Below is a summary of key objections to the council's relocation scheme, as put forward by local residents, businesses, politicians, and organisations. These cover objections relating to Covent Garden, Riverside House, and the scheme as a whole. You can also read our Key Facts and Arguments document.
Inadequate Parking Displacement Strategy
We accept that the existing multi-story carpark at Covent Garden has structural issues, and will need replacing in the non-too-distant future. We also accept that there will inevitably be some level of disruption to town centre parking whilst this takes place. However, we feel a lot more could be done to minimise this disruption than is currently being offered by the council, and share the genuine concerns of the local business community as to the levels of disruption that will be caused, and the devastating effect this may have on local businesses.
Impact on Parking
The Covent Garden carpark currently provides around a third of the Leamington’s off street parking, and the temporary loss of the carpark is expected to impact 25,000 people every month, or 800 per day.
Chaotic Emergence of Displacement Strategy
The council failed to present a parking displacement strategy prior to the committee meeting where the application was considered, and legal advice received by the local planning authority suggested a condition requiring the implementation of a parking displacement strategy would be unlawful. The applicant did, however, agree, at the 11th hour, to put forward a parking displacement strategy as part of the section 106 agreement.
The first details of this strategy were seen ahead of the 7th February 2018 council executive committee meeting where the plans required the approval of the executive committee. The release of these plans caused huge public uproar, when it was revealed they planned to permanently convert the tennis courts at Christchurch Gardens into a surface carpark. Public pressure was so great on this matter that it was swiftly dropped from the plans, though with no replacement and so reduced the overall numbers of displacement parking spaces by around 80 places.
There are also many concerns around the remaining sites in the parking displacement strategy, with them being mainly comprised of a scattering of small sites south of the town centre (namely the Archery Road and Princes Drive carparks at Victoria Park, Court Street, and Riverside House). This raises concerns about shoppers being put off by the walking distance between the parking and the town centre, and fears it will lead to increased traffic, congestion, and air pollution in the town, as visitors drive around trying to find somewhere convenient to park.
Concerns of the business community with the proposals were expressed by Stephanie Kerr, executive director of BID Leamington, who was quoted in a Leamington Courier article saying:
Given car parking to serve shoppers ideally needs to be within 400m of their destination, this shows that providing less than 300 spaces in a piecemeal range of locations that are more than 1km from the town centre, falls significantly short of what is needed.
The plans also include the permanent loss of green space at Victoria Park (part of the grade II registered Spa Gardens) to additional parking, and the installation of additional lighting, which has raised concerns about its impact on wildlife.
With planning applications for the sites now submitted, strong objections have been raised for the proposals at Archery Road, due to the loss of over 20 established trees, and the impact on current users. Objections have been received from Friends of Victoria Park, The Royal Leamington Spa Bowling Club, Bowls England and the Coventry and Warwick Tree Wardens Training Group.
When planning applications for the parking displacement sites came forwards, it was revealed that pre-planning advice had significantly reduced the scale of the plans, and provision of addition spaces was falling well short of that agreed by the council executive.
In the plan agreed by the executive there were proposals for 50 additional spaces at Princes Drive, 60 at Archery Road, and 92 at Court Street. Yet, the planning applications are for just 30 additional spaces at Princes Drive, 42 at Court Street, and, at best 33 at Archery Road. Brining the total number of spaces down from 202 to just 105. However, even this is probably overstating things, as whilst the Archery Road application claims the 66 proposed spaces will roughly double the number of spaces, others have claimed the current carpark can already accommodate over 50 or 60 cars, meaning the actual increase in spaces there is probably 15, at best. This means brings the total provision of additional spaces across these three sites down to just 87 spaces.
This is all with approved capital spending of £674K, additional staffing costs in the hundreds of thousands, and with lost revenue from the closed carpark of £665K (which could potentially be reduced with a better displacement scheme or a shorter closure period).
What are the Alternatives?
