Field On Corner With Ferndale Road, Deadmill Lane, Lower Swainswick, Bath
The proposed site of 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.
Unlike the previous two applications (see 21/04746/OUT & 20/00491/OUT), this development concerns the southern half of the identified field which directly overlooks the junction between Deadmill Lane and Ferndale Road. However, we maintain that the site as a whole is a significant transition point between Bath’s semi-rural residential periphery and its open countryside landscape setting. Therefore, the proposed development will continue to be considered in relation to its landscape connectivity to the north as one of the “fingers of countryside which stretch right into the city” (WHS Management Plan 2016-2022) as well as its contribution to the distinctive local character of Larkhall and the setting of the Bath conservation area.
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 has previously objected to refused applications 20/00491/OUT and 21/04746/OUT for respective schemes of 18 and 15 affordable dwellings on this site. Our ongoing position regarding the principle of development on the site 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 the scale of development has been significantly decreased to two dwellings across half of the plot previously earmarked for development. However, we maintain that this scheme continues to propose the build-up of a significant, undeveloped Green Belt site which forms the setting of multiple heritage assets and an important local landmark which positively contributes to the local distinctiveness of the townscape.
As a result of the reduced number of dwellings, the proposed public benefit of this proposal has significantly diminished, and therefore greater weight must be attributed to the continued harm to local character and the setting of multiple heritage assets. We maintain that the proposed changes do not substantially address our concerns or appropriately justify development, and we therefore continue to object to the principle of development on this site.
Principle of Development in the Green Belt:
In accordance with appeal APP/F0114/W/20/3260800, the inspector concluded that the proposed development of 18 affordable dwellings was considered to be appropriate development in the Green Belt for the following reasons:
“CS policy RA4 permits residential development of 100% affordable housing where it meets specified requirements. The Council has informed me that in November 2020, there were 114 general needs applicants on Homesearch that had expressed a first choice preference for Larkhall (including Lambridge). The appellant has also informed me, following a Freedom of Information request, that 134 households within the Lambridge ward require social housing. This is sufficient to demonstrate a local need for affordable housing. […] The proposed development would also be well-related to community services and facilities. It would accord with the aims and objectives of CS policy RA4. In so doing, it would not amount to inappropriate development within the GB and would also accord with the provisions of CS policy CP8.”
In accordance with Policy RA4 of the Core Strategy and Placemaking Plan, the criteria for a Rural Exception Site are defined as follows:
“a) it meets a demonstrated local need for affordable housing; b) the housing remains affordable in perpetuity; c) occupancy of the affordable housing would remain, as a first priority, for those with demonstrated local connections; d) the development is in scale and keeping with the form and character of its location; e) the development is well related to community services and facilities.”
There is no indication as part of this application that the two proposed dwellings would be affordable or would meet evidenced local housing need as collated by the local planning authority. We maintain that the development would not be of a scale in keeping with the form and character of its location (as discussed in more detail below). As such, the development would fail to meet the criteria of Policy RA4 and cannot be considered a Rural Exception Site.
This site does not appropriately constitute a Rural Exception Site and therefore constitutes inappropriate development within the Green Belt.
Paragraph 149 of the NPPF states that “a local planning authority should regard the construction of new buildings as inappropriate in the Green Belt” unless it can be categorised as one of the defined exceptions. The applicant argues that the development constitutes “limited infilling in villages” on grounds that “although the site is not technically part of the Bath urban area and therefore falls outside of any village boundaries however due to the sites enclosure on 3 sides by existing development it does form part of the urban area.”
The NPPF does not define what constitutes limited infill development. However, Policy D7 defines infill development as “the filling of a small gap in an otherwise built-up frontage, usually consisting of frontage plots only.” Similarly, the Oxford Dictionary definition of limited as “restricted in size, amount or extent” has been successfully upheld at appeal (see APP/J1915/W/19/3236746). BPT maintains that the proposed site constitutes a significant green intervention within the streetscape with considerable separation between the existing developments on either side of the plot. Due to the size and elevation of the site, it is viewed as a significant gap in townscape views and positively contributes to the looser, semi-rural character of the Larkhall area.
