This is not a straightforward proposal. It raises difficult questions. There are risks and benefits that are hard to quantify. In this commentary I will try to consider those risks and benefits and, where possible, to suggest where the planning committee can seek gains for the immediate resident community, the wider community in St Michaels Ward and the city generally.
The development will have effects beyond its immediate area, but all of the proposed new dwellings would be built within St Michaels Ward. The other two ward councillors, through no fault of their own, have been restrained from commenting on the planning application because they are members of the planning committee which will have to consider the application independently on its merits.
Therefore as the remaining ward councillor it has fallen to me to consult widely, to meet with the developers and, now, to comment on the application.
SHOULD THERE BE DEVELOPMENT ON THIS SITE?
There are a number of people who believe sincerely that the former Garden Festival Site should remain undeveloped. Left to itself, the site has been colonised by wild life. Some people enjoy visiting it, through holes in the fence.
In addition there is an existing planning policy in Liverpool’s Unitary Development Plan which argues against development in the “Green Wedge” that contains the site. However, in its current state it has been a focus for antisocial use and not many parents would see it as a place for young people safely to play.
The Committee may feel that the right sort of development on this site could have regeneration and
amenity benefits that would override the conflict with the Green wedge policy. In the rest of this commentary, I will indicate whether and how the proposal can be “the right sort of development”.
ARE THERE TOO MANY DWELLINGS – IN ORDER TO ENRICH THE DEVELOPER?
In the planning application, the “economic viability report” reveals that the developers have forecast a profit margin of just under 16%. This is claimed to be less than an industry norm of 20%. I believe it is crucial that the economic assumptions are tested openly and transparently.
The planning officers will employ independent consultants to assess the economic viability report.
That assessment should be published on the Internet as soon as possible so that all interested parties can scrutinise it.
Some residents have questioned the viability of the mix of dwelling type – too many one and two- bedroomed flats. The independent consultants should also be asked to look at the contention that the developer has misjudged the future market for flats.
If the economic viability report is to be believed, it is clear why a low density housing development would not be possible. There are certain costs which must be met regardless of how many houses are to be built, including
● remediation of the site,
● road capacity improvements,
● restoring some of the international gardens,
● construction of the open parkland on the south of the site,
● paying off the interests of the previous leaseholder, and
● providing a “dowry” for the future maintenance of the gardens and parkland.
I believe that a much smaller number of dwellings, even with private gardens, could not yield a comparable level of funding to meet those costs. The problem is more acute because the contamination of the land makes it difficult for private gardens to be provided with any degree of safety – without radical and costly excavation and replacement of at least the top layers of soil.
Therefore I am convinced – subject to confirmation of the economic viability report – that a low density, suburban style of development would not be viable. There is no way that the council could force a developer to build houses at a loss.
For most of the rest of this commentary, I will consider whether and how an unashamedly high-density development can be made to work on this site to the benefit of existing and future residents. Before leaving the controversy of high density and developers’ profits, the following proposal seeks to avoid runaway exploitation of the site by the developer.
SHOULD THERE BE AN UPPER LIMIT ON THE DEVELOPERS’ PROFIT?
For reasons that will be explained further, the overall success of this project – particularly the park and gardens – depends on it being accepted and visited often by neighbouring residents who will have a sense of “ownership”. There are no proposals to provide static security and it needs to be essentially self-policing.
It is crucial, therefore, that it is not seen as a “rip off” on the part of rich developers.
It would be unreasonable to leave the developers with a one-sided gamble such that they must accept any loss or cut in profits but that they do not enjoy any excess profit if the 16% forecast is exceeded. Therefore any limit on the developers’ profit should allow for some headroom.
I suggest that a 24% profit margin should be seen as a level for intervention. Profits above that level should be shared. An exact formula should be agreed as part of the detailed planning application that will follow this outline planning application. Profits higher than 24% may be seen as increasingly improbable and therefore the developer should be able to agree a taper such that only a small part of excess profit is retained as profits rise towards and beyond the 30% level.
The framework for monetary contribution from the developer is already planned because there will be a legal agreement – a “Section 106” agreement – to provide the dowry. By agreeing in principle to share excess profits which are – according to the economic viability report – very improbable, the developer will build confidence in the fairness of the deal. In the event that this is not agreed, the planning committee should be prepared to impose it.
