South Worcestershire – focus on towns and settlements
Across South Worcestershire Development Plan (SWDP) area there are several towns and villages that all are expanding and growing at rates that some locals may find questionable. However, the SWDP provides especially useful guidance on how such settlements are categorised in a hierarchy and therefore how development proposals are assessed in the different areas. Specifically, Policy SWDP 2 looks at Development Strategy and Settlement Hierarchy and provides the principles on how settlements are assessed and how they are categorised.
Most settlements of a reasonable size will have a defined settlement boundary. The SWDP is currently under review, and as a result the settlement boundaries are also under review. As per the settlement hierarchy in the header image, the boundaries of all towns and villages up to the category 3 villages are being reviewed. The following link provides maps of how the boundaries are looking to be changed: Development Boundaries Review – South Worcestershire Development Plan (swdevelopmentplan.org)
Whilst these boundaries, once approved, will form the settlement boundaries that the appropriate SWDP policies will relate to there will have to be continual further reviews given the requirement by legislation for Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) to provide a five-year housing land supply.
Settlement hierarchy in South Worcestershire
The towns across Wychavon, Worcester City and Malvern Hills councils have been ranked in the hierarchy. Villages are also ranked. Worcester is deemed as the administrative centre of the county and is a focus for strategic employment, housing and retail development, hence is the main city and stands alone in hierarchy level one. It provides the most amenities across Worcestershire as a whole and is highly connected to other cities and the nation via rail and road.
Next are the towns of Evesham, Droitwich Spa and Malvern which fall into hierarchy level two. They are seen to provide significant opportunity to residential and surrounding areas but the balance of development between the Local Planning Authority’s (LPAs) is to be monitored carefully, with Droitwich Spa and Evesham being in Wychavon and Malvern being in Malvern Hills. Third in the hierarchy are other urban towns including Upton-on-Severn, Tenbury Wells and Pershore. These are towns that do provide a good range of amenities but not on the same scale as level one and two places. Development in Tenbury and Upton is restricted more so by the flooding issues that surround them, whereas Pershore is slightly larger and presents more opportunity for infill development.
The fourth and fifth levels of the hierarchy as assessed in much the same way, with provision of local employment opportunities of an appropriate size and scale being looked upon favourably but local services are assessed more closely as is the provision of appropriate infrastructure to support expansion in these areas. These are areas where local amenities are much more limited than in towns and where the scale of developments are much more tightly controlled.
Finally, and not necessarily looked at as a layer in the hierarchy but more so the only remaining classification is land that can be deemed as open countryside, beyond any development boundaries. These areas are strictly controlled and will be limited to the tight constraints of the SWDP policies. Whilst looked upon as restrictive to those wishing to reside or create homes in the countryside the aim is to retain the openness of the countryside and ensure urban sprawl is restricted to allocated and identified areas. Included in these open areas is the Green Belt. The latter are areas of land that are allocated as land that will not be developed in anyway unless they meet defined exceptions or if very special circumstances apply. This is to prevent urban sprawl from merging towns together. An example of this is the Green Belt between Worcester and Droitwich, which stops the two urban areas from becoming one.
Which towns are seeing Development?
Level two of the hierarchy makes it clear that development should be well balanced between the administrative districts of Wychavon and Malvern Hills. However, how successfully the balance can be achieved is questionable due to some of the restrictions on some of the level 2 and level 3 towns.
The towns of Tenbury Wells and Upton-on-Severn are restricted by the flooding plains that surround them. This means potential development sites that would be within the development boundaries are unavailable for development due to the flooding. However, there are still some areas within these towns that are being developed, but perhaps not on the level that they would see if it were not for the natural restrictions.
Droitwich is one of the main towns that has recently seen a lot of varied development due to the proximity to Worcester, the M5 motorway and good transport links. But as expected, Worcester is seeing the most development and will continue to do so. Not only is it seeing commercial and residential development but vast amounts of infrastructure development also. An important element of development is ensuring the infrastructure is appropriate to the scale of development proposed.
Wychavon v MHDC
Looking further at the balance between Wychavon and MHDC in terms of development, the current SWDP highlights large areas within Wychavon LPA for development and creation of new towns, specifically places such as Throckmorton Airfield and around the new train station, Worcester parkway. This shows that large areas of development appear to be focussed on existing transport links and infrastructure directly south and east of Worcester itself. The urban areas to the west of Worcester are not seeing the same levels of development due to the lack of existing infrastructure and transport links. The only large town within SWDP to the west is Tenbury Wells, which as mentioned previously, is restricted due to flooding, and there are no proposals for the creation of new towns in the area, like there are to the east.
Housing land supply 5 years
As mentioned above, there is a requirement for LPAs to provide evidence of a five-year housing land supply. The SWDP covers Wychavon, MHDC and Worcester City and previously all three LPAs were able to share their housing allocations which meant all three LPAs met their five-year obligation. Given that the SWDP is now over five years old since adoption it has been superseded by mechanisms in the National Planning Policy Framework 2021 (the Framework) and the housing land supply now falls back to the individual LPAs to provide their own housing land supplies. This has been supported in recent appeal decisions within MHDC.
Whilst Wychavon and Worcester City are able to do this, MHDC are unable to provide a sufficient housing land supply. Therefore, MHDC are seeing many more speculative development applications for small housing developments, which now fall to be assessed in the context of the tiled balance (which, broadly speaking is a what is the harm approach – the adverse impacts of granting consent must significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits). This will continue to be a trend until the updated SWDP is adopted (not due until October 2023) or they can prove a five-year housing land supply.
If you have a site across the SWDP jurisdiction and would like to explore your opportunities for development or find out where you site lies within the hierarchy or development boundaries, do get in touch with us at Eldnar Consultancy and we can provide a 15-minute free chat (link to free chats) or provide quotations and timings for more in-depth site appraisal in terms of planning policy and options.