• Tipton woman could be facing homelessness … once again

    21st October 2012 | News | Claire
  • Bizarrely, the same planning application was given the green light by the same committee, just two months ago.

    Kelly Lynch, who has gypsy roots, has lived quietly in a caravan on a small piece of land east of Tipton St John since she was a little girl. 

    She has been fighting for the right to stay there, since her grandmother died several years ago. 

    Planning officers say that Kelly’s grandmother, Violet Small’s permission to live there was for her alone – a term known as ‘personal use’ and cannot be transferred to anyone else, even though Kelly has inherited the land and the caravan.

    So Kelly has endured years of battling in an attempt to obtain permission to stay.

    She has nowhere else to go and does not qualify for council accommodation as she is young and healthy.

    Kelly lodged an application to remain in her caravan in 2007 but it was refused and later dismissed at appeal.  For the past five years Kelly has been battling enforcement action from EDDC, which this year escalated to a deadline for her to move and the threat of prosecution if she did not.

    Kelly, who is a care worker in Sidmouth, rang me in desperation in February this year, following the notice of prosecution, which gave her a deadline to leave the land or face court action.

    Researching Kelly’s case I quickly saw that, although Kelly’s request to stay may have been technically contrary to planning policy, there were strong grounds for allowing her to stay because of the following reasons:

    – her grandmother was given planning permission to build a tiny bungalow in 1986, but it was not built and permission lapsed
    – no one has ever complained about Kelly living in that location
    – the land is kept tidy
    – although it is in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, there is a 20-30 foot high hedge along the road, meaning that her caravan is completely screened from view
    – the access, although not ideal, would not be worsened by Kelly staying there because she already lives there

    Following the threat of court action earlier this year, Kelly’s agent, John Watts, carried out some research and found that planning officers dealing with her grandmother’s case may have withheld information from her.

    Given this information and that a permission existed to build a bungalow on the land in 1986, Kelly lodged a new application for a tiny log cabin of 39 square metres.

    This application, which was backed by Ottery St Mary Town Council, was recommended for refusal by EDDC planning officers in August, however, I spoke strongly in support of Kelly, as did her agent and Kelly herself. 

    The result was that councillors on EDDC’s planning committee overturned the officer recommendation and approved the application.

    Kelly was overjoyed and amazed.

    But no decision notice was issued and by the time I enquired in September, officers confirmed that they were making plans to advertise the application as a ‘departure’ from policy.

    Planning officers say that the decision to bring Kelly’s application back before councillors on the planning committee just two months after it was approved, is because it was contrary to planning policy and needed to be advertised as such.

    The advertisement drew one letter of objection (from her uncle who runs five caravans on the field next door as a business) and 12 letters of support, including from her employer in Sidmouth.

    The objection of seven lines raised the same two issues that were already considered by the planning committee in August.

    But the committee report makes clear that Kelly’s application was returned to the planning committee last Tuesday (16 October) purely on the strength of this one objection.

    It was recommended for approval but the chairman announced, much to my incredulity, that this recommendation should be ‘ignored.’

    At the committee debate last Tuesday, myself, John Watts and Kelly all spoke in defence of her cause and I expressed my concern that the application had been brought back to committee on the strength of one objection that had raised nothing new.

    Other councillors – Ben Ingham (Ind), Geoff Pook (Ind), Steve Wragg (LibDem) and Martin Gammell (LibDem)  seemed perplexed about why they were discussing it all over again just two months later and queried what was new.  They spoke out strongly in support of Kelly’s application – again.

    They were informed that it was back before them purely because it had been advertised as a departure from policy and there was now an objection…. and 12 letters of support.

    Kelly’s other councillor, my counterpart in Ottery St Mary Rural ward, Tony Howard (Con), spoke out firmly against her application last week.  He argued that there should be no building full stop, in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

    In June the committee approved 15 houses in the AONB – outside the built up area boundary, on the most prominent hill in Tipton St John.

    Kelly’s tiny log cabin would have been invisible from the road due to a 20-30 foot high hedge.

    Other councillors claimed that supporting the application was nothing more than ‘sentiment.’

    As previously, I argued that there were very specific circumstances relating only to Kelly that it would be inconceivable to be repeated, so the risk of precedent was virtually non-existent.

    I pointed out that preventing homelessness was a key priority of East Devon District Council and that this is what would happen if councillors rejected the application.

    But the application was rejected in an agonisingly close result – seven votes to eight.

    In August the application was approved by eight votes to six.

    The decision has plunged Kelly back into despair who thought just two months ago she had won a very long and very hard battle.  She was close to tears after the decision and said she was in shock.

    It seems to me to be very unjust for the application to be returned to committee on the strength of just one objection, that added nothing new.  It is also quite bizarre, and perhaps unprecedented, for a planning application to be refused just two months after it had been approved.

    It is unclear whether East Devon District Council will resume legal action against Kelly.

    EDDC’s new Homes and Communities plan was published this week. 

    It boasts about successes relating to preventing homelessness and claims that preventing homelessness is its highest priority.

    A perverse and callous decision was made by the majority of the planning committee, last Tuesday.

    And it is all the more appalling when one considers the raft of applications that were submitted by East Devon Business Forum members and approved by EDDC, despite being highly contrary to planning policy, highly visually intrusive and highly contested by residents. 

    Re the homelessness policies, the link to the plan is here – EDDC Homes and Communities plan