Planning Application 17/05667/FUL – South Kingsteps (site NA2)

Key points and questions to consider at the site visit

Introduction

This note [prepared and agreed by Nairn River Community Council, Nairn Residents Concern Group and the Kingsteps Residents Group] is a checklist and aide-memoire intended to assist members of the South Planning Applications Committee undertaking a site visit to South Kingsteps (site NA2) on 8 August.

It is not an attempt to summarise all the 100-plus objections raised to this application.  

Rather it identifies eight simple but key questions which Councillors might like to raise and discuss - or have in mind – as they undertake the site visit.

Those key issues are:

In each case the main issue is identified by a numbered side-heading.  This is followed by brief references where appropriate to relevant provisions within local plans and policies, notes on whether and how the Planning Officer (PO) has explained or dealt with the issue in the report (PLS 047/18) submitted to SPAC, comments indicating the main local views and concerns, and suggestions on what to consider while on site.

  1. The Kingsteps neighbourhood:  is it a separate settlement?

The Planning Officer's (PO) report (para 8.5) asserts that Kingsteps is not a separate settlement, on the grounds that the IMFLDP document includes the NA2 site under the 'Nairn' part of the plan. This is misleading...

-         historical records show that Kingsteps has long been a separate rural hamlet;

-         empirical evidence on the ground (road signs, lack of street lights, no pavements etc) indicate that Kingsteps lies outside the boundary of Nairn town, and is a low-density established residential area;

-         previous plans (e.g. the 2000 Nairnshire Local Plan) listed Kingsteps as a Rural Township/ Restricted Settlement, with a presumption against housing development, and envisaged at that time the development of only 4 houses (1ha);

-         The HwLDP (2010) shows Kingsteps as a separate settlement, with no reference to development there;

-         more immediately relevant – but again not mentioned in the PO report – is the development approval granted in April 2017 for 5 house plots on the adjacent site, West Kingsteps.  This is a key precedent.

  1. Density/over-development:  is the site appropriate for 115 houses?

There is some imprecision about the size and perimeter of the site.  There are references to 6.3 ha and 6.9 ha. It appears that the site originally allocated in the IMFLDP has been “enlarged” to extend up to the boundary of existing Kingsteps housing.  This seems improper and needs to be explained and justified.

The application is for 115 houses on the site.  It is self-evident that this is radically out of line with the existing pattern and density of Kingsteps.

-         taking the recent West Kingsteps site as a precedent would indicate a maximum of approx. 34 houses.

-         the IMFLDP gives an indicative capacity of 90 houses.  There is no explanation of the basis for this figure, or the jump from 4 in year 2000 to 90 in 2013.  The figure appears to have originated from a 2011 transport study for the landowner which assumed that the site would be accessed via the existing Lochloy/Brodie minor road through Kingsteps and that this route could cope with the traffic from 90 houses.  This assumption is misplaced and irrelevant since the current proposal explicitly rules out access via this route;

-         the IMFLDP Reporter gave formal guidance that infrastructure constraints at site NA2 were “fundamental to determining the site capacity…. which may fall below the indicative 90 houses...”.  The Council accepted this, and it is reflected in the agreed IMFLDP;

-         The PO report ignores this, fails to mention the Reporter's view, and makes no reference to the fact that the Reporter regarded the infrastructure aspects as a factor likely to limit the site capacity to less than 90.

-         the report is both disingenuous and misleading in claiming that a different capacity …. may be acceptable… subject to layout and design considerations…”.  The choice of words [no reference to an increase] is telling, and devious.  The report fails to identify access and drainage as determinants of capacity.

-         Nor does the report acknowledge that the proposal represents a significant excess (28%) over the already-questionable indicative figure of 90 and is thus in breach of the local plan.

  1. A separate new development, or simply an extension of Lochloy/Meadowlea?

The IMFLDP explicitly allocated NA2 as a new, separate development site.    It was not regarded, within the plan, as an extension, or further phase, of the Lochloy/Meadowlea development which – in terms of planning consents – the Council regards as complete.

