Fringe Box



Staines Could Become a ‘London Suburb’

Published on: 28 May, 2023
Updated on: 30 May, 2023

Spelthorne Borough Council offices, Knowle Green, Staines.

By Emily Coady-Stemp

local democracy reporter

Residents in Staines have asked for a clear idea of the town’s transition from a Georgian market town to a “kind of London suburb” amid an ongoing Local Plan hearing.

Spelthorne Borough Council is defending its plan for homes in front of a government inspector, while the authority was accused of “running a coach and horses” through its policies on building in the town.

The hearing into Spelthorne’s Local Plan echoed some of the arguments continuing in Guildford Borough.

Those present heard where and when more than 9,000 new homes will be built in the borough. The public examination started on Tuesday (May 23), despite councillors asking for a pause to the process following May’s local elections.

The government inspector, Jameson Bridgwater, described one part of the plan as the “elephant in the room”, where it relied on a document called the Staines Development Framework which had not been through “rigorous or robust examination”.

He said the paragraph needed to be reworded to be less reliant on the single document which would set out height and density limits on new buildings in the town’s more “sensitive character areas”.

‘There’s going to be high rise whether we like it or not’

The Staines Development Framework (SDF) is in the process of being developed by the borough council, after consultation with residents’ groups, with the town set to take more than 5,400 of the borough’s 9,270 new homes.

Mr Bridgwater told the hearing on Wednesday (May 24) it was difficult for district and borough councils, such as Spelthorne, to do “everything all at once” and that it wasn’t unusual for an “overarching policy” to be set with specific areas being later revisited.

But he said the paragraph relating to the SDF as it stood was “putting the cart before the horse” and said the plan should not be tied to a single document which may need to be amended further down the line.

He told the meeting: “I can’t kick this down the road to a document that hasn’t been subject to examination.”

Nigel Rowe, on behalf of the Riverside Residents (Staines) Coalition, said residents understood and accepted that Staines would be a “focal point for development”.

He highlighted three concerns as the character of the town, its infrastructure and the flood risk.

He told the hearing: “We know that there’s going to be high rise whether we like it or not.”

But he said council documents varied between talking about “protecting the character of Staines” and in others its “redefined character”, which was not outlined in the plans.

Staines will be ‘peppered with high rise buildings’

He said: “What is planned for Staines is going to be a dramatic transformation, the town will be peppered with high rise buildings, three or four times higher than anything around them.

“They will dominate the town, and the character of the town will be massively changed and that needs to be defined.”

He said zoning arrangements, setting out the more sensitive areas, in the town were “almost worthless” because of “vague and broad” scope for exemptions to the rules.

Mr Rowe highlighted the plans for a 14-storey hotel, apartments and homes development on the Bridge Street car park site “smack in the middle” of the town’s conservation area, and the plans for Thameside House.

He added: “The council is driving a coach and horses, through its own zoning policy, setting a precedent for anybody else to come along.”

He also told the hearing: “The character of the town is going to change so massively from a midsized market town to something completely different, a kind of London suburb.

“We need to know how this transition is going to happen.”

‘We are in a chicken and egg situation’

Ann Biggs, the council’s strategic planning manager, said the council had outlined that it was “very difficult” to accommodate residents’ expectations about limiting development in areas like Staines.

She said Staines, as a large town centre, was “expecting a significant amount of growth” that the council didn’t shy away from, but had looked at the issue of character and sensitive areas.

Ms Biggs told the hearing: “What we are trying to do is to listen to our residents and actually put forward something that is reasonable and balanced and remains a sound strategy.”

Tony Woodward, also representing the Riverside Residents (Staines) Coalition, said there were precedents for trying to maintain the character of the Georgian market town that Staines is “at its core”.

While he said many of the town’s Georgian buildings had been “sadly, very neglected”, he said the design of the former Debenhams building, including its proportions and materials reflected the historical character of the town.

He said: “The council aren’t really clear how they’re going to preserve the character of the town.

“Although they talk about preserving areas, but if you if you put up a 14-storey tower block in the middle of a town, then that affects the whole of that area because it affects the skyline.”

Mr Bridgwater said the fact that previous buildings had reflected the town’s history didn’t just happen “by chance” but as a result of past policies and Local Plans.

He said “slavishly” sticking to previous eras in towns could also be an issue, and said while an eight-storey building could be “absolutely awful” if built with poor materials and badly designed and 20-storey building in the right context could be “fantastic”.

The inspector told the hearing: “Modern design doesn’t necessarily need to be bad.”

Ms Biggs said the borough council did not have the resources to work on the Staines Development Framework while in the process of going through the local plan adoption process.

An up-to-date Local Plan, along with the policies and guidance to go with it, would do more to protect Staines than the current policies and reliance on national planning policy, Ms Biggs said.

She added: “We are in a chicken and egg situation.

“We don’t have an up-to-date Local Plan and that is causing problems for Staines.”

The council’s KC said they would take the inspector’s guidance and improve the wording of the Local Plan relating to Staines.

A letter sent by councillors on May 19 called for a pause to the local plan process for four months, given that 22 new councillors were elected on May 5 and had not been able to “review or receive any instruction as to the nature of the Local Plan.”

The letter to the inspector said: “The plan that will hopefully emerge out of the examination process has to be owned by the council.

“We believe a short pause now will give the new council, especially our new councillors, the opportunity to understand fully what this means for the communities they represent.”

After a response from the inspector which said any such request would need to come from the council through its officers, the council’s chief executive wrote of the Green, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Independent Groups to say the hearing would go ahead as planned.

Daniel Mouawad’s letter of May 22 said: “Officers of the council are confident that new members can be provided with appropriate training and advice about the nature of the local plan, as necessary, alongside the current process being led by the inspector.”

The examination will continue until June 22.

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Responses to Staines Could Become a ‘London Suburb’

  1. Stuart Barnes Reply

    May 29, 2023 at 9:07 am

    All very interesting but may I point out that Staines is not in Surrey?

    Despite the odious Heath’s attempt to change the geography of this country (amongst many other hated things he brought about) most English people of my age still consider that Middlesex starts north of the Thames and Surrey south of it!

    However the plans for Staines do sound terrifying and I hope do not create a precedent for what might happen here.

    Editor’s response: Like or not, Staines is now administratively part of the Borough of Spelthorne and Surrey.

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