FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
This note seeks to highlight some of the most frequently asked questions and provide straightforward responses in regard to Human+Nature & Aviva Investors’ outline planning application for Little Haldens, Gomm Valley.
The number of houses
Q1 Why has the number of houses planned for the Gomm Valley increased from the 400 referred to in the Development Brief to ‘up to 1000’ in the H+N proposals?
A1 The first thing to say is that our scheme offers a wide range of housing types – sizes,tenure, price points, designs - to promote choice and accessibility and to make for a better place and community; the ‘houses’ therefore range from 1-bed flats (important for the growing numbers of older people and others living alone), 2-bed duplexes through small to medium sized terraced homes to far larger 5-bed one-off homes. More than 50% of the dwellings proposed are 2-beds or less. This mix is therefore not directly comparable with the 400 referred to in the Development Brief (DB) and this is important because smaller units, well-planned and designed take up a lot less space and have far fewer car trips and other impacts.
The DB actually allowed that a greater number of homes might be built in the Valley if new and robust technical evidence was provided and more recently this has been suggested by the Planning Inspector in her suggested amendments to the Local Plan,
“It is acknowledged that higher housing numbers may be achievable on the site where a high quality innovative and bespoke architectural response is adopted and/or a higher proportion of smaller dwellings form part of the mix... The Council will view positively any proposals for the Gomm Valley site which seek to deliver more than 600 dwellings, where it can be demonstrated that the development would comply with the requirements of national and local policy.”
And the ‘indicative capacities’ referred to in the Plan,
“…are to be treated as neither maxima nor minima in the planning application process.”
The number of units in our proposals arose from a rigorous multidisciplinary design exercise by top class architects, movement and street designers, engineers, ecologists and landscape architects. We asked them to prepare plans based upon good urban design – to be bespoke to the sensitive nature of the valley landscape and its current and potential future ecology – and having regard to the technical constraints. It was judged that when development is concentrated to the south of the site where it is best connected to the existing infrastructure and fabric and least visible, and otherwise along the western edge (leaving the majority of the valley floor and eastern section of the land free of development) many more people could be housed than were first thought. This has been tested and tested again many times through Landscape and Visual impact Assessments, ecological studies, studies of movement and modes of movement,audits of road junctions and streets, site geology and gradients.
The resultant design provides a compact and elegant edge to the town of High Wycombe and will set anew standard of urbanism, architecture and public realm design as well as in social and environmental sustainability. It will be a 21st-century place that reconciles the need for new homes with environmental and social responsibilities while using scarce land wisely.
Put simply, the advantages of a scheme of up to 1,000 homes– provided the impacts are seen to be reasonable – will be:
o More homes to meet housing need
o More social rent and shared ownership homes
o Better local services
o Better urban design, layouts and architecture
o More money to invest in the landscape and ecology of the ‘undeveloped’ land in the valley and on regenerating habitats,on design and build quality, on streets, squares, play areas and other public open and green space
o Critical mass to support a village square with excellent local community facilities, a primary school, employment, cafes,hopefully health care and some retail; and noting that this makes for a far better place not just a.n.other ‘housing estate’, thereby fulfilling other important objectives in the DB
o A far bigger payment under the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) – potentially many £millions more - to spend on improvements across Wycombe District.
How much land will the extra homes take up?
Q2 1,000 homes sounds like a lot for such a sensitive valley, what land is left for nature and recreation?
A2 The planned homes and their associated streets, parking, green space, small squares and village square, the employment, school and community facilities will collectively take up less than one-quarter of the valley. Development will be concentrated in the south of the site and along the less sensitive western edge. The footprint of the buildings will take up only c8% of the land.
The ancient woodland on site will be managed better, the total extent of hedgerows will increase, nearly 5,000 new trees will be planted, the local wildlife site will be enlarged and the SSSI protected and supported with greater investment.
The Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment shows how the development can nestle in the landscape especially with a varied roofline, breaks at key places between buildings and with green roofs (specified for 20% of the homes). The main street – to be called Ashwells Lane – is set at a shallower gradient than was envisaged in the DB and allows more sensitive development along its edges.
Q3 Has the developer set any numbers for affordable homes?
A3 No number or specification has been set yet for affordable homes; the full package of so-called Section 106 matters – including affordable homes - will be subject to a thorough process of joint economic analysis and review with subsequent negotiations between Wycombe District Council and H+N and specialist advisers acting for each party.
