13. Community services
13.1 The Council recognises the importance of the provision and the distribution of community services throughout the borough. While the management and the delivery of these services is not necessarily the concern of this chapter, changing demand and supply of these services over the plan period will have consequences for land use. The framework provided by the policies below will seek to ensure the maintenance of service provision in the most efficient and equitable way.
13.2 Community services consist of a wide range of facilities and services provided across the borough by both public and private sectors. They include social, health and educational services, and also community facilities, such as the library service. All have requirements for land, some in areas of the borough covered by other UDP policies, for example, provision within residential areas. The nature of some of these services may require close proximity to those in need. The Council will advise through its policies where these locations are appropriate.
13.3 There is very little guidance for these policies, although some national policies do have some relevance, such as the Government's encouragement of care in the community as an alternative to institutional care. These are taken into consideration where appropriate.
The Council will seek to ensure that adequate primary and secondary educational facilities are made available in Bexley, taking into account changing demands as a result of fluctuating school rolls and shifting distribution of the borough's population.
The Council will normally retain in educational use land designated on the Proposals Map as school buildings and playing fields, where there is a recognised need for such facilities in an area. In the event of land becoming surplus to educational requirements, the criteria set out in Policy ENV20 will be applied to any proposals for its alternative use.
13.4 Over the period of the Plan the cyclical trends in the age structure of the borough's population are expected to continue. These cycles are affected by a number of factors including changing national birth rates, migration patterns and increases in population due, for example, to new housing developments. This can result in demands for new facilities or, equally, surplus provision. Over the last decade (1993 to 2002), for example, primary aged pupil numbers, including those in nursery classes, peaked at 23,000 and have now reduced to 22,000; projections for the next five years suggest further reductions to around 21,000. Over the same decade secondary pupil numbers have consistently shown year-on-year increases to the current total of 18,000. Projections indicate that from 2003 there will be a gradual falling away from this peak as the numbers completing and leaving secondary schools exceed those entering. Such fluctuations in numbers have caused pressure on places in the secondary sector, and simultaneously created surplus provision in the primary sector leading to inefficiency. Where land and buildings are retained for future educational use, the Council will support their temporary use for suitable, alternative purposes in order to utilise the facilities in the interim, help to safeguard buildings against vandalism and to meet other short-term demands for such accommodation. Education Development Plans assess these changing patterns in the borough's population and prepare strategies to meet educational needs.
13.5 As the Education Development Plans are revised any land use planning consequences will be addressed in the context of the UDP. Where surplus school sites are identified, their appropriate alternative use will be determined in accordance with Policy ENV20.
Proposals for nursery classes and creche facilities will normally be acceptable in residential areas and town centres subject to the following criteria:
- the proposal should not result in an adverse parking and/or traffic impact;
- use of the facility should not cause a significant nuisance for neighbouring uses;
- the proposal should not result in a loss of residential accommodation and/or lead to a loss of retail uses in a shopping centre's core frontage; and
- there is no conflict with any other policy in this Plan.
13.6 During the last decade the Council has made a significant increase in its provision of nursery education as part of a general programme to bring numbers into line with national standards. In the past this has largely been achieved by converting surplus primary classes into nursery classes, but as this resource runs low alternative sources will be needed to meet a growing demand for these places.
13.7 As a greater number of women in the workforce return to work after childbirth there is an increasing need for pre‑school facilities, near to the home, the workplace and other services (e.g. town centres). In response, the Council will consider proposals close to these areas, subject to criteria suggested above.
The Council will advise and assist the relevant health authorities in order that future land use requirements for an efficient health care service may be satisfied.
13.8 The Council recognises that over the Plan period the requirements of the health authorities for sites and buildings will change, for example, in response to the government's approach to care in the community and the subsequent rationalisation of health care facilities. As existing facilities become surplus and new facilities are sought, perhaps elsewhere in the borough, close liaison with the Council will ensure that services are maintained and enhanced while complying with the general aims and objectives of the UDP.
As an exception to Policy H2, the Council will normally support proposals for doctors' and dentists' surgeries in residential areas, subject to all of the following criteria being satisfied:
- the proposal should not result in adverse parking and/or traffic impact;
- use of the facility should not cause a significant nuisance for the occupants of neighbouring properties; and
- there is no conflict with any other policy in this Plan.
13.9 The Council recognises the benefits of providing surgeries for doctors and dentists within easy access of the communities that they serve. It also recognises, however, that these uses can sometimes give rise to nuisance and adversely affect residential amenities and so proposals should take account of the criteria set out above. Proposals for other medical and health care clinics and surgeries within residential areas will be considered on their individual merits having regard to the need for those services to be located in these areas.
Community buildings and facilities
The Council will encourage the provision and retention of: publicly accessible meeting halls; community centres; and buildings used for, or in connection with, public worship or religious instruction; in suitable locations, possibly as an element in new residential or commercial developments.
13.10 Locally based amenity and religious groups and youth organisations benefit from having suitable halls or rooms for meetings. These can help to reinforce community spirit. Large new developments may generate a need for religious or community buildings. In such cases, developers will be encouraged to provide facilities to benefit residents in locations where these will not cause undue disturbance.
The Council will maintain adequate branch library provision in all parts of the borough, in relation to the pattern of use of those facilities and their relationship to centres of activity.
13.11 The provision of a comprehensive library service across the borough is recognised as an important community service, which the Council seeks to maintain and enhance. The recent opening of a library in Mill Road, Northumberland Heath and upgrades completed at Bexleyheath and Erith libraries demonstrate this approach. Demographic changes and changes in the pattern of use will affect the library service and give rise to a need to review branch library provision. In so doing, the Council will seek to locate libraries in or close to centres of activity, such as shopping areas, where they are readily accessible.