Long-standing plans to build 68 homes on a disused vinery site in St. Sampson’s were approved by the Development & Planning Authority yesterday following a lengthy open planning meeting.
Express takes a deeper dive into the open planning meeting to explain what it was all about and what happened – exploring the passionate arguments made and how the final decision was reached.
All five members of the Development & Planning Authority voted in favour of the development after hours of discussion and debate, marking the conclusion of several years of fierce objection from the public and modifications to the plans by the developers.
The site will now become the first housing development in Guernsey which delivers on the States' affordable housing policy – GP11 – since the policy was introduced within the Island Development Plan in 2016.
Thirty dwellings, 10 flats and12 maisonettes will be built alongside 16 affordable houses, which will be managed by the Guernsey Housing Association.
But the decision is likely to generate further questions about pressure on road infrastructure and how this will be managed. These concerns may overshadow the first success story in the long-running and controversial debate about GP11, which some politicians, including some members of the Authority, want to see scrapped or amended while others passionately defend it.
Jim Rowles, Principal Officer of the Authority, emphasised to the audience that the new scheme includes a package of measures to alleviate many of the concerns which led to the refusal of a previous application for the site in October 2021.
Pictured: The Pointes Rocques application was unanimously approved by the members of the Development & Planning Authority.
The Authority has consistently recognised that traffic is usually the primary concern with new developments of multiple properties.
The measures to mitigate this include reducing the number of parking spaces - “largely replaced with landscaping” - installing electric vehicle charging points, providing 20 secure bicycle spaces and compensatory car parking on-site to account for the removal of on-street parking from surrounding streets.
Restrictions on the direction of traffic into and out of the site will also be considered and may be achieved by installing new road signage or by ‘cobbling’ the site entrances to prohibit traffic entering or exiting from certain directions.
The Committee for the Environment & Infrastructure attached a briefing note to the development plans earlier this year, detailing how they might reduce traffic in the area if the development was approved, as it now has been.
These included restricting vehicular access at Robergerie and Rue des Pointues Rocques, diverting bus routes and creating a safe walking pathway to the Bridge.
Mr Rowles advised the Authority's members that this package of traffic-related measures was sufficient for States’ officials at Traffic & Highway Services to conclude that there were no significant grounds on which to reject the application.
Whether any or all of these traffic-related measures will actually come to fruition remains to be seen.
Pictured: Traffic heading into or out of the site during busy periods on the roads can expect to join queues along the seafront which have become a familiar scene in Guernsey.
For two hours at the open planning meeting, multiple speakers raised serious concerns about the safety of vulnerable road users given the narrowness of lanes around the site.
Many also pointed out that nearby road junctions are already at capacity during peak travel times, suggesting they would be unable to cope with a further influx of cars.
One woman described how driving in the area is “always with your heart in your throat, hoping a large vehicle isn’t coming the other way”.
A St. Sampson’s Constable argued that little had changed since the Authority rejected a previous application to develop the site and said neighbouring residents had repeatedly opposed the development.
Many also questioned whether measures to ease congestion, such as prohibited streets, restrictions on turning out of the site and cobbled street entrances would be effective or properly enforced by the Police. These concerns were echoed by Deputy Victoria Oliver, the President of the Authority.
Officials from Traffic & Highway Services responded by saying it is ultimately for the Police to enforce road traffic laws.
Another objector who addressed the meeting said it was unacceptable to suggest that the impact of traffic could be reasonably limited based simply on a series of possible changes which may or may not happen and, if they do happen, have uncertain outcomes.
Others suggested that the removal of some on-site parking from earlier plans would increase on-street parking to the detriment of pedestrians. They doubted that adding yellow lines would resolve those problems if they occurred.
One man said that anyone who claimed there had been no accidents in the lanes was “lying”. He said he had been involved in two separate collisions which were reported to the Police.
Pictured: The proposed street restrictions around the site.
As is customary in open planning meetings, the developers were able personally to respond to concerns raised by objectors. The Pointues Rocques application was submitted by Mr R Plumley, Messrs Gabriels, Asparagus Tips Too Ltd and the Guernsey Housing Association.