In any event it is very likely there will be more affordable homes than would have been the case with 400 homes in total even assuming the questionable financial viability of that theoretical scheme given the cost of infrastructure and of meeting the other objectives in the DB.
More than this, by providing many more smaller homes H+N is seeking to make Little Haldens accessible to a wider community than would otherwise be the case.
Q4: Surely, 1,000 homes is going to overrun the local highway network (especially when seen alongside traffic arising from other Reserve Sites), which is already subject to congestion and delays?
A4 The number of vehicle movements is affected by many things but critically here the blend of homes – notably having many more smaller units – means that, according to analyses undertaken to-date, the impact upon the local highway network is modest.
It is estimated that the numbers of vehicle movements arising from Little Haldens will be of the order of around 400 vehicle trips within each of the morning and evening peak times. That is not to say that at any one time 400 additional vehicles will be on the local highway network, rather that these trips will be spread throughout the morning (8-9am) and evening (5-6pm) peak times. These figures are based on standard trip generation rates that have been agreed with Bucks CC.Further, more detailed analysis of the potential traffic impacts of Little Haldens is currently being undertaken.
Trips generated by Little Haldens will also be distributed across the highway network,enabled by the 3 access points at Cock Lane, Gomm Road and Hammersley Lane.This will ensure traffic is not concentrated on one particular part of the network, such as London Road.
Based upon the trip generation data, H+N’s specialists have concluded that there is no need to undertake the widening of Cock Lane on its behalf. This is firstly due to the low number of additional trips from Little Haldens that will likely use Cock Lane; and secondly since to do so would paradoxically attract more traffic from outside Little Haldens to use Cock Lane due to the increase in vehicle capacity.With sensible improvements to passing points and borders, Cock Lane can handle the small number of additional vehicle movements arising from Little Haldens without attracting vehicle flows from the wider area which would inevitably result in greater congestion.
Although the main Neighbourhood Street (comprising mainly of what is to be called, ‘Ashwells Lane’) will provide a vehicle connection between Cock Lane, Gomm Road and Hammersley Lane, the design and alignment of the street has been carefully considered to avoid the street becoming a relief road or rat-run alternative to Cock Lane.
Design for active and sustainable movement modes
Q5 H+N makes claims about how it will reduce use of the car by people living at Little Haldens. How so?
A5 Little Haldens has been conceived, planned and designed (and will be run) as a 21st-century place and community in which because of profound and legitimate concerns regarding global climate change, health and other problems caused by local air pollution, congestion and economic inefficiency, physical safety and the uneven access to private cars between households and social groups, residents will not be as dependent upon car ownership and use as many other edge of town settlements.
The action we are proposing to take to support this are as follows:
- Unlike for most other hill-side developments the main street through Little Haldens is designed to a gradient that enables people to walk and cycle.
- Neighbourhood facilities and amenities will be provided within a walkable distance from homes. Little Haldens Square provides a focal point to the neighbourhood, around which sit community facilities and services, an independent café and general store for local refreshment and convenience shopping. Not only does this provide a social focus – a place for a strong sense of community to grow – but it reduces car dependency.
- A clean, regular and efficient shuttle bus service will operate to enable commuters from Little Haldens to access High Wycombe Train Station and town centre during peak times without the need to use a car, as well as providing a more flexible bus service for Little Haldens residents throughout the day.
- Supporting and encouraging electric vehicle use over petrol or diesel vehicles by providing an extensive electric vehicle charging network.
- Provision of an e-car and e-bike club (including cargo bikes) for the convenience of local residents and others living nearby.
Please note that while in our view it could be assumed that these measures will reduce vehicular movements by at least 15% this has not been taken account of in the traffic modelling to establish potential impacts.
Clearly, all of the above will work better as High Wycombe, like other towns in the UK, shifts over time towards a more sustainable, less car dependent place with better walking and cycling infrastructure, and better, user-focused public transport;complemented by a electric vehicle charging network to support cleaner, greener car use. We look forward to working with all concerned to play our part in the transition to a cleaner, safer and healthier transport network across the town.
Q6 Is there sufficient provision for visitor parking?
A6 The regenerated valley, the square and park will quite likely become attractive venues for local people. It is right that they should be so. Efforts will be made to encourage visitors to enter into the spirit of the new place and travel wherever possible by bus, foot or bike. The shuttle bus service can operate at weekends and pedestrian and cycle access points are distributed around the perimeter to integrate Little Haldens with its neighbouring communities.
