• Major Feniton applications overwhelmingly rejected

    2nd April 2013 | News | Claire
  • In a debate peppered with what seemed like open rebellion against their party’s planning document, the controversial National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), one conservative councillor after another spoke against over-development and expressed anger over a lack of autonomy, caused by the introduction of the NPPF.

    But the liberal democrats, independent, Geoff Pook and most of the conservatives, were united in their dislike of what they saw (and what everyone else sees) as Feniton being at the centre of developers’ ambitions.

    The application for 59 houses, was brother to an application for 120 houses on the same land. The application for 120 houses was recently was suspended by the developers a few weeks ago.

    The first Feniton application – for 32 houses on land north of Acland Park – drew seven public speakers against, and two in favour (including applicant, David Cutler) as well as from county councillor Roger Giles. 

    The first speaker was Pete Privett, vice-chair of Feniton Parish Council.  He spoke of the enormous pressure that Feniton is under from developers, as well as the local services, such as medical services, schools and the sewage system.  He raised the issue of the serious flooding problem that Feniton faces.

    Fight for Feniton’s Future campaign group, John Withrington was up next.  He said that the benefits dangled by developers were not really benefits at all, but were an attempt to try and make something unacceptable more palatable.  He talked of the cumulative impact of these developments and questioned the “tipping point” – something alluded to in the officer’s report. 

    Dr Withrington asked when it would all end and asked the committee to “think long and hard about when enough is enough.”  He invited councillors to visit Feniton in the future when it would be a town, if all applications were approved.

    Feniton’s independent candidate in the forthcoming Feniton by-election, Susie Bond, said that the officer’s report acknowledged that residents are reliant on cars for transport, but there was an under-provision for car-parking, which would cause parking on the street.  She added that the water run-off calculations from the land were inaccurate, according to comments by Devon County Council.

    George Sweeney said that he had worked in the NHS all his life and was very worried about the struggling of healthcare facilities. He quite rightly pointed out that the local surgery, Coleridge Medical Centre, is already over capacity, with its GP, Tim Cox, expressing serious concerns over how the surgery would cope with much more development, as it was already finding it hard to manage now. 

    Mr Sweeney “implored” councillors not to approve application thereby allowing “indiscriminate development” in Feniton.

    Chris Burton told councillors about the sewerage problems, with people experiencing nasty appearances threatening to overflow from their toilets into their bathrooms, when it rained heavily.

    Claire Horrocks urged the committee to listen to residents. She explained about her role as a lecturer in sustainability and that Feniton was not a sustainable location to build large scale housing.  Claire added that ministers seemed deaf to people’s concerns over development and residents were simply dismissed as nimbys if they objected to development. 

    Cllr Phil Twiss asked Ms Horrocks what she thought were the key issues relating to sustainability. 

    Ms Horrocks explained that proposed major development in Feniton failed on all counts, largely because of people needing to use the car to travel to vital services and to work, and building on future food supply (much of the land around Feniton is grade 2 – really high quality food growing land) is not environmentally or economically sustainable.

    I didn’t catch the name of the next speaker, but it sounded like Mr Ves (apologies to the speaker if his name was nothing of the sort!).  Mr Ves told the committee that he and his family were flooded in 1997, 2000, 2008 and as a result, were homeless for two years.  He said he felt “trepidation” at the thought of further development and “pleaded” with the committee not to allow further major development in Feniton.

    Feniton’s county councillor, Roger Giles made an impassioned speech about the problems with the school already being over-capacity. But his first point was to ask about the source of a rather strange email to all planning committee members this morning.  In the email chief executive, Mr Williams says that the public money for the flood defence scheme may be insecure and development is required top up funds.

    It is not clear who authorised the forwarding of the email, which was originally to Cllr Giles, copied to deputy chief executive, Denise Lyon and planning officer, Ed Freeman, but it seemed quite wrong to Roger (and to me) to go about attempting to influence the committee in this way.  Especially all the evidence that we have seen, points to the scheme being realised within two years, with no developer contributions required.

