Final Draft Local Plan

8 Community Facilities and Assets

8.1 Community facilities and assets are an important part of the social fabric of neighbourhoods and communities. Facilities can include shops, post offices, public houses, medical facilities, police facilities, sports venues, cultural buildings, places of worship and places which promote social interaction and provide opportunities for meetings between people who might not otherwise come into contact with each other. Individually and collectively these provide places for people to meet and socialise as well as valuable services which encourages active communities and fosters a sense of identity and well-being for those who live in and visit the area.

8.2 The National Planning Policy Framework reflects the need to plan positively for and promote the retention and development of local services and facilities which is supported by the Council. Protecting community facilities and assets reduces social exclusion which can be disproportionally influenced by limited access to facilities. The loss of facilities across the District could lead to a significant number of residents being socially excluded and have a detrimental impact on community cohesion and the creation of successful communities across Suffolk Coastal.

8.3 Large scale developments provide the opportunity to create places where communities can thrive through the provision of social, recreational, cultural and community facilities to meet the needs of residents and visitors. Ensuring that community facilities and assets enable and support healthy lifestyles across the district is essential and will broaden the variety of provision for all.

Protection of Community Facilities

8.4 The Council considers it is important to retain community facilities across the District to both serve the local community and support tourism activities in the area.

8.5 The Localism Act 2011 introduced 'assets of community value', providing community groups with the ability to nominate non-residential buildings or land which is important to their community. Once an asset is listed, if the owner decides to sell, within five years of listing, they must inform the local authority of their intention to do so. The community has up to six weeks to express an interest in becoming potential bidders to buy the asset. Once an expression of interest has been received, a further four and a half month pause in the sale process is triggered. This gives potential bidders a total of six months to raise the funds required to purchase the asset. At the end of the period, the owner may sell the asset to whomever and at whatever price they choose. However, the listing of an asset does not provide protection against a change of use or redevelopment. This can mean the value of the asset is greater due to its potential to be converted to non-community uses. This can frustrate the ability of the community to raise sufficient funds to purchase the asset.

8.6 The Local Plan also has a role to provide protection to community facilities which have not been identified as assets of community value. These facilities are still important to the local community and help enhance the level of services across the District. Consultation responses have highlighted that there is strong support for investigating all potential options before the redevelopment for a non-community use is allowed. The consultation responses also highlighted that the rural areas of the District lack adequate facilities which places a greater emphasis on the facilities in the market towns and larger villages in the area.

8.7 However, there is a need for flexibility to allow the change of use or redevelopment in certain circumstances such as lack of community need, lack of viability or re-provision of the building in an equally or more accessible location. In demonstrating that there is no community need for the facility or an alternative community use, evidence should be submitted with a planning application which provides details of consultation with the local community and an analysis of service provision in the locality which demonstrates that accessibility to similar services and facilities will not be adversely affected. Evidence will need to demonstrate that the premises have been marketed in a manner agreed with the Council for at least 12 months for the current use or alternative community facility in line with the requirements of the Commercial Property and Marketing Guidance as detailed in Appendix E.

8.8 The government periodically amend the General Permitted Development Order which in some circumstances allows some changes of use to take place without the need for planning permission.

 

Policy SCLP8.1: Community Facilities and Assets

Proposals for new community facilities and assets will be supported if the proposal meets the needs of the local community, is of a proportionate scale, well related to the settlement which it serves and would not adversely affect existing facilities that are easily accessible and available to the local community.

Proposals to change the use, or redevelop for a non-community use, a facility registered as an asset of community value, will not be permitted.

Proposals to change the use, or redevelop for a different use, a community facility which is not registered as an asset of community value, will only be permitted if:

a) It can be demonstrated that there is no community need for the facility and the building or the site is not needed for an alternative community use;

b) It can be demonstrated that the current, or alternative community uses are not viable and marketing evidence is provided which demonstrates the premises have been marketed for a sustained period of 12 months in accordance with the Commercial Property Marketing Guidance;

Or

c) Development would involve the provision of an equivalent or better replacement community facility either on site or in an alternative location in the vicinity that is well integrated into the community and has equal or better accessibility than the existing facility which meets the needs of the local population.

