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Draft Local Plan - Supplementary Consultation

Question 28 - Site 18 - Sharmans Cross Road

Representation ID: 9629

Received: 15/03/2019

Respondent: Sharmans Cross Action Group (SXAG)

Representation Summary:

Site should be preserved as a sports ground. The existing covenant still stands and residential redevelopment is contrary to this.
The has been avoidance in allowing the pitches to be used; more sports facilities across the borough are being lost when health and well being are becoming more prevalent issues.
Unlikely to get a replacement so close to communities served with required facilities, for the cost.
The site is not sustainable.
Flooding and drainage issues.
Density out of keeping with surrounding area.
Car parking problems will be exacerbated.
School and medical services already oversubscribed.
The site is not viable.

Full text:

LDP sites 306/245. Allocation site18
I write as Chaiman of the Sharmans Cross Action Group (SXAG) in objecting to both above sites being included in the LDP as anything other than Category Red.

Before I go into the detailed reasons for objection and a few brief comment on SXAG. This Group originates from the initial attempt by Oakmoor Estates ( now Oakmoor(Sharmans Cross) Ltd) to develop the Sharmans Cross Road Rugby Ground as a residential site in 2007/8. We communicate with newsletters to some 1600/1700 households in the area surrounding the Rugby Ground plus around 250 electronically ie a total of 1850/1950 households. When key stages of the Planning/LDP processes arise we top up our newsletters with public meetings which are usually attended by 90-150 people. They can be very animated.

The reason for SXAG existing is simple - the preservation of the Rugby Ground as a sports ground for the benefit of the residents of Solihull. The history of the ground will go some way to explaining this.

HISTORICAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL BACKGROUND.

There are 3 sports clubs in a green lung behind the houses on Sharmans Cross Road - Solihull Arden Tennis Club, the old Rugby Club, and a soccer club Silhill FC. These have been sports grounds for 99, 50+ and 80+ years. If one of them goes we are concerned that the others will find it even more difficult to survive e.g. the Tennis Club requires around 150 car parking spots and are expecting to introduce 'Padel Tennis' later this year which will increase car parking needs. The 150 could move quite quickly to 175/200. Loss of the Rugby Ground would leave the club with c75 spots or over 100 shortfall. Without these the Club, in my view, will fade away because of the aggro over Parking. Historically they have shared the current 130/150 parking spots

In the 1950s the Rugby Club played just off Blossomfield Road but with SMBC's large scale residential building programme in that period they bought the Sharmans Cross site in 1952. They planned their move in the early 60s but found that the drainage on the two pitches was so bad that they were unplayable for much of the season. In 1962 they applied for planning permission for residential properties on the site. It was refused. They went to Appeal. Rather than face the Appeal the Council entered into a unique deal to buy the ground and lease it back to the Club after installing a high quality En-tout-cas drainage system. All of this was done on the basis of the following:-

1. A 125 year lease starting 1965 (71 years to go) costing £250 a year.
2. The Club retaining the freehold of the car park and the land where the buildings were.
3. The Council were intent on the land remaining as playing fields so they imposed 2 covenants.
i. On the leasehold land - the leaseholder "will not use or permit or suffer (the site) to be converted or occupied for any purposes other than a private sports
ground."
ii. The freehold land will only be used for purposes ancilliary to a sports ground.

THE ABSOLUTE OBJECTIVE OF THE COUNCIL WAS THAT THE GROUND SHOULD BE A PRIVATE SPORTS GROUND FOR AT LEAST 125 YEARS.

At a public SMBC committee meeting in 2013 it was proposed and unanimously agreed that the covenants on the Rugby Ground should not be lifted and the freehold should not be sold. In addition it was stated and agreed that the Council should make every effort to bring the Ground back into sporting use.

IT IS EXTREMELY DIFFICULT TO UNDERSTAND HOW - CONTRARY TO THE ORIGINAL INTENTION OF THE COUNCIL, AND THE 2013 RE-AFFIRMATION OF THAT POLICY THAT INCLUSION IN THE ALLOCATED SITES IN THE PROPOSED LDP CAN EVEN BE CONSIDERED. YOU WILL HAVE NOTED THE STRENGTH OF FEELING ON THIS ISSUE AMONGST LOCAL RESIDENTS FROM THE LETTERS OF OBJECTION THAT YOU HAVE RECEIVED ALREADY. THESE EXTEND TO LOCAL RESIDENTS RAISING QUESTIONS REGARDING THE COUNCIL FAILING IN ITS RESPONSIBILITIES ON A NUMBER OF ISSUES ON TO THIS FACILITY:-

1. Why was the transfer of the lease from a sports club to a Developer (Oakmoor) agreed when the Developer had the declared intent to seek Planning permission for residential development?
2. Why has the Council not made more effort to have the Ground maintained as a sports ground?
3. Why has there apparently been no attempt to require Oakmoor to promote the use of the ground as a sports ground at a sports ground rent?
4. The SMBC objective in purchasing the Ground plus installing the very high quality drainage system there was so that that the ground should be used as a private sports ground and not left fallow for nearly 10 years. The 125 year lease and the 2 covenants only emphasised their intentions
5. Why have the two ex Rugby Club sites been considered for inclusion in the LDP?