    Cllr Giles said as a result of the major development proposed for Feniton, Devon County Council is considering the possibility of doubling the school… which would need to be developer-funded and the building of 840 houses would be required to finance such an expansion, to top up funds.  Cllr Giles described this as “nonsense and completely unrealistic.”

    Francis Pyle said, as chairman of the playing fields association, that it had agreed to build Acland Park (the existing development) with the Acland family and the proposed site was almost all concrete.  He told councillors he “monitored” the site and “not a drop of water drains off it” as it is all contained in a bung.

    He said that the benefits of the development would include a “tennis court for girls” and the moving of a cricket pitch, which caused a problem, with stray balls.  Mr Pyle claimed that a land manager from the Environment Agency told him that if “proper crops” were grown in fields around the village much of the water run-off problems in the village would be solved.

    Applicant, David Cutler, said he had worked favourably with planning officers for over two years on the application and it had been the community’s preferred option until the Wainhomes appeal had taken place.

    He said there would be no flooding caused by his scheme “whatsoever.”

    Cllr Peter Halse, temporary ward member following the resignation of Graham Brown, said it was “all about sustainability” and made references to the committee being “overshadowed by a great tiger from Whitehall,” which he said had frightened the officers into recommending approval for the schemes.

    He talked of the pressures on Feniton, and that the application was advertised as a departure from policy, adding:  “I hope chairman, that it will not be our departure” – a possible reference to the forthcoming council elections.

    Cllr David Key said he thought that any surface water was contained on site but that sewage was a big problem.  He said that the committee was “stuck between a rock and a hard place” as his concern that the application could be successful at appeal.  Cllr Key thought that if this application was approved, it would prevent others being successful.

    Alan Dent said the application was overdevelopment and the bus service was “appalling” and the sewers were not up to it.  He thought that the five year land supply was not so serious now with Cranbrook speeding up and the Tythebarn Green application being approved.  He said that the committee should take the risk of the planning inspector deciding.  He proposed refusal, which was seconded by Cllr Chamberlain.

    Cllr Twiss said that councillors were “threatened by the NPPF constantly” and he “took badly to that.”  He said he the committee was being forced to agree applications that nobody in the room wanted and asked at what point the emerging Local Plan carried weight.  Planning manager, Ed Freeman, replied that it was given full weight at adoption but he did not think that EDDC would be in a position to apply very much weight to the draft Local Plan for around another year.

    Cllr Peter Sullivan said that he had “major concerns with the NPPF.”  He said he wasn’t happy that someone else (a planning inspector) was overruling planning committee decisions.  He added that he was not going to be “held to ransom” and that a 20 per cent growth of a community was an “astronomical disaster.”

    Vivien Duval-Steer read out some sentences from the NPPF about the community’s needs and how all these applications were not doing meeting needs, but instead were swamping services.  She added that she was “wholly fed up with the inspectorate.”

    Head of Planning, Ed Freeman, told the committee they must have evidence for refusing the application because the key consultees had not objected on education grounds, sewage grounds or flood grounds.

    Mr Freeman added that sustainability grounds are more subjective so could safely be used as valid reasons for refusal.

    The reasons for refusal included:  development not sustainable, as per the definition in the NPPF and that there is no firm plan for the flood defence scheme.

    The application was then rejected by eight votes to two. 

    Debate on 59 houses on land next to Ottery Road.

    Feniton parish council vice-chairman, Pete Privett was the first to speak once again. He described Feniton, as being “under siege.”  He added that Feniton Parish Council’s comments were quoted out of context in the officer’s report.

    Jayne Blackmore said that she had suffered flooding in 2008, that gardens had turned into “muddy swimming pools”.  She mentioned MP, Neil Parish’s support for the village and his comments in a recent House of Commons debate about building in communities that flood.

    Susie Bond reminded the committee that in December 2011, councillors had unanimously rejected the application.  Mrs Bond said that the application was contrary to paragraph 109 of the NPPF, which said that development should contribute to and enhance landscapes.  If the application is approved, Mrs Bond said, Feniton would be “condemned to urban sprawl.”

