• Feniton Action Group writes to MP worried about Tory plans

    1st January 2013 | News | Claire
  • Dear Mr Herbert

    As Chair of the local action group Fight for Feniton’s Future, I was delighted to read your excellent article in the Daily Telegraph on the need for planners to ensure that communities have the necessary infrastructure in place before development is permitted.  The issues you raise are exemplified by our experience here in our small East Devon village of Feniton, which has 714 houses within the built-up area boundaries.

    East Devon District Council (EDDC) is one of almost three-quarters of local councils which are still consulting on a Local Plan. As a direct result of the interim nature of its Local Plan, and the weight assigned the National Policy Planning Framework (NPPF) and its presumption in favour of build, EDDC has now lost two far-reaching Public Inquiries in the space of a few months.

    One in Feniton, and one in nearby Ottery St Mary. Both Inquiries were appeals by developers keen to overturn the rejection of large-scale housing estates on greenfield sites, and which were the subject of strong objections by local residents and EDDC. The emerging Local Plan for East Devon envisages just 35 houses needed for Feniton in the run up to 2026.

    The community has no problem with meeting responsibly that obligation. Unfortunately we are now the target of three separate developers, who have proposed to build up to 302 houses in Feniton. An increase in the size of the village of some 42%. 

    Feniton is, quite simply, an inappropriate place for mass development. Our infrastructure is woefully inadequate for the scale of housing proposed. The primary school is already over-capacity, the local senior school is full and has no room (nor capital) to expand, the nearby medical centre is over-stretched, and the local country lanes are too narrow to allow cars to pass each other without stopping.

    We hear much from developers about how ‘sustainable’ our village is, but all of these issues contradict that view. And as for developers’ claims that we are an ideal commuter village … even the Planning Inspectorate for the Feniton Public Inquiry acknowledged that our public transport facilities are poor, and that more than most communities, those living in Feniton are reliant on cars. Feniton is not a logical place to site mass housing.

    But worst of all, the drainage system is not fit for purpose.  Local anger reached new heights following the dreadful floods of late November, which led to a number of villagers being evacuated from their homes. It was at this time that two developers chose to submit formal proposals to EDDC (with a consequent deadline for comments of Boxing Day!), thus promoting their schemes to villagers at a time when they were at their most vulnerable. 

    The flooding is a direct result of an inadequate foul drainage system, as well as an inadequate system to deal with surface water. Our own MP, Neil Parish (copied here) has done an excellent job supporting the community, has toured the village to see for himself the damage caused by flooding, and has raised questions in the House of Commons.

    Of course the NPPF acknowledges that housing should not happen on flood plains (http://www.neilparish.co.uk/content/mp-condemns-planning-inspectorate-support-building-flood-prone-areas). Feniton’s plight however is that we do not live on a flood plain: we live in an area with an outdated sewage network and inadequate surface water drains, which doesn’t seem to count. We remain a village under siege from floodwaters and developers.

    What particularly baffles, angers and frustrates villagers is how any of this squares with the government’s policy on localism. The Localism Act clearly states that:

    ‘The Localism Act sets out a series of measures with the potential to achieve a substantial and lasting shift in power away from central government and towards local people. They include: new freedoms and flexibilities for local government; new rights and powers for communities and individuals; reform to make the planning system more democratic and more effective, and reform to ensure that decisions about housing are taken locally (my emphasis).’

    We all understand the need for more housing, and the Parish Council, in concert with EDDC, has identified sites for new development of an appropriate scale in our village. In his finding for the developers in the Public Inquiry at Ottery St Mary last month, the Planning Inspector ruled that “local opposition is not in itself sufficient to withhold permission”.

    But the residents of Feniton find it hard to understand – notwithstanding guidance in the Localism Act and the NPPF itself – how local opinion can seemingly have absolutely no influence whatsoever when it comes to mass housing estates being built on open countryside, in the face of robust opposition from communities and the local Council, in surroundings which suffer from manifestly inappropriate infrastructure. This is not ‘localism’.

    In January 2012 PM David Cameron stated that he felt “deeply about our countryside and environment. Our vision is one where we give communities much more say, much more control. The fear people have in villages is the great big housing estate being plonked down from above. Our reforms will make it easier for communities to say ‘we are not going to have big plonking housing estate landing next to the village, but we would like 10, 20, 30 extra houses and we would like them built in this way, to be built for local people’”. 

    But this is already happening to Feniton. Work on one estate of 50 houses – ‘plonked’ next to the village on a site responsible for much of the runoff leading to flooding—will start in weeks. In the coming months we face a further 220 more more houses being built, two on the edge of the village, and another 32 in the centre.

    Our infrastructure is inadequate for mass development of this kind, and we welcome accordingly your support and that of your fellow MPs in helping to ensure that this cynical exploitation by developers of countryside and communities is brought to a halt. Guaranteed supportive infrastructure and weight granted to local opinion must be decisive factors when it comes to developers being allowed to build.

    Far from supporting local communities, the NPPF is being used by developers to railroad developments in the face of opposition from communities and elected councils. We should not live in a society where ‘localism’ is an empty word, and developers are granted free rein.

    Dr John Withrington
    Fight for Feniton’s Future