When the planning system fails

Politics is often portrayed by the media as a black and white affair but it is usually not as simple as that.  I have been highly critical in my blogs about the impact on my villages of bad planning decisions. Cramped houses with little storage, insufficient living space and hopelessly inadequate parking provision plus too much social housing without the necessary social infrastructure have all taken their toll.  Today, I am going to complain about a perverse planning decision that has refused development where I think it should have been permitted.

The Fired Earth site

I learned of this perverse decision by Cherwell but supported, I am sorry to say, by the county council when the applicant visited my monthly surgery.  A local resident had sought to promote a nursery on the Twyford Mill site (next to Fired Earth) and submitted a planning application to Cherwell Council for a change of use from office space to day nursery.  The proposal was for a nursery school for 35 children aged 6 months to 4 years opening 52 weeks in the year and with 6 members of staff.  The nursery would cater for working parents with operating hours from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm.

Adderbury has a population of some 2,800.  It has a primary school; a library; several churches/chapels; three pubs; a shop that has closed and just re-opened and a very part-time post office.  It is not the most sustainable community in North Oxfordshire.  There are 4 registered child minders in the village and the primary school caters for children  aged 3 or more but only between 8:50 am and 3:10 pm during term time. There is a waiting list in double digits for this limited provision.  The government is introducing vouchers for two-year olds in 2013 which means many parents will wish to prepare their children in advance of entering formal education.

Against this background, an enterprising Adderbury resident sought to meet a clear need for childcare but was denied the opportunity by the planning system.  What reasons were given?  I am afraid Oxfordshire County Council opposed the application for the following reason:  The application site is not accessible by means of transport other than the private car and is hence considered an unsustainable proposal. The site is located outside the built up area of the village and exceeds a realistic walking distance for young children, particularly given the gradients in the vicinity. Both outside and within the site there is a lack of continuous and adequate footpaths and associated infrastructure such as dropped kerbs and tactile paving etc. There is also concern re possible conflict with nursery and commercial traffic within the site and in proximity to the A4260.

In addition to these concerns, there is a lack of information submitted with this application, namely a transport statement, travel plan statement, design and access statement and car parking plan.

Pinch yourself, reader.  This is a nursery for children aged six months to 4 years and planners are expecting them to walk or cycle there! Furthermore, they are expecting accompanying parents to walk their charges to the nursery and then to return to their homes to get in their cars to go to work!  In what world do these planners live?  Here we have a facility that working parents are crying out for. Here we have an office building that was permitted to accommodate workers arriving in their cars but planners can forbid parents and nursery staff from doing the same.  What a crazy world. I suspect the real truth lies in the final paragraph of the County Council response.  I suspect the applicant committed the unforgivable crime of failing to submit four items of bureaucratic nonsense, namely: a transport statement; a travel plan statement; a design and access statement and a car parking plan.  Having failed the tick box test, this application was always doomed.

You will understand the real peversity of this decision when you realise that the poor pedestiran access to the site is down to the County Council as highway authority. What a wonderful reason for opposing a planning application!  The County Council ought to be deciding how to upgrade the pedestrian access to this site so as to increase the potential for our local economy.

This application was refused by planning officers and did not get put before elected members. I hope the latter might have had the sense to realise that villages are not the same as towns. Policies that may work in Banbury or Bicester won’t work in villages where most residents are and will always be dependent on the motor car to get to work, to the shops and to school.

We seem to have a planning system that is bogged down in rules that are applied mindlessly and without consideration of the nature and needs of different communities.

I would like to hear from Adderbury parents whether they would welcome a nursery for children aged 6 months to school starting age operating 8:00 am to 6:00 pm Monday to Friday throughout the year.  You can e-mail me on krmcbe@gmail.com or respond on this Blog.  I hope the applicant will put in a new application with the bureaucratic travel forms that are de rigeur for transport planners and I know the local District Councillor will ask for it to be put before elected members for a decision.  After all, they are elected to apply common sense and local knowledge.

About Keith R Mitchell CBE

Qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1967. Pursued a successful career in financial training and publishing until selling his interests in 1990. Elected a County Councillor for the Bloxham Division in 1989. Leader of Oxfordshire County Council 5 November 2001 to 15 May 2012. Chairman of the South East England Regional Planning Committee July 2002 to July 2005. Chairman of the South East England Regional Assembly July 2005 to July 2008. In HM the Queen’s 2007 Birthday Honours, appointed a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in recognition of services to local government.
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One Response to When the planning system fails

  1. Your comments on this matter are so right! Changing this ’empty office space’ into a nursery will give local employment and the facility for more local parents to be able to go out to work. Not to mention the parents who actually already work on the site and have to find childcare elsewhere !
    From another business based on Tywford Mill Estate – employing Local People!

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