Effective delivery of strategic sites: Rugby

It took 15 years of land promotion following the identified closure of its radio station activities before the site was allocated as a Sustainable Urban Extension in Rugby Borough Council’s Core Strategy, adopted in June 2011. 

Fact file

Type – new community, developed on former radio station site between M1/West Coast Mainline and A5. 

Local Planning Authority – Rugby Borough Council  

Landowner: Urban & Civic/Aviva Investments  

Promoter / Developer - Urban&Civic; adopted master developer model 

Scale - 6,200 homes, up to 106,000sq.m of employment floor space.  

Strategic infrastructure requirements – highway improvements (new link road and canal bridge) three primary schools, one secondary school 

Other key uses -District Centre (including conversion of the C Section Listed Building and re-use of existing farm buildings) and community buildings  

Other radio tation land on the east side of the A5 within West Northamptonshire is the subject of a related but separate Development Consent Order for a Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (incl. up to 731,000 square meters of rail-served logistics). 

Stage – outline Planning Application approved in January 2014.  First four key phases defined and initial phases occupied (c.500 occupations) 

Key application references:  Original outline: R11/0699, amended via S73 application reference R17/0022 

Allocation and policy  

It took 15 years of land promotion following the identified closure of its radio station activities before the site was allocated as a Sustainable Urban Extension in Rugby Borough Council’s Core Strategy, adopted in June 2011. 

Policy CS4 was a straightforward criteria-based policy, seeking a range of dwellings between 5,000 and 6,200 and placing considerable emphasis on the synergy between homes and employment as a key economic driver for the growth needs to 2026 and beyond. A high-level indicative plan was included within the policy setting out the broad alignment of the link road and fixing the overall extent of built development.  

The in-built flexibility of this policy allowed for a swift process to an outline consent (less than three years from development plan adoption). 

Detailed consents and conditions 

As part of the outline application, a ‘key phase’ approach to delivery was agreed in advance. This meant that the approved scheme at outline stage was set out in a single high level parameter plan with very few items ‘fixed spatially’, and much of the key social infrastructure required identified in indicative locations which could be flexed without going beyond the parameters of the outline consent. 

The ‘key phase’ approach includes an additional ‘tier’ of consent between the outline application and reserved matters, in which: 

  • a key phase relates to a specific part of the site and is first defined on a plan and agreed with the planning authority 

  • for each key phase, a greater level of design guidance, delivery plans and technical information is provided prior to reserve matters submissions

  • each reserved matters application must comply with the key phase consented material.  

This tier allows reserved matters applications for individual parcels or infrastructure to be considered and determined against the design specification for that key phase.  

Ensuring infrastructure delivery  

Two major items of infrastructure have been delivered on site in advance of the triggers set by the S106 agreement and outline conditions, both facilitated through funding from Homes England:    

  • a link road connection from the development towards Rugby town centre was brought forward seven years earlier than fixed in the S106 (following a £35 million Homes England investment) providing key sustainable transport links into the town centre and allowing early development parcels to be opened up. 

  • early delivery of Houlton Secondary School (due to open Sept 2021) in advance of the S106 trigger, including redevelopment of the listed C Station building as part of the school campus. Early school provision will stimulate the delivery of the adjacent District Centre at the heart of the new community. 

Futureproofing and adaption 

The structure of the consent (outline and key phases) and attitude of the master developer has allowed development to adapt to the market without compromising on quality. For example, when redundant farm buildings were converted to community facilities and a café and exceeded expectations to became a focal point of the community, the master planning of the site was able to be adjusted to capitalise on this success and expand this area rather than introduce another local centre elsewhere, without wholesale unpicking of the original permission.  

Governance and ownership of place 

The developer has invested heavily in the new community, employing dedicated staff to engage with residents and involve them in planning community facilities, and actively finding ways to ensure new facilities are made fully accessible to Houlton residents. 

Skills and resources 

The development has benefitted from the oversight of experienced planning officers at Rugby Borough Council who have ensured consistency of approach throughout. A protocol was established at outline stage that set out which future applications would need to be referred to members or otherwise, thus ensuring a level of transparency, speed and predictability for applicants, council officers and members. Infrastructure and housebuilder applications have been determined under delegated powers in the context of an open and collaborative relationship with knowledgeable council officers.