Towcester Town Council’s Response to West Northamptonshire Strategic Plan: Spatial Options Consultation
|Author: Lizzi Bucklow-Holt Assistant to the Town Clerk||Published: 8th December 2021 10:14|
Towcester is an historic market town, and it is vital that further development respects its essential character and contribution to Northamptonshire’s mainly rural heartland.
Towcester Town Council has significant concerns over the growth option for Towcester, given that identified weaknesses far outweigh any possible strengths, and therefore the council rejects Spatial Option 4b as not a viable option in relation to Towcester.
Residential development at Towcester Racecourse would not be appropriate given the limitations of its highly sensitive setting, and therefore like Spatial Option 4b for Towcester is also rejected by Towcester Town Council.
Some very limited development might be possible, to help further secure the future of Towcester Racecourse, but development would need to be carefully considered and fully justified, considering its special landscape setting, loss of productive farmland, its proximity to residential areas, and the capacity of the A5 to take additional traffic.
Towcester Town Council welcomes the opportunity to engage constructively with West Northamptonshire Council to discuss options for growth that offer more sustainable development for the town.
Spatial Option 4b - Growth at the Market Towns – Towcester
Option 4b considers distributing yet further growth at Towcester, in a continuation of the existing development strategy for West Northamptonshire and in recognition of the town’s current categorisation as a rural service centre. However, Towcester Town Council believes in terms of the option outlined, the weaknesses of Option 4b far outweigh any possible strengths.
Towcester has experienced significant growth over the last 30 years or more. Most recently in the form of the Towcester South Sustainable Urban Extension, which will deliver 2,750 new dwellings to the south and west of the town, as well as sites allocated for employment. There is an application being considered for an additional 210 dwellings that would bring this total to 2,960 dwellings. In addition to this, more than 600 dwellings have been built or have permission to be built in recent years in Towcester. Within the current Local Plan, there are also significant allocations in place for largescale warehouse distribution centres and other mixed-use employment sites.
Towcester does offer a range of shops and services proportionate to its size but has a significant deficit in health service provision, public transport, secondary school places, and sports fields, including football fields with supporting infrastructure. There will also be a deficit in Leisure Centre facilities as current developments are constructed. The deficit in secondary school places will increase significantly, as new residents move to Towcester. Currently, there are only some 600 new houses completed and being occupied, so the true level of pressure on services and facilities is yet to take effect.
Spatial Option 4b - Towcester South - Expansion
In assessing the possible growth of Towcester in previous Local Plans, two key areas of weakness were identified. The first being that a Towcester South SUE would see large scale housing developments detached from the town’s historic centre and location of key local services. Planners, the town council, and residents voiced concerns that growth at the south and west of the town would create a disconnect between old and new. Towcester has been described as like a coastal community, as the racecourse set within a Grade II* registered park and garden, rule out any growth to the east of the town. Planned growth generally radiates out from the centre of towns, including other towns in West Northamptonshire, for Towcester, this hasn’t, and cannot be possible due to the constraints set out earlier.
The second area of weakness identified in previous plans was the adverse effect of traffic and in particular, heavy goods vehicles using the A5 through the centre of Towcester. Without government funding for an A5 bypass, reliance was placed on developers to construct a Relief Road. However, this resulted in a large proportion of the S106 funding secured being taken up with the cost of the road; even though an access road was required to create routes into and out of the new development. As a result, only 10% of the houses planned are affordable. There also was insufficient S106 funding left to provide a new secondary school and a range of other necessary community facilities, including a required community centre.
Both weaknesses identified in previous plans continue are magnified within the current growth option for Towcester. Option 4b would create an even larger-scale expansion of up to another 4,250 dwellings. These would be considerably detached from the town’s core, making walking, and cycling to connect with the town centre unrealistic. Developers in proposing the Towcester South SUE optimistically estimated that housing would be a twenty-minute walk to the town centre. With Option 4b the distance from the town centre would be even greater, placing a reliance on private cars for residents to access services. Existing town centre services couldn’t cope with the scale of additional growth in Option 4b, weakening the town’s ability to serve as a hub for the new growth, and damaging the town’s ability to serve its rural hinterland. Option 4b would effectively create a new town, isolated from Towcester. Option 4b would see large scale housing development very close to Paulerspury village and create a sense of coalescence with the hamlet of Pury End, significant as the birthplace of the missionary William Carey (1761).
The single carriageway Southern Relief Road under construction, is claimed to be capable of diverting HGVs from using the A5 through Towcester. Whilst this is very much disputed, National Highways have reported to Towcester Town Council that the Relief Road will be at capacity, without any diverted HGVs, by the time 2,750 houses are occupied.
The A5 will also be close to capacity by the time the current Towcester SUE is completed. Northamptonshire County Council’s Towcester Town Transport Strategy Fit for Purpose published in January 2013 said; “The forecast traffic flows along the A5, south of Towcester with development of Towcester Vale to maximum 3,300 dwellings means the road is close to the maximum capacity of a single carriageway road.”
