Local Plan Review - Publication Plan

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Part D: Economic Prosperity

10. Building a strong local economy

Sustainable Economic Growth

10.1 South Staffordshire currently contains four existing freestanding strategic employment sites at i54, ROF Featherstone, Hilton Cross and Four Ashes, which accommodate a large proportion of the district's employment land supply and have good access to the strategic road network. The employment offer on the larger freestanding sites is balanced by a number of smaller industrial estates located both within some of the district's existing settlements, and in the wider functional economic market area (e.g. the urban area of the Black Country). Within the wider rural area, employment, tourism and recreation opportunities are driven by appropriate rural diversification and small-scale start-up businesses.

10.2 Recognising the range of employmentopportunities across the district, multiple policy approaches are proposed in Policy EC1 to allow for sustainable employment growth within the district. This is in line with the NPPF requirement for Local Plans to set out an area's economic vision and strategy over the plan period.

10.3 A sustainable economic growth policy is set out, indicating how the council will encourage growth including inward investment in key growth sectors such as Auto-Aero and Agri-Tech. The policy identifies the types of locations that new employment growth will be permitted within, and how this will be done in an environmentally sensitive manner. As part of this policy the newly consented strategic rail freight interchange known as West Midlands Interchange is recognised as a new freestanding strategic employment site, recognising the scale and strategic location of the site, alongside the additional employment land it contributes to the council's, and wider regions, supply. A corresponding policy approach (in Policy EC2) to protect existing sources of employment, unless specific tests are met.

Policy EC1: Sustainable Economic Growth

The council, working in partnership with businesses, Staffordshire County Council, the Staffordshire and Stoke Local Enterprise Partnership and other key stakeholders, will support measures to sustain and develop the local economy of South Staffordshire and encourage opportunities for inward investment and further economic development of the district. Inward investment that accords with the spatial strategy in potential growth sectors such as advanced manufacturing will be supported, along with business growth that supports decarbonisation and the district's journey to net zero.

Through the existing supply of available employment land and allocations in this plan the council will ensure there is sufficient supply of employment land to meet the needs of the district over the plan period, as well as contributing towards the employment needs of our wider functional economic market area arising from the Black Country authorities.

Live/work units and proposals that support home working that reduce commuting journeys will be supported, subject to complying with other development plan policies.

Employment proposals should be accessible via sustainable travel modes, including clear and legible walking and cycling routes. Employment proposals will only be supported where the necessary on and off-site infrastructure is provided, including the necessary highways mitigation measures.

Where B8 use logistics/warehousing is proposed, the council will support proposals to deliver adequate overnight HGV parking to deliver economic growth.

Preference will be given to the use of sustainable previously developed land for employment development having regard to factors such as biodiversity and sustainable transport links.

Economic growth will be primarily focused on the district's five strategic employment sites:

  • Four Ashes
  • Hilton Cross
  • i54 South Staffordshire
  • ROF Featherstone
  • West Midlands Interchange

There will be strong in principle support for employment development within the development boundaries of these sites that is in line with their allocation and/or substantive planning permission and that result in significant job creation. Development at the strategic employment sites should be of high quality and facilitate the creation/enhancement of multifunctional green spaces and the enhancement of the Green Infrastructure Network.

There is also support for employment development within existing employment areas and within the Tier 1 and Tier 2 villages identified within the settlement hierarchy subject to other policy requirements including ensuring proposals do not have an unacceptable impact on local amenity.

Elsewhere in the district diversification of the rural economy will be supported in line with Policy EC4, particularly where proposals would contribute towards climate change mitigation and other environmental benefits where compatible with other planning policies.

Development proposals should be consistent with other Local Plan policies.

Key Evidence
  • Economic Development Needs Assessment 2022
  • Economic Development Needs Assessment – Employment Land Availability Assessment (2021)
  • West Midlands Strategic Employment Sites Study 2021
  • Staffordshire and Stoke Local Enterprise Partnership: Strategic Economic Plan (2018)
  • Infrastructure Delivery Plan
Implementation

Local/national Funding

Development Management

Partners

Section 106 agreement

Supplementary Planning Document

Yes

Yes

No

No

No

Retention of employment sites

10.4 Having a varied portfolio of employment sites – from small local premises in our villages to large standalone strategic employment sites – is a key aspect of supporting the local economy and providing job opportunities to local residents. It is therefore essential that there are local policies that guard against the loss of valued business premises and employment land.

