Frequently Asked Questions:
We've heard many things claimed about the council's relocation scheme, relating to both the new development at Covent Garden, and the redevelopment of their current Riverside House site. Here we aim to clear up some common misconceptions.
If you have a question that isn't answered below, please ask/suggest a question.
Isn't It Already a Done Deal?
No. There is still a key full-council vote, which is expected to take place in late November or early December 2018 that will determine if the scheme will go ahead. There is also still much to fight for in shaping what happens in either case.
Haven't the Council Already Met Their Affordable Housing Allocation on Other Sites?
Whilst the development on Station Approach provides 75% affordable housing, and it could be argued that the council met their affordable housing numbers for Riverside House and Covent Garden through that development, there are several problems with this argument, which is very much at odds with the spirit, and wording, of the policy in the Local Plan . In addition to this, across the district as a whole, provision of affordable and social housing is falling well below targets.
What does the Local Plan say?
The Local Plan states that even on a single site:
The Council wants to ensure that new affordable homes are integrated on development sites, rather than concentrated in one area of the site. This will encourage inclusive and mixed communities.
How can this be achieved if affordable housing isn’t only concentrated in one area of a site, but is concentrated on a small number of individual sites? With the allocation for one site traded off against that of another (arguably less desirable) site?
The Local Plan also addresses the question of affordable housing not being provided on-site:
In the majority of cases, the Council will require that affordable housing is provided on-site as an integral part of the development. This is because of the difficulty in identifying and acquiring sites for affordable housing and also because the integration of affordable and market homes leads to more mixed and balanced communities.
Is the planning authority meeting their targets?
Across the district as a whole, provision of affordable and social housing is falling woefully short of targets. Figures provided by council officers to the Labour Party group, show that between 2011 and 2017, compared to targets, there was an average annual shortfall of 39% for affordable housing overall and a 60% shortfall for social housing.
Rather than meeting their target for at least 40% affordable homes on new developments, the local planning authority has only achieved 27%. This is despite around 100 additional market rate homes being built.
Setting a bad example
If these targets are ever to be met, strong adherence to policy is absolutely required, and it sets an appalling example, and precedent, for the council to grant themselves planning permission on two applications that fail to provide any affordable or social housing at all. To then try and justify it, by trading allocations on one site off against that on another, just makes matters even worse.
- Barbara Weed, District Councillor/Planning Committee - Riverside House, Remarks
- Absence of Affordable Housing
- Richard Ashworth, Leamington Society - Riverside House, Objection
- Bill Gifford, District and County Councillor - Riverside House, Objection
- John Knight, Town Councillor - Riverside House, Objection
Isn't the Sale/Redevelopment of Riverside House Paying for the Replacement Carpark?
The development at Riverside House site will only fund the development of the new council offices. It will not directly fund the costs of the new carpark, which will be funded through a loan.
How is the carpark being funded?
It has been suggested that the sale/redevelopment of Riverside House will pay for the replacement carpark to be built at Covent Garden, and that this is a benefit of the scheme.
This is not the case. The costs for the replacement carpark will be met by a loan taken out by Warwick District Council. Neither the carpark itself, nor the loan repayments, will be directly funded by the Riverside House site. Only the new council offices will be.
What about profits from the scheme?
Any profits from the Riverside House development received by the council, or savings made by the council as a result of the relocation scheme, could help towards the loan repayments, but will fall well short of the full amount.
Won't Section 106 Payments Mean Increased Funding for Schools and the NHS?
In normal circumstances section 106 contributions would help mitigate against the impact of a development on local services. However, the viability report for the Riverside House and Covent Garden developments suggested that the viability of the linked schemes were so marginal that the majority of requests for s106 contributions would not be included in the s106 agreement. This means that the developments are likely to put further pressure on funding for vital local services.
What request for section 106 contributions have been made?
Requests for section 106 contributions that will not be met, totalling almost £3m include around £1.6m for Education, £400K Health, and £800K for other local services (including police, libraries, highways, open spaces and cultural).
What section 106 contributions have been agreed?
The only s106 contributions that will be made are £30K for replacement street trees (which is significantly less than the CAVAT value of the existing trees), and £16K for sustainable travel packs. The provision of new council offices is also covered by the s106 agreement, as if not for the linkage with this scheme, the viability for Riverside House would be much higher, meaning it could meet other s106 contributions, as well as providing much needed affordable housing.
Aren't the Copper Beech Trees on Milverton Hill Dying Anyway?
The local planning authority, in a joint report prepared with the county council, has confirmed that the defects in the two trees “do not necessitate immediate removal”. An independent arboriculturist, who visited the site with Warwick Tree Wardens, was of the opinion that the defect to the one of the copper beeches would have very little effect on its life expectancy.
What is wrong with the trees?
The Arboricultural Impact Assessment (AIA) identified issues with the two mature copper beech trees outside of the site that are planned for removal as part of the scheme. Fungal growth has been identified on one of the trees, and adaptive growth, due to a fork in the trunk, has been identified in the other. It has been suggested that this means they have a limited life expectancy anyway and so the proposed scheme actually provides an opportunity to mitigate their loss.
What is the assessment of the impact of these defects?
Whilst it is true that issues have been identified with the trees, the issues identified in the trees do not put them under any immediate threat, and they (especially the one with just the adaptive growth) could well have several decades or life left in them. An earlier version of the AIA even granted these trees the highest retention category given to any of the trees on the site, despite these defects having been observed. It seemed to be only when the removal of these trees became a key part of the plans that their retention categories were lowered.
A report put together by representatives for the district and county council identified the trees as “of TPO quality” and having “high amenity value” and that the observations “do not necessitate immediate removal of the two trees on health and safety grounds”. It also commented that “any decline in overall condition could be monitored and managed as part of the overall duty of care and would not necessarily involve their immediate or imminent removal”.
Residents have also raised concerns about how fully the issues had been investigated, so as to get a better idea of the trees’ life expectancy, were they to remain. This was confirmed by an independent arboriculturist who recently visited the site with Warwick Tree Wardens, who felt that the one tree’s life expectancy would not be significantly altered by the observed defects.
What about the mitigation measures put forward?
Whilst the application does include some measures to mitigate for the for these trees, the original feature of a line of trees along the street (which has been in place for around 100 years) will be lost forever. Replacement trees will be planted on the site, but these will be offset from the original line of trees, failing not only to respect the line of the original feature, but also detracting from it.
A contribution of £30K will also be made to the county council in order to plant further street trees. There is no guarantee that these will be planted in line with the original trees, or even in this location, and the trees planted on site would detract from this anyway. It is also highly unlikely the replacement trees would ever reach the same size, and amenity value, of the existing trees, as they would likely come into conflict with new buildings on the site long before that point. The sum of £30K also falls well short of the CAVAT value of just one of the existing trees.