The Feniton Super Inquiry has completed its second week. Friday afternoon had barely arrived – and it was time to close, to allow the presumably expensively hired representatives of the would-be developers to commence their long journeys home, and not to eat too much into their week-ends.
Your reporter took the view that the needs of the Feniton community should have been accorded more weight (to use the planning vernacular).
First time attenders of Planning Inquiries are often surprised at the slow, tedious and repetitive nature of the proceedings. Cynics claim that this is to help justify the large fees.
But although there might not have been fireworks at the Inquiry on 16th and 17th January, it was very interesting. David Seaton gave evidence for Strategic Land Partnerships. He argued that because Exeter City, and Teignbridge, and Mid Devon at their Local Plan Inquiries had had reduced levels of housing provision, East Devon should have more.
He said “the last player should pick up the tab”. This observer – and others – took the view that lower than anticipated inward migration figures, and the latest Census information, provided a strong argument for reduced housing numbers in East Devon.
Mr Seaton went on to make a series of extraordinary claims:
• Feniton is one of, if not the, most sustainable locations in East Devon
• It is more sustainable to put development in places like Feniton than in Cranbrook
In support of these assertions, he said that the towns of East Devon (he mentioned coastal towns: Seaton, Sidmouth, Budleigh Salterton, and Exmouth, were constrained, and did not have railway stations. Er, no railway at Exmouth?).
He upped the very low percentage of Feniton people using the train, by the novel arrangement of disregarding the Buckerell part of the Feniton and Buckerell ward. He said that nobody in Buckerell (which he claimed was 25% of the ward population – the actual percentage is about 10%) used the train.
When asked: “are there any capacity issues at The Kings School”? he replied: “No, there are not.”
He said that the SLP proposals for land west of Ottery Road would have no impact on the landscape; when challenged, he changed his view to no “significant” impact.
On employment accessibility David Seaton rated Feniton as 4 out of 5; he rated Colyton (which has two major employers and many shops and pubs) as 2 out of 5.
Quite astonishingly, he had given Feniton top marks (5 out of 5) for public transport availability!
Mr Seaton claimed that it was necessary to build on grade 2 agricultural land. Yet when asked by Richard Ground for EDDC how much of East Devon was covered by grade 1 or grade 2 agricultural land, he said he didn`t know.
On Friday morning David Seaton was cross-examined by Mr Fraser, QC, for Wainhomes. It was a compelling piece of theatre.
Mr Fraser cast doubts on virtually every aspect of Mr Seaton`s evidence, and SLP`s case:
– the adverse impact on the Listed Sweethams Cottage, and the ancient parish boundary between Ottery and Feniton (at least 1,000 years old);
– the failure to conduct surveys for dormice and bats;
– stating that the loss of hedgerow for a visibility splay would be greater than specified;
– the distance from Feniton Primary School, and the dangers of crossing the railway line; when Mr Fraser read out from the School Travel Plan comments about concern about children being hit by trains, Mr Seaton said that children have to learn about how to deal with accidents!
– Mr Fraser said that the benefits SLP were offering (drainage improvements and land for the school) were not related to the planning application; could be achieved without planning permission; and it was akin to buying planning permission.
Mr Fraser asked Mr Seaton: in the event of failure to obtain planning permission for the SLP site, would SLP fail to sell land to DCC for a school extension, to punish the community?
David Seaton: “I cannot answer that”
It was a masterful performance by Mr Fraser, and absolutely devastating for SLP and Mr Seaton, in this observer`s eyes. The Inspector may, of course, see things differently. There was some lightness at the end of a very serious morning: Mr Seaton was insistent that the land in question was not an important part of the Colesworthy Farm operation. “Are you an expert in pig farming, Mr Seaton?” asked Mr Fraser, to much laughter.
Not having completed the business in the two weeks allocated, the Inquiry will resume for an extra two days (4th and 5th February) at 9.30 on Tuesday 4 February.
Read Cllr Susie Bond’s engaging blog posts of the progression of the inquiry here – http://susiebond.wordpress.com/author/susiebond/