10.5 It is acknowledged that there may be specific circumstances where an existing business premises has been left unoccupied and is unviable, or where an employment allocation or permission has not come forward where an alternative use may be appropriate. It is important that the Local Plan sets out where this could be the case.

10.6 The lack of viability of an existing business may lead to proposals to find an alternative use, in which case, the applicant will be expected provide full details of at least 12 months marketing of the site/premises for employment use. Experience has demonstrated that even well-located plots in high quality employment area (e.g. i54 South Staffordshire) can be on the market for a number of years before an end user is secured. Therefore, it is essential that the 12 months marketing period is recognised as a minimum, and a longer marketing period may be warranted for employment premises/sites that play – or have the potential to play – a greater role in supporting the local economy.

Policy EC2: Retention of employment sites

Development that would result in the loss of an existing designated employment area (as defined on the policies maps) in whole or part; or a site/premises which is currently, or was last, used for industrial or commercial purposes (classes E(g), B2, B8 or related sui generis) will not be permitted unless it can be demonstrated that:

  1. The retention of the site or premises for use classes E(g), B2 or B8 use has been fully explored without success. Proposed development that would see the loss of sites or premises should be subject to a period of marketing, with detailed evidence of the marketing undertaken submitted with the planning application. The length and extent of the marketing should be proportionate to the sites or premises importance to the local economy and should typically be for a minimum 12 month period on terms that reflect the lawful use and condition of the premises

OR

  1. The redevelopment would result in significant economic benefits to the area, for example by facilitating the relocation of a business to a more appropriate site in the district.

Proposals for alternative uses must not prejudice the continued operation and viability of existing or allocated employment areas and any other neighbouring uses.

If an existing employment use in a designated employment area is considered to be unviable and the applicant is seeking a change of use to an alternative employment use class, then a period of marketing must be evidenced with the planning application.

There is a strong presumption that the strategic employment sites at i54 South Staffordshire; Hilton Cross, ROF Featherstone, Four Ashes and West Midlands Interchange are retained for employment use and used for employment purposes that accord with their allocation and/or substantive planning permissions and their strategic planning and economic objectives.

Development proposals should be consistent with other Local Plan policies.

Key Evidence
  • Economic Development Needs Assessment (2021)
  • Economic Development Needs Assessment – stage 2 (2020)
  • Stoke and Staffordshire LEP Strategic Economic Plan (SEP)
Implementation

Local/national Funding

Development Management

Partners

Section 106 agreement

Supplementary Planning Document

No

Yes

Yes

No

No

Employment and Skills

10.7 Future development within South Staffordshire should provide opportunities for employment and training for residents. It is important that local people should have the opportunity to directly benefit from the construction of new development within their area. Such opportunities will encourage existing local communities to engage with the new development and enable them to directly take advantage of the associated economic and social benefits.

10.8 Maximining use of the local workforce will reduce the distance construction workers and other employees will need to travel to work, with local people also being more likely to use sustainable modes of transport. This will reduce the number and / or length of private motor vehicle journeys, reducing carbon emissions.

10.9 An Employment and Skills Plan (ESP) will therefore be required for developments of 100 or more residential units or 5000sqm of commercial floorspace. This will ensure that local communities benefit from the larger development which provide greatest employment opportunities whilst not placing disproportionate requirements on smaller scale developments.

10.10 Whilst the strategies vary from scheme to scheme, the EPS will typically set out the steps that will be taken to deliver on agreements, including:

  • construction apprenticeships
  • local employment during the construction phase
  • construction work experience opportunities
  • end use apprenticeships
  • local procurement opportunities

10.11 Early engagement with the council's Economic Development Team is recommended to ensure that a full range of opportunities are identified.

Policy EC3: Employment and Skills

An Employment and Skills Plan (ESP) will be required for developments of 100 or more residential units or 5000sqm of commercial floorspace. The ESP should outline exactly what the development will provide in terms of employment and training opportunities to local residents. This will be secured by a legal agreement or planning condition.

