Milton Neighbourhood and Planning Forum’s Comments to Draft Local Plan Consultation October 2021

Considering this Authority declared a Climate Emergency in March 2019 and set itself a “Net Zero” Carbon Emissions Target for 2030, we are surprised the Draft Plan fails to articulate what our tonnage of carbon emissions currently are; how the proposals in this Plan can/could be quantified; and hence what they will be in the event the Policies are realised/complied with. Climate change is the greatest challenge facing our society and we are spending £millions on new Sea-Defences.

Under the Climate Change Act 2008, the UK Government has committed itself to reducing emissions by at least 100% of 1990 levels by 2050. A “Net Zero” Target of 2030 is an inspiring objective to aim for but this Consultation Draft seems to ignore the implications.

Local development plans should be able to demonstrate how policy contributes to the Climate Change Act targets. To do so must require an understanding of both the baseline carbon dioxide emissions and then the actions needed to reduce emissions over time. Therefore there needs to be Annual Monitoring Reports containing assessments of carbon performance against the carbon budget regime set out in the Climate Change Act. The Section 19 duty within the 2008 Act is much stronger in decision-making than the status of the NPPF, which is guidance, not statute.

According to the RTPI, where local development plan policy which complies with the duty is challenged by objectors or a planning inspector on the grounds, for example, of viability, they must make clear how the plan would comply with the duty if the policy were to be removed. Whatever new policy may emerge, compliance with the legal duty on mitigation must logically mean compliance with the provisions of the Climate Change Act

The Draft’s introduction includes a reference to the Climate Change Act of 2008:- Para 1.1.12 Reducing harmful emissions will be a key part of supporting the council’s Climate Change Emergency Declaration, as well as meeting our responsibilities as part of the UK’s commitments under the Climate Change Act 2008 (as amended). New development will have an impact on the environment throughout its lifetime and will need to be constructed to be resilient against the impacts of climate change that are predicted to occur over the next 100 years. 1.1.13 The challenge for the Portsmouth Local Plan is to balance the conflicting and competing issues and development needs, within the context of Portsmouth’s unique constraints and opportunities, in order to plan for the long-term sustainable development of the city.

The Monitoring and Implementation S1.4 is where we would expect to see evidence of Section 19 Compliance. However, we cannot seewhere the Carbon Emissions are accounted for and urgently recommend they be so.

Excepting the Housing “Need” proposal for 17,701 new homes over the Plan period (see below), we broadly agree with the Strategic Objectives around culture; the economy and lifelong learning; easy travel and prioritising walking and cycling. However, we suggest the “Green City” objective ought to be expanded to embrace a “Blue” objective because of the International and National Conservation objectives to prevent development impacts on our two Harbours. We suggest too, the general provision of health facilities is far from adequate and the “Healthy and Happy City” objective to achieve “optimal” health and well-being of residents appears too weak.

The “Key Themes” in themselves are fine, but the City’s generally poor physical environment and its poor health outcomes ought to make us realise something is wrong.

The core function of any Spatial Plan should be to create places enabling people to live “Healthy and Happy” lives even if Land Reform and a removal of many “Permitted Development rights” would help realise it too. The 2001 and the 2011-2027 Plans also aimed to improve health and well-being and the environment including the need for “greening”; sustainable transport; and better design.

We believe “Healthy and Happiness” would be severely compromised by the enormity of the housing numbers proposed should they ever be built. It would be environmentally and socially unsustainable; irrespective of their setting; of how they look and how well they function; to accommodate 17,701 new dwellings over the 15 years duration of the Plan if the current housing stock is 89.800, then effectively we are being consulted upon a 20% increase in round terms. It undermines the Plan’s “Clean Growth” initiative because it would require building into ecologically rich mudflats at Tipner contrary to Climate Change Policies and the Habitats Directive; it would be incompatible with the 2019 Ministerial Directive to reduce Air Pollution to within legal limits; and it would reduce residents’ quality of life and harm the environment generally.

The proposal to build 17,701 new dwellings is excessive and unacceptable.

