2. Background to the Plan
2.1 Bexley London Borough covers an area of 64 square kilometres (25 square miles) in South East London. It consists of several different communities whose physical boundaries mostly disappeared during the 1930's with their rapid growth and consequent merging. There are striking differences between one part of the borough and another ‑ from the rural surroundings and activities of Bexley's Green Belt to the large areas of industry and business in Belvedere and Erith, from late Victorian terraced housing to modern housing development.
2.2 The borough is, however, a predominantly residential suburb. Over half of the houses were built between the wars, mainly for people working in Thames‑side industry and central London. One of the key attractions of the borough today is the wide range and choice of parks and green spaces it offers.
2.3 Over many years, Bexley has become closely linked, socially and economically, with adjoining boroughs and districts. A third of Bexley's workforce travel in from outside the borough whilst 60% of employed residents travel to work outside Bexley. Increased car ownership has enabled more Bexley residents to use shops and services provided in centres like Bromley, Eltham, Woolwich and Dartford and for residents of those areas to use shops and services in Bexley.
2.4 A plan for Bexley looking forward to the early years of the 21st century must take account of the effects on Bexley of national and regional changes over which the Council has little influence. These include:
2.5 Economy * After a difficult start, with some 250,000 jobs lost in 1989‑91, London's economy grew throughout the remainder of 1990s and unemployment rates fell. From 1991 to 2001, manufacturing industry continued to decline in employment terms across London, although Bexley recorded and 18% gain. A regional trend has been the replacement of jobs lost from manufacturing by increased employment in logistics, distribution and services. Employment has also increased in these sectors in Bexley providing 46% of all jobs in 2004.
2.6 Unemployment trends in Bexley continue to reflect national and regional trends, gradually declining during the 90s, from 8.2% of working age residents in 1994 to 2.6% by 2002 (see Table 7.1). Although there are significant variations in unemployment levels from one part of the borough to another, overall levels in Bexley are lower than for London as a whole. The steady reduction has been the result of local employment generation and diversification. Several new companies have been attracted to the area and approximately 72 hectares of employment land has been developed across the borough since the 1996 UDP, 60% of this being within the Belvedere Employment Area.
2.7 The European Dimension * The 1992 European Act has had important consequences for this country's trading relations with continental Europe, possibly with greatest impact, in land use and development terms, in the south east region. A 4% growth in metropolitan Gross Domestic Product was anticipated by the London Planning Advisory Committee (LPAC) as a consequence of entry into the Single European Market. Completion of the Channel Tunnel in 1994 and the associated Channel Tunnel Rail Link by early in the 21st century could enhance Bexley's role as a gateway to London because of its location on the A2/A20/M11 corridor. This will open up new possibilities for tourism and hotel development with associated recreational pressures. Easy access to the A20 and M25, together with planned improvements to the South Thames Development Route, could also stimulate development pressures for business uses and office development in the borough.
2.8 Environment * There is growing importance attached to the quality, attractiveness and protection of the environment both locally and nationally. The Government's Environment White Paper "This Common Inheritance" has drawn attention to fundamental changes taking place in the world environment and the role of local authorities in safeguarding it. Several new pieces of legislation have increased the Council's responsibilities for environmental protection. Bexley is fortunate in having a generally high standard of environment and good amenities, but firm policies are needed for its protection and enhancement. Metropolitan Green Belt and Metropolitan Open Land policies have been successful in restricting development to built‑up areas and should continue to be applied, but they have led in turn to development pressures on other land. This has taken the form of proposals for backland development, infill schemes and redevelopment at high densities. In addition Bexley continues to experience problems in the urban fringe such as tipping, despoiled and derelict land and changes in the landscape associated with the decline of agriculture. Illegal activity is not, of course, confined to the urban fringe and the Council is anxious to draw to designers' attention the need to 'design‑out crime' whenever possible. Some buildings and spaces do, through their brutal appearance or configuration, invite criminal, anti‑social or unsafe behaviour. Greater design sensitivity to this issue is required. Councils have new duties arising from Section 17 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.
2.9 Population * 2001 Census data compared to mid year estimates suggests that Bexleys population is no longer increasing. The Office of National Statistics data suggests that the total population has stabilised at around 219, 000. The main increase during the 1990s took place in the north of the Borough, with the Thames-side area seeing growth rates above 6% over the decade. In contrast, most wards in the south of the Borough experienced a small population decline, primarily due to lower occupancy rates. The exception was Lamorbey where the Hollies development helped to generate a 5% rise in population. The 1991 census showed that 6.5% of Bexleys usually resident population was born outside the United Kingdom, over half (3.5%) of whom were born in the New Commonwealth.
