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[Reposted] Doh! Bestway defends its ownership of Geron Way (Brent Cross) land

(Picture: Evening Standard)

To set the scene, link to:

Statement of Case
On Behalf of:
Bestway Holdings Ltd
(Representation No. 126)
In Relation to:
North London Waste Plan:
Public Examination
Main Matter ‘Specific Sites – Geron Way‘ [Brent Cross]
To be Heard on Thursday 14th June 2012
14 May 2012

1.1 This Statement expands on Bestway‘s written representations to the NLWP, in relation to the ‘Geron Way site’. Bestway’s representations on other issues are addressed in separate Statements (on Matters 2, 3, 4 & 5).

1.2 Bestway has a freehold interest in the Geron Way site, operating a wholesale cash-and-carry selling to in excess of, 3,000 regular local retail and catering business customers. The facility operates well, and is within the top three performing Bestway sites (out of 62).

1.3 Bestway consider the NLWP is unsound, given the NLWA’s confused approach and lack of logical reasoning in the handling of the proposed waste site at Geron Way, including errors in the scoring criteria on which the purported allocation relies.

2.1. Before expanding on Bestway’s concerns that the NLWP should not include its site and that the process of the identification is flawed, it is pertinent to understand the background to the site’s waste identification. Appendix 1 summarises how Bestway’s site was wrongly identified as a suitable waste facility by Barnet Council (‘LBB’) and the Brent Cross Cricklewood Development Partners (‘BCCDP’). This illustrates a catalogue of unsound reasoning and flawed judgements, with the key protagonists (i.e. LBB, NLWA and BCCDP) each passing the responsibility of who actually identified the site to each other, creating a ‘circular’ case with no one party taking responsibility. The sequence of key events/issues includes:
  • Confusion as to whether the Barnet UDP identifies a waste site at Geron Way site;
  • LBB’s concession that its identification came from the SPG designed to support the UDP, but which actually pre-dates it (APP1.3);
  • LBB’s concession (in its Committee Report prior to the determination of the BCCDP application, APP1.1) that its identification of Geron Way for a waste site in the UDP “..was less than wholly clear because of confusion and errors...” and that there “...are unsatisfactory and apparently inconsistent aspects of the text in the UDP in relation to the designation of the Bestway site as the site of a waste facility.”;
  • LBB’s acceptance that no independent assessment of alternative waste sites was prepared as part of the non-statutory SPG (see APP1.4 and APP1.6);
  • LBB’s reassurances that BCCDP would need to justify the location of the waste site within their planning application (see APP1.5 and APP1.6);
  • The lack of justification for the waste facility within the BCCDP outline application, and its reliance on the adopted UDP/SPG to justify a waste site;
  • NLWA’s acknowledgment that it was being offered Geron Way as a replacement waste site on a non-negotiable basis (see APP1 of Bestway’s Statement on ‘Matter 4: Sites’);
  • NLWA’s initial “fundamental objection” to the BCCDP application (see APP1.9);
  • NLWA’s ultimate support for the BCCDP application on the grounds that the developers had agreed to a “secure a larger site” (see APP 1.10);
  • The lack of any public statement (since the NLWA letter of 6th May 2009, APP1.10) by BCCDP, NLWA or LBB as to how it proposes to “secure a larger site” or deliver a waste function;
  • Barnet’s Council’s reliance on the Preferred Options NLWP to support its decision to approve the BCCDP proposed waste facility.
2.3 The above demonstrates a lack of any investigation, analysis of alternative sites, and robust assessment of the Geron Way site, until the Preferred Options NLWP was published. [There is no paragraph 2.2!]
Existing Hendon Waste Transfer Station

3.1 Despite the confused situation with identification of the Geron Way waste facility, the NLWP has attempted to straighten the position (thereby assisting LBB and the BCCDP) by including the site in Schedule C.