The Plan must clearly outline how the developer will deliver the ESP in cooperation with the local authority. This will include reference to specific and measurable outputs, key delivery partners and details on the timeframe within which each output will be delivered.

Development proposals should be consistent with other Local Plan policies.

Key Evidence
  • ONS/NEET datasets
Implementation

Local/national Funding

Development Management

Partners

Section 106 agreement

Supplementary Planning Document

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Rural Economy

10.12 South Staffordshire is a largely rural district, and it is therefore important that the Local Plan sets put a policy approach that strikes the correct balance between supporting rural businesses whilst protecting the rural character and natural environment. There is recognition of the need to diversify the rural economy whilst enabling farmers to continue managing the rural landscape. Often such diversification can have dual benefits of supporting the primary agricultural activity of the farm and local economy whilst also having wider environment benefits. However, often there can be completing interest in rural area and so a balance between food production and other uses that have a positive impact, e.g. solar farms, is needed.

10.13 Farm complexes, with a range of different sized buildings, can offer scope for alternative employment uses that support the rural economy in preference to other uses which may be less sustainable, such as conversions to residential uses. The re-use of rural buildings for employment uses could provide opportunities for residents to gain employment locally, reducing the need to travel. Rural employment proposals outside of development boundaries will need to be supported by a business case that will be independently verified by an expert which will be paid for by the applicant.

10.14 For the purposes of Policy EC4, rural employment is not restricted to E(g), B2, B8 employment use classes but includes other employment generating use classes including proposals for non-accommodation tourism businesses. Proposals for tourist accommodation will be assessed against Policy EC5.

Policy EC4: Rural Economy

1. Rural employment within villages

To support sustainable economic growth in rural areas proposals that create new employment generating uses or support the sustainable growth and expansion of existing businesses within village development boundaries as defined in this plan will be supported in principle where the scale of development would be in-keeping with the tier and scale of the village and be in character and scale with the location.

2. Rural employment outside development boundaries

Rural employment proposals for employment development in locations outside development boundaries will only be supported where all of the following criteria are satisfied:

  1. It is small in scale.
  2. It comprises the conversion and reuse of rural buildings.
  3. The development is not capable of being located within the development boundaries of a village, by reason of the nature of the operation or the absence of suitable sites.
  4. It is supported by an appropriate business case which demonstrates that the proposal will support the local economy, which in turn would help sustain rural communities. Additional guidance on the nature of the business case requirements will be provided through a Rural Development SPD.
  5. The development is accessible by a choice of means of transport including walking, cycling and public transport.
  6. The local highway network is capable of accommodating the traffic generated by the proposed development.

3. Conversion and re-use of rural agricultural buildings

The sustainable re-use of rural agricultural buildings will be supported with the preference for re-use for rural employment uses. Proposals for non-employment generating uses will only be supported where it can be demonstrated through marketing at a realistic price for at least 12 months, and on terms reflecting the condition of the premises, that an appropriate employment use is not viable. The loss of employment uses in rural areas will need to conform to Policy EC2.

Proposals for the conversion and re-use of rural agricultural buildings must demonstrate all of the following:

  1. That the building is structurally sound and in a condition capable of conversion without demolition and rebuilding, or substantial reconstruction.
  2. That the building is no longer needed for the overall agricultural activity of the farm holding.
  3. That the building is capable of conversion without detrimental alterations affecting its character, appearance, significance, general setting and immediate surroundings.
  4. High quality design and use of materials that respect the rural character and local distinctiveness of the area.

4. Farm Diversification

Farm diversification such as those that support the engagement of communities with land management, rural crafts and the development of local produce markets will be supported in principle provided that all of the following criteria are met:

  1. The development will not cause significant or unacceptable harm to the character and appearance of the landscape and avoids the loss of large areas of higher quality agricultural land.
  2. There is no adverse impact upon amenity or the historic environment and proposals contribute positively to the maintenance of biodiversity, climate change and food security.
  3. The proposal makes use of existing buildings wherever possible. Where new or replacement buildings are required they are closely related to the existing group and their siting, form, scale, design and external materials are in harmony with existing traditional buildings.
  4. The proposal forms part of a comprehensive diversification scheme and is operated as a subsidiary to a sustainable farming business or appropriate land-based enterprise and will contribute to making the existing business viable.
  5. The approach roads and access to the site have the capacity to cater for the type and levels of traffic likely to be generated by the development.
  6. The proposal will benefit the local rural economy.

