Around 30 residents from the village made the effort to travel to the meeting and sat through four hours of debate, before the Tipton application agenda item started.

13 members of the public spoke against the application.  They had diligently prepared three minutes speeches, however, after the first five speakers had used their three minutes, the remainder of the speakers hastily had to rearrange their speeches to fit into just one minute, as the chairman said the meeting was overrunning.

The speakers were:

Mrs Schofield
Robert Guest
John Harding
Jean Kotch
Bill Bolt
Penny Guest
Lyn Harding
David Boyle
John Belton
Chris Startup
Mr Holden
Cathy Williams
Colin Donaldson

Paul Humphries, the applicant’s agent also addressed the committee.

The application was on land designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Ed Freeman, planning officer, told councillors that an additional 29 letters of objection had been received for this application (a total of around 80 letters of objection).

Mr Freeman also said that Ottery St Mary Town Council had written to EDDC reiterating its support for the application, to clarify confusion over an earlier application for 19 houses, which the town council had not supported.

Mr Freeman said that the council had looked at other sites in Tipton for housing and this was the best one.

Speakers made a range of well made comments, including:

– the tests for building in an AONB being extremely high, according to the National Planning Policy Framework
– the affordable housing need (according to the survey) was 12, but this included hamlets around Tipton also, not just Tipton itself, which was identified as a need of five affordable houses only
– recent planning appeal decisions at Westhayes, West Hill and Otter Close, Tipton St John
– water run-off
– the Tipton St John Village Design Statement

Applicant’s agent, Paul Humphries promoted the scheme as having undergone ‘extensive consultation with planning officers and with the public.’  He added that the public consultation, had, at times, been ‘intimidating.’

Fellow ward member, Tony Howard spoke against the application.  Among other remarks, he said that affordable housing was required at Tipton, but not in this location due to its prominence.  He said that the ‘affordable homes issue was clouding the recommendation/decision.’

I handed over a petition from 175 people.  My points related to visual intrusion, the steepness and prominence of the field, which could be seen from many points in the village, contrary to the claims of the applicant.  I made reference to the National Planning Policy Framework’s policy on AONBs, the Local Plan policy on landscapes, which requires significant justification for building on AONBs and spoke of the recent and very relevant appeal decisions at Otter Close and Westhayes, West Hill.

I said that Tipton had been allocated just 10 houses in the Local Plan and this application was regarded as ‘windfall’ which meant if it was approved, Tipton would receive at least 25 houses – more than double its allocation.

I read out AONB officer, Chris Woodruff’s comments, which were clearly not in favour of the application, stating that there would be harm caused to an important landscape.

I held aloft three photographs of the field to demonstrate its prominence.  I had been told by Ed Freeman that they would be included with the powerpoint presentation, however, they were not.  I was not allowed to circulate the printed photographs I had with me, but instead held them up to committee members, who squinted as they tried to make out the images.

There were a number of questions to begin with, before Cllr Geoff Pook (Ind), kicked off the debate.  He said that in his view, the application and recommendation was ‘looking at the small picture, not the big picture’ and more work was needed before a favoured site could be recommended at Tipton.

However, Cllr David Atkins (Con) took a different view.  He talked of ‘all the young people who needed affordable housing’ and were ‘desperate to stay in the parish’.  He said the site was perfectly acceptable and told the committee that if Natural England were not concerned, then neither should the council be.  He moved a motion for the committee to approve the application.

Cllr Steph Jones (Con) seconded the motion.

Cllr Ben Ingham (Ind) thought the design was ‘superb’, however, he said that the stats given on the affordable housing needs were ‘horrendous’ and they did not fit.  He observed (wisely) that each time an application such as this was approved, protected landscapes were further weakened.

Cllr Vivien Duval-Steer (Con) told the committee and ward members that it was important that communities were kept balanced.  That there was a need for affordable housing.

Cllr Steve Wragg (LibDem) did not support the scheme and questioned whether it met the exceptions policy at all.  He asked whether it should be viewed as a ‘departure’ from policy instead.  Mr Freeman told him that the committee had signed off the ‘exceptions policy’ in 2010.

Cllr Mike Howe (Con) had doubts about the scheme.  He said:  “Highways are recommending refusal and the police have concerns about the design.  We should not accept every affordable housing proposal,” he said.

The vote (as with Ottery St Mary Town Council’s meeting) was agonisingly close.  Six in favour of the scheme.  Six against.  In a scene reminiscent of the Ottery Town Council debates, the chairman (Cllr Mark Williamson) used his casting vote to nudge the application through to approval.  He said he was voting on policy grounds.

The agenda item ended at almost 7pm.

I felt for the 30 or so Tipton residents who had sat through five hours of the meeting, only to hear the disappointing end result.  The application was approved by a whisker.  And there were FAR more policy reasons to reject the application than approve it. 

Also, there was virtually no chance of it being upheld at appeal and ironically now until the end of June, a call for suitable sites for Local Plan housing allocations in villages continues – a call sent out by EDDC strategic planning officers.

Only now Tipton St John residents will have to look for yet another site for housing because this application doesn’t count in the Local Plan housing figures.

A very disappointing outcome, particularly as it was so close – yet again.

Photograph:  View of the Barton Orchard field, from the Golden Lion pub.