3.2 Bestway’s representations to the Preferred Options NLWP raised the following concerns:
1. Flawed Assessment Scoring, which included:
  • Existing Use: It is unsound that the Geron Way site could achieve the same (‘5’) score as the existing Hendon WTS site, when one is an existing waste facility and the other is not a waste use, but ‘occupied by a large retail warehouse’. This approach is contrary to Policy NLWP1 regarding safeguarding and protection of existing sites.
  • Proximity and visual intrusion: The Hendon WTS should be scored at least the same (if not higher) than Geron Way, given the latter’s closer proximity to residential properties (120 metres) and a school. Consequently, the Geron Way site has a greater negative impact than the Hendon WTS. This issue is significant, since it is a (3x) weighted item and therefore is a significant discrepancy.
  • Visual intrusion: Given the close proximity of the Geron Way site to residential properties, its scoring on this issue should have been lower.
  • Site Access: There is an error in the scoring for the Hendon WTS, as it is scored ‘0’ despite having “good access from A406 road”, whilst other sites that are identified as having good site access are scored the maximum possible ‘5’ (e.g. the Geron Way site which is referred to as “access to the site is good and suitable for large vehicles”). (NB: This error was corrected in the Submission NLWP).
  • Railheads/Navigable: It is erroneous to score the Geron Way site the same as the existing Hendon WTS (‘9’) when the latter has a railhead and the former requires the construction of a railhead, including the relocation of Geron Way and third party land, plus the installation of rail sidings, to connect the site up to the railway network. Technical consideration of deliverability has not been assessed in relation to overall changes in the area (including the proposed BCCDP station).
2. The size of the Geron Way site within the NLWP (3.7 ha) includes the location of the proposed road bridge over the railway line as part of the BCCDP application. This means that the actual site area available for waste uses is smaller than that identified; and

3. Specific technologies should be identified for particular sites within the NLWP.
3.3 In its review of Preferred Options consultation (May 2011), NLWA noted there had been a significant number of objectors to a waste facility at Geron Way, including in relation to:
  • the impact of a waste use on the existing commercial operations on the site;
  • the potential impacts of waste operations on existing and proposed housing and primary school across Edgware Road and adjacent to the site; and
  • the potential impacts on traffic in the area.
3.4 Despite an initial indication that it would reflect on the Geron Way site allocation, the NLWA decided to retain the Geron Way in Schedule C of the NLWP. In its May 2011 consultation report, NLWA suggests that the site was retained due to its high site scoring when assessed against a set of criteria including proximity to schools, housing and site access. The consultation report also states:
“....the Brent Cross/Cricklewood planning application has been granted permission, with this site identified for a waste facility. The site meets the strategic need for new larger sites identified by our key delivery agency, the NLWA. The boroughs have noted that the site is included as part of the procurement strategy for the Waste Authority. Site access and neighbouring uses have been specifically noted as issues requiring special attention in the related site sheet (table 6.2) in section 6 of the waste plan. Policy NLWP4 sets out criteria on transport, access, amenity and many other potential impacts.”

3.5 This comment suggests that the NLWA are relying on the outline planning permission for the Geron Way site to justify its continued waste allocation. This approach is perverse (not to mention a circular argument), since LBB and BCCDP relied on the NLWP to justify the principle of a waste development under the outline planning application, which was not supported by any detailed examination of the suitability of the Geron Way site. Indeed, the NWLA’s first submission on the planning application said that:-
“The Authority has been advised by its technological experts that the proposed replacement waste site that provides advanced conversion technologies, due to the site's size and configuration, could not be operated at or even close to this (minimum required) throughput. Even the addition of land to the north or south of the site would be of limited benefit, given the relative narrowness of the site.”

3.6 No cogent explanation has been given for the Authority’s change of position on this fundamental ground of objection.

3.7 Bestway’s submitted representations on the Submission NLWP highlighted that the identification and subsequent scoring of the Geron Way site and the lack of a comprehensive assessment of alternative waste sites, made the NLWP unsound. The representations also commented on the prematurity and inflexibility of the plan, the Council’s overly narrow search for potential waste sites, the flawed reliance on historic waste arisings and the lack of a WRATE assessment. Bestway’s specific comments in relation to the Geron Way site are described in further detail below.
NLWP map of Bestway Geron Way site

Flawed Scoring of Site
4.1 Bestway’s representations to the NLWP identified errors/flaws with the scoring assessment. Whilst the NLWA made some minor changes to the scoring of the Geron Way site between the Preferred Options and Submission drafts (removing the one unquestionable error – regarding ‘Access’), the NLWA has not made any comment on the other concerns which Bestway raised regarding the scoring, which remains extensively unsound.