2.10 Housing * The number of separate households in the borough is expected to increase by around 5,600 between 200l and 2016. The Draft London Plan requires that provision should be made for 5,520 new dwellings during the period 1997-2016. The way in which this is accommodated will need to respect the character of existing housing areas. At the same time there is a continuing need for housing for lower and middle income groups, and housing associated with meeting special housing needs. Housing sites should be laid‑out with respect for the everyday needs of their inhabitants. Undeveloped spaces should serve clear amenity or recreational purposes. Landscaping and footpath networks should be designed to meet identified needs with adequate regard being had to ease of maintenance, lighting, durability, personal safety and access by less agile individuals including young children and disabled people. Proper provision for vehicle parking and manoeuvring should ensure that vehicles do not need to encroach onto areas intended to benefit pedestrian movement or the appearance of a development. Dark or enclosed communal areas above ground level or having single, narrow exit routes should not be proposed.
2.11 Retailing * National trends in retailing have shown a boom in expenditure growth up to l988, accompanied by major development growth. These trends have brought an increase in out‑of‑centre developments, retail warehousing and steadily increasing size of proposals. High interest policy at the beginning of the 1990s has reduced retail expenditure growth, particularly in comparison goods, and in the short term this will result in more selective developments and greater competition amongst retailers as the market contracts. The retail market is expected to recover in the longer term. With the opening of the Lakeside Shopping Centre at Thurrock and the new Bluewater development, Bexleyheath already faces more intense competition. Increased personal mobility will mean that many Bexley shoppers are more discerning in the shopping centres they visit. Others, without the benefit of private transport, will continue to be dependent on local shops.
2.12 Transport * The lack of sufficient investment throughout the 90s is evident in congestion and overcrowding. This is especially true of railways, where the promised Thameslink 2000 and Crossrail have yet to be realised. These will be critical to the development of the Thames Gateway and the easterly extension of the city-region. There have been some improvements in road infrastructure. Bronze Age Way has been completed and the dualling of Thames Road will reduce congestion and make a significant contribution to the creation of a high standard route that is the South Thames Development Route. Other proposals that will benefit the area include the Docklands Light Railway extension to Woolwich, the Thames Gateway Bridge, Crossrail and the Greenwich Waterfront Transit.
2.13 Resources * Council expenditure is supported by the Government through the system of Standard Spending Assessment Revenue Support Grant and other grants and the redistribution of National Non‑Domestic Rates. Specific grants are also given for individual services and projects. Central Government support is determined by reference to local needs in relation to those of other authorities and allocated within national levels of resources. Bexley has been viewed as a relatively low‑need authority and as a consequence receives a low level of support. In addition, capital expenditure in particular is influenced by Government policy on public spending.
2.14 The encouragement of private investment in land and buildings will be the key to achieving many of the objectives of the Plan. The Council's limited resources will need to be concentrated on areas of greatest priority. Subject to the availability of resources, it will take a constructive approach to public/private sector partnership initiatives, which further the aims of the plan.
2.15 Rapid changes are taking place, which could have important consequences for the pattern of land use change and development in Bexley into the 21st century. The following have been taken into account in preparing this Plan.
- Growing public awareness and concern for the environment and environmental issues and new responsibilities falling to the Council to care for the environment.
- Britain's membership of the European Union and the prospect of increased competition for domestic and European investment, following the introduction of a single European market in 1992.
- The development of major new employment centres in areas such as Docklands, Rainham Marshes and North Dartford during the 1990s.
- London City Airport and proposed London river crossings.
- The opening of the Channel Tunnel and improvements to the Strategic Roads leading to the Tunnel and Channel ports.
- Changes in shopping patterns increased competition between shopping centres, particularly at a strategic level, impact of out-of-town regional shopping centres at Lakeside in Thurrock and Bluewater near Dartford.
- The high cost of housing in most parts of Bexley and the difficulties of those in low and middle-income groups to enter the housing market especially for the first time.
- Statutory responsibilities for the Council under the Care in the Community Programme.
National and regional policy
2.16 The Government's planning policies are set out in Regional Planning Guidance Notes (RPGs), Planning Policy Guidance Notes (PPGs), Minerals Planning Guidance Notes (MPGs), White Papers, Ministerial Statements and Departmental Circulars. These are all material considerations, which the Government requires the Council to take into account in this Plan.
