To receive any questions relating to items on the Agenda from members of the public and replies thereto.
Note: A maximum of 30 minutes is allowed for this item.
1. Mrs Hill spoke in relation to item 12 on the agenda, land north of Town Farm, Burlescombe. My questions relate mainly to the ancient boundary hedge. Context very quickly, Blackdown Environmental conducted an ecology assessment report in February 2018, the plan then was for 13 houses and Blackdown’s understanding was that the ancient hedge would remain intact as per the design proposals. They refer to the boundary hedge along Old Road as species rich, potential to be categorised as an important hedgerow under the Hedgerow Regulations Act 1997. There also exists a Devon biodiversity and geodiversity action plan from Devon County Council with policies to protect the hedgerows. Blackdown’s views can still be viewed on MDDC Planning portal. It was never updated dated but revised in July 2019. That has significant differences from plans report in 2018.
Can Officers explain why they have not met the requirements of the Hedgerow Regulations Act 97 by requesting an up-to-date assessment to address the ecological, botanical and heritage importance of the ancient boundary hedge?
Can Officers also explain why they failed to reconsult the ecologists (as the ecologists advised in the report) and or ensure an opportunity for a revised consultation response addressing the now proposed removal of 55 metres of the boundary hedgerow?
Can Officers explain why they did not ensure this was done?
The Ecologists wanted retention and protection of this historically important hedgerow. Can Officers explain why MDDC subsequently recommended Approval on a Revised Scheme that would destroy it?
Can Officers explain the discounting of the documented historic background to the Boundary Hedge from Devon County’s Historic Records team, reference to the Domesday, and the hedgerows importance?
You say there isn’t sufficient reason to recommend refusal on its own but MDDC has failed to address these issues and failed to conduct a proper survey of the impact. So it leaves the authority in danger of a breaching the Hedgerow’s Regulation Act of 1997 and the Environmental Impact Regulations too.
Would Councillors not agree that the hedgerow’s historic origins and in particular the Ecologist’s requirements for retention and protection of this Boundary is an additional and valid Reason for Refusal as is the imminent adoption of the Local Plan which puts this site out of the settlement limit?
2. Mrs Hill spoke on behalf of Cllr Lewis Worrow from Burlescombe Parish Council, in relation to the same item (as he had not been in attendance at this point in the meeting).
The preservation and importance of Burlescombe’s Grade I listed church and its setting is now listed as a reason for Refusal, supported by MDDC’s Statutory duty under Section 66 of the Planning Act of 1990 and Policies DM27 and DM25.
The starting point for Appeals Inspectors in cases such as these is a ’strong presumption against granting permission’ if there is any harm to the heritage asset itself or its setting.
This Application does not overcome or negate even ‘less than substantial’ harm to the setting of the Church and Historic England has consistently advised MDDC to focus on whether the public benefit outweighs the harm.
To this end I have two (2) questions:
a) Have Members been clearly informed that the starting point for Planning authorities and Appeals Inspectors is a “’strong presumption against granting permission if there is any harm to the heritage asset itself or its setting?”, particularly so when there is no public benefit but significant and less than significant harm?
b) Can Officers explain why, until now, there has been no acknowledgement of the absence of public benefit and why MDDC’s Statutory duty under Section 66 of The Planning Act 1990 has not been cited as a Refusal reason until now?
Further to this, the current Application is a Revised Scheme containing significant differences to that of the previous Application Refused in June 2019.
In the December 2019 Report, P32, Officers detail that the current scheme relates to revisions made to overcome the reason for Refusal (highways) and that the Authority cannot consider any other aspects of the development that was previously considered unless the changes made to overcome this reason for refusal cause additional harm to the surrounding area and the heritage assets.
This Revised Application includes a platform of additional and significant excavation to the proposed site: visibility splays, significantly increased parking/turning area and a covered roof not shown in the previous Application.
The Application also now requires the destruction of 55 metres of an historic, protected and irreplaceable boundary hedge, in contravention of the Hedgerows Protection Act 1997 and of the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations.
