Outline application (with access and layout to be determined and all other matters reserved) for the development of 15 affordable dwellings. (To see our objection in full with appendices included,…
The proposed plot for development is the field adjacent to Deadmill Lane, situated within the Green Belt and World Heritage Site. It borders both the Cotswolds AONB to the immediate north, and the Bath conservation area to the immediate south, and consequently forms part of their contextual setting. The site remains an important green and open space within the Larkhall character area that demarcates the rural boundary of Bath, and its steep sloping position to the south makes it a visually prominent feature and an important open space that frames and enhances views both into and out of the Bath conservation area and World Heritage Site. The site forms part of a “marked transition to a more rural character” (Larkhall Character Statement, 1998) and a tangible connection with the steep, undeveloped hillsides to the north and north-east as part of Larkhall’s significant landscape context and setting along Bath’s peripheral fringe.
The site is additionally associated with Dead Mill, a localised Non-Designated Heritage Asset (NDHA) of distinctive aesthetic, evidential, and historic character, the significance of which is accentuated by its retained rural setting and undeveloped, green space along Deadmill Lane. Ancillary features of associated interest are noted on the site of proposed development, including the old bakehouse and the coursed rubble stone boundary wall that wraps around the southern corner of the site on the junction with Deadmill Lane and Ferndale Road.
BPT previously objected to application 20/00491/OUT (refused, later dismissed at appeal). Our original objection can be read below in full (see Appendix 1), and is summarised as follows:
- Harm to the openness of the Green Belt, concluded to constitute inappropriate development with insufficient demonstration of ‘exceptional circumstances’.
- Harm to local distinctiveness and the rural townscape character of Larkhall.
- Substantial harm to the picturesque landscape setting of the Bath conservation area and World Heritage site, and the setting of the AONB.
- Insufficient justification or assessment of harm to the setting of a NDHA.
We acknowledge that this scheme has been slightly reduced from 18 dwellings to 15 dwellings, and there have been other minor material amendments to the scheme. However, the scheme largely matches what was previously proposed in the high density development of an undeveloped site on Bath’s rural periphery. The proposed changes do not substantially address concerns or appropriately justify development. We therefore maintain our in-principle objection to the site as previous, and refer to our original objection (see Appendix 1) in full.
Principle of Development in the Green Belt:
The Planning Statement concludes that the site constitutes a Rural Exception Site in accordance with Policy RA4 of the Core Strategy and Placemaking Plan. We maintain that the development would be out of “scale and keeping with the form and character of its location”, and no evidence has been provided to indicate otherwise. The fringe location of the site and the continued dependence on on-site parking indicates a poor, unsustainable relationship with local services and facilities. There remains insufficient justification of evidenced demand for affordable housing in this area; the applicant has stated that “134 households within the Lambridge ward require social housing” (Appeal Decision Report, February 2021), but this appears to be unsubstantiated with documented evidence such as a Local Needs Survey which is typically required to justify Rural Exception Site status. Community engagement is required to determine what type of housing is required in an area (affordable rent, shared ownership, etc.) and to identify who is eligible for affordable housing in the new development. Currently, it cannot be asserted that this development would “meet a demonstrated local need” or serve those with “demonstrated local connections”.
This site does not appropriately constitute a Rural Exception Site and therefore remains inappropriate development within the Green Belt.
Considering the reduction of the affordable housing offer from 18 dwellings to 15 dwellings, this would result in a reduced public benefit, whereas the substantial impact on the openness and rural character of the site would remain unchanged and therefore attributed greater weight in the planning balance. We do not consider that the public benefit or special circumstances outweigh harm to the Green Belt, and there has been no demonstration of other available sites viable for development.
Landscape Setting of the World Heritage Site and Cotswolds AONB:
We note that the Planning Statement incorrectly asserts that the site is outside of the World Heritage Site. It is however indicated to be within the World Heritage Site boundary on the LPA’s district map (see Appendix 2).
Part of the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the World Heritage Site and its landscape setting is derived from “fingers of countryside which stretch right into the city” (WHS Management Plan 2016-2022) as well as the presence of open agricultural land and hillside views around the city edges. This site is a significant remainder of agricultural/grazing land integrated within the townscape which remains a clear visual and evidential link to the open, rural countryside to the north. The development of the site would therefore sever this mutual connection by creating an urbanising ‘barrier’ between the residential context of Larkhall and its rural setting, with resulting harm to the OUV of the World Heritage Site and the rural character of the AONB.
Development of this site would put the northern section of the Deadmill Lane site under increased pressure for future development, and further cumulative harm to the setting of the AONB and World Heritage Site.