-         the Council's original justification for the allocation of NA2 was that it would “…. assist in providing better access to the existing Lochloy housing development which currently has only one access/egress point….” and anticipated “improvements to the access road beyond Montgomerie Drive and also at the access to the site off Lochloy Road”.  The PO report omits to note that this has not just been abandoned but has been turned on its head (see Point 3 below on access).

-         the applicant however proposes, and the PO appears in practice to have assessed, the NA2 development as “…. a continuation of the adjacent Meadowlea housing scheme...”.  This is wrong, misconceived and at odds with the IMFLDP.  Not only would such an approach represent a direct threat to the character and integrity of the existing Kingsteps settlement, but it would deliver creeping ribbon development and “urban sprawl” beyond the existing boundary of the town of Nairn.

  1. Access:  what routes, and can they cope?

The landowner's study which appears to have given rise to the IMFLDP figure of 90 houses for the site assumed traffic from site NA2 would use the Lochloy/Brodie minor road.  It was based on traffic surveys or estimates long before the completion of the 600-plus houses which now constitute the Lochloy estate – all of whose traffic uses the single access/egress of Lochloy Road leading to the 'Scotmid' traffic light intersection with the A96.

-         that road, and that junction, are already posing serious capacity and traffic-management challenges (as the Government Reporter noted);

-         the addition of traffic from 115 additional houses at South Kingsteps (NA2) will overload that route and junction.  Theoretical modelling exercises do not accurately reflect the real-world constraints.  

-         the proposal that all the traffic from the site should be channelled via a single route (Averon St/Dulnain St) through a residential estate (Meadowlea) to Montgomerie Drive (all unadopted roads) and thence to Lochloy Road, is directly contrary to the original Council rationale for allocating the site, which envisaged primary access directly on to the Lochloy/Brodie road at Kingsteps, where there will now only be an emergency access path.

The PO report does not scrutinise or analyse the traffic assessment, which has been the subject of extensive queries by the Council Transport Planning team.  His report does however concede that “...there are significant concerns that the roads in Nairn carry traffic in excess of their design capacity...”.

-         the proposed traffic-routing arrangement represents a significant hazard and detriment to the safety, amenity and quality of life of existing residents (families and children) living in the Meadowlea estate.  The PO report identifies difficulties over traffic management on Montgomerie Drive, but is vague about mitigation measures (which will slow traffic and thus add to congestion, noise and pollution);

-         the PO report claims that the A96 [Scotmid] junction “will perform within a practical operating capacity” – an opaque and meaningless statement which avoids a judgement on adequacy.  The report says that “Transport Scotland has no concerns”.  This is an insufficient appraisal and no reassurance, as TS is only concerned with the A96:  there is no analysis of the site access routes, local feeder roads, or capacity of the Lochloy/Brodie minor road, where the Council, not TS are responsible;

  1. Political sensitivity:  who gains a 'windfall' benefit?

There is a critical, controversial, and potentially highly sensitive point in paras 2.3 and 8.30 of the PO report.  Despite the Council's previously stated view, the application proposes no vehicular access from the site on to the Lochloy/Brodie road at Kingsteps.

-         however, the PO report points to the possibility of emergency access using a 'private access road' at the NW corner of the site.  This private road is not within the site boundary.  The report says that to enable such usage this road will be improved for emergency and cycle uses, and that this has been “agreed with the applicant”.

-         The road in question serves, and is part of, the property at East Kingsteps.  Improving the road will thus deliver an upgrade and a windfall benefit to the owner of that property.

  1. Water supply/drainage/sewage:  how serious a constraint?

The issues are complex and technical.  It will be clear at the site visit that a watercourse runs through the field.  Experts have raised concerns about drainage, the water table and flood risk.

-         water management poses other problems.  The PO report states (para 8.33) that a “hydro brake flow control device” will be required in the watercourse.  There is no explanation of the implications of this, of who would maintain it, and on the consequences if it were to be ineffective or to malfunction.

-         the same para assumes that an underground storage unit (a tank!) will be required to handle the runoff volumes; says that runoff “will not be able to drain into the public sewer network…. and that sub-soils will have to prepared to be as free-draining as possible….”; and that SEPA will require – by condition - “some form of treatment of surface water entering the watercourse”.  

