Douglas Borough Council has responded to The Area Plan for the East (TAPE) consultation document issued by the Isle of Man Government.
The consultation marks the beginning of the formal process to draft a new development plan for the east of the Island which will include three areas of particular relevance to the Council: the Borough of Douglas, the district of Onchan and the parish of Braddan.
The Council’s recommendations and observations follow detailed discussions at a meeting of the Executive Committee on Friday May 12 and a special meeting of the full Council on Friday May 19 during which the Leader of the Council Councillor David Christian MBE JP made it clear that the Council, while largely supportive of the plan’s broader aspirations, would be closely monitoring and contributing to the ensuing consultation process.
He said: ‘Douglas is the main employment and service centre for the Island and the comprehensive response the Council has issued has been considered in meticulous detail. It is a studied response which outlines measures to deliver a more economically resilient, socially inclusive and environmentally responsible Borough of Douglas.’
A recurring theme in the Council’s response is that, in the main, new employment developments should be restricted to existing brownfield sites to stimulate town-centre economic growth and customer footfall, rather than designating new greenfield sites. Employment land to the south of Cooil Road should, the Council maintains, be restricted solely to single developments too large to be accommodated elsewhere.
Councillor Christian explained: ‘The Council is committed to investing in the regeneration of Douglas town centre, and already we’re seeing the benefits, in terms of increased customer footfall, for example. Therefore, in making our recommendations, we have emphasised the importance of locating any large new office developments close to the town centre so employees can easily access shops and services and help to boost the local economy.
‘Similarly, we would encourage the upgrading of existing town-centre office space to attract new investment and, by extension, new consumers.
‘The Council is strongly of the belief that out-of-town development – be it for employment or retail purposes – can be damaging to town-centre trade and economic wellbeing and lead to a high-street decline. A well-considered Area Plan for the East, though, would have the power to halt any such decline.’
In its recommendations for accommodating future demand for increased secondary school capacity the Council suggests new schools be located on the edge of existing housing developments ‘in order to relieve congestion in existing built-up areas’. Councillor Christian observed: ‘At peak time traffic around St Ninian’s and Ballakermeen High Schools reaches potentially hazardous levels. The Plan presents a very real opportunity to consider redeveloping these two sites and repurpose them for new housing, which would help to reduce congestion in these areas.’
Other recommendations submitted by the Council include;
• Relocating the Lake Road bus depot to Summerland where facilities could be combined with the MER and horse tram depots, and for the North Quay not to serve as a bus route, thereby restoring the area to its primary role as a leisure space;
• Given the oversupply of new apartments for sale in Douglas, that new housing in the town centre be limited to low-occupancy social housing;
• New development be limited to the south of Douglas, thereby imposing fewer demands on the existing near-capacity highway infrastructure;
• Improving environmental and quality of life standards, e.g:
o Raising Building Regulation standards, in particular, in relation to improving thermal insulation;
o Extending facilities and routes for cycling;
o Installing charging points for electric vehicles;
o Improving recycling facilities;
o Tightening planning controls on out-of-town retail developments.
Councillor Christian continued: ‘The Council has said it would only support development to the south and west of Douglas because the highway infrastructure around Onchan and the north is already struggling to cope at peak times. For the same reason the Council suggests consideration be given to improving key junctions such as Quarterbridge and Braddan Bridge where installing traffic signals could help to alleviate congestion.
‘The Council is also strongly opposed to a number of potential development sites the plan proposes. These include the Finch Hill bowling green area - which it owns and has no plans to redevelop - and Brunswick Gardens, where development would be detrimental to the amenity and character of the conservation area.
‘Simply put, devising a new Area Plan for the East isn’t just about building better roads, new housing and office and retail developments. At every stage in the consultation process safeguarding quality of life must rank as highly as practical considerations, if not higher. It is the collective responsibility of all parties involved to create towns where generations to come will want to live, work and visit.’