It’s been a little quiet at Beacon HQ… at least that’s how it must seem.
In fact, a lot has been going on… lots of meetings, lots of phone calls, emails, sandwiches…
If you have been following this blog you will know that we received a letter from the (now departed) Acting Chief Exec of Wirral Council a couple of months ago citing a rather ancient covenant, public objection and other factors as reason why the land that would be needed for The Beacon was ‘not for sale’.
Hardly a ‘normal’ response. Definitely Not Cricket.
Like us, many of you will have no doubt sat back and thought, “say that again?”, or perhaps something a little more, well, blue…
Subsequent meetings and correspondence with officers of the council have been rather more helpful and have clarified the situation.
In fact, it is fair to say the council are now actively supporting the idea (angels sing, bells ring and true happiness spreads across the globe), albeit with a few, previously unexpressed, provisos… (call the angels back; another false start).
Yes, it has been acknowledged that no-one had even got as far as putting in a planning application… it was just an idea, and a good one at that.
And as we already knew, it’s an ambition that the council actually support.
Issues of parking and residential amenity are normally addressed in response to a planning application. The Beacon Steering Group were not putting in an application as we are not developers; we were simply trying to encourage interest in the project, which we had achieved, and very significant it was too (and still is).
All of this is acknowledged.
The key problem with it as far as the council were concerned was not parking, or residential amenity, or a covenant, or anything else cited in the letter from the Acting Chief Executive, but the (drumroll… here it comes, here it comes…) sequential test.
Ahem. The sequential test.
You can’t sing ‘Dem Bones’ out of order… it just won’t work. If you do, you’re out. Its about connections. First things first and all that jazz.
Here are the relevant paragraphs in the National Planning Policy Framework:
24. Local planning authorities should apply a sequential test to planning applications for main town centre uses that are not in an existing centre and are not in accordance with an up-to-date Local Plan. They should require applications for main town centre uses to be located in town centres, then in edge of centre locations and only if suitable sites are not available should out of centre sites be considered. When considering edge of centre and out of centre proposals, preference should be given to accessible sites that are well connected to the town centre. Applicants and local planning authorities should demonstrate flexibility on issues such as format and scale.
25. This sequential approach should not be applied to applications for small scale rural offices or other small scale rural development.
26. When assessing applications for retail, leisure and office development outside of town centres, which are not in accordance with an up-to-date Local Plan, local planning authorities should require an impact assessment if the development is over a proportionate, locally set floorspace threshold (if there is no locally set threshold, the default threshold is 2,500 sq m). This should include assessment of:
- the impact of the proposal on existing, committed and planned public and private investment in a centre or centres in the catchment area of the proposal; and
- the impact of the proposal on town centre vitality and viability, including local consumer choice and trade in the town centre and wider area, up to five years from the time the application is made. For major schemes where the full impact will not be realised in five years, the impact should also be assessed up to ten years from the time the application is made.
27. Where an application fails to satisfy the sequential test or is likely to have significant adverse impact on one or more of the above factors, it should be refused.
So there you have it.
Whether or not this project fits the criteria and should indeed be subject to a sequential test – in other words whether the council are following the ‘spirit’ of chapters 24-27 of the NPPF (which in essence is to protect small town centres from out of centre developments that will have a negative impact on the town centre economy), MAY be open for debate among planning professionals.
Whether they are demonstrating enough ‘flexibility’ on this, given that regeneration of North Parade and Hoylake generally has been a council stated objective and is widely recognised as having the potential to contribute significantly to the local economy, is also open to debate.
This has extra significance at the moment because of the well-publicised intention of the council to ‘reclassify‘ (downgrade, if you prefer plainer English) Hoylake. In that context, not only would a sequential test apply to new development within distinct centres, but would apply between them, according to a heirarchy of status.
So West Kirby, retaining its Town Centre status, would be prioritised as a location for development above Hoylake, which would carry District Centre status. Good news, then, that WMBC have listened, and are looking again at the reclassification.
For now at least though, this offers some more clarity on why the council have, so far, apparently said ‘no’, which is, in fact, not a ‘no’ atall, really, to the Beacon being on North Parade.
Which is why we now need to look at potential town centre sites – we will keep you posted as soon as we have more information.
postscript: 6 May 2015
As part of our extensive public consultation with local groups, The Beacon Steering Group met with two of the three Trustees of Hoylake Lifeboat Museum in the upstairs room at Hoylake Lifeboat Museum at 2pm on 16 November 2014 and shared with them the ‘concept’ plans as displayed on this website. The Trustees subsequently consulted the third trustee and responded that they were unanimous in their support of the idea.
While still under development, the website was shown to the Trustees on 8th January 2015, which they acknowledged on 9th January 2015, two weeks before it was publicly launched on 22nd January; we also consulted with them about the formal mailing address for the project at that time. Other groups consulted in the same way included Hoylake and Meols in Bloom, who consulted their members, and the Hoylake Conservation Area at their AGM, both of whom were also supportive. The Steering Group have no further comment on this issue.
The Steering Group are continuing to actively consult with a range of stakeholder groups, including The Light Cinema, Wirral Council and landlords Hylgar Properties, with the aim of seeing this project come to fruition, although at this stage the location cannot be confirmed, for the reasons explained above.