As the Plan acknowledges, this is a Central Government’s assessment of housing need and ignores local constraints and deliverability. There are in Portsmouth “Exceptional Circumstances” including its geography:- its minimal size and currently highly “densified” and urbanised character; the congestion and pollution; the high levels of existing deprivation and the lower life expectancy rates; the Conservation of Habitats imposed by Statute and International Law; the extreme paucity of open-spaces; and the whole transport inefficiency in trying to access anywhere easily whether on foot, cycle or in a vehicle. These are relevant factors needing to be taken account of in the plan-making process.

The health inequalities for Portsmouth are expressed in para 1.1.10 of the Draft where it says Portsmouth has more acute health inequalities and lower life expectancies than surrounding areas. City-wide, the life expectancy at birth for both males (78.4 years) and females (82 years) is lower than both the average for the South East region (80.7/84.1 years) and for England (79.6/83.2 years)…….

Air Pollution is a persistent and pervasive health issue and para 1.1.11 says:- Alongside many other busy cities around the UK, Portsmouth has been identified as a city that needs to reduce air pollution levels as quickly as possible. In Portsmouth, one of the main pollutants that can impact on human health is nitrogen dioxide (a product of combustion from road traffic).

Air Pollution urgently needs resolution but it cannot be resolved through “mitigation”. It needs a more positive intervention to avoid the likelihood of pollution occurring altogether. Again In para 1.1.11, the Draft says:- “There are currently five Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) predicted to exceed the annual nitrogen dioxide National Air Quality Objective (NAQO)”. The redevelopment of St James’ Hospital with 316 new dwellings will inevitably impact on AQMA 9. AQMA9 would breach Legal Limits today if the latest Monitored readings of 2019 were not reduced by 16%. That reduction is greater still than the 10.9% made in 2018.

The Plan is therefore at odds with reality where it says at para 6.3.14:- “It is proposed that new development complies with the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) targets on air quality; in view of the recognized air quality issues in the city and the ahead of the likely inclusion of this requirement in the forthcoming Environment Act”. The 2021 WHO Guidelines for annual NO2 is 10µg/m³ and Velder Avenue in AQMA 9 exceeds that value by 3.6 times and that’s after the PCC bias adjustment factor of 84%. The WHO Guidelines for Fine and Coarse Particulates are 5µg/m³ and 10µg/m³ respectively and PCC has no idea if Velder Avenue exceeds these values because it does not monitor them in this location.

The proposed Policy D3 requires “Major development proposals will be required to undertake an accompanying Health Impact Assessment (HIA), demonstrating how the planning application has been informed by the findings of the assessment”. If the pollution is already known to the Authority then, in relation to the Milton Strategic Development Area for 436 new homes, this text is a nonsense:-

Air Quality:- Planning permission will only be granted where it can be demonstrated that proposals have fully considered and adequately mitigated the potential for poor air quality impact on both the proposed location as well as the future occupants/users of the development, in line with the relevant requirements and considerations. It would be an impossibility for an Applicant to “demonstrate” mitigation for a “potential” problem if it already exists. Furthermore, “Mitigation” conflicts with the Ministerial Directive of 2019 where PCC was mandated to reduce air pollution levels to within “legal” limits (that same legal NO2  limit which is four times higher than the WHO standards the Plan aims to achieve). It is just as impossible to “mitigate” a legally mandated obligation in the interests of Public Health as it is for applicants to mitigate pre-existing pollution. Air pollution would need to meet the WHO standards IN ADVANCE of new development but as it is, AECOM the Environmental Consultants for the Neighbourhood Plan conclude in their Strategic Environmental Appraisal the levels of growth proposed in the emerging Portsmouth Plan are likely to lead to exceedances of in the National Air Quality Objectives in the AQMA areas just as this Plan’s para 1.1.11 does.

We broadly agree with the draft Spatial Development Strategy and we agree with the principles of Economic Growth and Regeneration but will confine our comments to issues more directly affecting the Milton Neighbourhood.

We support the quantum of Affordable Housing and in general the Housing mix proposed in Housing Policy H2. We have reservations about the availability of land of sufficient extent to provide the 57% of new family homes desired. During our Neighbourhood Plan preparation we met a number of elderly residents saying they would vacate their three bedroom houses for a quality retirement home now they are living on their own. It is not inconceivable that the same preference might apply across the City.

