We are a town council based in East Devon representing Ottery St Mary and several nearby villages. Our parish population is around 8,000 and we are surrounded by beautiful, but largely undesignated countryside.
Tourism is a key economic driver in Ottery St Mary, as it is in the rest of the district. The countryside and walking pursuits are the main attractions for the tourist industry here.
We support the need for new housing, particularly affordable housing locally, and have made representations to the Local Development Framework process in this respect, however we believe that development must be very carefully planned to avoid spoiling our beautiful landscape.
We are writing to express our grave concerns about the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and the implications it could have on our community and countryside.
Our concerns, referenced by page numbers, are as follows:
1. P3. An attempt to kick-start the economy by weakening planning rules is short-sighted, and will be environmentally damaging, as well as counter-productive
2. The vague new legislation is more likely to mean planning applications take longer to approve as more appeals are lodged. More ad hoc decisions are also likely.
3. P3 and 4. No legal definition of sustainable development, which is meaningless unless environmental, social and economic considerations are balanced. There is a worrying contradiction with page 3 of your document claiming the importance of balancing the above issues. However, throughout the document economic growth is clearly put ahead of every other consideration.
4. Omitted from the plan – undesignated countryside. No protection for undesignated countryside, which could see our town and villages sprawl as built up area boundaries become much harder to defend
5. P47. Weakened protections for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with the cost of building outside them becoming a material planning consideration
6. P46. Loss of national protections for wildlife sites and nature reserves, with local authorities being asked to approve applications unless ‘the adverse impacts significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits’. There is one national nature reserve, eight local nature reserves and 270 county wildlife sites in East Devon.
7. P36 and 37. Weakened protection for sports pitches or community recreation land. This is a recipe firstly, for a huge amount of anger in communities where applications are submitted for this land. Secondly, the longer term effects of allowing building on this land will be poorer health of residents as they have fewer places to exercise and let off steam. This would be particularly sad (and very wrong) for children.
8. P47. Weakened protection for the highest quality food growing land – at a time of great concern over future food scarceness and food security. If anything, Grade 1, 2 and 3a farmland should be among the most protected in the country. How can it be sensible to build over our future food supply?
9. P44. Weakened flooding legislation would be damaging for our parish as Ottery St Mary town and the surrounding villages have experienced flooding problems, with many people having to move out of their homes for months while they are made habitable again
10. P22. Transport. We are unhappy that planning applications can only be refused if the adverse transport impact is ‘severe.’ It is a mistake not to give guidance as to how this assessment should be arrived at. This will cause confusion and delays in determining applications. The cumulative impact of a number of planning applications in the same area should be a material consideration.
11. P13. Neighbourhood plans. We are very concerned at the cost (which run into tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers money) and the bureaucratic process of putting these plans together. We find it hard to see the benefit for communities to put these together, especially when parish councils will struggle to fund the plans.
12. NPs appear to be only useful for communities who wish to see more development over and above their allocation in the Local Plan, but given that they cannot limit development, their usefulness is surely very limited.
13. P7. Supplementary planning documents, (such as Village Design Statements). At least two of our villages – West Hill and Tipton St John, have produced these and value them highly. You state that supplementary planning documents ‘should only be necessary where their production can help to bring forward sustainable development at an accelerated rate and must not be used to add to the financial burdens on development.’ This is clearly wrong and short-sighted. You must give supplementary planning documents significant weight in planning terms. They are relied upon by councillors, planning officers and communities and provide useful guidelines for development.
14. P33. Design. There is a contradiction relating to design. On the one hand the plan states design must reflect local surroundings and on the other hand, the plan makes clear that there should not be unnecessary ‘prescription or detail’ in planning policies. Surely local distinctiveness and sympathetic design is vital if we are to avoid cheap and nasty buildings that are completely out of keeping in our communities.
15. P17. Planning obligations or conditions. You state that ‘unnecessary’ planning obligations or conditions should be avoided. Who makes this assessment? This is open to interpretation and could undermine justifiable mitigations on potentially damaging development.
16. P25. Need. You state that Local Planning Authorities should not question ‘need’ when determining a planning application. This is illogical and could lead to failed and derelict buildings and unattractive towns, as the need for development has not been established nor proved. This plan must be more than about an allowance to build. It must impose controls too.
17. P11. Developer and landowner profit must now be a material planning consideration. This will result in poor quality schemes in the wrong place being approved, as well as a failure to provide essential infrastructure. It is just wrong.
18. P4. Granting permission where a plan is absent, silent or indeterminate. East Devon District Council is one of the 70 per cent of authorities in the country which is still working through the Local Plan. Many of these authorities have had their plan on hold while waiting for your anticipated guidance. It is wrong and damaging to allow a planning free-for-all in these authority areas while their plans are still being prepared.
19. P30. A 20 per cent requirement over and above the five year housing land supply is excessive and unnecessary and adds a further burden on councils and risk to the countryside as non-compliance with this is likely to result in automatic approval for schemes.
20. P19. Weakened ‘town centre first’ policy. The move afoot to weaken it could result in our already struggling town centres becoming completely unviable with out of town shopping centres or supermarkets springing up and killing off town centres.
21. Communications masts – omitted from plan. We are unhappy that there appears to be no protection from erecting such masts in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, of which we have a small amount in our parish.
22. Omitted from plan. Removal of the brownfield site first policy is unjustified and will hinder investment in and regeneration of areas where old derelict factory sites desperately need redeveloping, such as The Ottermill Switchgear site in Ottery St Mary, as well as increasing pressure to develop greenfield sites
23. Empty industrial or commercial units – omitted from the plan. Please introduce a sequential approach so that empty units must be considered before building on green fields.
Somewhere between 200,000 and 500,000 planning approvals are currently sitting in developer landbanks waiting to be built. This strongly refutes your claims that the planning system is too slow and is acting as a ‘brake’ on the economy. It is the recession that is stopping the development, not the planning system.
The Royal Town Planning Institute has issued 10 facts to dispel the myths that certain ministers have been peddling. We would urge you to take heed of what this group has to say.
Finally, we remain unconvinced that your planning reforms will have a positive impact on the economy. In fact we believe as it stands the NPPF which is riddled with loopholes will dramatically slow the system up, as well as cost large sums of public money as more applications than ever go to appeal.
Equally, the damage to areas that rely on tourism as its economic mainstay, such as East Devon, could be irreparably harmed.
The only winners are the developers and the planning lawyers.
We urge you to take all these issues into consideration and amend your document accordingly. Also, that you heed very carefully the messages from a large number of environmental groups, such as the National Trust and Campaign to Protect Rural England.
Ottery St Mary Town Council