Monday, 13 April 2015

The Dangers of Planning Precedents

“Save Jersey’s Heritage say that the plans for 180 units in disused warehouses at the back of the Co-op Grand Marche are overwhelming, and that the old granite warehouses should be retained. The developers want to redevelop the site to create 183 homes – mostly flats, but with some houses – as well as four commercial units, a community facility and 200 parking spaces. The development proposals come just weeks after plans for almost 300 homes on the neighbouring Jersey Gas site were approved despite protests by residents and politicians.” (1)

Mr Binney said: "We are not opposed to some housing on the site, but the scale of what is proposed is overwhelming. It is starting to look as if the aim of the States for St Helier is to cram residents into boxy flats like sardines." “Chairman Advocate Christopher Scholefield said: "St Helier faces a clear choice. Is it to become some sort of watered down Gotham City or to witness a genuine revival of urban living?” (2)

And there are also 174 flats at the Hotel Metropole site and 19 at the former Ann Street Brewery site – are awaiting approval. Housing density, and the impact on Primary schools in the area and traffic will be considerable.

On the Gas Place project, the Planning Department’s report: “It is considered that the redevelopment of this site offers important benefits in the regeneration of the area …. providing much-needed housing and public realm and landscape improvements to the area.”

Steve Luce now faces difficult choices. If he doesn’t approve the Grande Marche site, he will have to find adequate reasons for doing so, given that he has already approved a site of significant density. If he doesn’t say the density is too great for the area, he is deluding himself.

The impact of another 180 flats will surely have significant impacts on this part of St Helier. Existing schools simply will not cope with the numbers of extra pupils, and cannot easily be extended. The only school large enough in the Town area is Rouge Bouillon and that may also be under significant pressure from other urban developments such as that at the old JCG site.

A general principle is laid down by Stephen Sussna:

“We can assume that the neighbourhood school is generally favoured among residents with school-age children, while out-of-neighbourhood school busing is not. The number of students who can walk to school, however, is determined by the housing density, as is the cost and time of busing students outside an acceptable walking range. Planning for communities of the future must take this and other density factors into account.”

And traffic flow onto St Saviour’s road will be increased because the nearest States secondary schools are some distance away, unless there are plans for special school buses to address that capacity. It is true that most people work in St Helier, and so work traffic will hopefully not increase, and the presence of a supermarket next to two developments does mean shopping will be relatively easy – although expect trollies to be dumped within the Gas place site. The Town park itself will be impacted by the changes, and become more crowded.

The fundamental principle here: Accessible provision of social infrastructure is vital, especially if urban densities are to increase. As the British Property Foundation report noted:

“Social infrastructure provision is integral to the creation of sustainable communities as it contributes much of the glue that holds communities together, providing services and facilities that meets the needs of residents, promote social interaction and enhance the overall quality of life within a community.”

And as Professor Norman Williams said:

“Daylighting of buildings and open space provisions are supplementary to densitycontrols but no less vital, for they are also aimed at increasing the amenity of city life and correlated with density controls, at the abolition of blighted areas.”

But if the time is ripe to call a halt to greater density of accommodation, the question has to be asked why he has not signed this when approving the Gas place site? To do so now, after new plans have been submitted by the Co-Op, is not fair to the developers. There should be some clear guidelines on saturation density.

I once went on a coach trip in France to visit the Puy du Fou medieval park, and the president of the Association of Jersey Architects. at that time was on board. We happened to be on the same table one occasion on the way when we stopped for a meal, and in chatting, he explained that he would like to see higher density of housing in St Helier. The wine had flowed freely, so perhaps he was less guarded than he would otherwise have been, as he explained they had a nice house in the countryside, and didn’t want the area spoilt by development. If the town could have higher blocks of flats, and more of them, his countryside would be less spoilt.

Now I’m not suggesting anything as blatant as that with the current Planning Minister, but I can’t help feeling that there may be unconscious biases from Planning Ministers who do not actually live in St Helier, and may find it hard to know what it is like to live there.

I was very pleased when Simon Crowcroft became St Helier Constable, because unlike Bob Le Brocq, he actually lived in the Parish – he could see as he cycled through the streets what St Helier was like. He could appreciate the problems of urban living as an insider, and see how best to mitigate them.

What we don’t have with top-down “masterplans” is anything like comprehensive a picture of the unconsidered impacts of high densities, or indeed any way of plotting density across a grid of St Helier against infrastructure such as schools or demands transport. Ideally mapped data – which is becoming a commonplace of statistics – provides useful demographic information against which planning guidelines could be developed regarding density.

Until that happens, we are at the mercy of planning precedents – regarding density, what has been approved sets the appropriateness of what can be approved, and that is a very poor way to plan ahead for St Helier.


1 comment:

Nick Palmer said...

Their view is that the working population must increase and that nobody, apart from Mike Dun, thinks that significant countryside development would be a plus.

Therefore, their one-dimensional logic goes, we must build more and higher density accomodation in town. Simples!