Mr Plumley asked politicians not to have “rose-tinted visions of a return to vineries” and said hundreds of people would benefit from the creation of new housing. He added that some of the traffic-related measures outlined were “excellent proposals which would prevent rat-running”.
Peter Falla, of PF+A architects, said the site was allocated for housing under the Island Development Plan and that the revised proposals were consistent with a Development Framework for the area produced some years ago. Mr Falla said the applicants had take notice of and responded to concerns raised about earlier plans and made modifications in the new application which was before the Authority.
Mr Falla claimed that concerns about the development being overbearing to the neighbouring St. Clair flats could be addressed by an effective landscape buffer around the site and the repositioning of one housing block.
A statement made on behalf of Steve Williams, Chief Executive of the Guernsey Housing Association, stressed the current shortage of all types of housing units and the experience of many people who are struggling to find suitable homes.
Questions were also raised about the methodology used to model traffic in the area, as well as whether a car and bike sharing scheme would prove effective.
Two representors argued that modelling carried out by traffic specialists working for firms based in the UK was not appropriate in the context of Guernsey. They claimed that the baseline for the models was major cities like Edinburgh instead of places such as the Isle of Wight, which they felt would be more appropriate.
As a result, they felt the models were not accurate predictions of future travel movements, which in turn may make the traffic assessments produced for the application more favourable for the applicant. They noted Guernsey’s high rates of car dependence and use.
Others, including Deputy Oliver, questioned the car-sharing initiative suggested for the development and asked who would give up a car given the high costs associated with rental cars and bikes.
Officials from Traffic and Highway Services said Pointues Rocques was not the only site where consideration has been given to introducing such proposals. They could not provide details on anticipated uptake of such a scheme or how much it might reduce the pressure of motor traffic.
Deputy Oliver said that a balance was required between enough car parking spaces to ensure the road network was not overwhelmed while not forcing residents to park cars on the street.
Pictured: The site will become the first to use affordable housing policy GP11.
The Authority granted permission with a series of conditions.
Construction vehicles will be restricted around the site during peak morning hours, the developer will consider installing a playground, and left and right turn signs will be installed at access points, among other conditions.
A representor suggested that trees on his property would be damaged by the construction works and said his back door had already been flooded by run-off from the site.
Mr Rowles said it was “imperative that those trees are protected… the developer doesn’t own them… planning permission cannot allow for that impact… in any case, it is a matter of civil law”.
The Authority will review the developers' planting scheme as one of the conditions of granting permission.
Mr Rowles added that the Authority had asked questions about flooding risks and said that a tiered approach had been agreed to manage surface water run-off.
Deputy Sasha Kazantseva-Miller, a member of the Authority, had serious concerns about the development overshadowing St. Clair flats. She accepted the arguments to re-position one of the housing blocks, but she thought that any boundary wall installed would need to be quite high.
The developers must now consult with the residents of the flats on the design of boundary fencing. And plans to landscape the site's western boundary must be implemented early in the scheme.
Deputy John Dyke said “the density of the development compared to the rest of the area is the concern”. Despite expressing unhappiness with the development, he said: “I’m going to have to hold my nose and vote for it”.
Several legislators who are members of the Authority complained that the island’s planning laws were tying their hands and doubted that any rejection of the application would survive if the developers appealed to the apolitical Planning Appeals Tribunal.
Deputy Oliver said the whole process “shows what’s wrong with the government as a whole… there just needs to be more joined-up thinking”.
She and others argued that someone representing the Committee for the Environment & Infrastructure should be present at meetings because of the Committee's responsibility for traffic policies and the road network.
Deputy Bob Murray said the application should act as a “line in the sand that this shouldn’t happen again - it’s not acceptable”.
Deputy Kazantseva-Miller hoped the public would see that the Authority had taken the matter “very seriously” and had been “trying to balance completely competing priorities”.
Deputy Andy Taylor said the scheme was “well designed - it will be a nice place for residents to live - I just wish it was in St. Peter's”.
Deputy Taylor said he disagreed with the findings of the traffic impact assessment.
He also called for future applications to be considered alongside other developments which are in the pipeline to give a wider picture of traffic and infrastructure implications of multiple developments in reasonable proximity to each other.
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