• Planning committee councillors back Feniton residents

    21st November 2012 | News | Claire
  • Several residents, parish council chairman, Martyn Smith and the village’s county councillor, Roger Giles all spoke against the application at Acland Park, which was also recommended for refusal by officers.

    But Feniton’s ward member, Cllr Graham Brown, a planning consultant, argued strongly in favour of approving the application, because he claimed, it was the best way of protecting the village from further development.

    The speakers argued that Feniton had already had MORE than its housing requirements met following an appeal decision at Louvigny Close allowing 50 houses in the village to be built on high quality agricultural land – 15 more houses than its allocation,

    Feniton has been under huge pressure from developers in the past two years.  The officer’s report relating to yesterday’s application states that Feniton is “unique” in East Devon for its pressure from developers.

    Planning and legal officers came under fire from Cllrs Brown and Key for the way they handled the application, which was kept on ice for several months, while planning policy issues were resolved and the Wainhomes appeal ran its course. 

    At the beginning of the agenda item, head of planning, Ed Freeman, told councillors that there were some positives in the application, including the re-siting of a cricket pitch, a (small) contribution to a flood defence scheme for Feniton and an element of affordable housing. 

    But he said, on balance the application was being recommended for refusal for policy reasons.  EDDC had taken Feniton Parish Council’s view on board that it would like the Louvigny Close appeal site, to be regarded as Feniton’s formal housing allocation.  So the Acland Park application, which had previously been the preferred site for development in Feniton, could not now be supported. 

    If it was approved, Feniton would receive 82 dwellings, instead of its allocation of 35.

    Mr Freeman said that the Louvigny Close appeal decision had been pivotal in recommending the Acland Park scheme for refusal.

    Cllr David Key asked what the affordable housing need was in Feniton.

    Mr Freeman confirmed it was 15 units, which had already been met by the Louvigny Close appeal development.

    Cllr Key argued that the developer did not have to honour this, but Mr Freeman confirmed that it was all part of a legal agreement.

    Mr Freeman told councillors that the school had expressed concerns about the application due to the combined impact of the Louvigny Close development and Acland Park.  The only way around the problem was to enlarge the school to 315 children.

    But Mr Freeman went on to say that Strategic Land Partnerships (developer who applied to build 120 houses on the other side of the village last year) had informed planning officers that they owned the school playing fields – the most obvious solution to school expansion. 

    Public speakers
    The first member of the public to speak to the committee was Martyn Smith, parish council chairman.  He told councillors about the ‘serious problem’ with drainage and flooding in Feniton, adding that one house had been flooded a dozen times.

    Mr Smith said any further development was likely to add to the problem.

    In relation to sports facilities, he confirmed that the village had a cricket pitch and also a multi-use games area, so in his view, Feniton already had relatively good sports facilities.

    After many major applications and the Wainhomes appeal decision Feniton Parish Council “wanted a bit of respite,” he said.

    Development management committee chair, Mark Williamson extended his sympathy to Martyn Smith and Feniton residents, for the pressure on the village from developers.

    Resident, Chris Burton, agreed that Feniton had good sports facilities but what it lacked was safe roads for cycling, walking and running.  All the roads into the village, he said, were too narrow for cars to pass.

    Station Road, he added was very congested at school pick-up and drop-off times.

    Cllr David Key took issue with Mr Burton’s point about the roads and argued that two cars could pass for the entire length of the road from Pattesons Cross.  Mr Burton confirmed this was only the case at the bridge end, and was not true of the majority of this road into Feniton.  Cllr Key seemed to refuse to accept this.

    Jayne Blackmore painted a powerful picture of how it feels to be regularly flooded.  She said:  “Can you imagine how it feels to see all your possessions on a skip, sitting up all night in heavy rain because you can’t sleep?” 

    She added:  “It isn’t Feniton’s fault that the planning inspector chose a beautiful cornfield for housing.”

    Susie Bond spoke next. She said Feniton was ‘under attack’ from speculative applications and the application should be rejected.

    Cllr Roger Giles addressed the committee, as Feniton’s county councillor. He expressed concern about the ability of the school to cope, adding that South West Water had stated that there was a “serious risk” that the foul sewer network would be unable to cope with more development

    He then referred to the education contribution from the developer being reduced, saying that young children being bussed off to different schools was a “dreadful prospect.”  He asked the committee not to add another “devastating blow” to Feniton.

    David Cutler from Feniton Park Homes, the applicant, complained about the length of time it had taken officers to determine his application.  It had been on hold for 19 months, he claimed.

    After the members of the public had spoken, it was Feniton East Devon District councillor, Graham Brown’s turn to address the committee.

    Cllr Graham Brown’s view
    Cllr Brown claimed he wanted what was best for Feniton and that was to approve the Acland Park application.

    He made some technical arguments about the definition of ‘windfall’ sites (unplanned development) and claimed that EDDC’s handling of the Lovigny Close/Wainhomes appeal, in allowing it to become Feniton’s official housing allocation, was not allowed under national planning policy.

    There was still a need for 35 homes, Cllr Brown claimed.  And there was benefit in approving the application as there would be a contribution to kickstart the flood defence scheme. 

    It has been estimated that Feniton’s flood defence scheme will cost £1.6m.  The developer’s contribution would have been no more than a few thousand pounds.

