The Owenstown planning application in principle was discussed and rejected by South Lanarkshire Council on the 1 April, on the recommendation of the planning officials. The main reason for this being that the project is not in the local Development Plan, however other reasons for refusal were also cited.
We are of course extremely disappointed, not just for ourselves, but for the many thousands of people who would benefit from the opportunities presented at Owenstown. This major opportunity and associated investment are now in real jeopardy. From your interest, you will acknowledge that this is a unique project, which would bring about great economic and social benefits and the much-needed homes, jobs. Unless the Council changes its mind or the Scottish Government overturn the local decision, this investment may now go somewhere else. However, we remain committed to trying to secure this project for the area and have been encourage by all the support provided by “like minded” individuals and businesses like yourselves who either wish to live or set up business in the new community.
We simply can’t understand why councillors did not listen to our reasoned justifications at the meeting and our deliberation on how any concerns could be allayed and managed. Below is a note of the key issues made by the planning officials, together with ways in which we intended to address them. These are outlined so that you can appreciate that the situation was more balanced than that reported by the Council to the papers.
You will know from our website and any correspondence that the £500 million Owenstown project, would have created 3,200 homes and up to 10,000 jobs. If the necessary consent had been approved we could have progressed with plans for the development. We stressed at great length in our representations to the Council that this was not a traditional project and that the town would be owned and managed on a co-operative basis by its residents and all surplus funds generated would be reinvested in the community instead of being taken out by property developers or landowners. The Owenstown and Hometown Foundations Trustees are adamant that we keep on a positive footing and do not let this current situation get in the way of our wider ambitions to create the first truly sustainable and co-operative settlement in Scotland.
We have also informed South Lanarkshire Councillors and officials that the UK Government and other agencies in Ireland, Scotland and England have shown an interest in the Owenstown concept and that the project is a contender for the £250,000 Wolfson Economics Prize - the second biggest after the Nobel Prize. This was not intended to “twist their arms” or provide idle threats that we were going to move unless we got consent. It was more to make the point that we cannot understand why everyone else seems to get the project and want it to be developed in their areas and they don’t.
More than 1500 people from around the UK and further afield have registered their interest in moving to Owenstown to live and work in the new town.
As well as the homes, there would be office and commercial space, cafes, restaurants and shops, land and buildings for industry, including a modular house factory, a hotel, leisure facilities, a care home, community buildings and public parks as well as two new primary schools and one new secondary school. The Foundation has also recently announced plans to create a technology and innovation centre as part of the project. This would design and develop new ideas to harness the potential of emerging technologies and secure sustainable employment as a result.
The main purpose of this notice is to let you know that the Owenstown and Hometown Foundation Trustees and team remain totally committed to delivering the Owenstown model. We are in no immediate rush to sell the 2,000 acre site in South Lanarkshire which has been bought for the purpose of building the co-operative settlement. We hope that common sense will prevail and we will be able to progress with the project.
If you are still interested in living or setting up business in Owenstown, I would urge that you write to the following contacts in the press to register your support for the project and your disappointment that South Lanarkshire did not approve the planning application for Owenstown.
Julie Curry, Editor at 3 High Street, Carluke ML8 4AL or email
and your local councillor
For information – the additional reasons for refusal cited by SLC and responses made by the Owenstown team
The scale of the development was not required
* The scale of development should not be measured against housing and industrial land allocations of the Development Plan because Owenstown provides something that is distinct and unique. The concept and delivery is very different and if the concept can be understood and controlled then it will deliver a different product that will not compete with established policy priorities or growth areas. We want to capture the unique differences in the proposal so that it does not replicate what is allocated elsewhere and therefore adds to the investment and economic performance of the area. This is investment that would not otherwise be attracted to South Lanarkshire. If it simply provided more of the same it would not work for us either as there is no demand for that.
Diversion of resources from existing settlements in Lanark, Rigside and Coalburn
* The retail and commercial floorspace proposed was based on extensive research undertaken by Ryden and expenditure/turnover comparisons by Muir Smith Evans. There was no policy concern raised or reason for refusal based on diversion of retail expenditure or trade from other local centres. The floorspace proposed is commensurate with the proposed population of the settlement to serve local shopping needs.
* The extensive consultation process was extremely positive and there has been wide public support. The number of objections is extraordinarily low (only a dozen)
* There are no unsurmountable technical issues or concerns raised, that could not be overcome by normal planning conditions.
Adverse impact on the landscape including the Tinto hills and Objections from statutory bodies including the Forestry Commission and Scottish Natural Heritage
* Core statutory consultees have raised no objection to the application. This includes SEPA, Scottish Water, Historic Scotland, Transport Scotland and SNH. SLC Education supported the principles.
* SNH raised some concerns in terms of landscape/visual impact but indicated to SLC in updated advice that conditions could be applied to overcome these. No other technical objection was maintained by SNH.
* The Forestry Commission objected in principle due to the loss of trees but the normal response would be for the local planning authority to impose a condition requiring compensatory planting.
Limited public transport serving the site and Impact on key road junctions around Lanark
* The only maintained objection (in principle) - relates to impact on the local road network - from SLC roads officers after agreement in principle that suspensive conditions and monitoring could allay their concerns.
* Transport Scotland did not object in terms of wider impacts – and we have provided a positive response to officers on the basis that no development will proceed until improvements are made to Hyndford Bridge and that appropriate contributions are made to the long overdue Lanark Gyratory that for many years has been required as local roads junctions are at capacity – Owenstown has not caused that but could be a way of help resolving existing infrastructure constraints.
* Public transport has been promoted within the site with Owenstown running its own bus service both within the settlement and connecting to adjacent towns and villages.
Michael McGlynn, head of planning and building standards, said: "It would fail to meet the over-arching objective of policy at all of those levels of encouraging sustainable economic growth and regeneration within an improved urban and rural environment.
* This proposal is for a sustainable, inclusive, co-operative community - it sustains the rural economy - and - provides significant economic net benefits. But the committee report does not assess the proposal based on the concept - but rather, as if it is simply a standard development product. (That is a failing of the system not just the report).
* Draft Scottish Government guidance is that significant weight should be attached to economic benefit in assessing development proposals that are contrary to development plan policy.
* The planning minister, in the draft SPP, has also clearly indicated that - there is a founding presumption in favour of sustainable economic development.
* We believe that a self-contained new community is a sustainable form of development that will repopulate the rural area and provide significant net economic benefits. It can be designed as a sustainable community form the start and will not overload existing infrastructure constraints of existing settlements. Over 75% of the inquiries to date have been from beyond South Lanarkshire
We have provided an extensive application package that included Socio -Economic Impact analysis, Retail Assessment, Market Appraisal; Environmental Impact Assessment; Transport Assessment; Co-op Constitution; Co-operative Ethos and Rules; Investment, Funding and Delivery as well as extensive consultation and a Planning Policy review that clearly set out the key determining issues and explained the concept and how Owenstown related to core planning principles.