4.2 Bestway’s waste experts have forensically reviewed the NLWP Scoring, identifying significant technical and evaluation errors, particularly in relation to appropriate consideration of ‘Proximity’ and potential environmental impact, which is a weighted aspect. This is very apparent in that the Geron Way site is in a mixed use neighbourhood including houses and a school, rather than the normal situation of waste sites being within an enclosed established industrial setting. (These issues are addressed in Bestway’s Statement on ‘Matter 4: Sites’).

Re-scoring of Geron Way Site
4.3 To demonstrate its concerns with the NLWP’s scoring, Bestway’s waste experts have re-scored the Geron Way site through close analysis. Their findings were that the proposed Geron Way site has been significantly over-scored (the site should score 97, rather than 114 identified in the NLWP Submission version). Details of Bestway’s site scoring are set out in Bestway’s Statement on ‘Matter 4 Sites’.

4.4 This work demonstrated that the Geron Way site should not have made it onto the shortlist. Further work undertaken by Bestway demonstrates there are other sites which, when properly assessed, score better than Geron Way. (These issues are also addressed in Bestway’s Statement on ‘Matter 4: Sites’ – including Bestway’s rescoring of the Geron Way site at APP2).

4.5 Bestway issued details of its rescoring of the Geron Way site to NLWA by email dated 25th November 2011. Since receiving this material NLWA has not contacted Bestway regarding its content.

Size of Geron Way Site
4.6 The Submission NLWP reduces the size of the Geron Way site (from 3.69 ha to 3.28 ha). This change reflects Bestway’s representations that the southern part of the site, as originally identified in the NLWP, is not available (due to the need to land the BCCDP approved road bridge in this location).

4.7 Notwithstanding, there is no acknowledgement in the Submission plan as to the implications of the reduced site area for the delivery of waste facilities, and no re-scoring of the site to reflect its area reduction by just over 10%.

4.8 It is also of importance to understand that NLWA withdrew its “fundamental concerns” with the BCCDP application since it believed it was being offered a larger site by the developers. In its letter of 6th May 2009 (APP1.10), NLWA stated ”The applicant has since agreed that in order to meet the NLWA’s operational requirements the applicant will work with the NLWA and London Borough of Barnet, to secure a larger site”. The letter goes on to say that “... in the event that such additional land could be secured a separate planning application will be submitted. The NLWA and the applicant have agreed that the existing BXC application would need to be modified to include the additional land.” Furthermore the letter says, “although the NLWA’s preference is for a larger site to meet its operational requirements, the development partners have demonstrated to the NLWA that the site proposed in the planning application is sufficient to meet at least one option for replacing the operational capacity at the existing site”.

4.9 The above clearly illustrates the NLWA’s preferred approach was for a larger waste site. The letter can only be interpreted to mean that the site being offered by the BCCDP was the minimum that the NLWA would accept, and certainly not the ‘best’ solution.

4.10 Given this less than glowing endorsement of the BCCDP’s stated site area (3.28 hectares), it seems extraordinary that the NLWP’s assessment of the Geron Way site (which led to its identification as the ‘best’ location), was based on the site area approved in the BCCDP application, and not an enlarged site.

4.11 Of further relevance is that in its initial objection to the BCCDP application response, the NLWA was concerned with the inability of the proposed BCCDP site to accommodate the necessary level of waste throughput, contrary to the London Plan.

4.12 Bestway considers it will not be possible to achieve a larger site at Geron Way for the following reasons:
  • A northern extension is limited by existing commercial uses and would push the site closer to the proposed BCCDP station. BCCDP previously indicated the waste site could not be located closer to the station due to conflict with train movements between mainline services, and freight trains using the waste facility sidings;
  • The Edgware Road to the west is a physical barrier;
  • The railway to the east is a physical barrier;
  • Land to the south is required to “land” the new road bridge required to connect the Regeneration Area to Edgware Road. South of this is land formerly owned by BCCDP, but sold to an affordable housing developer, prior to the submission of the BCCDP application.