Any such additional contributions from the developer should be applied to purposes directly identified with this site and its immediate surroundings.
WOULD A HIGH-DENSITY DEVELOPMENT WORK WELL ON THIS SITE?
Liverpool will continue to have its successful, low-density suburban-style areas. However any successful major city needs to be able to show that communities can also thrive in high-density, urban-style settlements.
Giving up some of the attractions of low-density living such as private gardens and private car parking spaces, high-density dwellers can see compensating benefits such as
● access to shared gardens and parks;
● having shops within walking distance;
● more opportunities to meet and befriend neighbours;
● likelihood that the public transport service will be economically viable because of a large
customer base within a small area.
It seems reasonable to expect that the proposal would meet most of these expectations for high density living. I will look in more detail at the shopping and public transport issues below. From what I understand of the proposed design principles, there does seem to be an encouragement of and provision for people to meet and socialise within the public areas. Adoption of the “Home Zone” idea of designing for pedestrian comfort rather than priority for cars is useful. The use of “active frontages” and the creation of a welcoming central public space should all help.
Residents will also tend to meet each other when they walk to and around the restored gardens and parkland on their doorstep.
WILL THE SHOPPING FACILITIES BE SUITABLE AND SUSTAINABLE?
The proposal aims for a local shopping facility that would reduce the need to shop outside the development – and therefore tend to reduce car-borne shopping trips – yet without being large enough to attract many extra shopping trips by outsiders.
It is expected that one of the major supermarket retailers will be granted the concession to operate a mid-sized supermarket. Given there would be 1374 dwellings within easy walking distance, this approach looks likely to be sustainable in the long term. However it is not clear how the retail customer base will be established in the first place. If there are no shopping facilities when the first residents move in they will tend to develop shopping habits that depend on regular trips by car to large supermarkets. Once established, those habits might be hard to change.
If the local supermarket then develops just as a top-up, convenience outlet then it will not provide the range of food lines and at the competitive prices that would reduce the wish to drive to the likes of Asda on Smithdown Road.
The retail proposals should also take account of the growing trend to shop on the Internet for home delivery. The development should contain cold storage areas for groceries which are delivered in fulfillment of Internet food shopping. To make Internet and local shopping work with each other, the holder of the main retail concession should offer the incentive of free Internet deliveries (for its own Internet customers) until the local outlet is fully operational.
A nearby shopping facility should be a major gain for existing residents without any significant cost or discomfort to them. There are also gains to be had for those residents in terms of future public transport provision, but here there also some risks.
WILL THIS HIGH-DENSITY DEVELOPMENT HELP OR HARM TRANSPORT LINKS?
A key principle put forward by the developers is that the project should have “Nil Detriment”. In other words any extra traffic it generates should be offset by improvements to the road layout. I argue that this may not be sufficient.
Firstly, the starting point for new traffic may need to be revised. The developers have, quite reasonably used a model based on a national database – “TRICS” to estimate how many peak time car trips would be generated by 1374 new dwellings if nothing was done to reduce that traffic.. There may, however, be local factors which should increase those initial estimates. In Liverpool we have, unfortunately, a very low level of cycling and a perception that this is not a city in which cycling is a serious and a safe option for personal transport. In addition our low level of car ownership is accompanied by a high level of car use. The norm is that once people can afford to own a car they tend to use it for all journeys and use public transport only when that is unavoidable.
Secondly, and more seriously, “Nil Detriment” may not be what it appears to be. The argument is that improvements, mainly to roundabouts on Riverside Drive, will enable more traffic to flow but with less congestion and at safer, legal speeds. Slower speeds would also significantly reduce the noise level. Thus it would be possible to have more traffic on Riverside Drive but to reduce the unpleasant effects of that traffic. The extra road capacity produced by those improvements should absorb the extra traffic generated by the new dwellings. So what could be wrong with that?