To this end, I have three (3) subsequent questions for a total of five (5) questions:
a) Can Officers explain why they did not treat such significant changes to the Plans as material considerations, and why they seem not to have concluded the changes would cause additional harm to the surrounding area and the heritage asses, as they detailed in the December 2019 Report?
Officers incorrectly claim they cannot include new Reasons for Refusal, in contrast to their statement of December.
b). Would Councillors not agree that these material differences provide MDDC with compelling and in Planning terms, justifiable reasons that permit MDDC to take into account and introduce new, legitimate reasons for Refusal that were previously not included?
c). Would Councillors not agree there are flaws in this process, and that the Application should be finally Refused today?
3. Mr Jamie Byrom then spoke in relation to item 16, Appeal in relation to Higher Town, Sampford Peverell. After the closed session about this same site last October, this Council dropped one of its reasons for refusal, I therefore fear you are being asked to do something similar today, forgive me if I am mistaken. I urge you not to drop either of the remaining reasons for refusal.
Reason for refusal 3 concerns the safety of pedestrians who move in between the site and the village. A year ago you found that the Appellant’s proposals for the canal area would be unsafe and they still are. You will soon adopt our new Local Plan, its policy SP2 requires that access to and from the village must be improved. If you drop this reason for refusal just when the plan is about to be adopted you will in effect be ignoring a Local Plan policy requirement and I think you will all agree this will be a very bad signal to send to the public at the moment.
The same is true of reason for refusal 1. This concerns landscape impact. A year ago you decided that the landscape proposal would do significant harm to the surrounding landscape character and appearance. This too is covered by policy SP2. It requires landscaping and design which respect the setting and character of the area, conservation of the area and listed building. To help achieve this the policy defines a large area of green infrastructure where there must be no development. The Local Plan Inspector described this area of green infrastructure as essential in providing the protection required but this Council’s landscape expert witness for the Appeal never once mentions in his evidence how the Appellants proposals would harm this green infrastructure, something has held him back. In your private session councillors you might like to ask what this is. May be it is because the Local Plan had not yet been adopted when he wrote his evidence but the plan will soon have full force. This includes the requirement for the green infrastructure to remain undeveloped. Rather than give up on the landscape reason for refusal this committee should surely urge officers and your very capable experts to pursue it more aggressively backed up by the requirements of the soon to be adopted plan. If you drop reason for refusal 1 you will be ignoring the SP2 requirement for green infrastructure to remain undeveloped. Once again this is surely a very bad signal to send to the public.
In conclusion my question is, will officers give a clear undertaking here today that the Council and its experts will uphold in full every part of policy SP2 at the forthcoming Appeal enquiry? I am looking simply for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.
4. Professor Barney Dunn spoke in relation to item 13 on the agenda, the Tree Preservation Order at the former Primary School, Newton St Cyres. He stated that he wanted to comment on the appeal made to the imposition of the Tree Preservation Order.This first reason for objection was that the tree was in a poor structural condition. From a non-expert view it is beautiful and its thriving and I note that none of the other 2 experts that came out to see the tree said that it was in a poor state. There is a comment made that the process wasn’t followed properly in placing the TPO. As far as I can tell the process has been followed properly.
There is some question about the amenity of the tree, I would just say that the tree has clear visual amenity and that there are multiple site points along Sand Down Lane and on the A377 whether you are a walker, a pedestrian or a cyclist and when they knock down the old school the visual amenity of the tree will potentially increase because it will be more visible.
Also the tree has some historical amenity in that generations of kids went to school there and remember having lessons under it and doing outdoor learning so it is kind of a cultural landmark in the village.
There were some questions raised that it will bias a subsequent planning application with views of the public. My understanding of planning law is that a TPO can be overturned at the planning stage but that it is good to have it there so that that tree is given due process.
The other reason for appeal is that the tree is an inappropriate species for a confined space within a development environment. Just to note the rival bidder for the site which was a Community Housing Trust had come up with a scheme that could successfully incorporate the tree and didn’t see any problems with it. That bid was refused on the grounds of profitability for the Council not for viability of the proposal, that is my understanding.
For those reasons I think the original TPO was fine and I would hope that it continues to be upheld. Thank you.
