Dear Local Plan Team,
Please find herewith the Bournemouth Civic Society’s observations on the current Local Plan Issues and Options Consultation.
We look forward to following the evolution of the Local Plan with ours and other consultees comments being taken on board through continuing meaningful engagement.
Ken Mantock FRSA
There is a general feeling that the Local Plan Issues and Options Consultation document contains many well meaning aspirations: from the sustaining of different neighbourhoods; the enhancement of economic activities, to the protection of the unique physical environment of the town and the creation of a better transport system. In setting out the vision and objectives for the town, every possible aspect of Bournemouth is covered – from culture and heritage, to innovation and modernity from community well being to up-to-date information technology.
And according to the different sectors of the document, there would be proactive policies to facilitate townscape regeneration in order to achieve a viable balance between free market and social housing quotas. This extensive initiative would be supported by expanding high tech. entrepreneurship and the financial rewards brought by higher academic research centred on Bournemouth University.
According to the document, it is anticipated that lifestyles in existing neighbourhoods could be considerably changed by the introduction in some neighbourhoods of new residential possibilities in place of existing retail uses. In addition to the improvement of better health facilities, it is also assumed that parallel to spatial re-ordering of considerable areas of the town, the inhabitants and their activities would be more closely integrated by a considerable improvement in the existing, technical infrastructure in all fields.
However we wonder whether the proposals are rather too ambitious – too much rhetoric instead of practical policies and on-the-ground action; a feeling that is echoed as we feel a more detailed assessment for an improving infrastructure should be included. While the document expresses good intentions, where are the specific means to support them? Also there are contradictions: thus in one section it is written there is to be adequate parking, while on the list of available development land there are 22 car parks being offered up as building sites.
In effect, the Society has formed the general impression that the document is a very comprehensive analysis of the contemporary needs of a modern town, but any modern town, indeed the material was characterised by quite predictable, administrative language that could just as easily be applied to, any large town or major conurbation. Although some attempt has been made by the authors of the document to try and understand the distinctive physiognomy of Bournemouth, there is no real perception of the unique balance of elements of the built and unbuilt urban environment that has always influenced, directly or indirectly, every aspect of human and economic activity in Bournemouth. No perception was apparent of the principal purpose of this famous maritime resort, namely to serve as a place of repose from the pressures of the modern urban world, while allowing its inhabitants to live a more fulfilled and independent existence.
The Society feel that this inability to appreciate the true nature of Bournemouth is well demonstrated by the very considerable difference in length (10 pages as against 4) between the section on the natural environment and that on the built environment in the Plan. Naturally, we are all for the general preservation of bio-diversity across Dorset and particularly in Bournemouth, but we must point out that the greater proportion of natural habitats are situated in rural, heavily protected parts of Dorset, a considerable distance from the BCP conurbation. Therefore apart from the necessity of creating SANGS, the preservation of the Stour Valley Green Belt and the obligation to preserve the line of cliffs and the maritime townscape fronting Poole Bay, the very detailed analysis and proposals relating to wild landscapes that take up the greater part of this section, have less relevance to the existing public open spaces in Bournemouth that define its character and appearance. For the latter, in order to fulfil the obligations of a leading maritime resort, these have always been kept at the highest level of visual order for the delight of holiday makers and residents.
We suggest options in relation to the document in order to underline a more pragmatic approach to the particular circumstances of the local area. We are in favour of general civic support for new integrated uses being found for former department stores (such as Debenhams and Beales) and for municipal subsidies being paid to enable family shops to remain serving local communities in the outer suburbs.
Moreover such an integrated retail policy could be more precisely related to the need to plan for a practical quota of 25,000 social housing units over the following decades, substantially lower than the higher number that was considered necessary by the Government. We applaud the Council for arguing against the flawed methodology the Government was hitherto adopting in allocating housing targets. While large open spaces, comprising the Stour Valley Park, our Green Belt, Open Spaces and golf courses (ie Meyrick Park ) must be fully protected and promoted for their leisure and health benfits, the need to build at higher densities in particular areas should be as restricted as much as possible to only those able to accommodate such change ie The Town Centre and Lansdowne, not the high quality residential suburbs.
Indeed the option to go for comprehensive visual and social balance in most aspects of future growth should be considered a consistent guide in our opinion. For just as the right form and size of shops must always serve an appropriate number of houses and flats in a particular residential neighbourhood, it would also be essential that the dimensions of all new accommodation with private space, especially flats, should be sufficient to be able to sustain a reasonably reposeful life style – a concept that goes to the heart of what Bournemouth should offer to the outside world.