Unfortunately, the analysis omits what is sometimes called an “opportunity cost”. Those relatively inexpensive improvements to the roundabouts can only give a once-and-for-all improvement in road capacity. It may be that, even without the development, those improvements would be needed in the future to redistribute traffic, painlessly, in the roads that form a southern corridor to the city centre. If that potential improvement in Riverside Drive has already been “traded against” the new, extra traffic then the opportunity is lost. Any further extra capacity on Riverside Drive, such as a dual carriageway, would be very expensive to create and would be likely to introduce negative effects from the extra traffic it attracted.
The developers will argue, quite reasonably, that they can only deal with the council’s currently declared intentions for the southern corridor. However, I would ask our highways officers and their consultants to think ahead, at least as far as the 15-year construction period for this proposed development. It may be that the council will wish to introduce further bus lanes which are not yet envisaged. It may be that the recent changes to Park Road/Mill Street when fully evaluated will show congestion problems. It may be that the council will reassess whether it wishes to see through traffic continue to use the perimeter road around Sefton Park – an unadopted, poorly maintained highway that was never intended for such a purpose.
If there is any doubt about potential capacity problems across the southern corridor then it would be right to expect the developers to do everything reasonably possible to reduce the extra traffic rather than just aim to contain it within the additional capacity they would create by the road improvements. The planning application and its Transport Assessment contains some proposals for reducing the traffic generated by this development. I will argue that those proposals should be taken further. To make these measures work, they need to be coordinated within a Residential Travel Plan.
DOES THE TRAVEL PLAN FOLLOW BEST PRACTICE?
To be fair to the developer, the Travel Plan produced by its consultants was put together before the publication of recent Guidance from the Department for Transport. They recognise that the Plan needs to say not just what they think they need to do – the measures – but also what the results will be – the outcomes.
To avoid doubt, however, the recommendation to the planning committee and, I would hope, the decision of the committee should be to insist on a much more developed Travel Plan, consistent with the Guidance and with clear commitments from the developer to provide the resources necessary to deliver the stated outcomes.
To make the Travel Plan better enforceable, its terms should be included in the “Section 106” legal agreement rather than in a set of conditions attached to the outline planning permission. The Travel Plan should include counts of car trips terminating at the development and targets, or ceilings to be achieved at each phase of completion of the 15-year programme. The plan should contain forecasts for the percentages of trips made my foot, cycle, public transport, car etc – the “modal split” – and it should contain progressive targets for reducing the share of journeys made by the private car – “modal shift”. The developer should provide a contribution to cover the costs to the city council of verifying the regular monitoring of the achievements of Travel Plan targets. That monitoring should inform decisions on whether additional measures are needed, at any stage, to meet agreed targets.
The target for traffic restraint should be challenging, particularly given the current Aim number 6 of the City Council – to be the greenest city in Europe. Taking the base level of traffic generated by the “TRICS” database, and adjusted if necessary as described previously, there should be a target level set for 50% reduction on private car journeys starting or ending at this site.
Every effort should be made to reduce the need for car-borne trips to school. The Travel Plan will need to link to the “Safer Routes to School Schemes” or travel plans of each of the secondary and primary schools that are within walking and cycling distance.
The development should provide revenue support for pedestrian and cycle training and there should be targets for the percentage of children who are not driven to school.
ARE PUBLIC TRANSPORT EXPECTATIONS REALISTIC?
The Transport Assessment overstates the level of the bus service currently available. No doubt a fully populated development will provide the customer base for an improved service, but the Travel Plan should commit to providing passenger subsidies and if necessary contributions to the bus operator to secure adequate frequency and reliability of the buses, particularly in the evenings. It should be possible to plan an evening’s entertainment in the city centre confident that a convenient bus service will take you home afterwards.
Much of the claimed “sustainability” of the site rests on the proximity of the railway station at St Michaels. Unfortunately train use is suppressed at the moment because many potential users are fearful of walking through Priory Wood, particularly at night. (In an informal survey of residents in the Moel Famau View and Bempton Road area about 80% of respondents indicated that they were deterred from using the station for that reason.)
The developer has described the use of better lighting and CCTV to improve safety, but it is not certain that those measures would be sufficient to change the perceived safety of Priory Wood. The developer should consider and implement safety improvements, in consultation with and for the benefit of existing residents and measure the change in their willingness to use the station. Provision for monitoring and maintenance – with service levels for repairs – for the lighting and the CCTV should be defined. In order to assess the value of the station within the travel mix, safety improvements should be implemented and assessed as a first step and before beginning the construction of the dwellings.