4.13 Despite BCCDP’s offer to work with NLWA to secure a larger site, to date there has been no public statement, nor revised planning application, concerning how a larger site could be secured and thereafter delivered as a waste site through technical analysis.

Replacement -v- New Site
4.14 The NLWP is unclear whether the Geron Way site is required as a replacement site in the event that the Hendon WTS is lost to another use, or if it is needed as a new facility regardless of what happens to the Hendon WTS. If the latter, the NLWP should have included an assessment of the cumulative impacts on the local community of locating two large waste facilities in such close proximity.

No Consideration of the Site’s Deliverability
4.15 The NLWP fails to have regard to Bestway’s freehold site ownership, and the importance of the site to its overall business success. The Geron Way site will not be delivered without a protracted/expensive CPO.

4.16 The NLWP lacks a strategy in the event of delays to the delivery of a waste site at Geron Way. There is significant uncertainty over the viability of the BCCDP scheme. The key parties are currently in discussions about a re-phasing. This is likely to require significant amendments to the approved planning permission, resulting in further delays and uncertainty over the delivery of a waste facility at Geron Way, which was to be delivered as an early phase ( NLWP Table 6.2 refers to ‘this site may be developed in the first five year period of the plan 2012-2017’).

NLWA’s Confusion Regarding the Site
4.17 The NLWA’s position with the Geron Way site has frequently changed. For example, its consideration of the BCCDP application (see APP1.9 and APP1.10) it made a complete u-turn. Furthermore, in a letter to a local resident dated 6th September 2010 (APP2) NLWA indicated that “...it was decided that our outline business case (OBC) should provide for the waste treatment facility that might have been built at Geron Way to be built at Pinkham Way instead”. The only reading of this Statement can be that the Pinkham Way site was replacing the Geron way site. However, within a few days of LBB being alerted to this extraordinary admission, the NLWA issued a revised letter (APP3) (stating the first letter was ‘misleading’) reconfirming its commitment to Geron Way.

4.18 Such a confused position does not reflect well on the independence of the NLWA’s site identification, the evidence base which it relies on and, ultimately the soundness of the NLWP.

5.1 The review of the background to the Geron Way site’s identification illustrates the pressure that the NLWA has been placed under to support LBB and the BCCDP who had ‘identified’ the site for a waste facility without any clear waste context or technical justification, and who are now relying on the NWLP to support their decision. As a result of this pressure, the NLWA have taken a blinkered approach to the suitability of the Geron Way site in the NLWP, as reflected in their irrational and technically flawed scoring of the site (and failure to consider better, more appropriate alternative sites – illustrated in Bestway’s ‘Matter 4’ Statement). Bestway’s evidence has illustrated that the site should never have made it onto the shortlist of selected waste sites for final analysis.

5.2 Despite the NLWP’s identification of the Geron Way site (in Schedule C), the NWLA has made public statements about the unsuitability of the site (APP2, APP1.9 and APP2).

5.3 Based on the evidence presented, any reasonable interpretation is that, rather than the Geron Way site being the ‘best’ site, the NLWA has retro-fitted its policies to support LBB’s attempts to identify a replacement waste site and the subsequent BCCDP approval (and thereby fit in with the developers “masterplan” - as recognised by NLWA in 2007 – APP1 of Bestway’s Statement on ‘Matter 4: Sites’). However, the attempts to justify the inclusion of Geron Way in Schedule C do not stand up to close scrutiny. This brings into question the transparency of the plan making process and the integrity of the evidence on which the NLWP is predicated. As a result the soundness of the plan is significantly affected.

5.4 Notwithstanding, Bestway has shown in its Statement on ‘Matter 3: Spatial Strategy’, that the NLWP’s identification of the alternative waste sites in the manner undertaken is unnecessary. Instead, the plan should include flexible criteria based policies, against which appropriate future sites can be properly assessed in context with Schedule A and B sites.

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