The Planning Inspector has allowed the appeal by Welbeck Strategic Land and granted outline planning permission for residential development and SANG land. This permission includes access via Coombe Road. We have been fighting this planning application for nearly 3 years it has now finally come to and end with a disappointing result. It has been controversial from the start and the Decision Report throws up some alarming issues. Our comments on the report are as follows:
The planning inspector, David Morgan, has allowed the appeal by Welbeck Strategic Land and planning permission has been granted for residential development of the site including SANG.
This decision, however, is not without controversy and raises a number of important and worrying issues that could, at the very least, affect other planning issues throughout Hart.
One of the main issues was building in the Blackwater Valley Strategic Gap. Saved Policy CON19 states – “the boundaries of Strategic Gaps should not be altered except in exceptional circumstances” and CON20 states “Development will not be permitted which would diminish the strategic gap physically or visually in order that the setting and separate identity of settlements on either side of the county boundary are retained”. The inspector actually agreed that the development technically breached the Hart Saved Policies CON19 and CON20. It is not clear what “technically” actually means, however, the inspector gave himself enough “wriggle room” to presume that an estate built in the strategic gap is somehow supported by CON19 and CON20!!
We had previously assumed these policies are in place to prevent erosion of the strategic gaps but the inspector seems to have ignored this to favour the appellant. These saved policies have been in place for years but it seems they do not mean what we thought!
Another issue is the effect on the TBHSPA with regard to the cumulative affect of this and other major developments that now cause the ‘cap’ to be exceeded with regard to the number of houses within the SPA zone of influence. This issue is not even addressed in the inspectors report. A major omission? In Hart’s decision notice to refuse planning permission there is a caveat that states that if permission was granted then this would trigger an Appropriate Assessment. Hart Council is the competent authority to lead this and co-ordinate other councils affected by the TBHSPA. They would also seek guidance from Natural England. We now wait and see if Hart carry this out. This too is not mentioned in the inspectors report. Another omission?
The report also mentions a number of issues in the Statement of Common Ground that Hart Council did not defend. Yateley may not have been served well by back pedalling on a number of strategic issues. Examples are:-
- Although the Environment Agency withdrew its objections it stops a long way short of accepting the Welbeck solution. There are still major issues with flooding and climate change to be overcome. This should not have been a point of Common Ground. The EA has been let off the hook.
- If Hart had pushed the matter better the inspector may have taken the view that the extra traffic generated would have a significant impact on safety and local residents quality of life. Again, this should not have been agreed as Common Ground
- 106 money will be available for providing more primary school capacity. However, there is no indication how this is to be done. Is it possible to carry this out without building a new school? HCC should have been pushed further to provide an answer.
- Did Hart agree too readily on the arguments over the Strategic Gap? The inspector cherry picked his way through CON19 and CON20 in the developers favour.
- Hart have also been dragging their feet with delay after delay in producing a new Local Plan. However would one have made any difference? Clearly if Hart had a current Local Plan the inspector would have to have placed significant weight on it and we may well have had a different outcome.
In this appeal the inspector certainly seems to have bent over backwards to interpret Saved Policies in favour of the appellant. The same arguments used in his report could just as easily been used to dismiss the appeal. Local communities will still, therefore, need to continue their battle against inappropriate development in their area although councils will have very little power to do anything about it. Developers, it seems, will still be able to bulldoze their way through the countryside with apparent ease and with the support of central government.
One other thing is clear from this appeal and that is a new Local Plan should not be “wordy” but have short and concise definitions that cannot be misinterpreted. It would also seem that the sooner the Local Plan is in place the better.
Major planning decisions are still controlled centrally. Unfortunately the only way to overturn an appeal decision is through the High Court; an expensive process.
To read the Decision Report click here – Appeal Decision 3127962 (1)