    She reminded the committee that the application was an in principle outline application.  She added:  “On a point of principle, I urge the committee to reject it.”

    Christine Gibbins outlined her position as her family farming the land in question, but not owning it. She and her husband were opposed the application due to its beauty, its agricultural value and because it was special to the community, due its annual ploughing matches, she said.

    Chris Burton said he was concerned about drainage and the impact of water from the Ottery Road site, ending up at Patteson’s Cross, which was already a flooding problem area.

    Margaret Hall, who spoke on behalf of the Campaign To Protect Rural England, outlined all the reasons why the application was not sustainable, as per the NPPF.  Still quoting the NPPF, she said that these reasons significantly and demonstrably outweighed the (very few, if any) reasons for approving the application.

    Claire Horrocks thought that planning minister Nick Boles might roll his eyes at the “selfish nimbyism” in the room, if he was here. She said that she was one of the hardworking people who wanted to own her own house, but that Feniton was the wrong place for major development.  She said it wasn’t fair to build there, to families who would have to pay high costs to travel from Feniton.

    Val Jones said residents “lived in dread” of what application was coming in next.  She told the committee that the village had not enjoyed support from its previous councillor, Graham Brown.

    Sue Collins gave the committee an insight into her life as a regular flood victim.  She said that while most people were relaxing on a cold rainy winter night in front of their fires, she was setting up flood gates, lugging water pumps – both electric and heavy petrol powered pumps, checking the ditch behind her house and always, always, watching out for the weather forecast. 

    She said she had been flooded seven times since July, and had several near misses.  She invited committee members to visit her house to touch its permanently damp walls.

    Supporting the application, Francis Pyle said that as chair of the playing fields committee, he wanted to inform the committee that Strategic Land Partnerships owned the playing fields and had agreed to move the clubhouse to allow the school to expand. He asked what comes first, the chicken or the egg (referring to development or infrastructure).

    John Tregoning said that the buzzword of sustainability must also apply to agricultural land.  The cumulative effect of the loss of agricultural land was important.  This field would result in the loss of around 5.4ha of high quality agricultural land, he said. 

    Applicant, Simon Steele-Perkins from Strategic Land Partnerships (SLP), asked the committee to “think carefully” about what they were proposing.  Such as funding to the primary school, help with the flood defence scheme and more capacity at the sewage pumping station.  He added that SLP would provide land for a medical surgery.

    Then it was the ward members turn.  Ottery Rural councillor, Tony Howard spoke against the application, quoting David Cameron’s speech about housing estates not being “plonked down” next to communities.  He warned against East Devon ending up like Milton Keynes, with villages joining up with each other.

    Peter Halse made further remarks about sustainability and Cranbrook being the place for major development.

    Speaking as ward member for part of Feniton, including the site in question, I largely focused the lovely field in question and said that it was the first thing people saw on entering Feniton. Building on it would destroy part of Feniton’s unique distinctiveness I said. 

    I referred to a recent appeal inquiry that was dismissed at Barnstaple, for 182 houses, which had some striking parallels with the Ottery Road application.

    – the land in both cases was not an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
    – both councils Local Plans became out-of-date in 2011
    – both councils could not demonstrate a five year land supply and had the 20 per cent buffer applied for persistent under-delivery of housing land
    – the agricultural land was grade 3 (not as high quality as in Feniton’s case) yet the planning inspector used this as part of her appeal decision to reject the appeal

    I said that the “tipping point” referred to in the committee report should be set by the planning authority, (as there is no guidance in the interminably vague NPPF).

    All the same reasons to reject the Acland Park application, also applied to this one, but there were more – landscape reasons were paramount here, with an inspector’s decision to back up any rejection, I added.

    Cllr Geoff Chamberlain said that the application would probably go to appeal but EDDC owed it to the people of Feniton to reject it.

    Cllr Key seconded Cllr Chamberlain’s proposal for rejection.

    The proposal was put to the vote and was unanimously rejected for the second time in two years!

    Photograph:Camp Field (land next to Ottery Road).