We are concerned that this application has not suitably addressed or considered this proposed harm to the World Heritage Site. World Heritage Sites are considered to be heritage assets of “the highest significance” (NPPF, para 189) and “should be conserved in a manner appropriate to their significance”. The inspector concluded that the site “makes a positive contribution to the significance of the World Heritage Site”, and development would therefore adversely affect its significance. The particular significance of this site and its contribution to the World Heritage Site has not been adequately understood, or harm appropriately outweighed or mitigated.
The inspector further highlighted viewpoints in/around the city from which development would be evident, including Alexandra Park, Little Solsbury Hill, and Prior Park. We note that the submitted LVIA does not address these raised concerns with impact on landscape views, with LVIA viewpoints being focused to the north-west of the site. Nonetheless, in the views provided the site remains an evident, green ‘breathing’ space that breaks up the perceived built massing in longer range views, particularly to the south-west, where further development would be an unwelcome urbanising influence.
We therefore maintain an in-principle objection to development on this site, and further ‘development creep’ on significant green spaces within Bath due to harm to the OUV of the World Heritage Site and the special qualities of the AONB.
Heritage Impact on the NDHA and the Setting of the Bath Conservation Area:
Where an application affects a NDHA, “a balanced judgement will be required having regard to the scale of any harm or loss and the significance of the heritage asset” (NPPF, para 203). Great weight should be attributed to the conservation of a heritage asset, irrespective of the proposed scale of harm. The inspector identifies the rural setting of Dead Mill as an aspect of its significance in understanding its historic attributes; therefore the proposed development would result in harm to a NDHA. The proposed sections demonstrate that the roofline of the new dwellings would sit higher than the mill, challenging its prominence as a distinctive landmark, and failing to achieve an appropriate “physical permeability” (Planning Statement) to mitigate adverse impact.
The Planning Statement refers to the post-war terraces to the south-east as context for the proposed change, but this does not account for the resulting, accumulated harm from this development to Larkhall’s character, appearance, and relationship with its setting. Further development would therefore result in further, cumulative harm to local distinctiveness and the setting of the conservation area. This existing housing is not considered an appropriate precedent or contextual reference for further development in this location.
Whilst outside the conservation area, the site forms part of its immediate indicative setting and contributes towards its distinctive character and appearance, and landscape setting. Development would result in adverse impact to the setting of the conservation area as a designated heritage asset due to its urbanising impact on a prominent open space, and should therefore be attributed great weight.
The inspector concluded that the “totality of the harm” to heritage assets, including the World Heritage Site, the conservation area, and the “significance of a non-designated heritage asset” would not be outweighed by public benefit. We maintain that this development would result in substantial, cumulative harm to multiple heritage assets which is not outweighed by public benefit.
We maintain concerns regarding what is meant by ‘affordable housing’. The application fails to appropriately detail how this housing would be affordable; the definition of affordable housing set out in the NPPF is at least 20% below local market rents, but considering market values in Bath this would not be affordable for a large number of local residents and families. It is additionally unclear as to how the proposed affordable housing would be secured ‘in perpetuity’. We strongly recommend that the mechanism for an ‘in perpetuity’ agreement is outlined and agreed as part of the planning application, rather than being left to later agreement and consequently susceptible to amendment. Affordable housing on this site needs to be sufficiently evidenced throughout the application process to ensure the scheme would not be affordable in name only.
Highways & Parking:
We note the continued objections from Highways on the basis of increased traffic congestion and parking overspill, and heightened risk to pedestrian and cyclist safety. Due to the narrowness and curved layout of the lane, visibility is severely restricted and a vehicle access anywhere along Deadmill Lane would likely result in the same issues with little mitigation. The provision of 30 on-site parking spaces would continue to have a considerable impact on the area with increased vehicular activity and associated noise and air pollution, and congestion. We maintain there would be an undesirable impact on the residential amenity, pedestrian safety, and the rural qualities and atmosphere of the character area contrary to Policies D4 and D6 of the Core Strategy and Placemaking Plan.
The previous reasons for refusal, and the inspector’s reasons for dismissal at appeal, have therefore not been addressed, and this application should be refused on the same grounds as previous. This application is contrary to Sections 12, 13, 15, and 16 of the NPPF, Policies DW1, B1, B4, BD1, CP6, D1, D2, D3, D4, D5, D6, HE1, NE2, NE2a, CP8, GB1, and RA4 of the Core Strategy and Placemaking Plan, and Objective 2 of the Core Strategy, and should be refused. We continue to emphasise the unsuitability of the site for future residential use.