The application, on land at Westclyst from former EDDC councillor, Roy Stuart, was nevertheless brought forward in advance of the planning inspector’s initial feedback about the new draft local plan, expected at the end of this month.
Planning officers said that although the application was “unplanned development” it was ready to be determined and they were obliged to bring it forward promptly for a decision.
The lack of a housing land supply was given for recommending approval for the application
It emerged that part of the land was green wedge, and most of it was on grade 1 agricultural land – the highest quality land – of which there is hardly any in the district.
It also emerged that there were doubts over primary school provision, with only vague proposals of a free school to come forward sometime in the future possibly, and land for a school that is not yet built, on an earlier application site.
Health facilities were also in question, with Pinhoe surgery at capacity.
Also, although highways officers said they were happy with the application – how I have no idea – the demolition of the Poltimore Arms in Pinhoe and running a road through its remains had yet to be agreed by Exeter City Council. There were no details given of these highways improvements.
It also emerged that Natural England had objected to the proposal.
And an adjacent landowner had apparently not given his permission for a track to be created across his land that the applicant said he would deliver.
Ward member, Cllr Peter Bowden argued that a five year housing supply had been met already. Officers agreed but said that a six year supply was required due to a penalty in the national planning policy framework for persistent under-delivery. This penalty had been applied to EDDC by a planning inspector in 2012.
For such a massive application, followed by another one on adjacent land for around 400 houses, you would have thought that the public gallery would be standing room only.
But the massive level of development proposed in this area, by persistent developers who seem to have endless money to throw at applications and appeals, has caused most residents to despairingly ask: “What is the point? It will happen anyway.” This sort of view (while very understandable) must be music to the developers ears.
Only four or five residents actually spoke on the application, including two parish councils – Poltimore and Broadclyst.
The other ward member, Cllr Derek Button argued that the committee should refuse the application and referred to the local plan. If the committee didn’t want to refuse the application, Cllr Button said it should be deferred as it was too early to make a decision, given the forthcoming planning inspector feedback on the local plan. He said the land was known previously as the “lungs of Exeter,” for its landscape value.
But officers insisted that there would be no meaningful feedback given by the planning inspector by the end of March and this was months away.
Four councillors asked questions about various aspects of the plan, Cllr Mike Allen listed several reasons why he couldn’t support it, but others seemed very keen on the application. Cllrs Pook, Williamson and Key all spoke strongly in favour of it. Others did not contribute to the debate.
Cllr Mark Williamson moved approval of the scheme. The final vote was seven votes to six in favour.
I might be wrong but I think that may be the first time (in the current administration) that such a large scale application that is totally outside any strategy, has been approved by the committee. There have been plenty of officer recommendation for approvals of such schemes but the committee has rejected the ones that don’t fit into the local plan strategy, so far.
I found the debate and decision deeply disappointing and the application full of holes and question marks about deliverability and infrastructure provision.
My understanding of the housing supply situation was that principally, allocated sites should come forward faster (which they are, especially Cranbrook) as opposed to approving major applications willy nilly on open countryside.
The irony is that although the land supply situation was put forward as a reason for approving this application, just a few weeks ago, EDDC officers were arguing furiously that the five year land supply problem was progressing well, in order to fend off the Feniton triple inquiry appeal.
I simply cannot understand how it could have been supported by the committee – even more so, with days to go before the planning inspector’s initial feedback. And I can’t help wondering what are the implications for the rest of East Devon.
The committee meeting, which after I left, also approved another application for a further 400 houses at Westclyst. This area of land, as I understand it is a housing allocation in the new draft local plan.
See another account of the meeting posted on the East Devon Alliance website – http://eastdevonalliance.org/2014/03/26/you-have-given-permission-for-1200-homes-dmc-chair-told/