1. North Somerset Local Plan 2036: Issues and Options Document

Urban Living

What is meant by ‘urban living’?
New thinking about planning urban areas to make them places people want to live, work and socialise is changing the way higher density developments are regarded and new trends are emerging in the types of housing which could be provided in our towns. This ‘Urban Living’ is a central plank of the Joint Spatial Strategy. It commands a high degree of public support and is a highly sustainable element of the strategy. The JSP includes 1,000 additional units to come from urban living predominantly in Weston-super-Mare over and above the sites allocated in the Sites Allocation Plan. Issues and options for two key locations within Weston-super-Mare are identified below.

What is the existing approach to density?
The Core Strategy currently states residential density will primarily be determined by local character and good quality design. It sets a target density across North Somerset of 40 dwellings per hectare (dph) although this may be higher at highly accessible locations and less in sensitive locations or where lower density is positively encouraged. Neither the Core Strategy or the Development Management Policies specify precisely where high or low-density locations are located or what is high or low density.

Why does the existing approach need to be reviewed?
The new NPPF places great emphasis on efficient use of land. It states that plans should include ‘the use of minimum density standards for city and town centres and other locations that are well served by public transport’ and that these should seek ‘a significant uplift’ in average residential densities. Increasing the amount of housing in towns has numerous benefits. It reduces the amount of green field land needed on the edge of settlements or in the countryside. It aids regeneration by reusing brownfield land. It helps to increase the number of people living in town centres encouraging footfall and vitality. Service and infrastructure costs can be less, as long as they are planned for in advance. It supports public transport use and reduces the need to travel by car.

Estimating capacity
Work has been undertaken to assess the capacity from sites in Weston-super-Mare and to assess the likelihood of sites being developed. The table below sets out the main findings.

Category Estimated capacity
Additional capacity from allocated sites 364
Additional capacity from sites with permission but not allocated 34
Likely development 263
Trend analysis non-site specific 351
Total likely in Plan Period from Weston-super-Mare 1,012
Requires intervention Approx. 1,500

 

The analysis shows that it is feasible to meet the additional 1,000 JSP urban living capacity assuming there is an uplift in density requirements and that changes of use to residential from some of the existing buildings are encouraged. Further capacity to deliver up to c1,500 units come from the sites included in the ‘requires intervention’ category. The Local Plan will need to assess which if any should be allocated and what measures will be needed to ensure delivery of these more complex sites. Further sites were also assessed which were considered to have potential but were unlikely in the plan period.

The emerging strategy
The emerging strategy aims to maximise the potential from all land in the urban areas, it involves:

  • Developing on brownfield land and underused land within existing towns.
  • Making the most of sustainable locations (especially near public transport hubs).
  • Optimising densities by significantly increasing densities on sites in Weston town centre and near both Weston and Worle Parkway railway stations but also looking to increase densities on larger sites elsewhere in the town.
  • Balancing efficient and effective use of land with aspirations for placemaking and responding to the surrounding context.

What are the options for increasing urban living?
The potential options for increasing housing in towns are set out below. They are not mutually exclusive and elements from each could become part of the final approach.

Option 1 – Set different minimum densities for the towns and villages

Advantages:

  • Easy to apply.
  • Reflects the urban/rural nature of North Somerset.

Disadvantages:

  • Minimum would need to be set fairly low to ensure sensitive sites are not overdeveloped.
  • May not deliver the uplift in housing required in the towns.
  • It does not differentiate areas in towns which are close to transport hubs or services.

Option 2 – Set minimum densities on allocated sites.

Advantages:

  • Would reflect a more realistic approach to what could be delivered on specific sites whereas a more generic approach could encourage development at the minimum density.
  • Able to reflect the sites’ characteristics and context.
  • Allows for more certainty about how many units will be delivered therefore aid infrastructure planning.

Disadvantages:

  • May not be fully aware of all the issues at the time of allocation.
  • Large windfall sites would not be covered.
  • May need to build in some flexibility into the policy to reflect unforeseen or changed circumstances.

Option 3 – Define areas around transport hubs and service centres where higher densities would apply

Advantages:

  • It directs the highest density development to the most sustainable locations.
  • Can set varying densities within a town.
  • Compliant with current government thinking.

Disadvantages:

  • Does not necessarily correlate with where development sites are located.
  • May need to build in flexibility to ensure specific site characteristics and context are considered.

