Local Plan 2036: Issues and Options Stage

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

Employment

Context
The National Planning Policy Framework identifies economic growth as one of three overarching objectives to achieving sustainable development. Planning has to perform a number of roles including ‘to help build a strong, responsive and competitive economy, by ensuring that sufficient land of the right types is available in the right places and at the right time to support growth, innovation and improved productivity; and by identifying and coordinating the provision of infrastructure’.

North Somerset economy
The economy of North Somerset operates within a wider Functional Economic Market Area that covers the West of England area as identified through the Economic Development Needs Assessment. Within North Somerset there is both out-commuting to Bristol and a Weston-super-Mare Travel to Work Area.

The North Somerset Economic Plan identifies the range of businesses in the area.
‘Located in some of North Somerset’s towns and villages are world leading high-technology manufacturers making everything from aircraft parts to plasma screens and subsea control systems. Alongside them are makers of more traditional products originating from the natural produce of rich farmland. These are turned into world leading brands of cheese, cider and yogurt among many others. Similarly business services provide quality employment, supporting the wider regional economy which includes Bristol and Bath. North Somerset also complements the region’s strengths in creative media with growing numbers of businesses working in all aspects of this dynamic sector.’

Joint Spatial Plan
Policy 4 The Employment Land Requirement of the JSP Publication Draft sets out a strategic planning policy direction for employment across the West of England. This identifies the overall scale of employment change over the period to 2036 of 82,500 additional jobs and sets out a high level strategy for the distribution of new business growth.

For North Somerset this identifies Weston-super-Mare town centre, and Junction 21 Enterprise Area and growth opportunities at Bristol Airport and the Port. The policy also indicates the role the SDLs might play in supporting employment growth and initial ideas and proposals for this are included within this consultation document in section ‘Garden Villages and New Communities’.

Role of the new Local Plan
The Local Plan will provide the detailed policy framework to guide business development to 2036, including policies to safeguard business land, guide new development, and identify new sites to support business growth in line with national objectives. This will include identifying opportunities for existing businesses to expand and relocate and policies to manage these requirements across towns, villages and the countryside.

The Local Plan will provide a clear economic vision and strategy to encourage sustainable economic growth, and will recognise and plan for the requirements of different economic sectors functioning across North Somerset, particularly those considered to be key sectors with an important role within the existing and future North Somerset economy. Policies to guide business development and the allocation of land will seek to maximise opportunities to support growth in sectors including financial and professional, high value manufacturing and design, food and drink, digital technology, media and telecoms, and cultural and creative industries.

Opportunities to safeguard existing business and employment sites that contribute to the North Somerset economy e.g. as operating within a key economic sector, will be investigated. This is likely to include sites in urban areas, and town centres, but may also include sites that have an important local role in meeting business needs e.g. within the countryside or associated with a smaller settlements.

To inform the new Local Plan, an Employment Land Review (ELR) has been prepared to assess the current supply of employment land against future demand to identify any gaps in supply that the Local Plan will need to address. This includes both quantitative gaps but also qualitative particularly addressing local economic issues present in North Somerset.

The study was based upon the period 2016 to 2036 and assumed that current employment allocations would be maintained. The overall conclusion on that basis was that North Somerset has sufficient land supply to meet future demand for business growth, but there were issues around delivery of employment development to meet the aspirations of North Somerset Council for the local economy, the threat of loss of employment land, the appropriateness of specific locations and localised issues. The importance of retaining a relative surplus of employment land was identified as essential given the strong economic potential in North Somerset going forward over the plan period.

The ELR includes a series of recommendations:

  • Protect allocated employment sites – any currently allocated sites in the Site Allocations Plan that remain undeveloped should be rolled forward into the Local Plan taking into account findings from the ELR.
  • Protect existing employment sites.
  • Review existing employment policy for Weston-super-Mare.
  • Consider additional employment sites at the Port, Airport and on sites closer to Bristol to capitalise on opportunities provided by infrastructure investment and the economic growth prospects of Bristol.
  • Consider proactive initiatives to support business growth.
  • Ongoing monitoring of economic issues in order to allow planning framework to respond to market signals.

These recommendations will be considered through the Local Plan process and appropriate policy formulated.

The Local Plan will revisit relevant employment policies in the current Development Plan including Policy SA4 of the Site Allocations Plan to identify a new suite of employment allocations and other policy to stimulate economic growth and to meet business needs. There may also be potential for area based strategies and policies where there may be specific objectives and aspirations around economic growth. For example, in some locations there may be cause to consider consolidation, re-locating a number of dispersed employment sites into a smaller number of larger allocations that enable intensification of use, easy access to key transport routes and staff travel to work.

Employment-led strategy at Weston-super-Mare
The Core Strategy requires that housing development is ‘employment-led’ in order to improve self-containment and reduce out-commuting. In practice this is applied at Weston-super-Mare through a requirement on large housing sites to ensure the delivery of 1.5 jobs per home.

The policy has seen an improvement in the delivery of employment in Weston-super-Mare, particularly within the Junction 21 Enterprise Area. However there are concerns that the requirements are too onerous, putting housing delivery at risk and potentially acting as a deterrent to lower density commercial developments because they are not perceived as delivering enough jobs. There are also questions as to how North Somerset can respond appropriately to the changing nature of the economy and employment, for example the forecast
growth of various economic sectors, the increasing trend for working from home and the rise of serviced and managed workspace and owner occupier-led development.

North Somerset Council continues to believe that a strong emphasis on the delivery of employment is important to the future economic prosperity of Weston-super-Mare, but recognises the need for the policy to be reviewed to ensure it is robust, deliverable and effective.

We would welcome views on the questions below, in particular from those operating or wanting to operate businesses in the town:

Question 33:

Do you agree that the delivery of employment and employment premises remain important to Weston-super-Mare?

Question 34:

What do you think are the needs of current and future businesses that might want to operate in the town? What sort of premises and infrastructure do businesses need?

Question 35:

What would help to attract more businesses to invest and grow here?

Question 36:

What role do you think that residential developers should play in helping to deliver employment? Should the specific link between housing and employment be maintained.

Question 37:

How else can the Local Plan help to maintain and increase employment growth associated to Weston-super-Mare?

Bristol Airport and Royal Portbury Dock
The Airport and Port are identified as strategic employment locations in North Somerset. Maximising their role and improving surface access to the Airport are key objectives.

Options for airport expansion are set out in the section below. These may include potential for additional employment land subject to further testing.

At the Port, the focus will be on ensuring the most efficient use of the existing port area, but also considering any opportunities to support business growth associated with the Port. The latter could include making allowances for additional land supply in and around Portishead to meet demand for high growth businesses including those linked to port activities. If there are specific additional needs associated with the Port the Local Plan process will need to consider the land use implications and future aspirations of the Port over the plan period.