Spelthorne Local Plan - Issues & Options

Spelthorne Local Plan Issues & Options consultation paper

Key challenges

Spelthorne facts


Figure 1: Spelthorne and adjoining local authority areas

  • Spelthorne's main towns are Ashford, Shepperton, Staines-upon-Thames, Stanwell and Sunbury-on-Thames, with Staines being the main commercial and retail centre.
  • Charlton Village, Laleham, Littleton, Upper Halliford and Stanwell Moor comprise the Borough's villages.
  • Spelthorne has a population of approximately 98,000, with this projected to increase to 116,000 by 2035.
  • The average house price in Spelthorne is £365,739 (January 2018).
  • The proximity of Heathrow has a major influence on the Borough in terms of employment, housing and traffic. Approximately 8.3% of Spelthorne's residents are employed at Heathrow Airport.
  • The water industry is a major user of land in the Borough with four large reservoirs and a treatment works at Ashford.
  • Spelthorne is flat and low-lying with more than half the area of the Borough designated as Green Belt (65%). Because of its proximity to the River Thames, a significant area is at risk from flooding, with Staines and Shepperton being the worst affected areas.
  • There are four large reservoirs in Spelthorne, which comprises 24% of the Borough's total Green Belt area. The Wraysbury, Staines and King George VI reservoirs comprise part of the South West London Waterbodies Special Protection Area (SPA).

Figure 2: Green Belt and Flood Risk Areas in Spelthorne

  • Spelthorne has an ageing population with a small ethnic minority. A relatively high proportion of the population is 'economically active' (either in work or seeking work). There is a significant need for affordable housing.
  • The local economy supports a number of industrial estates throughout the Borough. In comparison with other Surrey districts, Spelthorne still has a relatively large amount of industrial floorspace as well as a significant amount of warehousing, particularly for airport-related business close to Heathrow. Office development is concentrated in the main town centres.
  • The M3 motorway is a major strategic transport route, which crosses through the southern part of the Borough with Junction 1 situated at Sunbury-on-Thames. The M25 runs north/south along the western periphery of the Borough with Junction 13 at Staines-upon-Thames.

Figure 3: Key Features in Spelthorne


Key Challenges

  • Manage further risk of flooding and prevent or mitigate harm from environmental impacts such as poor air quality and noise pollution
  • Preserve the Green Belt where it is performing well against the purposes it was designated for
  • Plan for the necessary infrastructure, such as schools, roads and healthcare, to support our future population
  • Ensure we can allocate sufficient land to meet our housing need sustainably, including the provision of affordable homes and the needs of specific communities
  • Maintain and intensify employment land, anticipating growth in the Borough, including additional growth from an expanded Heathrow Airport
  • Protect our valuable open spaces, recreation and leisure facilities and biodiversity sites, including the River Thames and waterbodies
  • Enhance the character of our towns and villages, including the vitality of our shopping areas
  • Ensure our Borough has the right amount of social, cultural and community facilities, including opportunities to support the arts


Where will all this new development go?

Ideally, we should be looking at brownfield land, also known as "previously developed land" to accommodate our development needs. These are sites that have been developed previously, such as a redundant warehouse or underused garage block. They often have the advantage of being located in sustainable areas within or near to towns and villages. In common with other authorities especially in Surrey, we don't have enough brownfield sites to meet our needs, especially for housing.

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) defines previously developed land as:

Land which is or was occupied by a permanent structure, including the curtilage of the developed land (although it should not be assumed that the whole of the curtilage should be developed) and any associated fixed surface infrastructure.

This excludes: land that is or has been occupied by agricultural or forestry buildings; land that has been developed for minerals extraction or waste disposal by landfill purposes where provision for restoration has been made through development control procedures; land in built-up areas such as private residential gardens, parks, recreation grounds and allotments; and land that was previously-developed but where the remains of the permanent structure or fixed surface structure have blended into the landscape in the process of time. 

What other land can we consider?

The Borough has other land but often it is in use for much needed sports and recreation facilities. Although we are assessing how much we have, it is unlikely we will have a surplus. Many open spaces in our urban areas also perform a valuable function to preserve the character and amenity of residential estates.

Spelthorne Council itself owns many assets in the Borough, such as buildings and land particularly within Knowle Green and in Staines town centre. Some of these sites are already included as a source of supply for housing, employment and retail uses within our Strategic Land Availability Assessment. There may be further opportunities for development growth in Staines and we are exploring the creation of a Master Plan for the town to identify what improvements can be made to the public realm to bring greater focus on its riverside location and where further development could take place.

What land is 'off limits'?

Certain land in the Borough is subject to 'absolute constraints'. This is where development can't take place because it would result in unacceptable environmental impacts and the harm can't be mitigated. These sites include functional floodplain, nationally and internationally designated sites of nature conservation and land within the noise contours of Heathrow Airport. Some sites that are subject to other designations and constraints could accommodate further development but only if sensitively designed with appropriate mitigation, such as conservation areas, sites of a lower risk of flooding and land at risk from pollution such as noise, poor air quality and land contamination. These would need to be considered on a site-by-site basis.

Can we say we don't want more development?