Alternative plans to put additional levels on the Chandos Street carpark, as supported by many in the business community, have been rejected by the council, as they don’t align with their longer term aim to dispose of the site. Suggestions of a Park-and-Ride scheme, a long term aspiration already, also seemed not to be given full consideration.
Our argument is also that, were the council not also building their new offices on the site of the carpark, then the existing carpark could be closed for a reduced period of time. Indeed, when tentatively considering the site for a shortlist of possibilities, council officers warned that selecting the site would mean that the existing multi-story couldn’t be kept operational whilst a replacement was built (presumably on the surface parking half of the site). This suggests that if they weren’t also building a new HQ and apartments on the site at the same time, then they’d only be facing a displacement parking issue for the 80 surface carpark spaces.
Despite having been unable to put these plans forward prior to the planning committee meeting, and despite them seemingly being rushed through - and with no consultation with local businesses, shoppers, or residents - council leader, Andrew Mobbs, commented in November 2017 that:
We fully understand the need for a robust parking displacement strategy and we are currently working on that ahead of the planning application being considered, as it is something the council take extremely seriously.
He also gave assurances that they would consult with BID Leamington and the Chamber of Trade in formulating the plans:
We are confident that we will have a robust car parking displacement plan to minimise the disruption and we will be consulting with the BID and the Chamber of Trade to ensure their views and comments are heard and taken into account
Given their objections to the proposals, it does not seem that this has been the case, or that it has been unsuccessful.
Absence of Affordable Housing
The planning applications for Covent Garden and Riverside House include no provision for affordable or social housing. This is despite the recently adopted Local Plan setting out a clear requirement for 40% affordable housing on developments of this size. With 170 homes proposed for Riverside House and 44 at Covent Garden, this should mean a total of 85 or 86 affordable homes across the two sites, instead there will be none.
Local Plan Policy
The Local Plan is very clear about the particular need for affordable housing within Warwick District:
The seriousness of the affordability problem in the district is demonstrated by comparisons with other authorities in the Housing Market Area. The Joint SHMA 2013 shows that purchase prices for entry- level homes of all sizes (except three-bed homes) were highest, or equal highest, in Warwick District compared with all the other local authorities in the Housing Market Area. The study also shows that entry-level private rents were highest for all sizes of homes and that the income required to purchase or privately rent an entry-level home without subsidy was also the highest of all local authorities in the Housing Market Area. The study estimated that 46.1% of households in the district were unable to afford market housing without subsidy in 2013.
This is why policy H2 in the Local Plan sets out a clear requirement for the provision of 40% affordable housing on all developments of this size.
Residential development on sites of 11 or more dwellings or where the combined gross floor space is more than 1,000 sq. m will not be permitted unless provision is made for 40% affordable housing.
The amount of affordable housing, the form of provision, its location on the site and the means of delivery of the affordable element of the proposal will be subject to negotiation at the time of a planning application. The viability of the development will be a consideration in such negotiations.
Planning permission will not be granted until satisfactory arrangements have been made to secure affordable housing as determined by the following principles: -
- the affordable housing will be provided on site as either serviced land or dwellings, or a combination of the two;
- the sizes, types and tenures of homes provided will be determined on the basis of local need as identified in the latest Strategic Housing Market Assessment and, where appropriate, by other local needs surveys and information;
- the accommodation provided will be genuinely available to those households who have been identified as being in housing need;
- the affordable housing will be well integrated into the overall scheme along with the market housing with consistent qualities of materials, design and open spaces;
- the affordable housing will meet the definition of affordable housing set out in Annex 2 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in terms of tenure, eligibility and provider. If the NPPF is replaced by later national guidance while this policy H2 remains in force then, at the time of consideration of a planning application, the definition of affordable housing shall be taken to be as defined by such later national guidance;
- the affordable housing will be built within an agreed timescale; and
- the affordable housing will be available as such in perpetuity, where practicable, and only to those with a demonstrable housing need.