2.17 In addition to national policies, the Plan has regard to Regional Planning Guidance, both for the South East and for London. Regional Planning Guidance for the South East (RPG9) was published jointly by the Government Offices for the South East, East of England and London in 2001. It sets out a vision of encouraging economic success throughout the Region, ensuring a higher quality of environment with management of natural resources, opportunity and equity for the Regions population and a more sustainable pattern of development. The focus is on enabling urban renaissance, promoting regeneration and renewal, concentrating development in urban areas, promoting a prosperous and multi-purpose countryside and promoting wider choice in travel options, thereby reducing reliance on the private car.
2.18 The main principles to govern the continuing development of the Region are set out in RPG 9 as follows:
- urban areas should become the main focus for development through making them more attractive, accessible and better able to attract development;
- greenfield development (namely on previously undeveloped land) should normally take place only after other alternatives have been considered, and should have regard to the full social, environmental and transport costs of location;
- the pattern of development should be less dispersed with more sustainable patterns of activity, allowing home, work, leisure, green spaces, cultural facilities and community services to be in closer proximity;
- Londons World City role and the South Easts international connections should be developed as a basis for the enhancement of the Regions attractiveness in Europe and the world;
- economic opportunities should be increased by raising skills levels and reducing the disparities between different parts of the Region. In particular, by positive investment strategies for the Thames Gateway and Priority Areas for Economic Regeneration to improve the performance of poorer parts of the Region and by managing the localised impacts of development in economically buoyant areas;
- sufficient housing, and in particular affordable housing, should be provided for all who need to live and work in the Region, to encourage social inclusion and avoid pressure for housing in adjoining regions;
- the development of housing should be more sustainable, providing a better mix of sizes, types and tenures, having regard to the structure of households and peoples ability to access homes and jobs;
- development should be located and designed to enable more sustainable use of the Regions natural resources, in the supply of food, water, energy, minerals and timber, in the effective management of waste, the promotion of renewable energy sources and to assist in reducing pollution of air, land and water;
- there should be continued protection and enhancement of the Regions biodiversity, internationally and nationally important nature conservation areas, and enhancement of its landscape and built and historic heritage;
- the life of the countryside and rural communities should be sustained through economic diversification which respects the character of different parts of the Region and enables sustainable agriculture and forestry;
- access to jobs, services, leisure and cultural facilities should be less dependent on longer distance movement and there should be increased ability to meet normal travel needs through safe walking, cycling and public transport with reduced reliance on the car; and
- transport investment should support the spatial strategy, maintaining the existing network, enhancing access as part of more concentrated forms of development, overcoming bottlenecks and supporting higher capacity and less polluting modes of transport.
2.19 In this Guidance, the regeneration of the Thames Gateway is seen as a regional and national priority. It emphasises the potential for the Thames Gateway to make a vital and major contribution to the growth of the regional economy and the enhancement of its environment. Extensive areas of derelict land, the availability of surplus labour and its proximity to Central London, international transport hubs and continental Europe are some of the factors which combine to make this area a unique opportunity for the Region.
2.20 The Government also published supplementary guidance in RPG9a Thames Gateway Planning Framework (1995) and RPG9b/3b Strategic Planning Guidance for the River Thames (1997). Whilst RPG9a is becoming more dated, the principles remain valid, setting the objectives for the Thames Gateway as follows:
- to improve economic performance, enhancing Londons position as a major World and European city;
- to maximise the opportunities for new economic activity and jobs, created by the improving transport connections to continental Europe;
- to work with the market; building on existing economic and community strengths, reinforcing the economic base, and at the same time attracting new economic investment; strengthening existing communities as well as attracting new residents;
- to encourage a sustainable pattern of development, optimising the use of existing and proposed infrastructure and making the fullest possible use of the many vacant, derelict and under-used sites, which previously supported other activities; and
- to safeguard and enhance natural and man-made environmental assets and, where necessary, raise the quality of the local environment; to encourage the highest quality in the design, layout and appearance of new developments.
