There has been lots of controversy over the proposed £35 million 66-acre Motorway Service Area (MSA) near junction 12 of the M5. More than 1,000 names have been added to a petition against the application which will be viewed by the Development Control Committee on Tuesday.
Photos from booklet sent to councillors
I am against this greenfield development which is adjacent to the AONB, at the foot of the Cotswold escarpment - but I suspect it will be approved. The Council officers are recommending it for approval and I do not think there are many planning reasons that could be cause for rejection that will stand up at an appeal. I am though a little mystified by Neil Carmichael's comments yesterday in Stroud Life suggesting that the planning system might work more in favour of those objecting to this MSA because of the way the planning laws will go?
Neil Carmichael's comment piece reads: "The change in planning will have a big impact on existing proposed developments this includes the current application to build a motorway service station near Brookthorpe. Many local residents have strong views about this scheme and these must be taken into account by the planning committee when it soon deliberates on the application and, although our legislation to change planning and the planning process has still not been enacted, the outcome of this particular application could be influenced by a change in policy and the appeals procedure. This new system really does allow local people to take the reins and I hope that in Stroud and the surrounding areas we will decide how we construct our communities so that they are best for us."
What does he mean? Don't get me wrong I welcome many of the moves to localism but planning officers up and down the country are raising all sorts of concerns about the abolition of the Regional Spatial Strategies - some argue it could mean places like Stroud will end up with more houses - we'll wait to see when more guidance comes. Meanwhile Tory MP for Glouicester Richard Graham doesn't have a view on this planning application - see Citizen here.
Anyway for me at a time when we need to cut carbon emissions, and build public transport infrastructure, I cannot support the development of the motorway network. At a recent Stroud District Green Party Meeting members had a chance to hear all sides of the arguments on the MSA and most voted against. There was also a debate hosted by Greens at the Coffee House Discussions which I unfortunately missed.
This MSA development is to be modeled on Westmorland’s award-winning Tebay services on the M6 in Cumbria. I wont be able to go over all the arguments here but there are concerns that while this company looks excellent it could be taken over by any Burger King, Moto or whoever in the future and lead to a loss of all the plans they have for local food etc...there are also questions about whether it will lead to so many jobs - although I note there will be a priority given to local applicants for jobs. In fact the District Council has tried to tie some of the commitments to conditions of the planning application - this is great stuff but I do fear that these may not be robust in the future? Similarly there is an obligation to distribute some £10 million to voluntary and community organisations in the target area over the next 20 years and active promotion of Gloucestershire tourism on site.
Here is one Green party colleagues comment: "The application contains plans for a ‘green’ building, biodiversity enhancement, local jobs and sourcing some local produce to be sold at the site. I would oppose any MSA on this site. Should the central Government planning system allow one, clearly I would prefer eco-build, local jobs and sourcing of local produce. However, as the application would establish the change of land use for an MSA, but cannot control the regeneration benefits (in jobs or produce) these are not the key determinants at the current time."
The site is more than 50 miles from Ross on Wye on the M50 to Michaelwood services, which is one of the largest gaps in the UK network. Policy states that a MSA is needed - however I understand this is open to interpretation. There is no objection from County Highways, English Heritage or the EA.
Here is the same Green colleague commenting: "I do not accept the Highways Agency determination that there is a need for a ‘core’ service station on this stretch of motorway. This determination is based on theory and does not bear relation to the actual traffic flows which move southbound from Ross-on-Wye to Michaelwood Services."
So what about the impact on the surrounding landscape? As I've noted before I have had concerns about the lighting and impact this huge site will have on the AONB - 11 out of the 66 acres will be buildings. However as the developers point out the independent South West Design Review Panel, concluded that the MSA would only have ‘a slight impact on views’ from the nearby Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Robinswood Hill. This is hoped to be achieved through the construction of buildings that appear to emerge from the landscape with grass-covered roofing and the use of only minimal lighting. It does indeed look good and has lessened many of my fears about the look - but not all - it is still an impact. Parish Councils, CPRE, the Cotswold Conservation Board and Natural England all object.
Once again the Green colleague: "I do not support this development which increases local pollution, increases local road traffic and detracts from the amenity and agricultural value of the land. The Boyland inquiry was right in 1994, this is not place for a motorway service area and however sensitive the landscaping, it would harm the local area."
Lastly I fear that this award-winning site will become a destination in itself - I don't agree with Council officers that it will not. By becoming a destination in itself that will impact on the area and increase traffic flows....and hey what will happen to Michael Wood Services some 15 miles down the road? Can they both compete?
Do view the full planning application online now at www.stroud.gov.uk/planning and type in reference number S.09/2292/FUL. Read the papers and recommendations to SDC here. Also see the project website at: www.gloucestershiregatewayservices.com
This is only a quick shot and putting down thoughts re the MSA. I know there are strong views on both sides.