• Hugo Swire urged to act over planning chaos in East Devon

    2nd January 2013 | News | Claire
  • Dear Hugo

    We are writing to you to express our very great concern about development issues within the Ottery Rural ward, and in the whole of East Devon, following two planning appeal decisions based on new ‘growth’ policies in the National Planning Framework (NPPF)

    In two recent planning appeal decisions (Wainhomes at Feniton; Reference APP/U1105/A/12/2172708) and Redrow Homes at Ottery St Mary (Reference APP/U1105/A/12/2180060) the Inspectors said that the emerging East Devon Local Plan (EDLP) carried very little weight, and that EDDC was unable to demonstrate a five year housing land supply, as required by the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

    Both appeals were allowed, resulting in additional housing to that proposed in the EDLP.

    There has been a requirement for a five year supply of housing for many years, but under the NPPF this requirement eclipses all other very relevant considerations, such as lack of infrastructure, damage to the countryside, and public opinion.

    The Wainhomes decision in Feniton is, of course, within the parliamentary constituency of Neil Parish. We wrote to him following the Wainhomes decision. Neil Parish was very critical of the decision, and wrote to Government Minister, Nick Boles about it.

    Disappointingly Mr Boles did not respond, but simply referred the matter to the Planning Inspectorate, which of course confirmed the decision was based on new policies in the NPPF.

    In Ottery there has been widespread consultation about development issues as part of the East Devon Local Plan process (we believe that there were more public meetings in the Ottery Parish than anywhere else in East Devon).

    This resulted in a very clear view of Ottery residents (including Kings School students, following two meetings at the school), and Ottery St Mary Town Council, and Ottery EDDC Cllrs about how much housing should be provided in Ottery up to 2026, and where it should go.

    The clear message was that development should go to the WEST of Ottery, and that there should be a maximum number of 300 dwellings to be provided in Ottery up to 2026.

    In allowing the Redrow Homes appeal in Ottery St Mary (which is on land to the EAST of Ottery), on 14 December, the Inspector acknowledged that there was a clear view of what development local people wanted – and then reached a decision that overrode that clear expression of view. So much for the Government fine words about localism!

    The Inspector set aside valid concerns about local constraints such as lack of sewage capacity, lack of capacity in the Kings School, lack of capacity at the Coleridge Medical Centre, and lack of capacity in the local road system in eastern and central Ottery, and that the development site was a greenfield site comprising the best agricultural land outside the Built Up Area Boundary.

    The only issue, according to the Inspector, was whether EDDC was able to demonstrate a five year supply of housing land, as required by the NPPF.

    The Inspector at the earlier Wainhomes appeal had reached a similar conclusion, having set aside even more constraints, such as Feniton’s continuing flooding problem and the lack of capacity at Feniton Primary School, in favour of the increased development required by the NPPF.

    It is quite clear that both appeal applications would probably have been dismissed had it not been for the introduction of the NPPF in March 2012.

    In fact EDDC successfully defended appeals (using exactly the same five year housing land supply figures) against refusal of planning permissions on similar greenfield sites in Lympstone, Tipton St John and West Hill before the NPPF was issued in March last year.

    The NPPF has resulted in two very poor decisions which have made many of Neil Parish’s constituents very angry, and which have made many of your constituents very angry.

    We are now facing a dire situation in East Devon relating to planning policy.

    Because two inspectors ruled that EDDC cannot demonstrate a five-year housing land supply, the consequences – exacerbated by an out-of-date Local Plan, and a draft Local Plan at too early a stage to be given great weight – are that EDDC planning officers will find it difficult to justify refusing any large scale planning application in East Devon.

    The stark reality is that even if EDDC does refuse inappropriate planning applications, such decisions are likely to be overturned at appeal.

    Of course developers are all too well aware of this appalling situation, and we can expect a flood of major applications for housing on land that would not normally be considered for development.

    The consequences in East Devon are likely to result in massive environmental degradation, and loss of countryside.

    Of course we need some development, particularly affordable homes for younger and less well-off local people. However the NPPF has destroyed the balance between need for appropriate levels of development in appropriate places, and environmental and other constraints such as flood risk.

    And the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, which proposes further deregulation of the planning system, will make East Devon’s future even more perilous.

    The NPPF has already begun the process of changing the landscape of East Devon forever.

    I (Claire) came to see you during summer 2011, to urge you to oppose the introduction of the NPPF and outlining the possible consequences if it were to become reality.

    If the NPPF and the Growth and Infrastructure Bill are allowed to remain in place unaltered, there will be widespread environmental destruction in East Devon. And local services, currently just about bearing up under pressure, will become completely swamped and unable to cope. 

    As you know, tourists visit East Devon largely for its beautiful countryside.  Widespread environmental damage can only have negative implications for our main industry – an ironic outcome for a Government apparently desperate for a buoyant economy.

    We urge you and Mr Parish – and as many other MPs as you can call to your side (their constituencies will also feel the effect of the NPPF in time) to intervene as a matter of urgency to alter the destructive and misguided course this Government seems intent on, in the pursuit of economic growth. 

    It is our only hope, to avert the destruction that now faces us.

    We look forward to your early response.

    CLLR CLAIRE WRIGHT                       CLLR ROGER GILES

    We also urge you to write to your MP if you are concerned about the state of planning in East Devon:
    – Hugo Swire for Ottery, Sidmouth, Exmouth, Budleigh Salterton … Email address – .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
    – Neil Parish for Feniton, Honiton, Seaton, Axminster, Colyton …  Email address – .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    Photograph:  View from a field at West Hill across to Sidmouth.