Proposals which generate high levels of traffic or increased public use will only be permitted where they can be easily accessed by public transport, foot and cycle modes.

Development proposals should be consistent with other Local Plan policies.

Implementation

Local/national Funding

Development Management

Partners

Section 106 agreement

Supplementary Planning Document

No

Yes

No

No

Yes

Tourist accommodation

10.15 The district is predominantly rural with attractive villages and picturesque countryside making many parts of the district attractive to the visitor economy. The Tourism and visitor economy sector is an important employer within the district whilst also bringing economic benefits.

10.16 However, in rural locations, a balance should be achieved between supporting the rural economy and protecting the rural areas from inappropriate development, as stated in the NPPF.

10.17 To maximise the benefits of tourism to rural economies, tourist development should be proportionate and located where visitors can access local shops, pubs and other services.

10.18 Camping and caravan sites contribute in an important way to tourism and to the supply of tourist accommodation supporting the rural economy. However, they should be located appropriately and sufficiently screened to avoid any harmful impact on the setting and character of the countryside.

10.19 To ensure that the district's countryside is protected from inappropriate conversions of new tourist accommodation, a reasonable business plan - i.e. costings and business model, will be required for new tourist accommodation proposals to ensure the long term viability of such proposals. The business plan will be independently verified by an expert which will be paid for by the applicant.

EC5: Tourist accommodation

Proposals for tourist accommodation within development boundaries will be supported subject to compliance with other policies within this plan. Proposals should be proportionate, relative to the size of the settlement.

Proposals for small scale or expansion of tourist accommodation outside of development boundaries, will be permitted provided that all of the following criteria are met:

  1. The demand for the development has been clearly demonstrated.
  2. The proposal is connected to and associated with existing facilities or located at a site that relates well to defined settlements in the area and is accessible to adequate public transport, cycling and walking links.
  3. The proposal would not materially adversely affect the character, appearance and amenity of the surrounding area, any heritage assets and their setting and include appropriate mitigation where necessary to ensure this.
  4. Appropriate, convenient and safe vehicular access can be gained to/from the public highway and appropriate parking is provided.
  5. The proposal would not use the best and most versatile agricultural land.
  6. The development will be served by adequate water, sewerage and waste storage and disposal systems.
  7. The proposal includes a high-quality landscaping scheme.

In addition, tourist accommodation proposals will be required to include a business plan that will demonstrate the long-term viability of the scheme.

Proposals for large scale standalone tourist accommodation outside of development boundaries will not normally be supported.

The occupation of new tourist accommodation will be restricted via condition or legal agreement to ensure a tourist use solely and not permanent residential occupation.

The change of use from tourist accommodation to residential will not normally be permitted unless it is demonstrated that its continued use as tourist accommodation is no longer viable.

Development proposals should be consistent with other Local Plan policies.

Implementation

Local/national Funding

Development Management

Partners

Section 106 agreement

Supplementary Planning Document

No

Yes

No

Yes

No

Rural workers dwellings

10.20 Paragraph 80 of the 2021 NPPF makes clear that Local Planning Authorities should avoid isolated new homes in the countryside unless there are special circumstances. One of these circumstances are if 'there is an essential need for a rural worker, including those taking majority control of a farm business, to live permanently at or near their place of work in the countryside'.

10.21 Rural workers are normally those involved in the agricultural or forestry industries. It will often be more convenient and sustainable for such workers to live in nearby settlements, or suitable existing dwellings, so avoiding new and potentially intrusive development in the countryside.

10.22 However, there will be some cases where the nature and demand of work in agriculture, forestry or other rural industries makes it essential for one or more people engaged in the enterprise to live at, or very close to, the site of their work.