The proposed housing densities in H5 are expressed as “minimums” but in view the current densification levels would be better stated as “maximums” to avoid “cramming”. St James’ and eastwards is deemed “Suburban Edge” but 40dph still equates to approximately 16 dwellings per football pitch.

We support the Housing Space Standards Policy H6.

We support the retention of Community and Leisure Facilities within Policy C1.

We support the Open Space Policy C2 where it seeks to retain and enhance open space with a further proviso that for new housing developments in excess of 100 dwellings, 1.65 ha of additional public open space is provided “where possible”. That “where possible” however is weakened by the additional “unless” caveat allowing developers to build on existing open-spaces if there are wider public benefits outweighing their loss. That’s an inconsistency undermining the whole density of development argument and we question why in a City with such a paucity of Open Space we should tolerate any loss at all. We recommend that the Policy wording should be amended accordingly.

We support the aims and objectives of the Sustainable Transport Policy C3 but question why we think it will be realised. The 2001 and 2012 Portsmouth Plans and the 2009 Local Transport Plan LTP3 were ineffective in promoting active travel and public transport and in reducing the reliance of the private car. The Public Consultation for the 2001 Plan identified improving Transport as the first priority. In 2009 there were 109,000 vehicles registered in Portsmouth with a population of 205,000. In 2019 the population had risen to 214,905 in 89,900 homes using this Plan’s figures. Meanwhile, DfT’s road statistics show Portsmouth’s Vehicle Registrations in 2019 as 129.000. In approximately 6 years the population has expanded by 5% and the number of vehicles by 19%. In 2019, 827,500,000 miles were travelled in vehicles in Portsmouth Portsmouth is only 15 sqm in totality and is the 4th most congested City in the UK.

The initiatives proposed in LTP4 would give more road space to cyclists and pedestrians and improvements in public transport is welcome but this needs to be implemented and functioning well before the City generally, and the Milton area particularly, could be expected to provide anything approaching the number of new homes proposed otherwise we will be encumbered from more congestion and pollution problems than we already suffer with.

We support the principle that the granting of permission for development will be granted where priority is given to pedestrian and cycle movements with high permeability by foot, cycle and public transport connecting to local walking and cycling networks and services/facilities. However, we recommend the strategic transport and active travel initiatives be implemented before any further major developments are started.

We support the Design Code initiative in Policy D1 and the Sustainability Objectives of D2.

We are pleased with the Policy aims of D4 and indeed, the Neighbourhood Plan’s option for a Solar PV Farm on the developed footprint of Langstone Campus would accord with this Policy and would be acceptable in terms of the EU Habitats Directive. However, it is not within the principles of Sustainable Dev’t to “Carbon Offset”. The aim, as with habitat conservation and pollution reduction, should be to avoid the harm altogether.

We are pleased that Locally Listed Buildings are being granted a greater degree of protection in Policy D5 with the requirement that they and their setting should be conserved and enhanced and proposals affecting them will only be supported where the applicant acknowledges their significance and their setting, as well as the impacts their development will have.

The Heritage & Archaeology Policy D5 Map should include the Locally Listed “Old Engine House” in Locksway Rd; the Friendly Society Homes in Glasgow Rd; the “Meon Valley” PH in Meon Rd and the “Old Canal” PH in Shirley Avenue.

We are pleased too with Policy D6 to enhance heritage assets particularly those on the Buildings At Risk Register.

In general, we welcome the Environmental Policies. However, the Biodiversity Policy G1, might be better expressed to clarify an apparent inconsistency where in relation to development proposals adversely affecting Designated sites the Policy states:-

Planning permission will be granted where:

a. The ecological value of the application site has been appropriately identified and assessed, and any matters arising have been addressed in the development proposal at the earliest stage possible;

b. Development avoids harm to the identified components of the Portsmouth ecological network, and it can be demonstrated that opportunities for conservation, restoration and enhancement of networks have been explored. Any unavoidable harm to biodiversity must be appropriately mitigated, or as a last resort, adequately compensated for;

c. Development would result in measurable net gains in biodiversity;

d. Proposals are in line with the requirements of habitat mitigation or compensation schemes effective within the Portsmouth City Council area, including the Solent Recreation Mitigation Strategy.