The Council will, in exceptional circumstances, accept contributions of equivalent value in lieu of on-site delivery. This should include financial contributions, land or off-site provision of affordable homes. In such cases, the developer will be required to demonstrate why on-site delivery is not practical.
In the case of the Riverside House and Covent Garden applications, it is argued that the viability of the schemes is so marginal that no affordable housing will be provided. Though the policy H2 does state that “The viability of the development will be a consideration”, this seems to be much less strongly worded than “will not be permitted unless provision is made for 40% affordable”. It also seems to be quite a leap from taking it into consideration, to approving of an application with zero affordable housing, and giving up on at least 85 affordable homes that would usually be required on a development of this side. It does not reflect well on the LPA’s negotiation skills if they can be negotiated down to zero on such a site!
The fact that both the viability report prepared by the applicant, and the independent viability assessment carried out on behalf of the LPA, have both been declared to contain commercially sensitive information, and have therefore been hidden from public scrutiny (and not even made available to other councillors), has raised questions and concerns about the transparency of the whole process.
It has also been argued that the “public benefits” of the scheme outweigh the dis-benefits, as if affordable and social housing aren’t, in themselves, huge public benefits.
It could also be argued that if the viability is indeed so marginal, then the applications should not only have been rejected, but the council should re-think the whole scheme as it is clearly too much of a risk.
- Barbara Weed, District Councillor/Planning Committee - Riverside House, Remarks
- Haven't the Council Already Met Their Affordable Housing Allocation on Other Sites?
- Richard Ashworth, Leamington Society - Riverside House, Objection
- Bill Gifford, District and County Councillor - Riverside House, Objection
- John Knight, Town Councillor - Riverside House, Objection
Lack of Infrastructure Contributions
There will be an almost £3 million shortfall in Section 106 infrastructure investment that would otherwise have been used to augment local services to meet the increase in demand from new residents. By far the largest part of the requested contributions, £1.6m, came from education, a sector already struggling on reduced budgets before having to accommodate increased, and unfunded, demand. Requests came from other already stretched services included health (£438K), policing (£33K), and libraries (£4K), as well as for open spaces (£439K), bus stops (£216K) and sports facilities (£205K).
What does the Mean?
This effectively means this £3m either has to be met from taxes (cancelling out the council’s claimed 10 year savings) or a cut in services per capita, or funding needing to be found from other means, as local provision struggles to keep up, which sets a very bad precedent for future developers on other sites.
What About the CIL Payment?
These requests for contribution were not challenged, but instead were discarded on the grounds of the marginal viability of the combined schemes. Though a CIL (Community Infrastructure Levy) payment will be made, planning policy is clear that this does not replace section 106 contributions.
A recent report to council also revealed that, across the district as a whole, there was an infrastructure funding gap of almost £70m, which was not being adequately met by section 106 contributions.
Financial Risk and Questionable Savings
It is claimed that the scheme will save council taxpayers £3 million over ten years. However, this figure is based on purely aspirational and very questionable assumptions about savings, especially when the £3 million infrastructure funding shortfall is taken into account. It’s also important to note that annual savings of £300K would represent less than 1% of the council’s overall annual spending of £35m.
The much hyped claim that the project is “broadly cost neutral” cannot be sustained when the costs of parking displacement (£674K), lost parking revenue whilst Covent Garden is closed (£665K), hundreds of thousands on extra staffing (to guide shoppers to distant carparks), tree loss (amenity value of £500k - £1m+ across affected sites ), and the one-off costs of moving, contract management etc., are added.
In addition, the council’s own viability reports identify a potential £3 million funding gap for the project.
If a new unitary authority is likely, the new HQ will be a superfluous ‘white elephant’ anyway - half the size of the current offices, and on a much smaller site, with considerably less staff parking, it would likely be of less use to the county council, and potentially have a lower market value.
The £300,000 p.a. of alleged savings as a result of the relocation can only be calculated on the basis of a building less than half the size of the current accommodation with a cost per sq. m that is actually higher than is currently the case. Most of the alleged savings are in the form of lower business rates to central government, in other words a ‘wooden dollars’ saving. This is a highly risky marginal saving given the scale and complexity of a project with projected overall costs of £50 million.