However, for those that need to drive, the Parking Strategy contains information on the proposed car parking provision. We have made a commitment in the Parking Strategy to meet the required number of spaces by Bucks CC Parking Guidance,which includes visitor parking provision. The exact requirement will depend on the final number and mix of dwellings, and we are fully confident that this can be provided. The majority of parking will be unallocated, and situated in public or communal areas. This provides more flexibility in parking provision,particularly freeing up spaces for visitors. Visitor parking will also be provided in key areas including near access points to the Valley and Park and within Little Haldens Square.
For further details on this please see Section of the Design & Access statement to the planning application.
Q7 Air pollution is already a problem particularly in the bottom of the valley along the A40 and Little Haldens will make it worse?
A7 Little Haldens is a part of the solution to this significant and growing problem. Our commitment to local mixed-use development rather than the typical car-dependent housing, and the emphasis on electric vehicles, bikes and shuttle buses, wrapped up in the whole sustainability ethos of Human+Nature and the scheme proposals, point the way to changes needed across Wycombe and indeed many other towns.
If we offered to do more at this point some would call us naïve, but we are pushing the boundaries of what is possible to show that there is a better way and we will evolve and improve our approach over time, working closely with future residents and local communities.
School and health care provision
Q8 H+N’s proposals for the village square and community facilities have been largely welcomed; but will the school be big enough, viable and will there be community health facilities on the doorstep?
A8 We have said that we are open to proposals for local health care services to be situated in the Square – the space is available - and look forward to explorations on this with the authorities.
Regarding the school, we are in consultations with the county regarding the appropriate provision, having regard to the appropriate catchment and the ability of a hilly landscape to accommodate enlarged facilities.
Q9 What employment is envisaged?
A9 We have proposed co-working spaces, makers’ studios, some small-scale commercial office premises; additionally, employment will be provided in the school, nursery, café, restaurant, retail and estate management facilities and in the site-wide Green Team.Many of the homes will be designed to enable live-work or otherwise be comfortable for people to work from home when necessary.
Access to the valley
Q10 What public access will there be to the valley in future?
A10 One of the key features of the proposals is that the valley will be opened for public access. Currently there is only one public right of way and the large majority of the land is farmed. New entrances and footpaths will guide visitors and enable all to enjoy the beautiful views and observe at close quarters how the valley landscape and habitats regenerate bringing plentiful flora and fauna to the area.
Public access has to be managed in the valley especially as the chalk grassland recovers and establishes itself after farming; clearly, particularly sensitive areas such as the SSSI need especially careful management and protection and access here will be guided by the future Gomm Valley Trust. Notwithstanding this, the valley will be there for people to enjoy, to witness the burgeoning biodiversity, roam in the open space and play in the new family park by the square.
Gardens and access for residents to green space
Q11 Will families – especially those with young children – have sufficient access to gardens and other open and green spaces?
A11 The Little Haldens scheme is necessarily compact in that we wanted to use the minimum amount of land to make a sound sustainable community with appropriate supporting facilities and services. While residents in the urban square and in some parts of the Hillside Village are unlikely to have much private garden space there is a rich mix of programmed community green space nearby for play,gardening and general relaxation. Obviously all also have fantastic access to the park and village square and the wider valley on their doorstep making this a wonderful place to bring up a family.
Q12 The Development Brief and Local Plan policies (draft) place great emphasis on the importance of good design – bespoke and innovative; what assurances are given that this will be achieved?
A12 We have set out a suite of design proposals and principles in our outline application. As requested, this is an unusually detailed outline application and contains, among other things, a suggested palette of materials,references to local exemplary vernacular designs and qualities; it commits to 20% of the homes being one-off specials and seeks to demonstrate layouts,streets, public realm and housing designs that are sensitive to their valley setting and otherwise elegant and appropriately innovative.
Looking ahead we will work closely with the council to agree a set of conditions that help ensure the future development is obliged to hit or exceed the standards set in the application. We also propose that a Local Design Excellence group is established to guide the future design of the place; this would have representatives of key local civic organisations and will serve to ensure a sound ongoing conversation and decisions about what constitutes good design here and how this can best be achieved.
Q13 What arrangement will be put in place to support the long-term management of the valley and the delivery of community services and facilities
A13 The Delivery Section of our Design & Access Statement makes several commitments in connection with the important issue of long-term stewardship. We propose a Gomm Valley Trust to look after the valley and ke yhabitats and connections, A Community Trust to help build a strong and civil community, manage community facilities and actively promote well-being and environmentally sustainable living, and a bespoke estate Management company to own and operate the commercial premises in line with the ethos of the place.