Policy NE4: Protecting publically accessible open space
Local Plan 2011-2031 Proposed Submission Draft
Representation ID: 343
Respondent: Sport England - East Region
Legally compliant? Yes
Duty to co-operate? Yes
Object to NE4: Changes are required to ensure criteria accord with the NPPF and policy provides a suitable policy framework for assessing proposals for outdoor sports facilities in practice.
No objection is made to the principle of the policy as its intention is to protect green space including outdoor sports facilities which is welcomed and supported by the Council's evidence base in terms of the recently completed Playing Pitch Strategy.
However, in its present form the policy is not considered to be adequate in terms of protection for outdoor sports facilities as it would not fully accord with paragraph 74 of the NPPF or Sport England's playing fields policy http://www.sportengland.org/facilities-planning/planning-for-sport/development-management/planning-applications/playing-field-land/ that is used for assessing planning applications affecting playing fields where Sport England is a statutory consultee. In particular, there are the following concerns:
* In relation to criterion (a), the first part relating to "It can be demonstrated that the open space is surplus to requirements" accords with paragraph 74 of the NPPF. However, the three subsequent sub-criteria (i-iii) do not as they would allow development on open space if it could be justified on other grounds even if the open space was not surplus to requirements. The three sub-criteria require a subjective assessment to be undertaken of matters such as the quality and accessibility of the open space and alternative public open space. For outdoor sports facilities, these criteria would be inadequate for addressing a scenario where there is a quantitative deficiency in provision. While the quality or accessibility of an outdoor sports facility or nearby alternatives may be a consideration in assessing a proposal, if there was a shortfall in quantitative provision, these criteria would not account for this. For example, it could be argued that a poor quality sports pitch could be lost on the basis that there are better quality accessible sports pitches nearby. However, if all of the sports pitches in the area were used to their capacity, the sports pitch would still justify protection to ensure that sports pitch provision was adequate for meeting the community's quantitative pitch needs regardless of its quality/accessibility. The criteria in its current form could allow the loss of outdoor sports facilities without mitigation which would be contrary to paragraph 74 which only allows such development where there is a surplus of provision.
* In relation to criterion b (i), while the sentiments are welcomed, the wording is not sufficiently clear or detailed to ensure that replacement open space provision is equivalent or better in terms of quantity, quality and accessibility as advised in paragraph 74. In its current form the criterion does not account for the quantity of provision and only requires account to be given to quality and accessibility rather than requiring them to be equivalent or better. This lack of clarity is likely to create issues when interpreting the policy as it could be argued that replacement provision which is smaller in size would accord with the policy or replacement provision may be inferior in quality/accessibility as the policy only requires account to be given to these matters.
* In relation to criterion b (ii), while mitigation in the form of financial contributions can be acceptable in some scenarios where it is not necessary, appropriate or desirable to replace open space directly on an equivalent/better basis, they would not be acceptable in many scenarios and this general approach would not accord with paragraph 74 of the NPPF. For example, a common scenario is where a development proposal would result in the loss of a club's sports ground or a school's playing field. In these scenarios it would usually be necessary to replace the facilities directly on an identified alternative site on at least a like for like basis to ensure continuity of facility provision for the user. The policy in its current form would allow mitigation to be made in the form of financial contributions which would not be appropriate for such a scenario as it would not result in equivalent or better provision (in quantity and quality) being made as required by Government policy and could result in the community's needs not being acceptably met.
* Paragraph 74 of the NPPF includes a criterion relating to development for alternative sports or recreational provision, the needs for which clearly outweigh the loss. This criterion or something along its lines has not been included in the policy which is particularly relevant for sports facilities. In Sport England's experience, a large proportion of developments affecting outdoor sports facilities such as playing fields are acceptable because the development involves new sports facilities that would offset the loss of the open space e.g. sports halls and an artificial pitches on playing fields. If the policy was retained in its current form, it may be interpreted that such types of development would be contrary to the policy as it does not specially provide for them.