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OPTIONS APPRAISAL

This document should be read in conjunction with the trustees’ paper on

THE FUTURE OF THE VILLAGE HALL LAND

which provides the wider context for this discussion.

BACKGROUND

The trustees* are focused on meeting the charitable aims of the Steep War Memorial Village Club (SWMVC) in the best possible way.

The impending development of the adjacent Steep in Need land cannot be ignored and presents trustees with an opportunity to significantly increase the benefit of the SWMVC land to the beneficiaries (the residents of Steep).

The impending development of the adjacent Steep in Need land cannot be ignored and presents trustees with an opportunity to significantly increase the benefit of the SWMVC land to the beneficiaries (the residents of Steep).

*Trustees: the word trustees on this site refers to Steep Parish Councillors acting together in their role as sole managing trustee of the Steep War Memorial Village Club charity.

Steep Village Hall Aerial Shot

A CHANGE OF APPROACH

Proposals previously shared with residents were developed on the basis that

  • Steep in Need and the SWMVC would jointly enter an agreement to sell the Steep in Need field and the rough grassland at the back of the SWMVC land to the preferred developer   
  • The developer would submit a planning application that met the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) requirements for the site – see pages 253-254 (Chapter9-Sites-Settlements.pdf (southdowns.gov.uk) , including  a proportion of designated open space which would be transferred to the ownership of the SWMVC in due course.

Any development on the Church Road site must be in line with the allocation policy set by the SDNPA (Local Plan reference SD89).  This includes a requirement for a proportion of the total area defined by the SDNPA in the Local Plan to be provided as public open space directly accessible from the village hall and car park.

The open space has frequently been referred to, including in the consultation undertaken in the autumn of 2020 by the Parish Council, as the ‘20% Open Space’.  This is because the accompanying text about the allocation site in the South Downs Local Plan says that proposals should provide approximately 20% of the total area as informal public open space, recognising that the site (in practice the SWMVC land) has previously been earmarked for recreational use.  However, this figure is not specified in the allocation policy and the policy takes precedence over the accompanying text. 

The actual amount of open space will be determined through the planning process which is ‘landscape-led’, taking account of a range of factors including the lie of the land, natural features and ecological findings.  There is no expectation that it would be less than 20% of the total area and might be more, depending on the planners’ assessment.  It could, however, be less than 20% of the developed area if this is only part of the allocation site. 

To the best of the trustees’ knowledge, if there is no agreement between the SWMVC and the developer and a planning application is submitted for the Steep in Need field alone, there would not be an automatic requirement for 20% of that area to be provided as open space.  We do not, and cannot at this stage, know what the actual amount of open space would be in those circumstances. 

The SWMVC land represents 15% of the allocation site, so the designated open space will certainly be greater than this area.  Once development is complete, it is intended that any land designated as open space that is not already owned by the SWMVC will be transferred to it.  All options therefore result in an increase in the total amount of land owned by the SWMVC.

NOTE ON THE OPEN SPACE

Any development on the Church Road site must be in line with the allocation policy set by the SDNPA (Local Plan reference SD89).  This includes a requirement for a proportion of the total area defined by the SDNPA in the Local Plan to be provided as public open space directly accessible from the village hall and car park.

The open space has frequently been referred to, including in the consultation undertaken in the autumn of 2020 by the Parish Council, as the ‘20% Open Space’. This is because the accompanying text about the allocation site in the South Downs Local Plan says that proposals should provide approximately 20% of the total area as informal public open space, recognising that the site (in practice the SWMVC land) has previously been earmarked for recreational use.  However, this figure is not specified in the allocation policy and the policy takes precedence over the accompanying text. 

The actual amount of open space will be determined through the planning process which is ‘landscape-led’, taking account of a range of factors including the lie of the land, natural features and ecological findings.  There is no expectation that it would be less than 20% of the total area and might be more, depending on the planners’ assessment.  It could, however, be less than 20% of the developed area if this is only part of the allocation site. 

