enhancing the historic core of the town and the railway station;
b) Utilise opportunities related to the presence of the railway and the proximity to the A12;
c) Diversify and expand employment opportunities;
d) Enhance pedestrian and cycle connectivity around and beyond the town, particularly to the town centre and the railway station;
e) Promote quality of life including through enhancements to networks of green infrastructure;
f) Increase the provision of housing and affordable housing, and providing greater choice in the mix of housing available;
g) Provide for a safe and inclusive community; and
h) Protect and enhance the natural environment”.

We understand that the would-be developer, Pigeon Investment Ltd, is likely to commence the first stage of public community consultation on their proposals with residents of Saxmundham and Benhall in the near future.  If so, we will keep you updated.

“Policy SCLP12.29: South Saxmundham Garden Neighbourhood

Approximately 67.8ha of land for a garden neighbourhood is identified to the south of Saxmundham, which includes land within the parish of Benhall, for an education led development, comprising primary school provision, community facilities, employment land and open space alongside a variety of residential development. This new development will be delivered through a masterplan approach brought forward through landowner collaboration and community engagement.

Critical to the success of this masterplan will be the integration of the new garden neighbourhood with the existing community of Benhall and Saxmundham, as well as taking into account the location of the site. The masterplan should be informed by community engagement and include:

a) Provision of a one form of entry primary school on a 2.2ha site to enable further expansion and early years provision;

b) 0.1ha of land on the site should be reserved for a new early years setting should suitable and accessible alternative provision not be available elsewhere…;

c) Community hub comprising a variety of services and facilities to be located in an accessible location;

d) Project level Habitats Regulations Assessment and a significant area of Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace which is designed to mitigate impacts on European protected sites;

e) Provision of green infrastructure, including informal and formal open spaces, circular walks, and retention and enhancement of the natural features on the site such as trees, woodland and hedgerows to be incorporated into the layout of the development;

f) Formal recreational opportunities to cater for all ages, including play space;

g) Public rights of way on the site should be preserved and enhanced;

h) Biodiversity networks and habitats to be preserved and enhanced, including measures to enhance biodiversity within housing areas;

i) Design and layout that supports a dementia friendly environment;

j) Design and development of the site which, having regard to the Council’s South Saxmundham Garden Neighbourhood Heritage Impact Assessment, is sympathetic to the south entrance of Saxmundham, the Conservation Area and heritage assets, and views of the sensitive landscape and heritage setting to the east. A heritage impact assessment will be required;

k) Proportionate archaeological assessment;

l) A site-specific Flood Risk Assessment which considers the cumulative impact on receptors off site;

m) Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) to reduce the risk of surface water flooding and sewer flooding;

n) Evidence is required to demonstrate there is adequate Water Recycling Centre capacity or that capacity can be made available;

o) Provision of new vehicular access point from the A12 supported by safe access for cyclists and pedestrians;

p) Significant pedestrian and cycle accessibility throughout the site, with connections and improvements to networks beyond the site, including to the station and town centre;

q) Provision of a Transport Assessment, with particular regard to the capacity of the B1121/B1119 signalised crossroads;

r) Employment land to the west of the A12, to be masterplanned and delivered as part of the Garden Neighbourhood;

s) Approximately 800 dwellings of a range of types, sizes and tenures including housing to meet the needs of older people, younger and vulnerable people, and provision of self-build plots, including affordable housing on site;

t) Provision of appropriate police, community safety and cohesion facilities;

u) Any planning application should be supported by evidence which assesses the quality and quantity
of sand and gravel resources on site in order to determine whether on-site resources should be
used on-site during development; and

v) The area of land east of the railway is identified for the provision of open space and Suitable
Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANG), to be masterplanned and delivered as part of the garden
neighbourhood. The retention of existing uses on land to the east of the railway would be
supported where this complements the delivery of open space and SANG…”