Sites over 0.1ha or all proposals that would lead to a biodiversity loss will need an extended Habitat Survey and Biodiversity Mitigation and Enhancement Plan.

It then says applications will be refused where:- There is likely to be a significant adverse effect on an existing or proposed SPA, SAC or Ramsar designation, or land identified as compensatory measures for adverse effects on these designations (and the proposal is not directly connected with, or necessary to, the management of that site); and:-. “The development proposal is not in compliance with the relevant regulations and national policy regarding the assessment of implications for SPAs, SACs or Ramsar sites”.

The rationale for our proposed extension of the Milton Common open and semi-wild space in the Neighbourhood Plan is to improve biodiversity because of its close proximity to Langstone Harbour and its diverse and valuable habitat. Additionally It would serve to improve the Campus site’s contribution to the functioning of the over-wintering Brent Geese grazing network and we also have an HRA recommending it as the preferred option. However, to preserve the University’s Existing-Use rights we show where those rights could be transferred to. Policy G1 could be understood in two opposing ways:- one supporting our proposed Policy and one rejecting it. We have qualified ours by requiring the need for a “Project Level HRA” and I suppose this is compliant with your “extended habitat survey” but it is not easy to understand what the Policy G1 is trying to achieve. It is also inconsistent with 2018 Environment Plan to restore nature and the environment because restoration and mitigation are two divergent objectives.

We cannot agree with the principle that the “mitigation” of, or “off-setting” of, harm to wildlife habitats is acceptable or appropriate in order to allow an expansion of house-building when our environment has already been degraded by development and depleted of function through stress and pollution.

We support the Green Infrastructure Policy G2 except in so far as it proposes compensation for loss. If “greening” is beneficial to health and well-being and biodiversity enhancement, any loss must therefore be unacceptable. We support the creation of an “Urban Greening Factor Tool” in development proposals and the pursuit of contributions from developers of sites close within and close to “Green Infrastructure & Corridors” to improve them and be utilised as more attractive routes for pedestrians and cyclists.

We endorse wholeheartedly the need for Water Quality “Nutrient Neutrality” over the lifetime of a new residential or tourism use in Policy G3 but it is not sufficiently clear what the 110ltrs/day means in Policy R1 (footnote 93 p159). 

The Coastal Zone Policy S10 appears to be drawn in the wrong position where it follows Furze Lane rather than the boundary of the sports-fields abutting the St James’ Hospital eastern boundary. Policies LH1 and 2 in the current 2012 Portsmouth Plan were carried forward from the 2006 Plan to ensure Portsmouth’s Coastline was protected from “inappropriate” development and to assist with the wildlife conservation objectives of the internationally Designated Langstone Harbour. Moving the Coastal Zone boundary would be incongruous with wildlife conservation when there are three Conservation impositions:- the RAMSAR Wetland of International Importance; the European Designation as the “Chichester and Langstone Harbour Special Protection Area” requiring it to be maintained and restored; and the Solent Special Area of Conservation where Langstone Harbour is highly valued for its mud-flats. Parts are also designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Water quality in Langstone Harbour is currently declining from ever increasing pollution incidents and nitrate contamination upsetting the natural balance this “protected” habitat is internationally recognised for and the underlying cause is intensity of land-use and development.

We therefore recommend reinstating the Coastal Zone Boundary as shown in the 2001 and 2011 Plans and the emerging Milton Neighbourhood Plan.

St James’ and Langstone Campus Strategic Development Area

We believe the principle of a “Green City” with lower carbon emissions and vehicular congestion and pollution levels which could protect and enhance biodiversity; open space; and green infrastructure will be compromised in Milton by including both of the St James’ and Langstone Campus sites as a Strategic Development Area.

