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Secretary of State decision on Arkall Farm development

Plans to build 1000 homes on land at Arkall Farm, just outside the northern boundary of Tamworth, have been approved by the Secretary of State.

The application, which was initially granted by Lichfield District Council in February 2017, was called in for review by the Secretary of State following objections by Tamworth Borough Council and Staffordshire County Council.

A public inquiry took place in January this year and it has now been announced that the Secretary of State has decided that planning permission should be granted. However, as a result of Tamworth Borough Council’s involvement, the application has been amended to ensure the development is brought forward in phases with traffic impacts to be assessed and, if necessary mitigated, between each phase.

We have also helped to influence the Secretary of State to include a number of new ‘Grampian conditions’ (off-site work that must be completed on land not controlled by the applicant) that are now attached to the application.

Key outcomes of the Secretary of State’s decision:

  • No more than 200 homes can be occupied before improvements are made to the Fountain Junction at the junction of Ashby Road and Comberford Road
  • No more than 300 homes, and then 500, can be completed without a further assessment of the highway performance, and appropriate mitigation work must be carried out if needed before any more homes are built
  • Tamworth Borough Council should have nomination rights to 60% of the affordable homes contained within development (previously Tamworth had none)
  • Although Tamworth cannot legally be allocated Section 106 money to contribute towards the social infrastructure for amenities such as sporting facilities, the Secretary of State expects Lichfield District Council to work with Tamworth Borough Council to ensure these needs are met

Leader of Tamworth Borough Council, Cllr Daniel Cook, has made the following statement in relation to the Secretary of State’s decision:

I could write for hours on this subject, but will try to be direct.

Historically, the Tamworth Local Plan allocated 1,000 new homes to be built at Anker Valley on Tamworth’s side of the district boundary – Arkall Farm is on the other side which is in Lichfield.

For almost two decades, this never came forward as an active site. In 2013, as Leader of Tamworth Borough Council, I demanded to know why. A report was commissioned jointly by Tamworth Borough Council, Lichfield District Council and Staffordshire County Council to understand the issues. It became known as the BWB report.

The report showed that with some work to the Fountain Junction, better synchronisation of the traffic lights through Gungate and encouraging the use of sustainable travel, the road network could support around another 700 homes in total. The government paid us £1.6million in ‘Pinch Point Funding’ to complete these works. We adjusted our Local Plan in 2015 to include 165 homes at Browns Lane (Lichfield side) and a reduced number of 535 at Anker Valley. We submitted this plan to the national planning inspector through the Local Plan process and he agreed it was correct.

However, when Lichfield submitted their Local Plan to the inspector and, for reasons I still cannot understand, the national inspector approved the allocation of Arkall Farm for 1000 homes. Yet, this is the ridiculous bit – it is 12 metres from Anker Valley. This was basically ignoring the BWB report and our own Local Plan in the process.

An application for 1000 houses went to the planning committee in Lichfield in early 2017. I personally sat in front of the committee to object on behalf of the whole of Tamworth, the residents of Arkall Barns and the residents of Shuttington. However, the committee passed the application. At this point, I asked the Secretary of State to reconsider and he agreed to a public inquiry on the matter and appointed an inspector. About eight of these are granted per year on average so you need to have a very strong case to get one; we did!

The inspector heard evidence in January 2018 where Lichfield finally accepted the applicant’s traffic model did not work and that the Ashby Road/Gungate corridor could not support another 1000 homes without significant highway interventions. At best without further works it could only support another 200.

Lichfield, Tamworth and Staffordshire County Council agreed a Grampian Condition at the public hearing, which meant appropriate infrastructure must be put in place and proved it would work. I hope you realise just as I do, we are talking about a single carriageway road over two railway bridges and therefore I don’t believe there is one complete solution, so we continued to ensure both the inspector and the Secretary of State understood that Tamworth Borough Council still does not believe the site is sustainable infrastructure wise.

I am still opposed, and in fact I wrote to the Secretary of State once the inquiry had concluded to ensure our continued objection was understood and that we have agreed to nothing other than what we believe will be serious highway network works which would be needed to allow these houses.

We are of course disappointed that the Secretary of State’s decision hasn’t gone our way. We hoped the whole application would be quashed. However, there was a victory within the decision as 1000 homes can no longer be built with a loose term of ‘monitoring and managing’ the road network. There is a solid instruction within the decision that the highway network must be enhanced and development can only go ahead in phases with the impact of each phase to be assessed before further development can take place.

We were proved right that the network as it is could not support another 1000 homes; these concerns were shared by the residents of Tamworth who asked us to take up the fight on their behalf and we believe it was the right decision to do so. Staffordshire County Council also agreed and had lodged its own request for the planning decision by Lichfield District Council to be called in for public inquiry.

We have maintained from the outset that we are not opposed to growth, but it has to be supported by appropriate investment in the local infrastructure. As this development is technically in the district of Lichfield, but very clearly and obviously within the urban area of Tamworth, we were faced with the prospect that Tamworth would not receive the resources needed to cope with the additional pressure on local services and infrastructure that the new development will undoubtedly create for our town.

We will now need to spend some time looking at and digesting the detail of the Secretary of State’s decision so we can consider where we go from here.

But the battle is of course bigger than that. Within the next 20 years the Local Plans of Lichfield and North Warwickshire Borough Council could see Tamworth increase by a third as new houses are built on or near our border. While these housing developments are the decision of Lichfield and North Warwickshire, we are hoping to work together with our neighbouring councils so that a more strategic, cohesive and common sense approach may be taken when we’re looking at providing much-needed homes, alongside the necessary infrastructure, in the future.