5. Beverly Tolley then spoke in relation to item 12 on the agenda, land north of Town Farm, Burlescombe. She stated that MDDC would seem to be inconsistent in the consideration of applications and in its decisions regarding the harmful effect this proposal will have on the appearance of Old Road, one of the oldest parts Burlescombe has been discounted. On a recent application, outside of the settlement area of Craddick, polices of COR2 and DM 2 concerning local distinctiveness were fully considered and cited as reasons for refusal so my question is can MDDC officers explain why they did not explore and properly consider the relevance of COR2 and DM2 to this application and apply them instead of claiming that the application complied with both?
6. Caroline Pitchin also spoke in relation to land north of Town Farm, Burlescombe.
Good news for the village we now have a farm shop, however the location is in front of the proposed development. Visitors to the shop are already trying to park when the shop is busy, often parking two abreast as we simply do not have anywhere to park. The visitors in the shop are only parking for a few minutes but my question is where are the visitors to park for the proposed development? I cannot see that they will park in the proposed parking area as these are family homes that could mean several cars per household. We have measured the lane and it’s 4.2 metres in width on the road outside the proposed development.
The Leylandii trees are growing out of control, spoiling the view for all in the Parish. This has been mentioned by several parties and in previous proposals these were to be cutback or replaced. However will these be allowed to grow even taller if the proposal is denied? I feel that the Leylandii is being used as a bargaining tool. Please will these be cut if the proposal is denied or if permission is given?
The hedge row is an ancient hedge and should remain. The developers Assessment report in 2018 does state that the ancient hedge needs to be protected and remain intact. I have also read on the Mid Devon website that you cannot simply remove an ancient hedge.
7. Cllr Andrew Moore, Ward Member for Clare and Shuttern, stated that he was
speaking in relation to item 11 on the agenda – erection of an office building and a Change of Use from agriculture to a groundworks depot at Highfield Farm.
Members of the Committee, you will recall that I called this retrospective application in with concerns about cumulative impact, whether this is the right sort of development to be promoting in remote, heartland countryside and because of potential amenity impact given the history on the wider site. I stand by those concerns.
You’ll remember that a simple search uncovered 8 businesses at Highfield Farm, with this one, “a new employment site” per the report, proudly proclaiming that its growth had been “exponential” and employed 30 people. Taking into consideration everything else that goes on at Highfield Farm is this an appropriate scale or over-development? Is there sufficient adverse impact to refuse the application? You must decide, again in the context of other noisy operations in the immediate area: there must come a point where yet another business is the straw that breaks that particular camel’s back.
We are told there are no other suitable sites in the area so the criteria for DM20 are met, but given that the business operates right across the south of England is a 3 km search radius enough? As for adverse impact to the “appearance and character of the countryside”, or alternatively “sustaining local distinctiveness, character and environmental assets”, you saw photos that showed that a green field site has been completely taken over by this business. Are you aware that, contrary to the report, this site does have a Statutory designation: part is in the North Devon Biosphere, a UNESCO-designated reserve? Are you entirely happy that the requirements of COR2 and COR18 are being fulfilled?
Amenity impact for the few local properties in this quiet area is an important consideration. The recommendations strongly restricting operating hours, lighting and noise are welcome. As this report mentions, a further restriction on vehicle access times might well be appropriate - within the past week there was reportedly regular activity from 5:30 am and vehicles were reportedly entering site with materials at 9:00 pm: Environmental Health Officers have been informed. As always, we rely on the integrity of the operator to honour the conditions, and so it has to be. But I worry that on this remote site with few neighbours, despite the controls, regular Enforcement visits will be needed. And there’s a risk that this business’s operation could spill conveniently onto the adjacent site where there are currently no specific controls on operating hours, lighting or noise and there have been several Enforcement actions. Are you happy that controls are enough to safely secure the wider policy requirements for the protection of the countryside environment?
So, is this the right thing to be approving, and if so, are you happy that the conditions are sufficient to ensure that all concerns are being comprehensively addressed?
The Chairman stated that the questions would be raised when the Committee got the relevant item on the agenda.