This report will follow in an Additional Papers pack, once the report has been published for consideration of the Executive Committee.
The Chair introduced this item and explained that it was not possible for Officers to provide the Committee with the copies of all 60 letters of objection on the grounds of the loss of recreational space due to time and resource constraints. The Bereavement Services Manager clarified that a sample of the objections would be read out in the course of the Officer presentation.
The Bereavement Services Manager presented a report on the appropriation of Land off Ipsley Church Lane and explained that this report was due to be considered by the Executive Committee on the 13th December 2022, which would decide whether to proceed with the appropriation of land off Ipsley Church Lane for planning purposes under section 122 (2A) of the Local Government Act 1972.
It was explained that the planning decision notice dated 26th April 2022 provided for a change of use and entrance subject to various conditions. This permission was to create a modern cemetery using the open space and biodiversity in such a way as to ensure the wider ecology would be enhanced.
The land in question was designated primary open space and remained so even with the change of use permission. Therefore, appropriation of the land for planning purposes was required and the authority had the power to do this under section 122 of the Local Government Act 1972. As the land was open space this power fell under sub-section 2a of section 122 of the Act due to its recreational use.
The Bereavement Services Manager clarified the steps that the Council had taken thus far to lawfully proceed with the process of appropriation proposal. The Council was required to advertise its intention to appropriate in a newspaper with circulation in the local area. The adverts were placed on 16th, 23rd and 30th of September – the third date was added as in the first week an incorrect email address had been included in the advert. This satisfied the minimum requirements for advertising the intention to appropriate.
The Council also had to consider any objections to the proposed appropriation. To discharge this requirement there was a period of six weeks allocated for making representations, from 16th September to 28th October 2022.
It was highlighted that, following this process, should the Council decide to appropriate this land it was released from any trust for the enjoyment of the public imposed by section 164 of the Public Health Act 1875 or the Open Spaces Act 1906.
The Bereavement Services Manager explained that the report before the Committee detailed the planning designations of open space and primarily open space used within the change of use application.
The details of the objections received were summarised and it was noted that 69 people objected to the appropriation, of whom 68 objected by email and 1 person objected by letter. The objections were categorised into 14 categories, with categories 2-14 having been dealt with via the planning application of 13th October 2021. Thus, in granting the permission the planning authority had satisfied itself that these matters were compatible with the use of the site and were not matters for consideration in this appropriation process.
The loss of recreational space was the outstanding objection that had to be considered in the appropriation process. Under the 60 objections recorded in this category the objections related to the use of space for such activities/reasons as walking with family, dog walking and mental health.
The Bereavement Services Manager clarified that the site being considered for appropriation amounted to 4.60 hectares and was surrounded by a further 55 hectares of open space within 1 kilometre from the centre of the site. As a result of the circa 60 hectares available to the public in this area, the appropriation of this land equated to 8 per cent of the land, leaving 92 per cent of the land still available for recreational use.
Across the wider Arrow Valley Park there was approximately 364 hectares with a wide range of facilities compatible with its use as a leisure and recreation facility. In this respect the appropriation of this land equated to 1.3 per cent of the overall available land, leaving 98.7 per cent available.
The Bereavement Services Manager also explained the biodiversity and environmental implications of the proposed appropriation. Members were advised that if appropriation was to be approved for this land, the land would still be classed as open space under the legislation. As such it would be included in the Parks & Open Space Strategy and, consequently, the biodiversity and environmental recommendations stemming from that Strategy dating September 2022 would be followed. These recommendations were reiterated to the Committee as follows:
· Recommendation 1 required a better understanding of the biodiversity of the open spaces within the Borough.
· Recommendation 3 required a clear approach to Biodiversity net gain and provision of a measurable approach to the management of the land.
· Recommendation 5 required identification of further carbon capture and natural capital gains.
The Bereavement Services Manager stated that a commitment to enhance biodiversity on the site and the wider local area had been made via the planning process and there were conditions attached to the planning permission for the land off Ipsley Church Lane to the effect of enhancing biodiversity.
Following the presentation, Members made a number of observations and asked a number of questions of Officers, which were answered as follows:
· Officers stated that it was the intention for the public right of way to remain through the land off Ipsley Church Lane following the completion of the cemetery.
