• What fallout from Feniton appeal decision?

    26th September 2012 | News | Claire
  • The planning inspector, who heard the appeal in August and published his verdict yesterday, has dismissed a number of important material planning considerations and instead smashed to pieces, a key plank of East Devon District Council’s planning policy.

    The appeal was against EDDC’s refusal of 50 dwellings on a greenfield site on high quality agricultural land.  The application was contrary to the adopted Local Plan, as it was for a field not designated for housing, being open countryside.

    The main reason for allowing the appeal came down to the inspector disliking the way EDDC calculated its five year housing land supply – a main element of the appellant’s case and an issue that has been tested at appeal on three previous occasions.

    All district councils must be able to demonstrate, insists the Government, a five year land supply for housing.  Failure to demonstrate this results in a situation where local authorities can find it hard to refuse applications – even those that are contrary to the adopted Local Plan.

    EDDC’s approach – splitting the district in half and ruling that the principal urban area (from Cranbrook westwards to Pinhoe) had less than a five year land supply.  And the rest of the district – a nine year housing land supply – had previously been judged as acceptable by planning inspectors.

    But not anymore.  And given that this is an issue that developers have already mounted three legal challenges against – on refusals at West Hill, Tipton St John and Lympstone – it is reasonable to expect that there may now be a rash of planning applications and appeals, based on the Feniton decision.

    Disappointingly, the planning inspector dismissed a number of important material planning considerations which were in my view, very valid.  These include:

    Sustainability.  Developers, who have been very interested in Feniton in the past two years – seem to think that Feniton should be the target for significant levels of housing due to its railway station.

    The fact that the train service was greatly diminished and so was difficult to use to get to and from work, seemed to cut no ice with the inspector.

    He said:  “This service has decreased over recent years and, as the franchise ends in 2015, it is difficult to see any improvement in the immediate future, particularly as Cranbrook is built out and its station comes into service…..The occupiers of the proposed dwellings would, therefore, be likely to be dependent on trips by private car.”

    The inspector then goes on to claim that Feniton has plenty of facilities such as a school, corner shop, takeaway, hairdressers, among other things, which he used to justify his decision to allow the appeal.

    Acland Park proposed allocation.  EDDC had proposed to allocate a site in the centre of Feniton – Acland Park – for its allotted 35 dwellings.  But the inspector said that the new draft Local Plan was at an early stage and the identified site could only be given ‘little weight.’

    Flooding.  The inspector dismissed residents (very understandable) concerns about flooding (Feniton is frequently affected by flooding) and claimed that there was ‘no indication’ that allowing the appeal would jeopardise a proposed flood relief scheme.  He added that there was no objection from the ‘drainage authority.’

    Sewerage capacity.  The inspector acknowledges South West Water’s ‘serious concerns’ about the implications for the sewage system if the appeal was allowed, but simply refers to a planning condition that he claims could be applied to limit occupancy of the dwellings until the necessary work to remedy the situation, has taken place.  It is not clear how this work would be funded.

    High quality agricultural land.  The inspector dismisses this argument in a few sentences, claiming that any expansion of Feniton would be on grade 2 land and it is only a loss of ‘some grade 2 agricultural land.’ It is actually around 12 acres, which is quite a lot in my view, for a development that did not need to be approved.

    Given that the decision is so different in tone, substance and outcome from the three previous decisions one doesn’t have to look very far to work out why the planning inspectorate is now taking such a hardline approach.  All evidence would seem to point to the Government’s obsession with the planning system, which it mistakenly believes is a barrier to economic growth. 

    Wrecking a local authority’s ability to determine planning applications according to its own Local Plan is irresponsible and not the answer to boosting economic growth. 

    But Mr Osborne doesn’t ‘get it’ nor does he seem to care how much greenfield land he concretes over unnecessarily. 

    I just hope that by the time he gets booted out of Government (surely this will happen sooner rather than later?) it isn’t too late for our lovely East Devon countryside.

    For more information on the threat facing Feniton, visit the Feniton Action Group website at: http://theffff.wordpress.com/