If rail use is to increase there must be sufficient capacity in place. Residents have reported overcrowding problems and peak time queues at the ticket office. Merseytravel should be asked to estimate spare capacity. If necessary, the developer should contribute to the provision of additional rail capacity. To help with queuing problems, one of the shops on site should sell travel tickets.
WILL THE CAR CLUB BE EFFECTIVE?
Current references to a Car Club lack clear commitment. The new DfT Guidance is unambiguous about the need for a Car Club, particularly in a development of this size. The Car Club would have a major role and, to be effective it should replace perhaps 500 private cars that might otherwise have been purchased by new residents in the absence of parking restraints. Although it might start off in a small way, the Club should be expected to contain of the order of 50 cars, perhaps more. (A replacement ratio of 1 to 5 has been achieved for some car clubs, but in this site and with a large fleet a higher ratio may be possible.) There would be scope for a mixed fleet of vehicles, including large “people carriers” as well as predominantly smaller cars.
Membership of the Car Club should be open to non-residents and, while the planning committee cannot prescribe which operator is to be used, there might be a strong case for the developer to involve the existing Car Club operator in Liverpool. In such a way, residents who travel to work by public transport or bicycle could have the use of a Club car as a matter of course if they need to make a business trip during the day. Members may also make use of dedicated parking in the city centre which is provided free for Club cars.
The Car Club may attract use by existing nearby residents as well as by its target user group. That would have the benefit of encouraging interaction between old and new settlements as well as providing some potential for reducing car dependency in the neighbouring area. Such additional use would help make the Club generate revenue. It should become self sustaining and, in due course, provide a modest income stream. The agreement with the Club operator should reflect that expectation.
Before the first resident moves in, the Car Club should be operational with at least two cars on site. Use of the Club cars should be monitored and additional cars provided as necessary to keep pace with rising demand and avoid too many frustrated bookings.
Membership of the Car Club should be “bundled” with the price of each dwelling. The developer should subsidise Car Club use for the first year of occupancy and thereafter until the share of private car journeys falls below target ceilings.
This site is very well placed to promote cycle use, particularly for commuting to the city centre. Residents should be provided with secure, covered cycle lockers at ground level such that they are easy to use – it should be quicker to get your bike out than to start up your car.
There is some scope for synergy with the Car Club, with many potential members living within a five minute cycle journey. Therefore secure lockers should be provided at Car Club parking areas.
Riverside Drive should be made cycle-friendly. If it is not possible to provide a segregated cycle lane for its entire length then it will be essential to keep traffic speeds at or below the 30mph limit. Thus far I have discussed the “carrots” of cycle provision, public transport, local shopping and a Car Club. The complementary “stick” of restraint on car ownership and use is considered next.
WILL RESTRAINTS ON THE PRIVATE CAR BE WORKABLE?
There are two factors which would restrain the growth of private car use at this site – a limit on residential parking and an intentional “bottleneck” to limit the flow of peak time traffic that is leaving the site.
The difficulty with this measure is that the restraint will only be felt as the development becomes fully populated. If it were to be relied on then unsustainable travel habits could be built up by the first wave of residents who would become frustrated to find their travel habits disrupted by having to compete for road space with their new neighbours.
The main “demand management” measure is the limitation on residents’ car parking. It would have been possible to reduce the ratio further and, indeed, the Guidance invites consideration of a fully car-free solution.
The allocation of, potentially, some 1400 car parking spaces needs to be carefully considered. The planning committee should resist the presumption that a private car parking space is as essential as having an inside toilet.
If there were a uniform pattern on one space per household then the existence of a Car Club could actually have a perverse effect on travel choices. A couple might use their private car for most journeys, as “normal”, and then have the benefit of a second car whenever they needed it, thus acting very much like a two-car household.
Residents should be led to consider and reconsider whether they wish to continue to pay for a private parking space – spaces should not be “bundled” with the purchase price of each dwelling. Rents for parking spaces should not be onerous but the level should be allowed to change gradually, if necessary increasing to further discourage car ownership if targets in the Travel Plan are not met.