Therefore, in considering the scale and visual prominence of this open site we conclude that this development would exceed the parameters of limited infilling. The inspector previously concluded that the site “is an integral part of the lower slopes of the hillside and countryside which are adjacent to the northern edge of the settlement and provides a pleasing contrast to the rows of houses to the south east”, valued for its “unspoilt, green open qualities.”
The development would therefore constitute inappropriate development of the Green Belt with no demonstrated special circumstances.
Considering this scheme no longer offers any affordable housing and proposes a limited contribution of two dwellings to the housing market, very limited weight must be attributed to this significantly reduced public benefit, against which the continued detrimental impact to the openness and character of the Green Belt should be afforded substantial weight in accordance with paragraph 148 of the NPPF. We do not consider that the public benefit or special circumstances outweigh harm to the Green Belt.
Landscape Setting of the World Heritage Site and Cotswolds AONB:
We maintain that 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 inspector originally concluded that the site “makes a positive contribution to the significance of the WHS.”
We maintain that the development of the southern end of the site would continue to visually sever 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. We agree with the inspector’s original conclusion that “whilst the development would form only a small part of some important views, it would be a discordant addition to the landscape and adversely affect the significance of the WHS.”
Whilst the southern half of the original site is now proposed for development, we maintain strong concerns that development would set a harmful precedent for increasing pressure on the northern half of the site to deliver future housing under the pretext of ‘infill’, with incremental harm to the openness of the Green Belt and further cumulative harm to the setting of the AONB and World Heritage Site.
We additionally highlight the need for the proposed harm to the defined special qualities of the World Heritage, a heritage asset of “the highest significance”, to be considered as part of the cumulative impact to multiple heritage assets with very limited public benefit and inadequate assessment or mitigation of this harm.
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:
In reference to the impact of development on the setting of the Bath conservation area, the inspector concluded the following:
“The proposal, by virtue of the buildings, roads and other hard surfaced areas would result in the loss of the unspoilt, green open qualities of the site and would erode the pleasing contribution the site makes to the historic landscape setting of this part of the CA. It would have an adverse effect upon the significance of the CA, which would amount to less than substantial harm. This would be at the lower end of a sliding scale of harm. When weighed with the public benefits of the proposal, permission should be withheld.”
We maintain that the development of this site would erode the special qualities of the setting of a Non-Designated Heritage Asset by disturbing the interconnected evidential and historic relationship of the mill with its contextual landscape. The inspector identified the rural setting of Dead Mill as an aspect of its significance in understanding its historic attributes and the case officer concluded in the Delegated Report of application 20/00491/OUT that “The loss of the open space which forms part of the setting of the Old Mill, and the loss of features such as the natural rubble stone boundary wall that is a characteristic rural feature of the area is considered to result into harm to the heritage assets.” Notably, the Larkhall Character Statement describes Dead Mill as an important landmark whose “dominance in the street scene is accentuated by the space surrounding it as the urban area ceases to the south. This marked transition to a more rural character, as one leaves the urban area, is key to the setting of the mill itself.” Ultimately, the significance of the site is highlighted in its positive contribution to the setting and significance of a NDHA and the wider character and appearance of the conservation area.
In accordance with paragraph 199 of the NPPF, “when considering the impact of a proposed development on the significance of a designated heritage asset, great weight should be given to the asset’s conservation (and the more important the asset, the greater the weight should be). This is irrespective of whether any potential harm amounts to substantial harm, total loss or less than substantial harm to its significance.”
The submitted application does not adequately address the potential impact of development on the appearance and character of the conservation area, or the cumulative impact on the setting of multiple heritage assets proportionate to their significance.
We maintain that this development, although reduced in size, would continue to have an adverse impact on the visual amenities of the conservation area as a designated heritage asset due to its urbanising impact on a prominent, highly visible open space, and should therefore be attributed great weight against the limited public benefits.
The development of the southern half of the site would create a new built-up street frontage. This development would encroach on a historically undeveloped site which enables a greater degree of visual permeability through the area, and strongly contributes to the semi-rural atmosphere prevalent along Bath’s residential fringe where it interacts with its picturesque landscape setting.
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 continue to result in substantial, cumulative harm to multiple heritage assets which is not outweighed by the very limited public benefit.
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.