These are the questions that are raised time and time again.

The reason why Oakmoor got to a position when they could be considered as freeholder/leaseholder for the Rugby Ground started in the early 2000s.The Rugby Club over extended itself with the advent of semi-professional Rugby. Oakmoor appeared as a 'white knight'. It provided financial support and developed a plan over a number of years, with increasing debts at the Rugby Club to help the Club to find another ground or ground share with substantial investment by Oakmoor to give them a viable future. This was to be funded by Oakmoor acquiring the freehold land plus the leasehold pitches at sports ground cost and obtaining Planning permission for the site to become a residential development. It would also have required them acquiring the freehold on the leased land, and the covenants being lifted. (This was glossed over and ended up with them seeking to obtain these free of charge in return for them helping the Rugby Club move). Figures of over £4m benefit to the Rugby Club were suggested. Oakmoor maintained, incorrectly, that there was a surplus of 'pitches' in the Botough. The first Planning Application was withdrawn. The second was rejected on the basis of no provision for Affordable Housing. Oakmoor went to Appeal , but withdrew their application less than 24 hours prior to the hearing.

It has been suggested by Mr G. Palmer in his email of 18.2.19 that the only reason for rejection was 'the lack of affordable housing. This illustrates that there was no land use principle that would have otherwise prevented development coming forward.

THIS IS A SERIOUS OVER SIMPLIFICATION OF WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED. In the submission of objections we put forward a very extended and detail explanation of why the whole Funding/business plan upon which the Application was based, including the move of the Rugby Ground elsewhere was not viable and involved a funding deficit of over £3,000,000 . We were never question on any issue and I personally was told by a Senior Officer of SMBC that SMBC did not have the skill or the experience to adequately assess the Business Plan forward and that they more or less had to accept the business case put forward by the Applicant. To make matters worse the Applicant appeared to expect that the covenants would be lifted and the freehold of the land would be given to them.

SXAG then became a 3rd party to the Planning Appeal, and could identify any Planning issue. Having taken legal and professional advice we prepared our case on the basis of the inaccuracy, and misrepresentation of the Applicant's Business case. The key issue was that there was a £4-5m deficit on the project. Our Expert's analysis of residual land value and the property costs and revenue won the day.The Applicant withdrew his Appeal the night before the it was due to be heard. Affordable Housing could have been resolved, but the scale of the deficit was beyond resolution.The lack of substance in the Appeal was demonstrated by the Inspector awarding us and SMBC our costs.Until the LDP process starred Oakmoor appear to have done little or nothing to pursue Planning permission for the sites.

WHY DO I GO INTO SO MUCH DETAIL ON THIS TOPIC?

If this had been simply a matter of Affordable Housing the issue would have been resolved. However the real issue was that the project was not viable. This did not appear to have been appreciated fully by SMBC or presented as such as the issue at the Planning Committee meeting. The Appeal evidence brought this evidence to the fore.

WE THEREFORE DO NOT ACCEPT THE PROPOSITION THAT THE 'NO AFFORDABLE HOUSING' FACTOR AT THE PLANNING COMMITTEE STAGE WAS ULTIMATELY THE ONLY REASON WHY THE APPLICATION FAILED AT THE APPEAL STAGE. THIS VIEW APPEARS TO BE ENDORSED BY MR PALMER'S COMMENT IN HIS EMAIL OF 18/2/19
"IT IS NOW 8 YEARS SINCE THAT DECISION WAS MADE AND LAND VALUES ETC HAVE CHANGE SUCH THAT THE VIABILITY OF A SCHEME CAN BE RE-ASSESSED".

IRONICALLY THE INCREASE IN LAND VALUES MAKES THIS PROJECT LESS VIABLE NOT MORE. WHY - THE VALUE OF THE FREEHOLD AND THE COST OF GETTING RID OF THE COVENANTS - WHICH ARE MONEY TO BE PAID TO SMBC - HAVE , IN OUR VIEW,RISEN FROM £5/7m to around £7/10m.

What then has happened over the last 9/10 years?