To the best of the trustees’ knowledge, if there is no agreement between the SWMVC and the developer and a planning application is submitted for the Steep in Need field alone, there would not be an automatic requirement for 20% of that area to be provided as open space.  We do not, and cannot at this stage, know what the actual amount of open space would be in those circumstances. 

The SWMVC land represents 15% of the allocation site, so the designated open space will certainly be greater than this area.  Once development is complete, it is intended that any land designated as open space that is not already owned by the SWMVC will be transferred to it.  All options therefore result in an increase in the total amount of land owned by the SWMVC.

THE OPTIONS – Overview

There are two central questions that distinguish the different options:

  1. Whether to enter into an agreement with the developer, either for sale or for the rough grassland to be treated as part of the open space required by SDNPA
  2. Whether to make any immediate changes to the layout of the SWMVC site (the Village Hall site) to enhance its use for recreational purposes, in line with the charity’s objects.

If the trustees do not enter into any agreement with the developer, the SWMVC site would stay exactly as it is in the short term.  This would not rule out future change, but any enhancements would require funding.  Once the development is complete, a portion of the SIN field is expected to be added to the SWMVC land as designated open space.  This is option 1.

If the trustees sell the rough grassland to the developer, it would be incorporated into the development. In line with the SDNPA policy, a proportion of the total area would be transferred to the ownership of SWMVC at the end of the process.  This is option 2.

An alternative to sale is for the trustees to enter into an agreement that the rough grassland would be counted as part of the designated open space, with the addition of a portion of the Steep in Need field.  This could be on the basis of no immediate change to the layout of the Village Hall site, or a reconfiguration to open up the land at the front and join it up with the SIN land.  These are option 3 (no immediate change) and option 4 (reconfiguration).

A final option is to swap the rough grassland for a like-for-like replacement elsewhere in the village.  We have assumed that the rough grassland would then be incorporated into the development in a similar way to option 2.  This is option 5.

The options are described in more detail below, with an analysis of advantages and disadvantages of each.

ANALYSIS OF THE OPTIONS

The Options

OUR ASSESSMENT

Having considered all the options identified, the trustees have discounted options 2 and 5.  These two options share a common disadvantage of reducing the size of the SWMVC site gifted by the Badley family.  In view of the nature of the gift, in memory of men from Steep who died in the First World War, this merits serious weight.  Trustees are also conscious of the concerns already expressed by some residents about this possibility.  Since the advantages of these options can be secured through means that do not involve selling the rough grassland, the trustees do not propose to pursue them further.

The three other options all have specific advantages and disadvantages.  The trustees’ view is that option 4 is in the best interests of the beneficiaries of the SWMVC.  By entering into an agreement with the developer, the trustees would further the objects of the SWMVC both in the short term, with enhanced recreational space, and in the longer term by securing the financial sustainability of the Village Hall.  Under option 4, the designated open space required by the development would be provided as a single continuous area in a location that allows people to connect with neighbours and their surroundings.  As such it is a close fit for the objects of the charity as well as for the key themes that emerged from the autumn 2020 consultation on the open space: a place where people can:

  • come together and socialise.
  • enjoy and nurture our natural environment.
  • pause to reflect in a tranquil setting.

Option 3 offers some of the advantages of option 4 but would be likely to leave the designated open space as two small areas separated by the car park, as would option 1.  Both options 1 and 3 would leave the rough grassland intact, including any biodiversity characteristics, and option 1 might result in a larger overall area of open space but this cannot be known with any certainty.  Taking all these factors into account, the trustees have selected option 4 as their preferred option.  It would require planning permission and the agreement of the Charity Commission.  Option 3 is considered a good fallback if this cannot be secured. 

Before reaching a final decision on which of these options to progress, the trustees will carefully consider the feed-back received as a result of this consultation and assess the balance of risks associated with any action.

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The consultation period has been extended until Friday 4th June 2021