2.21 Strategic Planning Guidance for London Planning Authorities (RPG3) [RPG3 has been replaced by the London Plan 2004 as planning guidance for London. However, the London Plan was not available at the time of UDP preparation and therefore RPG3 has been used as a starting point for this UDP] provides a regional strategy for planning in London, as a framework for preparing and reviewing Unitary Development Plans. This had regard to LPACs Advice on Strategic Planning Guidance for London (1994). RPG3 sets out the Governments objectives for London, which are to:
- promote London as a world city, recognising its role as a world class business, commercial, educational and heritage centre;
- maintain and enhance the competitiveness of business, including encouraging manufacturing, services, tourism, culture and the arts;
- encourage a pattern of land use and provision of transport which minimises harm to the environment and reduces the need to travel, especially by car, consistent with the principles of sustainable development;
- promote urban regeneration particularly in areas requiring physical improvement or the enhancement of employment opportunities, within the objectives of the South East Region as a whole;
- enhance the vitality, viability and character of town and other local centres as shopping and community facilities that are accessible to all;
- maximise housing provision in London, consistent with maintaining environmental quality, to meet the changing needs of the population;
- maintain and improve the natural and open environment, including the Green Belt, Metropolitan Open Land and areas of national and international significance including the River Thames;
- improve the quality and attractiveness of Londons urban environment to benefit those who visit, live, work and do business in London;
- facilitate the development of transport systems which are safe and efficient, and which contribute to the achievement of competitiveness, regeneration and environmental quality; and
- seek to improve air quality, to reduce waste, pollution and the use of energy, and to encourage recycling.
2.22 The London Planning Advisory Committee subsequently published LPACs Endowment to the Mayor and to the Boroughs based on a four-fold vision of a strong economy, quality of life, sustainable future and opportunities for all. This document reiterated their policies as advice to the Mayor who thereafter had responsibility for producing the Spatial Development Strategy for London (the London Plan), the draft of which has evolved during the review of this Plan. The London Plan (2004) has now been published and replaces RPG3 as the regional strategy for planning in London. It was not, however, in time to influence the preparation of this Plan.
2.23 Regard has been paid to the Regional Planning Guidance for the South East and for London, and to the evolving planning strategies for London, including the Mayors draft Spatial Development Strategy (the London Plan) and the Transport Strategy. In summary the Plan responds to London-wide objectives in the following ways.
- Recognition of the role of Bexley as part of Thames Gateway and the identification of sites to assist further economic growth.
- The stimulation of an expanding and balanced economy commensurate with the longer term needs of the borough.
- The revitalisation of Thames‑side housing areas.
- The improvement of the South Thames Development Route through this borough and traffic calming measures.
- The continued promotion of Bexleyheath Town Centre as the Strategic Centre of the borough and the improvement of other major town centres.
- Policies and guidelines to ensure new residential development respects the character of established housing and the protection of open spaces of recreational and amenity value.
- Policies to encourage a range and choice of new housing in the borough, including affordable housing.
- Policies to ensure that environmental concerns and objectives are given due weight in the balancing of planning considerations in individual planning decisions.
Policies of adjoining authorities
2.24 With the exception of Bromley and Sevenoaks, where restraint policies apply associated with the Metropolitan Green Belt, the policies of adjoining authorities reflect their location within Thames Gateway, with major new development initiatives planned. These include:
Greenwich Waterfront * Greenwichs UDP seeks redevelopment or re-use of the remaining redundant land and buildings, this being a major area for regeneration. It includes the Greenwich Peninsula and the Dome site. Proposals include business and employment uses, housing, open spaces, tourism (including a cruise liner terminal) alongside improvements to the public transport network;
Romford Town Centre * Significant investment is planned to provide new retail opportunities;
Dartford/Gravesham * Approved alterations to the Kent Structure Plan have prepared the way for proposals in North Dartford for the development of former hospital land for housing and business park development and sections of the South Thames Development Route. Additionally, a long-term comprehensive development framework is being pursued for some 1,700 hectares of derelict and under-used land between the built‑up areas of Dartford and Gravesham. Both Districts are also committed to promoting Ebbsfleet as an M25 eastern gateway station for the Channel Tunnel rail link;
Chafford Hundred, Thurrock, covering 232 hectares, is one of the largest residential development sites in the southeast. Development in this area has included schools, shops and community facilities alongside the ongoing residential development;
Royal Docks * Some 200 hectares of land is being developed for a range of uses including housing, business, university campus, hotel, and leisure uses, with an additional spur of the Docklands Light Railway via City Airport to North Woolwich and a planned link crossing under the Thames to Woolwich; and
Barking Reach * Development of a major power station and 6,000 homes.
In general, current policies and proposals in the adjoining authorities are compatible with the plan for Bexley, where a combination of restraint and development policies will apply in different parts of the borough.