No Independent Assessment
Where is the independent financial and risk assessment – and public consultation - which a project of this scale surely merits? We call for the council to undertake both before committing to the scheme.
Loss of Trees
The Riverside House application seeks to fell over 40 trees, both on and off site. This includes an astonishing 22 trees deemed to be in highest retention category awarded to trees on the site. Trees proposed for removal include three covered by an existing TPO (though one is dead, having had all its branches removed), and three within the Leamington Spa conservation area, including two of the mature copper beech trees that form part of the irreplaceable street feature on Milverton Hill, and which have stood in this location for around 100 years. In addition to the loss of around 40 trees at Riverside House, 21 of the 28 trees on the Covent Garden site will also be removed.
False Claims and Assurances
The loss of these trees is contrary to claims that no significant trees would be lost, and earlier assurances from the local planning authority that the copper beech trees on Milverton Hill would not be removed.
Historic Loss of TPOed Trees
In addition to the loss of trees that will be seen as a result of the plans, at least 8 trees covered by the existing TPO for the Riverside House site have already been removed, with another now dead, and seemingly with no record of permission being sort or replacements planted (despite these trees being on the site of the local planning authority’s own offices).
Unrealistic Tree Retention Plans
In addition to the proposed loss of trees, the landscape proposals put forward seem overly optimistic as to which trees could realistically be retained, and protected, during the development, and into the future. Residents fears about the future threat to these trees have been backed by an independent arboriculturalist who visited the site along with Warwick Tree Wardens, and was of the opinion that the development would see the eventual loss of almost all the existing trees. In addition to this, in an email we received shortly after the planning committee meeting, comments from the local planning authority’s retained tree consultant said of four of the retained trees that they “will be affected by ground level changes which will cause their demise” as well as questioning whether several other trees marked for retention would realistically be retained. The same tree consultant, in his comments on the planning application, remarked that “the report demonstrates how the trees that are to be retained can be successfully integrated into the development of the site”, which seems somewhat at odds with his later comments that the development would “cause their demise”.
Concerns about the realistic retention of the trees include the fact that it seems a number of mature trees would see their root protection areas built upon, built right up to, or would undergo pruning. It is also likely that retained trees would immediately be under pressure from new residents to be reduced or removed, in order to increase natural light to their properties, or due to health and safety concerns around falling branches. The proposed buildings would also cause many trees to be shaded much more significantly than they currently are, which would adversely affect their health (especially trees to the north of the proposed buildings, which would see little light for many months of the year, due to the scale of the proposed buildings).
Misleading Tree Report
The applicant’s tree survey has also been called into question, with none of the trees having been awarded category A or awarded an expected retention period of more than 40 years. The independent arboriculturalist who visited the site with the Warwick Tree Wardens felt this was very questionable, and identified a number of trees that he felt worthy of being awarded a category A rating, and many he felt would easily survive over 40 years in their current setting (including one of the mature copper beeches on Milverton Hill).
Pressure From Residents
The loss of “just” 40 trees is also a small victory for our group, as before coming under pressure from residents, the council were proposing to put forward plans that would have seen around 80 trees being felled. It was only after consultation with residents that this number was revised down, and a landscaping plan put forward that also proposed the planting of new trees. Sadly this was really the only concession seen after consultation with residents, and seemed a somewhat token gesture, as the plans were altered in no other way in order to retain additional trees or to make the proposed retentions more realistic.
The Local Planning Authority have also put forward a new tree protection order to cover all retained on the site, following continued pressure from residents to see the trees protected long term.
Further Tree Loss at Covent Garden
In addition to the loss of trees at Riverside House, we later learnt that 21 trees are also proposed for removal from the Covent Garden site, over half of which are in category B (again the highest category awarded). This is all but 7 of the current trees on the Covent Garden site, and is despite the site being in the conservation area.
