Agenda item

Question Time.


The following questions, received under Standing Order 35, were put to the Chairman of the Scrutiny Commission:


Questions asked by Mrs Sharon Scott


With reference to the proposed Stoney Stanton Strategic Development Area (SDA), please can the chairman confirm:


  1. That the Stoney Stanton SDA is not in accordance with the Strategic Growth Plan and therefore cannot be pushed down into the local Blaby District plan because the Southern Gateway proposal (covering the area to the west of Stoney Stanton and Sapcote) which was included in the draft plan circulated for public comment was dropped from the final plan following public feedback and a press release was issued to this effect and to do otherwise would result in severe risk to the Council’s reputation?


  1. That the Stoney Stanton SDA contravenes Blaby District’s Growth plan, which is to keep distinct areas of separation between the existing villages and to only build new villages away from existing settlements?


  1. That the additional housing is not required since Sapcote and Stoney Stanton have already exceeded their forecast housing requirements and alternatives such as brown field sites and higher storey builds in the City of Leicester and its immediate environs have not been fully investigated?


  1. That it is not appropriate to consider Hinckley National Rail Freight Interchange (HNRFI) as an employment area and finance for the proposed SDA because the labour requirements of HNRFI do not match the local skillset and will likely result in workers being brought in by bus from as far away as Burton on Trent and Derby, as is currently the case with Magna Park?


  1. That it is morally wrong to sell County Council farmland and deprive local farmers of their homes and livelihoods and that the County Council farms must be retained to give young farmers who cannot afford land of their own the opportunity to learn valuable farming skills?


  1. That the Council should not use the Council tax of local residents to engage in highly risky and speculative property development proposals such as the proposed Stoney Stanton SDA because the financial and reputational risk to the Council is too great?


Reply by the Chairman:


1.     The Strategic Growth Plan which focusses on delivering new housing, supporting the economy, identifying key infrastructure (including that brought forward by partner organisations, for example, Midlands Connect, and protecting the environment and built heritage recognises that significant new development cannot be accommodated within the City of Leicester and market towns and villages of Leicestershire without significant investment in infrastructure and services. It proposes:

·         a continued focus on Leicester, our ‘Central City’;  

·         identifying key growth areas, these include the A46 Priority Growth Corridor, the Leicestershire International Gateway (focused around the northern parts of the A42 and the M1), A5 Improvement Corridor, Melton Mowbray (a key centre for regeneration and growth);

·         focusing growth in areas close to existing and future employment clusters and new infrastructure proposals;

·         focusing growth in strategic locations thereby reducing the impact on existing communities;

·         delivering strategic growth areas through the development of new communities / garden villages.

It is for Local Plans to make specific site allocations consistent with the policy framework set out in the SGP but on the basis of the above a development at M69 J2 would, it is considered, be compliant with the SGP.


2.     It is intended that there would be an area of separation between the new settlement and the villages of Stoney Stanton and Sapcote similar to that which currently exists between the existing villages. The development would therefore meet the requirements of the Blaby Growth Plan.


3.     The County Council is aware of the current housing supply situation in respect of both villages. However, there will be a future need for new housing across Blaby District, to be determined through the emerging local plan, which the proposed SDA would help to meet, thereby reducing the need to deliver large numbers of additional housing in rural centres and smaller villages. In respect of the unmet needs of Leicester City robust evidence of this need would form part of the consideration of housing needs to be considered by Blaby District Council as part of the emerging Local Plan process.


4.     By co-locating new housing development with major employment hubs, the opportunity exists for workers to live in more sustainable locations close to their work thus maximising the opportunity to reduce the length and number of journeys.


The County Council will be able to work with partners to develop a workforce with an appropriate skill set to support the employment located on this site. The site will be developed over a long period of time so there will be time to engage with schools, colleges, universities and other relevant providers who can develop a relevant Employment and Skills plan with the end users to be clear on the skills required.


5.     The County Council through its Farms Estate makes a positive contribution to helping young people onto the farming ladder and would work with any tenant affected by the scheme to minimise any long term impact on their business; this could include their relocation to an alternative holding on the Estate. Further the County Council’s Corporate Asset Investment Fund Strategy makes provision for the purchase of additional agricultural holdings to maintain the size of its rural portfolio and continue to offer opportunities for young farmers.