Taking everything into consideration we feel that in any historic neighbourhood, wherever the demolition of an original property is contemplated, it is essential that the architectural ambience of adjacent structures should always be appropriately synthesised with well designed, contemporary proposals for the new development. And in this respect we concentrate on the section of the documents that deals with how modern, high rise buildings had to be incorporated into the urban fabric of Bournemouth without compromising the visual context of the extensive conservation areas within the inner neighbourhoods of the town. Here, we think that additional buildings should be added to the official list of protected structures to ensure the increased safeguarding of the existing historic townscape and the siting of high rises mainly restricted to localities where they are best suited.
Further, the Society is well aware of the existence of wider pressures on the urban structure of Bournemouth that are mentioned but not fully developed in the document. Especially the need was seen to keep a continuing balance between the spatial context regarding the siting of existing and new buildings and the obligation to preserve essential green space – while at the same time ensuring that the urban environment supports a viable economic structure.
However this does not mean, according to the society, that purely for economic and political reasons, the existing Green Belt along the River Stour Valley should be opened to new development purely to fulfil government housing quotas. It will be necessary to ensure that sufficient land for further residential development in Bournemouth can be secured without further intensification of building densities.
In this respect it is realised and argued by us that similar pressures to allow higher density housing development within historic, spacious, residential neighbourhoods would also be against the intentions of the document. We hope that this tendency will be resisted and that the existing policy of designing new flat blocks, compatible with adjacent properties would continue.
In respect to major redevelopment projects, the new Central Boscombe Regeneration Plan is considered a good beginning to modernise a somewhat rundown area. However it is realised also that a greater threat to central Boscombe and to other well established commercial centres within the older parts of the town is the appearance of the new planning relaxations under “Permitted Development” which allows an uncontrolled series of instant pop up, mini high rises to appear suddenly and ruin well modulated areas of attractive and historic townscape.
In connection with increasing general pressures for more rapid urban change, it is not surprising that many people in Bournemouth are worried about the increasing inability of the Council to make a distinct improvement in their lives. Thus it was felt that the Council could do more to encourage the construction of university student accommodation so that an increasing number of HMOs in north Bournemouth could be returned to family use.
Vitally to, we consider that the Neighbourhood Plans that have been developed and adopted must be retained as part of the Local Plan processes since they so well set out the specific needs, priorities and polices for these areas and there is no sense whatsoever to sweep them away when they are proving to be so useful to communities.
Within the appendices to the consultation document is a list of 26 major roads and in several cases, neighbouring roads, which are being mooted for a “change in character”. The type of “urban intensification” being suggested is exampled by the recent redevelopment of 752-778 Christchurch Road, Boscombe. We believe that without design briefs that have been subject to full consultation it is wrong to take such a broad brush approach to planning in these areas.
We question, as an example, how the entire commercial stretch of Wimborne Road from Winton Banks to north of Moordown can be considered for a “change of character”. What could possibly be done here and why potentially blight the many independent businesses there. The same applies to the central part of Holdenhurst Road, central Charminster Road, Christchurch Road east of Ashley Road (including Pokesdown Hill and the Bell Inn) plus Seabourne Road. Many of these areas were designed as shopping parades with flats above and are architecturally attractive and candidates for local listing ie. the Mayfield Park Buildings at Moordown, or Queen’s Park Terrace at Charminster.
We therefore believe further work is needed before any of these areas are zoned for change of character in the document.
Within Appendix 1 and Appendix 2 we specifically object to the inclusion of the following sites for housing development: WW007, WW006, WW012, WW011, WW014, WS001, 17/01, 21/01 through to 21/21.
We also carry forward our long standing objection to the proposed flyover to the A338 associated with the development of the Wessex Field site and by wider implication it opening up the green belt land at Holdenhurst for development.
Taking stock of the document we feel that while we could not fault the general comprehensiveness of it, every T crossed and every I dotted, what is lacking is a strong commitment to the absolute enhancement in Bournemouth of a unique Sense of Place.
The document always seems to be taking a strictly neutral attitude on matters, appearing to be looking over its shoulder at government guidelines and becoming excessively intertwined with global problems such climate change, which although hugely important, should be more fully discussed by a wider range of official agencies.
In sum, we think the authors of this document have not fully grasped that the greatest priority for Bournemouth is to ensure the efficient operation of the unique synthesis between its visual form and economic activities, together with the acceptance that this balance should take precedence above all other considerations. This has been the cornerstone of the continuing prosperity of this famous resort for the last 200 years – a reality that any Local Plan must acknowledge.