Rental income from car parking spaces should provide a source of funding to meet some of the obligations in the Section 106 agreement which relate to the Travel Plan targets. This would reduce the risk to the developer of being excessively penalised for the outcome of travel behaviour which the developer should aim to influence but cannot direct.
If the Travel Plan is successful, demand for rented car parking spaces may very well fall below supply, over time. In that case, the developer should consider reducing the number of spaces provided for successive phases of the construction, perhaps saving some costs of construction. In addition unused private car parking space might be reallocated to uses which create more value, for example a combined heat and power installation (CHP) for a block of flats.
WILL PARKING BE DISPLACED TO THE ADJOINING RESIDENTIAL AREA?
If new residents simply park off-site that would negate the effect of limiting parking spaces for the private car. Worse, it may compete for parking space used by existing residents.
The extend of off-site parking may be limited by fears for the vulnerability of off-site cars and in addition lazy parkers tend to avoid walking even a short extra distance.
However the Travel Plan should provide for regular monitoring of the extent of nuisance parking attributable to the development. If the developer cannot show the parking is unrelated to the development then the developer should be required to cover the costs of introducing a controlled parking zone (residents’ parking) in the affected area and of providing enforcement. Particular attention should be paid to Camellia Court and Beech Avenue/Priory Close as places where displaced parking would be most likely to occur first.
WILL THE DEVELOPMENT AGGRAVATE CONGESTION PROBLEMS FOR EXISTING RESIDENTS?
Because the development would introduce some extra traffic, existing residents need to be assured that highway improvements will at least compensate for that. Those highway improvements should be tested as soon as they are complete and before any dwellings are built on the site.
One measure of congestion could be the time waiting to join the traffic along Riverside Drive at each of the roundabouts and particularly at the junctions with Moel Famau View and with Beech Avenue. As part of the Section 106 agreement, the developer should arrange “before” and “after” measurements of waiting times to demonstrate the improvement. If no improvements can be shown, the conclusion would be that the additional traffic to be added by the development would be detrimental and therefore further highway measures should be planned.
Any increase in traffic volumes might worsen the congestion on Jericho Lane which is caused by contention between three groups of road users at weekends. These are – football match parking, queuing to enter the waste reception centre and general traffic wishing to drive north along Riverside Drive.
The committee should be advised on the severity of this conflict and the congestion and delay that can result. Any solutions, such as better provision for lane discipline should be identified and considered.
WILL THE NEW ROAD LAYOUT REDUCE SPEED AND THENCE IMPROVE SAFETY AND LESSEN TRAFFIC NOISE?
As well as providing extra capacity, the planned road layout is claimed to moderate traffic speeds such that the design speed of the highway is the same as the 30mph legal speed limit. If that is achieved there will be significant gains for residents. It is more likely that cyclists will then use the road with confidence. The risk of motor vehicles colliding with crossing pedestrians is likely to be reduced.
Collisions which do occur would be less injurious at the slower speed. Additionally, the traffic noise level may be as much as halved to the benefit of immediate residents and also to the benefit of all users of the park and gardens.
Without speed reduction, Riverside Drive is likely to continue to be a barrier to enjoyment of the waterfront. This “severance effect” would diminish the amenity value of the waterfront park. Speed reduction, then, is an essential component of the value of the package offered by this development. Therefore the developer should test whether the new road layout is sufficient to reduce speeds. Measurements should be taken in free-flowing traffic conditions and a “before” and “after” study should show the degree to which speeds have been moderated. Whatever the speed reduction achieved, however, there should be an absolute target to bring speeds down to within the legal limit – the 85th percentile speed should be 30 mph so that only one car in seven would be breaking the speed limit.
The information on the speed reduction benefit of the redesigned road should inform decisions on whether addition measures are required, to be implemented before the new dwellings are built.
WILL THE NEW PARK BE WELL CONNECTED TO NEIGHBOURING COMMUNITIES
The developers plan four additional places for pedestrians to cross Riverside Drive. Not all of those will be pedestrian priority crossings (whether signal controlled or Zebra). In particular the new crossing at the southern end of Bempton Road is intended, currently to be an “uncontrolled crossing” . The crossing point recommends where pedestrians should cross but drivers are not required to give way for pedestrians at such crossings: the pedestrian must wait. Having to wait at uncontrolled crossing while a continuous stream of traffic goes past may cause frustration to people who are trying to catch a bus into work.
