Baytree Special School Planning Application - Dr Liam Fox MP letter to Chief Executive Officer at North Somerset Council

Dear Mrs Walker

I am writing to formally confirm my previously stated objection to the proposal to build on the land adjacent to Brookfield Walk in Clevedon.  Let me again reiterate that there is widespread support for a much needed extension to Baytree School which already provides an excellent service for some of the most needy and vulnerable children in North Somerset but which clearly requires additional space for expansion.  This objection relates to the specific site not the principle of expanding the school.

Since I last wrote to you on this subject we have all experienced the international crisis over COVID-19. This has caused many people to re-evaluate the importance of open spaces such as the important public amenity that is represented by the land beside Brookfield Walk including its ancient orchard. Public spaces like this, which have long been prized by families for providing a safe play environment for children, by those who regularly walk their dogs in this area and by residents who value a green space around their homes, have taken on added importance in recent times including as a safe area in which to exercise. I hope that North Somerset Council will appreciate the value of such amenities to the local population, particularly in the sort of difficult period that we are currently experiencing.   It is now even clearer what the loss of such an asset would mean to the potential health and welfare of those who live in the surrounding parts of Clevedon. Many of the councillors who were elected last year to North Somerset for the first time made the protection of the environment a key issue. Whether or not they are willing to protect such a valuable green space will be seen as a key test of the sincerity of their commitment.

The Green Belt is hugely important in safeguarding our countryside from encroachment, one of its five defined purposes. Once these beautiful and valued spaces are lost they will never be recovered so we should see ourselves as their stewards, protecting them for future generations.

We must also recognise that many of our other Green Belt areas in North Somerset, such as those in Long Ashton and Portishead, could come under greater threat by the setting of any precedent to this site in Clevedon.

My more specific objectives are the same as those set out in my previous correspondence as follows:.

The appropriate permissions and restrictions affecting Green Belt development are set out in paragraphs 143 to 147 of the National Planning Policy Framework.

Proposals affecting the Green Belt

143. Inappropriate development is, by definition, harmful to the Green Belt and should not be approved except in very special circumstances.

144. When considering any planning application, local planning authorities should ensure that substantial weight is given to any harm to the Green Belt. ‘Very special circumstances’ will not exist unless the potential harm to the Green Belt by reason of inappropriateness, and any other harm resulting from the proposal, is clearly outweighed by other considerations.

145. A local planning authority should regard the construction of new buildings as inappropriate in the Green Belt. Exceptions to this are:

(a) buildings for agriculture and forestry;

(b) the provision of appropriate facilities (in connection with the existing use of land or a change of use) for outdoor sport, outdoor recreation, cemeteries and burial grounds and allotments; as long as the facilities preserve the openness of the Green Belt and do not conflict with the purposes of including land within it;

(c) the extension or alteration of a building provided that it does not result in disproportionate additions over and above the size of the original building;

(d) the replacement of a building, provided the new building is in the same use and not materially larger than the one it replaces;

(e) limited infilling in villages;

(f) limited affordable housing for local community needs under policies set out in the development plan (including policies for rural exception sites); and

(g) limited infilling or the partial or complete redevelopment of previously developed land, whether redundant or in continuing use (excluding temporary buildings), which would:

·       not have a greater impact on the openness of the Green Belt than the existing development; or

·       not cause substantial harm to the openness of the Green Belt, where the development would re-use previously developed land and contribute to meeting an identified affordable housing need within the area of the local planning authority.

146. Certain other forms of development are also not inappropriate in the Green Belt provided they preserve its openness and do not conflict with the purposes of including land within it. These are:

(a) mineral extraction;

(b) engineering operations;

(c) local transport infrastructure which can demonstrate a requirement for a Green Belt location;

(d) the re-use of buildings provided that the buildings are of permanent and substantial construction;

(e) material changes in the use of land (such as changes of use for outdoor sport or recreation, or for cemeteries and burial grounds); and

(f) development brought forward under a Community Right to Build Order or Neighbourhood Development Order.

147. When located in the Green Belt, elements of many renewable energy projects will comprise inappropriate development. In such cases developers will need to demonstrate very special circumstances if projects are to proceed. Such very special circumstances may include the wider environmental benefits associated with increased production of energy from renewable sources.

Two of the sites for the expanded facilities of Baytree school are in Green Belt while eleven of the proposed sites are not. North Somerset Council appear to argue that ownership of the land is a reason to build on Green Belt sites as the costs would be lower. This financial consideration is not one of the exceptions set out in National Planning Policy.

The expansion of Baytree school is a matter of urgency and elected representatives at all levels should work together to explore potential sites outside the Green Belt, including potential funding for the purchase of any necessary land. I would be very happy to work with the local authority and the school representatives to do this.

The proposed building on the Green Belt at Brookfield Way, however, does not conform with National Planning guidelines and this specific option should be rejected. It would be a pity to waste further time and resources, on top of the £1 million already spent, on an option that is clearly in breach of guidelines. Alternative options need to be properly evaluated without delay.

In the south-west we have seen the lowest rate of Covid 19 deaths in the UK which some experts have put down to the much lower population density that exists in our region. While only time will tell how accurate this view is, there is little doubt that we have come to reassess and re-evaluate the importance of open public spaces for the welfare of the local population.  For all the reasons contained in this submission I hope that North Somerset Council will reject this planning application.

Yours sincerely