6.     The County Council, in the management of its property portfolio, routinely brings forward potential development sites which on the grant of planning consent have been marketed, with the proceeds of sale being used to support the Council’s capital programme essential to the delivery of services. By managing its assets in this way, it maximises those receipts and the benefit to the people of Leicestershire. In respect of the M69 Junction 2 Strategic Development Area the Council’s approach will be determined by the further decision of Cabinet in accordance with the recommendation agreed on 13th September 2019. The Council is mindful of the fact that this is potentially a large and complex project and accordingly appropriate governance will be put in place to manage and mitigate risk.


Mrs Scott asked a supplementary question on the response to question 1, to query what the people of Stoney Stanton and Sapcote gained when there were told that their feedback had been listened to and the original Southern Gateway proposal had been dropped from the Strategic Growth Plan.  Presumably, the County Council did not see Sapcote and Stoney Stanton as rural centres worth protecting.


The Chairman replied to indicate that a written response to this question would be provided to Mrs Scott.


Mrs Scott asked a supplementary question on the response to question 2, to the effect that, if it was intended that there would be an area of separation between the new settlement and the villages of Stoney Stanton and Sapcote, why had the County Council put forward into Blaby District Council’s call for sites an area of farm land that currently lay in a green wedge between Stoney Stanton and Sapcote and why, in the plans submitted to support the Housing Infrastructure Fund bid, were the plans for the new development bolted directly onto Stoney Stanton, recognising that the size of the development would leave little green space on the eastern side of the M69?  This seemed to contradict the Council’s response to the Blaby Local Plan which indicated that the County Council supported the retention of green wedges and areas of separation.


At the invitation of the Chairman, the Head of Strategic Property replied to the effect that the area directly adjacent to Stoney Stanton and Sapcote had been included in response to Blaby District Council’s call for sites to ensure that the County Council land could be seen in conjunction with the land extended to Junction 2 of the M69.  The intention was that the County Council could the separation and ensure that it was delivered.  By including the County Council’s land in the proposal, the County Council could deliver the residential scheme, should Blaby District Council bring it forward in its Local Plan review.


Mrs Scott asked a supplementary question on the response to question 3, to the effect that, as the County Council was aware that both villages had amply met their housing allocation, was the County Council also aware of letter from Alberto Costa MP which had queried the forecast the County Council was using for housing growth as to bolt 4500 homes onto two villages of approximately 1500 houses seemed like a very large amount.


The Chairman replied to the effect that the County Council was working to figures put forward nationally and agreed by the Member Advisory Group, which comprised representatives of all Leicestershire Councils.  A written response to this query would also be provided to Mrs Scott.


Mrs Scott asked a supplementary question on the response to question 4, to the effect that the response contradicted the response to question 3, where it was stated that the additional housing would help to meet the unmet housing need of Leicester City.  The Hinckley Rail Freight Interchange would actually meet the housing needs of Burton on Trent as this was where similar freight hubs in the area currently bussed their workers in from.


At the invitation of the Chairman, the Head of Strategic Property replied to the effect that, in discussion with Blaby District Council, the proposed Strategic Development Area was seen as commercial as well as residential.  This made it a more sustainable development.  It would also take into the underlying natural growth in the area, which Blaby District Council was look at as part of its Local Plan review.


Mrs Scott asked a supplementary question on the response to question 5, to the effect that, if the County Council was moving affected farmers or purchasing additional agriculture holdings, this appeared to be uprooting people and disrupting their business and home life for no particularly good reason.


At the invitation of the Chairman, the Head of Strategic Property replied to the effect that each lease for a County Farm included the opportunity for the County Council to revoke the lease as part of the portfolio management of the Investment that the rural estate sat within.  It was right that the Corporate Asset Investment Fund looked for new opportunities to increase its rural estate.  The County Council would not let farmers end up with an unviable business so would either relocate them or provide compensation.


Mrs Scott asked a supplementary question on the response to question 6, to the effect that the proposal had little regard for the residents of Stoney Stanton and Sapcote who were seeing their council tax used to steam-roller through a large development which did not have local support and would be to the detriment of local residents who placed a high value on living in a rural location.  Why did the County Council not consider these villages as rural centres which were worth protecting?


The Chairman replied to the effect that this would be for the Cabinet to take into account when it made a decision on the matter.