The solution put forward to Towcester’s problems with air quality and traffic congestion in the medium term, is detrunking the A5 through the town and dualling the Relief Road. There is land set aside for dualling the road to increase capacity, but this would be costly and if funded by developers have an adverse effect again on providing vital public infrastructure. The required dual carriageway, however, would cut-off new housing developments, separating them even further from the town centre and its services. Not only would the road need to be widened but the depth of the road increased and the series of roundabouts reconfigured. Option 4b will make safe walking and cycling to access services to an increasingly remote town centre, completely unfeasible. Rather than act as a town bypass, the Southern Relief Road would cut through the town, separating communities. The Relief Road marks the boundary of Towcester, as development beyond this road would create a separate new town.
Towcester as part of South Northamptonshire has a high degree of out-commuting, identified in both the West Northamptonshire Joint Core Strategy (Part 1), para 5.59, and in the South Northamptonshire Local Plan 9Part 2), para 5.1.1, which also highlights the area’s low job density. Building a significant number of additional houses in or close to Towcester will only exacerbate this issue. As we look to create a more sustainable future, we will need to prioritise planning for houses closer to where jobs are, and thus reduce commuting. Despite the move to homeworking since the pandemic, commuting continues to create congestion, pollution, and delays on local roads, including the A43 and A5.
The Town Council agrees with the assessment that ancient woodland, wildlife sites, the Grafton Way and other existing public footpaths and bridleways would be adversely affected by large scale development within Option 4b.
Given other proposals within the Strategic Plan for warehouse and distribution centres, in addition to major rail freight developments being constructed, traffic can be expected to grow significantly on both the A43 and A5, adding considerably to Towcester’s traffic problems.
There is concern that current developments are creating an increasing problem with flooding. As the Rivers Trust has recently demonstrated, current infrastructure in and around Towcester is also failing to cope with sewage and storm water. Option 4b, if implemented, would greatly exasperate these problems that already frequently pollute the River Tove and smaller water courses. The Rivers Trust reports that in 2020 a sewer storm overflow spilled 94 times for a total of 1760 hours into Silverstone Brook and then on into the River Tove in Towcester. This is just one of several sewer storm overflows that goes into the River Tove. The area identified in Option 4b has significant weaknesses in relation to surface water.
As Option 4b identifies, further expansion of Towcester to the west and south would have a considerable adverse impact on long-distance views towards the town, creating an urban landscape.
Towcester Town Council welcomes the opportunity to engage with West Northamptonshire Council to discuss options for growth that offer more sustainable development for the town, with options that contain far fewer weaknesses and many more strengths.
Spatial Option 4b - Towcester Racecourse
Development of the racecourse presents major challenges, as it sits within a Grade II* registered park and garden, that includes a Grade I listed building. Immediately south of the racecourse complex is productive farmland. Anything other than small-scale development would, as WNC’s report states, impact upon the setting of the Towcester and Easton Neston conservation areas, as well as other listed buildings. This extensive area of parkland and agricultural land forms part of the essential character of Towcester and therefore great care must be taken not to diminish it.
The racecourse’s sustainability has been strengthened in recent years by the introduction of greyhound racing, and an events’ calendar, including food festivals, a balloon festival and music events. Its proximity to new housing has been the source of concern from some residents in relation to events using amplified music. Any increase in traffic is also a concern as any additional usage could be considerably greater than in former times when the venue was used mainly for a limited number of horse racing events.
When the current Local Plan was being considered, proposals were made for hotels and a large shopping village at the racecourse. These were quickly dismissed because of the racecourse’s setting, adverse impact on agriculture, and poor transport links due to the capacity of the A5.
Whilst some form of very limited development, such as a hotel, might be appropriate to further secure the future of the racecourse, development would need to be carefully considered, taking account of special setting of the racecourse, the loss of productive farmland, its proximity to residential housing, and capacity of the A5.
Residential development would not be appropriate in this location given the limitations of its highly sensitive landscape setting, as detailed earlier.
Towcester Town Council again welcomes the opportunity to engage constructively with West Northamptonshire Council to discuss options for growth that offer more sustainable development for the town with options that contains far fewer weaknesses and many more strengths.
Additional Comments on the West Northamptonshire Strategic Plan
Towcester Town Council considers West Northamptonshire Council should include the following within its Strategic Plan Objectives:
Clean and Green should include –
· New housing must be heated by non-fossil fuel
· New housing should be provided where the demand is driven by employment growth, rather than where land is simply being offered by landowners and developers
Education and Skills should include an objective to ensure that there are sufficient places available in local schools.
Protecting and Building Urban Communities, should not be limited to urban development, but take account of any development.Have your say by submitting your comments on the consultation by 24th December here http://ow.ly/Nog250GpmIc