10.23 The council will assess all applications for planning permission for new rural workers dwellings in the countryside in detail, to ensure that these are genuine proposals, which are reasonably likely to materialise and are capable of being sustained long term. Therefore, any application for a rural workers dwelling will need to be accompanied by an appraisal setting out the need for the dwelling and that the enterprise the dwelling is serving will be long term financially viable. The appraisal which will be independently verified by an expert which will be paid for by the applicant.

10.24 The council will also consider removing certain permitted development rights for any dwelling permitted under this policy, to ensure that the dwelling remains at a size which can be justified by the functional need and can be supported by the income from the agricultural unit.

Policy EC6: Rural workers dwellings

1. Proposals for new rural workers dwellings

New isolated dwellings in the countryside intended for occupation by rural workers will not be permitted unless it can be shown that there is an essential need for a rural worker to live permanently at or near their place of work within the countryside. If a new dwelling is essential to support a new farming activity, whether on a newly-created agricultural unit or an established one, it should be a temporary dwelling for the first three years. New rural workers dwellings will only be supported where all of the following criteria are met:

  1. There is a clearly established existing functional need.
  2. The need relates to a full-time worker, or one who is primarily employed in rural employment and does not relate to a part-time requirement.
  3. The unit and the rural employment activity concerned have been established for at least three years, have been financially sound for at least one of them, are currently financially sound, and have a clear prospect of remaining so.
  4. The functional need could not be fulfilled by another existing dwelling on the unit, or any other existing accommodation in the area which is suitable for occupation by the workers concerned or by converting existing redundant buildings on site.
  5. Other planning requirements, e.g. in relation to access, or the impact on the countryside are satisfied.

An assessment setting out the need for the dwelling should be submitted with any application which will be verified by an independent expert.

2. Removal of Conditions

Where agricultural or forestry dwellings are permitted, appropriate conditions will be used to retain the dwelling for rural worker occupation. Applications to remove these conditions will not be permitted unless all of the following criteria are met:

  1. The dwelling is no longer needed on that unit for the purposes of agriculture or forestry.
  2. There is no current demand for dwellings for rural workers in the locality.
  3. The dwelling cannot be sold or let at a price which reflects its occupancy condition within a reasonable period.

Development proposals should be consistent with other Local Plan policies.

Implementation

Local/national Funding

Development Management

Partners

Section 106 agreement

Supplementary Planning Document

No

Yes

No

No

Yes

Equine related development

10.25 Equine-related development refers to all horse-related facilities including commercial and householder development of stables, manèges and ancillary buildings. Whilst it is recognised that equestrian development is a rural use, development needs to be carefully managed to ensure that it does not have a detrimental impact on the countryside character or other rural uses.

10.26 The availability of suitable off-road routes will need to be considered, providing a safe and traffic free route for horse riders to use.

10.27 Proposals for larger scale equine enterprises should be supported by a business case demonstrating that the enterprises will be viable in the long term. The business case will be independently verified by an expert which will be paid for by the applicant.

Policy EC7: Equine related development

Horse related facilities and equine enterprises in the Green Belt and Open Countryside will be supported provided that all of the following criteria are met:

  1. New buildings in association with equine development such as stables and field shelters are sited within close proximity to any existing rural buildings or settlement pattern to reduce the impact on the local landscape.
  2. The scale, design and external materials are of a traditional rural nature which respects and enhances the rural character of the local area.
  3. The number of stables is proportionate to the reasonable equestrian leisure needs of the applicant balanced against the need to protect the countryside and character of the landscape whilst according with The British Horse Standards.
  4. The proposal does not have an adverse impact on the natural environment and the integrity of designated protected sites.
  5. Any associated developments such as menages are sympathetic to the character of the area.
  6. The proposal is located close to the bridleway network and is located so as to reduce conflict between road users due to the transportation of horses, deliveries and horses using narrow lanes.

Proposals for larger scale equine enterprises will be considered on whether they will be beneficial to the local rural economy through a business case demonstrating sound financial planning and should be consistent with other local planning policies.

Development proposals should be consistent with other Local Plan policies.

Implementation

Local/national Funding

Development Management

Partners

Section 106 agreement

Supplementary Planning Document

No

Yes

No

No

Yes

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