RE Mendip Vale Medical Practice
I have no argument about the need for the development of a new medical centre to replace the outdated surgery buildings in Yatton and Congresbury. I think that is beyond question in the context of the ever-widening range of primary care services that need to be provided, the steer from successive governments for larger family practices… and crucially, the future needs of a growing local population.
In passing, as this is water under the bridge, but worth saying nonetheless… many people were unhappy with the public consultation which took place between August and October 2016. The scoring matrix applied to the 20-odd sites was flawed - e.g. it completely failed to mention the Strategic Gap.
The plans as submitted have split opinion, so I think it's important to try to weigh up the many (sometimes) conflicting issues.
I endorse fully the comments made by councillors when the pre-app proposals were considered in August 2016.
First, concern was expressed that the building was within the strategic gap between the two villages and should an application be approved… it was very important that, it did not set any precedent for development infill and village sprawl between Yatton and Congresbury. Indeed Policy CS19 is there precisely where there is a risk of gradual incremental development. This is the point: not development in this one field per se… but the precedent it would set.
As I pointed out to councillors two years ago, this is not a fanciful notion. In April 2016, in acting for the landowner, agents David James & Partners commented during the SAP consultation objected to the inclusion in the Gap of "areas which may be required for future development." “We consider,” they said “we consider it inappropriate to include land within a strategic gap which is suitable for development in the longer term.” They attached a plan outlining not just the field in question, but two larger fields behind it and another behind Corner Cottage. They said: “The land does not form an important part of the landscape,” and “[requested] that the proposed boundary for the Congresbury to Yatton strategic gap should be amended to exclude this land.
First question: what guarantees do we have - or should we seek - to limit development to this one field?
In terms of the impact on the Strategic Gap itself, the Council’s landscape architect, Kevin Carlton, commented during the pre-app stage that there will need to be very clear justification for any departure from Core Strategy (Policy CS19).
The photos in Appendix A of the Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment supporting the application show the impact development of this site would have upon the Strategic Gap.
"The proposal site is located on rising land to the north of Congresbury is particularly apparent from the open landscape of Congresbury Moor. The building is proposed to be sited on the highest part of the site and as a consequence is also a long way into the Strategic Gap the authority is trying to protect. Consequently there would be a loss of openness, rurality and disruption of the field pattern… combined with a significant breach in the tall stone perimeter wall alongside Smallway (a distinctive feature) to facilitate site access." - Kevin Carlton, NSC
I know the Council can make an exception. POLICY SA7 says that development within strategic gaps will only be permitted where:
- the open or undeveloped character of the gap would not be significantly adversely affected
- the separate identity and character of the settlements would not be harmed.
That is the question.
Highways, transport & access
Personally, I agree with the applicant that a medical centre on this site is unlikely to significantly impact upon the local road network on its own, so I have no argument with the forecast traffic flows to and from the site. But… as we all know, the volume of traffic around the site is already a real issue. This is increasing cumulatively - not just in the summer months - so would inhibit patients’ ability to make their appointments on time. I don’t see any mention of the proposed access, signing and lining right turn lane to access the site.
The Interim Travel Plan supporting the application prepared in Dec 2016 is very weak. The applicant’s Planning Statement suggests that the proposed site is accessible on foot and by cycling via Smallway… and is on a main bus route. These are all true… to a point.
I cannot see any comments from Highways - other than those quoted from the pre-app stage two years ago.
I agree with councillor’s pre-app comments that...
- a continuous pavement should be provided from both villages and controlled crossings to link up places where this may be difficult to achieve. The existing pavement was very narrow in parts especially for pushchairs and mobility scooters so this upgrade is essential.
- Full and careful consideration is given to community transport links. I understand the Practice has an electric car that is able pick up and drop off patients that are unable to access the surgery and who require urgent appointments. I also know there is access to various community transport providers but again… we reply on the generosity of volunteers to provide a public service.
The Travel Action Plan says that the pavement along the site frontage will be widened from 1.5m to 2m along the site frontage… otherwise it relies on existing footways.
The footway on the western side of Smallway (the side of the proposed site) is unlit and is very dark on winter evenings. You often see people walking gingerly along this stretch using torches. On the eastern side of Smallway there is a 90m gap in footway provision so you need to cross the road at the "pedestrian island" near the entrance to Cadbury House.
I agree with councillors that the speed limit should be reviewed on this section of road.
Walking from Congresbury... there are no pedestrian crossing facilities at the junction between the A370 and Smallway and the pavement opposite Wyevale is very narrow. The current Smallway junction is an accident hotspot and does not have a safe pedestrian crossing so I would think we would need to see considerable junction changes included in any plans for this proposal.
There are bus stops in the vicinity on both sides of Smallway, but some distance - a couple of hundred metres… beyond the site past the EXIT to Wyevale and there is no crossing. Who would pay for the footway improvements and for a controlled crossing point? Do GP schemes like this attract Section 106 contributions - or health contributions from the Council?
I defer to the superior knowledge and experience of YACWAG, which has objected to the plans as submitted. I do want to emphasise a couple of things.
- The Ecological Appraisal conducted by The Landmark Practice in November 2016 recommends a number of enhancements to any future design - notably 'the use of permeable materials for car park area – e.g. Grasscrete. I would imagine a tarmacked car park would only exacerbate the surface flooding issues experienced by the properties to the south of this site. I note the Internal Drainage Board object to the application as it stands.
- The Ecological Appraisal also mentioned a green / brown roof - I’m thinking Gloucester Services, so...
Question: Why have both of these entirely appropriate - and in my view - necessary recommendations not made their way into the final design?
In summary, I’m in no doubt that a new medical centre would be of public benefit… but all the potential problems need to be fully and properly addressed. As submitted… the benefits do not in my view outweigh the harm to the significance of the Strategic Gap or the accessibility of the location.
Posted at 10:54 AM on Monday, 23rd of April, 2018