Oakmoor have had a consistent approach in avoiding making this perfectly situated sports ground available for the playing of sport.

* The replacement Rugby Club were charged in the region of £40/60k pa for the use of the ground, changing rooms, social facilities compared to the Ground rent of £250 paid by Oakmoor to SMBC.
*. The playgroup who had used around 40% of the buildings for pre-school classes were given 24 hours to close down and were refused a tenancy. Profit from this operation had been going to the Rugby Club.
* Under pressure from SMBC Oakmoor cut the grass 4 times a year for 6/7
years. Last year it dropped to twice, and they now appear to be prevaricating
on cutting it at all.
* They boarded the windows of the various buildings but within weeks these
were broken into and routinely vandalised. Oakmoor were slow to respond
and and carry out repairs. Eventually, 3/4 years ago the buildings were
demolished. Everything at the ground has been allowed to steadily deteriorate
This appeared to be a deliberate policy of steady deterioration into
dilapidation and from that to Planning permission on the basis this was a
derelict Site.
* No attempt of any sort appears to have been made by Oakmoor to encourage
any sports club to use the pitches or the facilities when they existed. One club
wh. o approached them weretold ' we have other plans
for the site'. We are happy to produce evidence that teams
have had to find pitches for training and matches outside the Borough.
* SMBC have progressively shut changing rooms at, we understand, every
park with pitches.
* On the latest information we have available to us SMBC is in the 3 rd quartile
downwards in England for participation by over 16 year olds in sport 3 times
a week. And yet we are progressively decreasing sports grounds and/ or their
facilities.
* Since the 2013 policy decision on sustaining the covenants and the lease
nothing has been achieved in getting it back into sporting use.

It is fully realised that this is a difficult issue. However our discussions with a great many local residents make it clear that they feel very strongly that this and future generations of Solihull residents are being badly let down by by The Council in pursuing housing at all costs and ignoring to a large degree the amenities and facilities that are needed to go with that extra housing and increasing population on top of the needs of the existing population.

Further Objections.
1. The LDP suggests that replacement sports facilities would need to be provided.
We understand that these 'must be of at least equivalent standard, and accessibility.'
On accessibility - it simply is not possible to replace this private sports ground in Solihull with anything that is as close to the Town centre and with the same access on foot, on cycle, by public transport or by car. There is no alternative to the existing site.
To fudge the issue is self defeating. The further you move out from the centre of population the harder it gets for sports clubs to survive. The social and community sides of Clubs weakens and survival gets more difficult.

On equivalent standards. Oakmoor took this facility over with changing rooms,a bar and social amenities, plus community facilities in the pre- school facilities. These were not the best in the world but they were functional. These would need to be replicated in any new facility.
There are 2 pitches. The first team pitch has probably the best drainage in the Borough - installed to a high specification 45 years before Oakmoor acquired the ground but still very effective and with a guarantee from SMBC on the maintenance of the of drainage. The same principle, on a slightly lower specification applied to the second pitch.

To replace the 2 pitches with drainage quality such as they have will be very expensive, particularly with the existing guarantee of 71 years maintenance of the drainage, and all for £250 a year.

We would suggest that it is not possible to replace this facility in total - pitches and ancillary facilities with the same or better accessibility. Even if the accessibility could be resolved the cost of providing at least equivalent facilities with drainage maintenance would probably be beyond the means of Oakmoor.

Whilst this key issue is without a definitive solution, with cost undertakings agreed, we would suggest site 245/18 should not be included as Green Site or Amber Site in the LDP. There can be no confidence that it can become available at any time until this issue is resolved.

2. Sustainability.
By SMBC own criteria this is not ' sustainable' when measured against distances to facilities, and walking time. Oakmoor distances are incorrect and always have been in their various documents.

3. Lease/covenants.
These were implemented in 1965 to protect both sites at the Rugby Ground for 125 years to prevent exactly what is now being proposed. The reasons for it were clearly spelt out in the purchase documents and the deeds. They provided an amenity, as part of a green sports lung along the back of local properties. In 2013 this policy was re-affirmed by reprentatives of all political parties. Oakmoor were well aware of the lease and covenant terms when they set out on the path of acquisition . They also must have understood the risk they were taking.

We object to the very principle that these contracts can be treated as an arbitrary decision that can torn up and another facility createdeffecting future well being of residents in a way we do not understand.These facilities are part of the well being of the residents of Solihull for the long term. We object most strongly to this future being diminished in an irreplaceable way.

Our contention is very simple. The lease should never have been transferred to Oakmoor.
SMBC are the guardian of our interests and should again be re-affirming the lease/ covenant terms contained in the 1965 deeds and re-affirmed in 2013. Those policies are there to protect part of the public amenities and well being.