The inclusion of both sites in Policy S5 is at odds with the NAQO and para 1.1.11. Indeed the Plan’s evidence papers of February 2019 show Milton already suffers with six congestion hotspots:- Milton Rd/St Mary’s Rd; Milton Rd/Velder Avenue; Milton Rd/Locksway Rd; Milton Rd/Goldsmith Avenue; Goldsmith Avenue/Priory Crescent; and A2030/Moorings Way. This congestion exists now in advance of the former Kingston Prison being occupied. If there is not the road space to accommodate existing traffic, where is the additional traffic supposed to queue and how is it supposed to avoid polluting our residential streets? New petrol and diesel cars are not going to be banned until 2030 which means they will still be in common use until the expiry of this Plan.

It would better to redraft Policy S5 to exclude Langstone Campus as a “Strategic Site”. It could be, as your draft Policy alludes to, an opportunity area for a new school where school-children could be free of toxic vehicle fumes and utilise the open-spaces and Sports-fields and access it from the south east of Portsea Island safely by foot or by bicycle. The Neighbourhood Plan Habitats Assessment recommends the avoidance of the Campus site for a school in order to protect the Core Brent Geese Grazing Area P23b. The issue with proposing a housing use at the Campus/Sports-fields is that it enhances land value rendering the education use as non-viable. Generally however, that use would be more compliant with the Conservation objectives of Langstone Harbour. 

It must also be remembered, there are clear Planning Obligations agreed with the RSPB, Natural England and the University following the approval for the 1996 student accommodation blocks, that the grassland on both the Campus (eastern fields abutting the Harbour) and the Furze Lane Sports-Facilities (western fields) be carefully managed in perpetuity for the conservation of Brent Geese habitat. The Section 106 agreement established a clear grassland management regime for both areas specifying weekly cutting by cylinder mowing to 25mm from mid March to mid April; 20mm from April to the end of September and 25mm in October. It further requires “approved” Spring/Summer grass fertiliser applications followed by an  “approved” Autumn fertiliser to both. It demanded a “selective” herbicide be used to the Western playing fields but not to the eastern ones since they were required to be taken out of use for sports activity as a Condition of the Grant. Finally, the Obligation specified the grass seeds mixes to redress any damaged areas.

Strategic development of the Langstone Campus site is not at all conducive with this agreed level of grassland management and is inconsistent with the aims of Coastal Policy S10 (see above).

We support the Policy for the Furze Lane north-south bus/cycleway connection along the route to be retained and enhanced.

The prominence granted in Policy S5 to the “setting” of the Grade 11 Listed St James’ Hospital and Chapel and the retention of other historic assets is very welcome. The inclusion of the requirement to retain the open spaces for public access will be very widely appreciated too as will the north/south cycle link. However, we suggest the reference to the 209 dwellings in the Hospital and 107 in the grounds to the south, could be interpreted as leading decision makers to favourably consider the two, as yet, undetermined applications. We recommend it would be better to provide an indicative potential figure for the number of dwellings and that the Policy seeks a more cohesive and integrated development. In that way the Lower Carbon and Carbon Neutral Policy D4 which says, “Proposals of more than 250 dwellings, or of more than 1,000 sqm for non-domestic uses, will be expected to be supported by their own district/communal heat network where feasible, or a suitable alternative” could be more easily achieved through the retention of “Lancaster House” which the Neighbourhood Plan considers as essential to comply with National Renewable and Low Carbon Energy Policy.

We support the inclusion of elderly persons and sheltered accommodation on St James’ Hospital as these residential uses would have a lower impact on the local road network. The three storey RNBT residential assisted accommodation currently under construction does not benefit local residents. Elderly persons or sheltered units could be a good fit for the Edwardian Villas now deemed as “Curtilage Listed”. The recommendation that the site be used for medical facilities is also welcome too but we would like to see that insisted upon in and around the redevelopment of the Grade 11 Listed building as otherwise the NHS will say the Policy is complied with on the site already.    

Rod Bailey

Rod Bailey

Chair Milton Neighbourhood Planning Forum

Janice Burkinshaw                    J.G. Burkinshaw Chair Milton Neighbourhood Forum                                                       27 October 2021