-         regarding sewage, while Scottish Water have asserted that there is capacity at the WWTW, the questions of the pipe network capacity, its vesting and maintenance, and the effect on the existing CSN and CSOs between Lochloy and the treatment works, are unaddressed.  This is a major oversight given the problems over the vesting of the existing Lochloy SUDs/ pipe network, and the past and recent history of overflows and network failures downstream in the Merryton/Maggot area and discharges into the river.

-         the PO report notes that because there is no gravity outfall at the NA2 site, a pumping station (for waste water and sewage?) will have to be installed.  This raises legitimate concerns about noise, odour, and contingency risks if there are any technical faults or interruptions to the pumping operations.  This is also clear collateral for the SG Reporter's formal warning, that the configuration of the site, the flood risk, and the infrastructure issues, mean that site is not suitable even for the indicative 90 houses.  

-         Water supply, and pressure, is already inadequate, as evidenced by existing practical problems at Meadowlea.  Ad hoc measures (additional pumps) have been put in place to alleviate the effects.  But the fundamental problems of limited supply-volume and low pressure remain.  Neither Scottish Water, nor the PO report, have outlined solutions.

  1. Environmental impacts:  what are they?

The key concerns are trees (and buffer zones); nature and protected species; and the more general perceptions of amenity and landscape.

-         there is reliable local evidence that a number of trees and bushes have already been removed, and some areas of the site cleared.  The PO report only claims that trees along the watercourse will be “largely undisturbed”;

-         there is known to be a large resident badger population.  Their habitat has already been disturbed.  The PO report makes clear that the developer proposes to remove and relocate them (with an SNH licence).  This is potentially controversial;

-         landscaping is a subjective but important matter, especially for the immediately adjacent residents of both the Kingsteps houses and the Lochloy/Meadowlea development.  There is no doubt that a development of 115 houses will transform the local landscape and affect the amenity of the existing neighbourhood;

-         it has been suggested that the area of the site north of the watercourse – adjacent to existing Kingsteps houses - should not be built on at all, and that a much smaller number of units be located south of the watercourse.  This would obviate the need for bridges, preserve green space and create a wide buffer zone;

  1. Wider consequences:  cumulative impacts and the effects on the town

The proposed development has wider implications which the PO report has not fully addressed.

-         Transport:  in reviewing the access and traffic aspects, the PO report has glossed over the effects of having all access for Lochloy and this Kingsteps site channelled along Lochloy Road.  The report has entirely omitted any analysis of the cumulative impact of this proposed development and the other two new applications currently on the table (the “Morganti land” and the expansion of retail at Balmakeith).  Taken together, if agreed, these will significantly add to the volume of traffic on both the trunk road and feeder roads over the next 10-20 years and beyond (even if the bypass is delivered on schedule).

-         Water/drainage/sewage:  the focus is on the challenges within the site itself.  But both SW and SEPA have recognised that there are difficulties within the town's ageing network and with the CSO discharges, and that investment in significant overhaul or upgrade is not forthcoming.  The addition of 115 more houses – on top of the extensive Lochloy build – will exacerbate these difficulties.

-         Education and other social provision:  although not directly a matter for development planning, Councillors will be aware of the pressures on school capacity and on healthcare provision in the area.  It seems likely that parts of the Lochloy estate – and the Kingsteps site if agreed – will have to be rezoned into the Auldearn catchment area and children bussed to the primary school there rather than into Nairn.  Likewise, the dental and medical services of Nairn are struggling to cope with existing demand. In such circumstances a large-scale development of 115 houses on this site will generate additional, consequential and cumulative pressures which cannot be resolved by planning conditions or Section 75 contributions.

Conclusion

The site visit will be important for Councillors to assess the feasibility and acceptability of this development proposal.  There are of course other concerns, and other questions of policy, which are not obvious at the site itself, but which will need to be considered by the Committee.  Such matters are spelled out in the detailed consultation responses which can be seen on the ePlanning website.

NRCC/NRCG/KRG

3 August 2018