4. Health and Well being.

The health and well being of all generations is becoming more and more an issue of concern whether it be obesity, mental health or a host of other issues. What appears to be pretty universally recognised is that greater physical activity is a core component to both physical and mental well being at all ages. But in the LDP drafts this gets scarcely a line. Over the next 15 years Solihull populations looks , on the basis of housing increases, to be likely to grow by around 40,000, but 5 sports grounds are likely to go under the LDP. Pushing any replacements further and further out will reduce participation and the use of these amenities as community centres.
The potential loss of the old Rugby Ground with a replacement 'somewhere' will be another notch in the downward participation path In the Borough. Combine this with no changing rooms in Public Parks and we see an erosion continuing in participation.

Physical activity is a key component of health and well being in society.

5. Drainage

There is no doubt that for local residents drainage and surface flooding are on going and worsening problems. Severn Trent might tell you how under control things are but they are wrong. There are too main problems.
i. Victorian drains in Sharmans Cross Road, and limited capacity in Winterbourne/Beaminster.
Sharmans Cross Road has regular flooding actually in the Road. Perhaps even more critical is the regular flooding of gardens. This is not small scale but eg 6 inches of water. The drains simply cannot cope with the water volumes in the Road. In the gardens the problem largely stems from the layers of marl that predominate in the area. The Rugby Ground has this in a large degree but it is covered up by the En Tou Cas 10 -12 inch top surface that acts as a sponge before drainage off site. The building works would damage/destroy this whole system and leave a major surface water issue. THIS SHOULD NOT BE UNDERESTIMATED.
Foul water will also be a problem
WINTERBOURNE Road,
In the last Planning Application there was supposed to be a feeder sump to feed surface water away from the site. At the time, because of the mark problem, this looked inadequate.

I raise this issue because it already effects a large number of homes every time there is a any significant rain fall.

6. Density.
The draft LDP has a significant error in it.
Site 18 on allocations is supposedly site 245 state 100 houses on the old Rugby Ground.
Site 245 indicates 62houses on the old Rugby Ground.
Site 306 indicates 113house on the old Rugby Ground plus the Tennis Club.
I think this makes the LDP allocated sites 33 out in houses.

Density in the immediately surrounding areas is of the order of 10/12 houses per hectare.
These exclude road areas.
If on site 18/245 we assume 62 houses, 20% for roads,access, 0.2 hectares for 75 Tennis Club car parking spots, houses per hectare - 31.
If on site 18/245 we assume 100 houses, 20% roads,access, 0.2 for 75 Tennis Club car- parking spots , houses per hectare - 45.

These represent 3 to 4.5 times the density in the immediate area. In the area North iof Sharmans Cross Road 1400 plus house have an 'Estate Covernant' with each other and SMBC forbidding garden grabbing ie there can only be one house on each plot.

You must be aware that this difference is very significant and would be changing the distinctiveness of this mature suburb, contrary to Planning Policy.
We there question the whole question of why Site 245 is included?


7. Car Parking

In the rejected Planning Application car Parking was a significant issue for local residents. That has become far more critical now. Woodside Way is now a significant risk area for car Parking being solidly parked up from Sharmans Cross Road fork around 100m every day from 8-15 am until 5-30pm at least. Sharmans Cross is a tearaway with cars speeding at well over 50 mp.h. The last Planning Application allowed only around 1.5 cars per household compared to the 2 plus in the locality. The situation is now significantly worse.

This issue must not see ignored with or without this estate.

8. School and Medical services.

All of these are oversubscribed in the area. 67/100 more households will will take azll of these nearer to breaking point. This issue also cannot continue to be ignored.

9. Viability.

The nature of this site - the lease, the covenants, the necessity for affordable housing contribution, the Marl etc etc. - make it very difficult to see how this site can be viable The current site value as a sports ground has dropped, we would suggest, from c£6/700k with pavillion etc , to £250/400k because of the covenants and lease. With planning permission this varied between £6m and £9m with the latter ultimately being on the high side.

We would suggest that in the last 9/10 years these will have increase by at least 20%. This gives site values of £7.5m to £10m. The value of lifting the covenants and selling the freehold must be £6.7m to £9m. If SMBC - against our wishes - do lift the covenants and sell the freehold we would expect the price would be at least the £6.7M. Then there is the cost of a new sports ground with pavilion, drainage etc -£1.0m to £1.5m. Also Affordable Housing Contribution (AHC).
That means Oakmoor will try to avoid AHC by claiming non-viability.

We will resist this path all the way and be very protective of SMBC getting full market value, and that the new sports ground is up and running before any work starts on Sharmans Cross Road

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