Option 4 – Intervention through master planning at specific locations.

Advantages:

  • Would help to deliver high density neighbourhoods with their own character which have a mix of uses, where people aspire to live,
    work and spend their leisure time.
  • Would help ensure delivery on specific sites.
  • Would provide better guidance and certainty about what would be permitted.
  • Better access to funding initiatives.
  • Easier to plan for infrastructure, such as schools, health facilities, road and public transport improvements.

Disadvantages:

  • Resource intensive.
  • Risk associated with development and return on investment.

Question 27.

What are your views on the proposed options for increasing urban living?

Increasing urban living in Weston town centre and the A370 corridor
Two areas of focus for increasing urban living in Weston-super-Mare are the town centre and the A370 corridor extending from the town centre to Flowerdown bridge near the Hutton Moor leisure centre.

They are viewed by North Somerset Council as key zones that would benefit from higher residential densities and associated investments in infrastructure and the public realm to regenerate the wider area.

Weston town centre
The approach to Weston town centre is set out in the Weston Town Centre Regeneration Supplementary Planning Document (SPD), adopted in 2017. This provided a masterplan framework for the town centre based on the following overarching principles:

  • To significantly increase the number of people living, working and making use of the services and cultural offer in the town centre.
  • To improve the quality of the offer and positively change perceptions about how and when people use the town centre.
  • Kick-start regeneration by making direct interventions and taking a supporting and enabling approach to delivery of growth in the town centre.

The Weston Town Centre Regeneration SPD also set out a number of key priorities, a number of which have already been achieved including:

  • Planning applications are underway for over 600 new homes on brownfield sites in the town centre.
  • An independent Design Review Forum has been established to provide advice and guidance to developers and applicants to improve quality of proposals.
  • A review of town centre Conservation Areas is currently underway. The results will provide updated character appraisals, management plans and design guidance for the Conservation Area/s.
  • The town centre has Heritage Action Zone status (the only one in the South West which brings support and potential grant from Historic England to be used to support the restoration and protection of heritage buildings).
  • Public realm enhancement schemes at Station road and Alexandra Parade have secured grant funding, designs are currently being drawn up to improve the visual appearance of these areas, as well as make improvements for pedestrians, cyclists, public transport and access to the seafront.
  • Enhancements to the Italian Gardens to create a contemporary events space, the area has seen significantly greater footfall since completion.
  • Work is underway to identify a new primary school site to serve the growing town centre population.

We would welcome views on the following:

Question 28.

Are the principles and priorities set out in the SPD still the right ones for the town centre?

Question 29:

What other steps could be taken to deliver and accelerate town centre regeneration?

A370 corridor
The A370 corridor includes a number of sites which are currently unused or under used. It is characterised by a mixture of low density retail and commercial uses, with small areas of relatively high density housing and the Hans Price Academy. The Hutton Moor leisure centre is located here and the Council is seeking to expand this provision with the addition of flagship facilities including a leisure pool. The area as a whole is dominated by the A370 highway which is an important link into the town centre but which can act as a barrier to
pedestrian and cycle movements.

Proposals for development here are mostly at a relatively early stage. An overarching framework masterplan would help to ensure coordination of proposals, good quality design and a planned approach to infrastructure and public realm improvements.

The following are some of the issues that have been identified that a masterplan framework should address.

  • The need to make more efficient use of land particularly car parking and poor-quality premises.
  • Ensuring the delivery of high quality, high density development on existing and new housing allocations.
  • Ensuring a better customer experience for residents using the retail outlets and collection services.
  • Better permeability for cars, pedestrians and cyclists within the retail park area which can become heavily congested at certain times.
  • Environmental improvements along the A370.
  • Ensuring the safeguarding of a primary school site close to the town centre and possibly an additional school site dependent on housing numbers.
  • Maximising the opportunities for sport and recreation on sites well located to residential areas, including flagship leisure provision at Hutton Moor or other agreed location.
  • Understanding the future requirements of existing businesses including where expansion or relocation may be needed.
  • Better connectivity to the town centre, railway stations and other areas of Weston, along with improved provision of public transport.

We would like your thoughts on the following questions:

Question 30:

Do you have any views on the opportunities and challenges of achieving good quality urban intensification within this area?

Question 31:

Do you agree that the list above sets out the main issues for the future development of the area in question?

Question 32:

Are there any key issues or opportunities that have been missed?