Even Further Tree Loss at Victoria Park
When the planning applications for the council’s parking displacement strategy came forward, it also became clear that they weren’t yet done with their attack on Leamington’s trees. The plans proposed the felling of over 20 trees at Victoria Park (part of the Grade II registered ‘Spa Gardens’). These are mainly at the Archery Road site, where they currently screen the informal carpark from the park), whilst at the Princes Drive carpark a section of hedgerow (an important wildlife habitat) was also proposed for removal.
Lost Amenity Value
The Coventry and Warwick Tree Wardens Training Group visited the sites with us to assess the CAVAT value of trees to be removed, or that would be put at risk. Their calculations suggest that, across all affected sites, the total loss in amenity value would be at least £500K, and could surpass £1m.
Over-Development of the Riverside House Site
Warwick District Council’s recently adopted Local Plan identified the Riverside House site as suitable for 100 dwellings. The outline planning application, put forward jointly by the council and their private sector partners, saw a massive 70% increase on this number, proposing a maximum of 170 homes (none of which will be designated as affordable housing).
“Up to 170”
Though the council, in both its roles as applicant and as local planning authority, are keen to repeat that this is a maximum figure in an outline planning application, little reassurance is gained from this. Most people do not consider it at all realistic to assume that we will see a decrease in this number when the reserved matters applications come forward, and that we may indeed see the numbers pushed higher still on viability grounds.
District Councillor Terry Morris (Conservative, Saltisford) voiced these concerns in his remarks at the planning committee meeting on 9th Jan 2018, saying:
Let’s be realistic; what “up to 170” means, it means 170, and it wouldn’t be beyond imagination, at detailed stage, for them to come back and say “well to make it viable, actually, we need a little bit more”.
Root Cause of Other Objections
Many of the other objections to the Riverside House application come as a direct result of trying to cram the maximum amount of housing onto the site. These include the loss of trees, the scale and mass of the proposed buildings, the impact on heritage assets (the conservation area, listed buildings, and protected trees), and concerns around parking (especially as the outline plans only provide 1.1 parking spaces per home) and traffic.
Undermines Local Plan
It also raises concerns about the new Local Plan , if after years in the making, and having gone through robust cycles of analysis and consultation, that so soon after its adoption we are seeing such variance from the allocated numbers in it. Though the Local Plan does acknowledge that these allocations “may vary dependant on detailed planning at the application stage”, an increase of 70% seems an extraordinary variance. Cllr Morris also expressed his unease with this increase in numbers saying:
The difference between 100 and 170 is a big stretch on flexibility, and I’m not comfortable with that number right now.
District and County Councillor Bill Gifford (Lib Dem, Leam) raised similar concerns in his objections at the planning committee meeting, saying:
The local plan identified Riverside House as suitable for 100 dwellings, so it’s very difficult to see how an application for 170 dwellings can be acceptable. The difference is not 10 or 15% but 70%. If the sites identified in the local plan are able to take 70% more dwellings than suggested in the local plan, then it does rather call into question whether so much greenfield land near Warwick, Bishop’s Tachbrook, Whitnash, needed to be lost.
Inconsistent Consideration of Local Plan Numbers
This also came shortly after a planning application for Gallows Hill in Warwick was rejected on the basis of a less than 13% increase over the figures in the plan, raising concerns about how consistently these figures are being applied.
Alternatives Have Not Been Sufficiently Explored
Nobody objecting to the council’s relocation scheme is opposed to the council trying to save money, to a deteriorating carpark being replaced, to attempts to increase town centre spending, or to the basic principle of Riverside House being redeveloped as a residential site. If the council also ends up with a more pleasant and efficient working environment as a result of it, all the better. What we do strongly question, though, is whether the current plans put forward are a good (ideally the best available) solution to these problems. In order to know this, we feel that alternative plans should have been given serious consideration, and there is no evidence that this is the case. The council are keen to frame the current plans, as much as possible, as the only available solution. We feel that this is disingenuous.