    Cllr Brown said the issue over cricket balls going into people’s gardens should not be trivialised and claimed that some parents would not let their children play in their gardens for fear of being hit by a cricket ball.

    The solution he said, was to move the cricket pitch, which would happen if this application was approved.

    Getting into his stride and sounding more emphatic, Cllr Brown claimed that he found the idea that affordable housing was not required in Feniton “offensive.”

    He added that EDDC was an “under-performing council” and insisted people from other parts of East Devon might like to move to an affordable house in Feniton.

    Cllr Brown then referred to the fact that prior to the Louvigny Close/Wainhomes appeal decision, Acland Park had been the preferred location for housing.  He said that building on the land was the ‘best way to resist development.’  He warned that other sites would come forward if not.

    Moving on to the five-year land supply technical argument, which all councils must prove they have, and the Louvigny Close planning inspector ruled that EDDC could not demonstrate, Cllr Brown said he couldn’t understand that if EDDC had failed eight years out of 10 to achieve a five year supply of land for housing how it could prove it had one now.

    He claimed that there were no planning reasons to reject the application and said that the applicant had been treated in a ‘shambolic’ manner. 

    There followed a technical argument about ‘windfall’ or unplanned development and rules relating to applying national planning policy. 

    Head of Planning, Ed Freeman confirmed that the problem with the five year land supply had been a delay with Cranbrook, which was now going ahead.  This had boosted the land supply figures and now the council was confident it could meet the national requirements relating to housing land supply.

    Cllr Brown was sceptical. He asked whether anyone from the Planning Inspectorate had ‘verified’ allowing Louvigny Close appeal site to be regarded as a formal housing allocation. 

    Ed Freeman confirmed that there was no requirement to check this position out with the Planning Inspectorate, it was the council’s decision.  He said it would be tested at the forthcoming appeal for 130 houses at Ottery and he was confident that the council could defend its position.

    Committee debate
    Cllr Key took up Cllr Brown’s argument.  He said he couldn’t believe it had taken 19 months for the application to come to committee, saying: “Someone needs to pay for this.”

    He also claimed that if the Acland Park application had been approved previously, Wainhomes would not have won its appeal.

    He claimed he had a ‘serious worry’ that if the application was refused, Wainhomes would come back with another 50 or 100 houses.  Accepting this application, claimed Cllr Key, “would knock everything else into touch.”

    Referring to Cllr Giles concerns about the school being full and bussing children to other schools, Cllr Key said that this happens all the time at Dunkeswell and in other places where there isn’t a school or “where you are over your numbers with housing.”

    “It is just one of those unfortunate things,” he added.

    “I am the affordable housing champion,” continued Cllr Key and it is “a superb site.” 

    Other committee members then chipped in with questions over the length of time it took to bring the application to committee.

    Ed Freeman explained that it had previously been delayed because of a ‘moving feast’ relating to community support and planning policy, and then when the Wainhomes appeal came in officers decided that they would be challenged by Wainhomes, if they had approved it then.

    The only option officers would have had previous to the Wainhomes planning appeal being lodged, said Mr Freeman, would have been to reject the Acland Park application because it was outside the built-up area boundary and contrary to the adopted Local Plan.

    Cllr Ingham said that Feniton people should be put first and said he was minded to reject the application.  He made a proposal on that basis, which was seconded by Cllr Martin Gammell, who said the only person who wanted the scheme was the builder.

    But Cllr Sullivan said he was in a quandary about the application being pushed back and requested the view of the legal officer present, Paul Berkley.

    Mr Berkley then gave the legal position and outlined his advice, which basically related to the changed circumstances following the Wainhomes appeal decision.

    Cllr Brown interjected.  “What the solicitor has just said I find remarkable. It’s a really ridiculous remark. Why wasn’t the applicant invited to appeal for non-determination?”

    But Mr Berkley replied this was quite normal procedure in the circumstances.

    Cllr Atkins said he was looking at the application from the point of view of overcoming the flooding problem, adding: “The site needs something doing with it.”

    Cllr Pook asked for confirmation on the numbers of houses Feniton was allocated, compared with how many were allowed on appeal.  Ed Freeman clarified that Feniton had already been allocated 15 houses more than its allocation with the Wainhomes appeal.

    Cllr Key started up again.  He said:  “I cannot believe what the legal bod is saying about going to appeal.  The application should have been decided long before,” adding: “It was on the cards for 19 months for goodness sake.”

    Cllr Wragg asked why the application wasn’t dealt with on its own merits.  “Feniton might end up with more development than some towns,” he said.

    Cllr Twiss said he thought the key issue was that Feniton had got more than its allocation, but the risk, he said, “according to Graham Brown,” was that the village would end up with far more housing.  He asked how certain it was that Wainhomes wouldn’t be back.

    Cllr Brown, who also runs a building company, seized on Cllr Twiss’s doubt.  He said:  “What Phil Twiss said is a certainty. The land supply argument is fragile evidence.”  The affordable housing argument is “fragile evidence.”

    He claimed that EDDC officers had given a “mass of bad advice,” adding:  “I rang the Planning Inspectorate, who were very keen to talk about the windfall situation.”
    Cllr Brown claimed that he knew that Wainhomes would be applying for more houses before Christmas.  Also that Strategic Land Partnerships was submitting another application, based on the Wainhomes appeal decision.

    The application was rejected by nine votes to two.

    For more information about Feniton residents battle against developers, see this link: http://theffff.wordpress.com/