This crossing may not be much use to residents in Fulwood Park. If it is not in their natural “desire line” few residents may feel it is worth walking round a bend to reach a crossing point which gives them no priority to cross. The location of the Bempton Road crossing will suit pedestrians from that part of Bempton Road and also the larger community across the rail footbridge at Barchester Drive. However the footbridge is at present challenged by graffiti, dumping, antisocial behaviour and sometimes criminal damage. It needs better protection in order to connect the waterfront park to the responsible resident community in the long streets between Larkfield Road and Ampthill Road. In combination, the disadvantages of the footbridge and of the uncontrolled crossing at Riverside Drive may deter family use of the new waterfront park.
Such a situation would be unjust to the residents as well as unhelpful to the park. Residents in those long streets live close to Sefton Park but they also face a barrier of high speed traffic, in that case along Aigburth Drive, which gives no safe pedestrian route into the core of that park. I have mentioned earlier that it is important that residents feel “ownership” for the park and that they visit it often so that the presence of responsible people makes it unlikely that antisocial behaviour would take hold.
When the new development is fully populated, it will be the new residents who will form the backbone of that informal protection for the new park. But in the early years, no such protection will exist and, indeed, the presence of a building site might attract the wrong sort of attention and interest from less responsible people. The support of residents in the immediate neighbourhood as well as those in the larger community across the bridge will be crucial for the park. Therefore the Section 106 legal agreement should include a commitment from the developer to provide for CCTV for the footbridge at Barchester Drive, probably directly connected to the CCTV monitoring for Priory Wood.
In addition the developer should be prepared to adapt the highway design to accommodate a pedestrian priority crossing at the southern end of Bempton Road instead of the currently planned uncontrolled crossing. Such a decision should be informed by consultation with residents. If the change to the crossing creates difficulties for the transport consultants’ modelling of the highway capacity then compensatory measures should be found, including deeper cuts in the target for traffic to be generated by the new development.
HOW WILL CONSTRUCTION NOISE BE MANAGED?
If the construction goes ahead it will be noisy, particularly the pile-driving. This will affect the quality of life of residents in the St Michaels Ward across a wide area. It will be important to residents to limit the number of hours during which pile driving can take place and to make sure the onset and the maximum duration is predictable. Pile-driving should be limited to the normal working day, Monday to Friday. Saturday morning should be excluded.
HOW WILL THE DEVELOPMENT FOLLOW BEST ENVIRONMENTAL PRACTICE?
The development should be marketed on its best environmental credentials, including an exemplary residential travel plan thereby limiting transport-related emissions. The construction of the dwellings should also follow best practice. A zero-carbon development would be possible. Short of that, the BRE’s Eco Homes standards should be adopted. The planning committee should ask the developer to come forward with proposals for micro generation, including wind turbines above the higher buildings. Those structures should add interest to the unremarkable rectangular shapes that appear to be intended for the finger blocks, in particular. The legal agreement should provide for progressive improvement in the energy balance of the
buildings over the successive phases of the construction.
WHAT IS THE ALTERNATIVE?
In the planning application, the developers appear to state that the only alternative to their proposal is permanent dereliction for the site. To ensure a balanced assessment of the proposals, that proposition should be tested. Members should be advised on the prospect of the city council being able to recover the beneficial ownership of the site, by using compulsory powers or otherwise. There should be an assessment of the lower compensation that might be needed if the proposed development is not accepted for planning reasons and the site is restricted to its former approved uses.
I do not know of any alternative proposals for this site, however members should be given independent advice on the possibility of any such alternative proposal coming forward in the foreseeable future.
The Planning committee should be invited to consider all of the above questions, and others. The Committee may conclude, as I do, that satisfactory answers to those questions are difficult but not impossible.
The Committee should consider the considerable benefits to the community that could be provided by the development, but it should not hesitate to withhold permission if the developer is unable or unwilling to respond favourably to reasonable, if challenging requests to adapt the planning application and commit necessary resources so that it does indeed provide a positive balance of benefit to the community.