Our Borough is constrained by areas of flood risk, Green Belt and environmental designations but the Government still expects us to fully exhaust all options for meeting our development needs. If we don't have a Local Plan that can demonstrate this, we risk having no plan at all. This means that the Government could write our plan for us, which would take control away from our residents and us. We would be faced with planning applications and appeals that would be difficult to defend if we felt they would not be appropriate and development would be built without us being able to anticipate growth and plan for the necessary infrastructure in a plan-led way.

What about the Green Belt?

Spelthorne's Green Belt serves an important purpose in preventing the uncontrolled outward sprawl of London by keeping land permanently open and undeveloped. It also stops neighbouring towns and villages from merging into each other, which helps maintain the character and identity of areas such as Laleham, Shepperton and Sunbury. We commissioned an assessment of how all the various parcels of Green Belt land in the Borough were performing against the purposes, which concluded that at a strategic level our Green Belt is performing well.

The assessment did identify that some areas of Green Belt were not performing strongly or even moderately against the five main purposes or could be considered for subdivision to form sites that no longer serve a Green Belt function. The consultants who produced the Green Belt Assessment are now undertaking a Stage 2 review, which will look at smaller sites within the larger parcels identified during Stage 1 to see how they score individually against Green Belt purposes. Some of these smaller sites have been put forward by landowners, developers and planning agents under our 'call for sites' exercise, where we invite anyone with land or an interest in land in the Borough to tell us if it could be available for development. Many of these sites are within the Green Belt and will be assessed at Stage 2.

Just because a site is not performing well against Green Belt purposes, it does not mean it will be developed for housing or other uses. We need to consider all the relevant issues, including what the site is used for, is it in a sustainable location with good access to public transport and services, are there other constraints that would rule out developing it, and what impact would the development have on infrastructure and nearby residents.

We can only amend the Green Belt boundary by reviewing the Local Plan or producing a new one so now is the time to consider whether this should be an option for Spelthorne. Under the National Planning Policy Framework or (NPPF), Green Belt boundaries can only be amended under 'exceptional circumstances'. The recently published new NPPF, which is still in draft form and subject to consultation, states that all other reasonable options for meeting our identified development need should be examined first. If a new or updated Local Plan contains proposals to amend the Green Belt boundary, the inspector appointed to examine our Plan will consider whether the strategy:

  1. makes as much use of suitable brownfield sites and underutilised land;
  2. optimises the density of development, including whether policies promote a significant uplift in minimum density standards in town and city centres, and other locations well served by public transport; and
  3. has been informed by discussions with neighbouring authorities about whether they could accommodate some of the identified need for development, as demonstrated through the statement of common ground.

This consultation does not look at any specific sites in the Green Belt or anywhere else in the Borough for potential allocation for new development. We are only considering strategic options at this stage for how we might meet our development needs. Once we have assessed your views on these options, we will identify sites we think should be allocated for development and then consult you again with our preferred options.

Can our development be built in neighbouring boroughs?

We are required under the Duty to Cooperate to work closely with neighbouring authorities but the fact is they are in similar positions to us - with challenging decisions to make on where new development should go when opportunities are constrained by Green Belt and other designations. The Duty to Cooperate does not mean any authority will be required to take another Borough or District's unmet need as they may find it difficult to meet their own.

Heathrow Airport expansion

Heathrow Airport Ltd (HAL) is proposing a new third runway to increase capacity and maintain the airport's international hub status. Spelthorne Council has supported expansion of Heathrow because of the economic benefits and opportunities it would bring to the Borough. This support is dependent on HAL making sure their scheme mitigates the impact on noise, traffic, air quality, the wider environment, infrastructure and local road networks. HAL has developed a range of options for the scheme, including land use, road realignment, river diversions and the position of the new runway, which were the subject of public consultation between January and March 2018. Spelthorne carefully considered the impact on our Borough and set this out in our detailed consultation response.

HAL will consult on their preferred scheme, the more detailed proposals for the physical design of the new airport, next year once they have considered all the responses.

What does this mean for Spelthorne's new Local Plan?

From the options HAL consulted on, it is clear that an expanded airport will have a significant impact on our Borough, shifting development to the south and opening up a new gateway into Heathrow from the south-east corner. The proposals include options for using land in the villages of Stanwell and Stanwell Moor for airport related development, namely offices, warehousing, car parking and hotels. These sites are within the Green Belt and HAL will need to demonstrate "very special circumstances" to be granted planning permission to allow these sites to be built on.

The more land HAL needs for an expanded airport, the less land there is available to meet our own needs through the new Local Plan. We have put that point across to HAL in our consultation response and asked for consideration to be given to including housing within some of the land identified for possible airport related uses.

There is also the wider, strategic issue of the extra need for housing, employment, infrastructure and community facilities that an expanded airport will generate. Neither our current housing nor employment land need figures take into account additional growth in the area surrounding Heathrow. We are working with the local authorities affected by the airport to consider a Joint Spatial Planning Framework to consider these issues and how they might be addressed. This could be through improved wider infrastructure links to the airport that will allow people to travel from further afield.

We don't yet have all the answers to what the expansion of Heathrow could mean for Spelthorne but we can't delay the production of our new Local Plan as it will take several years for HAL to be given permission to begin construction and there are no guarantees that this will happen. We will continue to consider the issue of Heathrow as we prepare evidence strategies and policies, working closely with HAL and the local authorities around the airport.