· Officers stated that the Council’s parks team could investigate the issue of blocked public right of access around or adjacent to the site on land off Ipsley Church Lane. One of the Members updated the Committee stating that the public footpath in question had been blocked by a local resident and the matter had been reported to the relevant ward councillor.
· Some Members observed that change of use to a cemetery would result in some restrictions to public access and enjoyment of the current site such as restrictions to the opening hours. A definition of open space in section 336 (1) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 was quoted by a Member as ‘any land laid out as a public garden, or used for the purposes of public recreation, or land which is a disused burial ground’ and it was noted that this definition implied that an in-use burial ground would thus not be classed as open space.
· Officers commented that completion of the cemetery and change of use of land to cemetery would not change the designation of the land as open space under the National Planning Policy Framework or the relevant planning legislation as cemeteries remained open space in legal planning terms. Some Members commented that they disagreed with this.
· It was added that for Abbey Cemetery there was available for public access with restrictions to vehicular access only. It was the intention to provide a similar level of public access to the Ipsley Church Lane
· Some Members complained of the high water table on the land off Ipsley Church Lane, which would make burial at the site difficult in the winter season.
· Some Members also expressed concern that the use of part of the site for cemetery would be incompatible, in that it was a site of mourning, with the use of the rest of the area as a park and recreation area for enjoyment. Other locations were mentioned as more suitable for expansion of cemetery facilities.
· Some Members also added that they wished to read all 60 objections pertaining to loss of recreational space in full by Members before a decision on the matter was made by the Executive.
· With regards to paragraph 7.1 of the report, Officers clarified that the appropriation of the land would not have any impact on the Council’s strategic purposes as there was evidence that there were other places within 1km radius of the land that would satisfy the public’s need for open park space for enjoyment.
In the course of discussion, and based on the concerns outlined above, Councillor Khan put forward the following recommendation:
“That Overview and Scrutiny Committee notes that Members have not been able to read the 60 letters of objection meaning that the Committee has insufficient information to enable proper scrutiny of this very important decision. The Overview and Scrutiny Committee therefore requests that the Executive Committee defers making the decision on this matter until all the letters have been provided to Members of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee for consideration at the next available meeting.”
The Committee subsequently discussed in detail this recommendation and Officers explained that consultation on the proposed appropriation was open to all residents as the intention to appropriate was advertised in a newspaper with circulation in the local area, the Redditch Standard, and it was open for anybody to respond.
In stating the support for the proposed recommendation, some Members reiterated that it was important for Members to have the full content of the objections available before a decision could be made on the matter. It was also stated that there should be greater consideration given to alternative sites.
In stating their opposition to the proposed recommendation, some Members argued that the objections received had been sufficiently summarised in the report and by Officers at the meeting to allow Members to scrutinise the matter and it was stated that as there was a total of 60 objections to the appropriation on the grounds of loss of recreational space out of the Redditch Borough population of circa 86,000, the level of objection was not proportionate enough to justify delaying the Executive Committee in making a decision on this matter.
Some Members also argued that given the existing burial space in the borough was estimated to only provide enough burial space for another two years, it was imperative that new burial space was found. Lastly, it was argued that it was not feasible to expand the Abbey Cemetery as it was next to an ancient scheduled monument and during the planning process it was reported that Worcestershire Archives and Archaeology Service would object to any expansion of the Abbey Cemetery. Works to enable the expansion of the Abbey Cemetery without disturbing the ancient monument were thought to incur costs that would not deem the expansion of the site value for money.
The recommendation proposed by Councillor Khan was put to the vote and on being put to the vote this recommendation proposed was lost.
Councillor Baker-Price then proposed the following recommendation:
“That it be recommended by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee that the Executive Committee resolve that the Land off Ipsley Church Lane as detailed in appendix 1 be appropriated under section 122 (2A) of the Local Government Act 1972 for planning purposes”.
On being put to the vote this recommendation was carried.
the Executive Committee resolve that the Land off Ipsley Church Lane as detailed in appendix 1 be appropriated under section 122 (2A) of the Local Government Act 1972 for planning purposes.