Open Space and Recreational Facilities

8.9 The open space and recreational facilities and the continued management of these areas across the District are vital for the promotion of healthy communities and active lifestyles for all as well as mitigating the impact of development, and has been emphasised by consultation responses. Open space which is accessible can be provided through formal facilities such as playing pitches and courts, but also through informal spaces such as village greens, woodlands, beaches, and public rights of way which collectively contribute to healthy communities and active lifestyles. Open space such as countryside which provides a visual sense of openness is not included within this policy as normally those areas are not publically accessible, other than on public rights of way.

8.10 Ensuring the appropriate provision and retention of a wide variety of accessible open spaces and recreational facilities is an important role for the Local Plan, and providing access to these areas is important for people's mental and physical well-being. Open spaces also have a role in helping to support habitat creation, enhancement of biodiversity networks, the aesthetic quality of the public realm and built environment and to manage surface water; improving water quality; enabling conservation/reuse and supporting the mitigation of flood risk.

8.11 Suffolk Coastal is committed to improving the health and well-being of people in the District and published a Leisure Strategy in 2014. The Leisure Strategy and the supporting assessments[1] identify existing provision of open space and recreational facilities across the District and identify areas of deficiencies.

8.12 The Council supports the provision of open space and recreational facilities (or expansion of existing facilities) across the District to encourage active lifestyles and community well-being and this should be delivered alongside new development. The National Planning Policy Framework acknowledges the need for open space and recreational facilities and how these contribute to social interaction and the creation of healthy, inclusive communities. National standards recommended by Fields in Trust promotes a requirement for 2.4 hectares of open space (play areas and playing fields) per 1,000 people which enables residents of all ages to participate in sport and play. Suffolk Coastal uses this calculation as a standard and this is to be continued over this plan period when considering applications for new open space and recreational facilities apart from when local evidence and provision demonstrates the need for an alternative approach.

8.13 Given the age structure of the District, proposals which support more specific provision for recreational facilities which are designed to meet the needs of the ageing population will be encouraged alongside those targeted at the wider community.

8.14 As well as the provision of open space and recreational facilities over the plan period, the Local Plan also seeks to protect these spaces from redevelopment unless exceptional circumstances can be demonstrated. This has been strongly encouraged throughout consultation responses regarding the provision and protection of new and existing community facilities.

8.15 To demonstrate whether an open space proposed for development is surplus to requirements, applicants are expected to undertake an open space needs assessment. This should follow the approach taken in the Suffolk Coastal Open Space Needs Assessment and consider the provision of open space with the same use within the site catchment area, alternative open space uses and how the site relates to existing provision for each respective type of open space use in the locality. The contribution an open space makes towards local amenity, public realm, biodiversity and the wider green infrastructure network should be considered as part of an open space needs assessment.

8.16 The National Planning Policy Framework allows local communities through Local Plans and Neighbourhood Plans to identify green areas of particular importance to them for special protection. By designating land as Local Green Space local communities are able to rule out new development other than in very special circumstances which is a stronger test than the Local Plan policy. The Council does not have enough evidence to designate Local Green Spaces across the District in the Local Plan but local communities can consider designating areas important to them in Neighbourhood Plans.

1. Suffolk Coastal District Council Playing pitch/non pitch assessment (2014), Open space assessment (2014), Built facilities assessment (2014) [back]

 

Policy SCLP8.2: Open Space

The Council supports the provision of open space and recreational facilities and their continued management across the District. Primarily to encourage active lifestyles and to increase participation in formal and informal recreation for all sectors of the community, and also to support the biodiversity, promote effective water management and to enhance the public realm. New residential development will be required to contribute to the provision of open space and recreational facilities in order to benefit community health, well-being and green infrastructure.

There will be a presumption against any development that involves the loss of open space or community sport and recreation facilities.

Proposals for development that results in the loss of open spaces will only be permitted in exceptional circumstances where:

a) The proposal is ancillary to the open nature of the area and will enhance local character, increase local amenity and be of greater community or wildlife benefit,

b) An open space assessment demonstrates the site is surplus to requirements including its ability to be used for alternative open space uses;

Or

c) The loss resulting from the proposed development will be replaced by equivalent or improved provision in terms of quantity, quality and in a location that is equally or more accessible to the community in a timely manner..

Neighbourhood Plans may identify areas of Local Green Space and include policies relating to their protection.

Allotments

8.17 Allotments are valuable community spaces that provide people with the opportunity to enjoy an active and healthy lifestyle and benefit the quality of life of residents across the District. They provide opportunities for food production, exercise and community interaction as well as being valuable green spaces which provide habitats for many forms of wildlife alongside the built environment.

8.18 The Council have transferred ownership of land used as allotments to Town or Parish Councils with a legal requirement that these are retained for use as allotments as statutory allotment land. The statutory designation requires these to be retained for use as allotments. Allotments are also provided by community groups and private landowners but in respect of the Local Plan the land use and community benefit are treated equally. Across the District, many settlements benefit from the provision of allotments, although some settlements do not have the same provision.

8.19 Proposals for new allotments will be preferred alongside residential allocations, master plans for the Garden Neighbourhoods or through Neighbourhood Plans which emerge over the plan period. Alongside the provision of the land for allotments, it is also necessary to ensure that infrastructure associated with this community facility is provided, such as vehicle parking and water supply.

 

Policy SCLP8.3: Allotments

The Council will encourage the provision of new allotments in order to meet a locally identified demand. Allotments and associated infrastructure should be located in locations well related to the existing community.

The loss of existing allotments to alternative uses will be resisted unless:

a) Evidence shows that there is unlikely to be any future demand for the allotments;

b) Other allotments exist and have the necessary capacity to meet demand;

c) Alternative provision is made on an alternative site within the settlement which ensures an increase in the overall level and standard of allotments across the District;

Or

d) There is evidence to show that there is unlikely to be any future demand for allotments.

Digital Infrastructure

8.20 Advanced, high quality and reliable digital infrastructure is essential for modern life in respect of improved economic development and well-being across the District. With more facilities being accessed on-line (such as personal banking and shopping as well as to access educational and health services) the need for modern digital infrastructure including mobile and broadband services which are reliable and meet the demands of both residents and businesses is fundamental to sustaining local communities.

8.21 Across the District there is a deficit in reliable and high quality digital infrastructure. Currently demands for mobile phone services and broadband are increasing, and across Suffolk Coastal there is a variety of provision with some rural areas experiencing poor service and signal. National programmes supported by the government are continually being expanded and updated across the District. These are expected to continue and increase provision over the plan period as digital technology evolves.

8.22 The East Suffolk Business Plan demonstrates that the Council is committed to supporting the improved delivery of telecommunications across the District. The Council's Enabling Broadband Programme complements the improvements undertaken by service providers across the district. Improving the telecommunications across the District has the potential to boost the local economy as well, boosting community well being and transforming the lives of local residents through improving access to services.

8.23 Service providers are currently rolling out the 4G network supported by the government across the country. In Suffolk, service providers are working with government agencies, New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership and Suffolk County Council to improve provision across the District. Technology and infrastructure to support network expansion for the next generation of communications is being trialled in pilot areas nationwide and will provide better coverage in a more concentrated area. Although widespread rollout of the next generation network is not expected in the immediate future, developments that come about in the future should be cognisant of this.

8.24 The Council as local planning authority has a role to play in supporting the provision of digital infrastructure through the consideration of equipment such as masts to improve the overall network. The location and setting of equipment associated with digital infrastructure will need to balance the technical requirements of providing the services against the design and location of such facilities.

8.25 Across the District a number of sensitive locations and landscapes are identified and designated. Within these areas the Local Plan requires sympathetic design standards to be achieved and this principal will also apply to the provision of digital infrastructure. For the purposes of this policy, sensitive locations include the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Heritage Coast, Conservation Areas, Listed Buildings, Scheduled Ancient Monuments, Historic Parklands or features identified in the Landscape Character and Sensitivity Study. 

 

Policy SCLP8.4: Digital Infrastructure

Proposals to improve the provision of digital infrastructure across the District will be supported, provided:

a) The siting and external appearance of all equipment does not have a significant detrimental impact on the surrounding area and is sympathetically located while respecting the operational needs of the digital infrastructure network;

b) Equipment installed on buildings is sited and designed to minimise the impact on the external appearance of the building; and

c) Applications are supported by evidence which demonstrates early engagement with relevant digital infrastructure providers and the need for the equipment to be located within that area.