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.
Mr Wood – referring to the Crediton Garden Centre proposal he asked please can the planning officer inform us why this application has not been treated as the very large retail development which it clearly is? Independent legal advice shows that this development is undisputedly A1 retail and councils must apply all relevant retail policies to determine the retail planning application for a garden centre. Due to limited time since the last meeting all of our independent reports have been submitted at the last minute, but we have previously submitted most of this information earlier in the summer and it was largely ignored by the planning officers and also by highways. We would also ask why this very clear legal advice has been ignored. Additionally could the planning officer please answer on landscape, why was it concluded that there will be no harm to the landscape and can he answer why a full landscape assessment was not conducted? The independent landscape report from Canbion Landscape Architects concludes that there would be significant harm from this proposal.
Kirsten Spronson – speaking with regard to the Lidl proposal asked, firstly are members aware that there is only one food discounter in Devon presently? The second being, are members aware that supporters of this proposal currently travel between 20 to 30 miles out of Tiverton to shop at a Lidl’s food store?
Cllr Judi Binks – referring to the falconry (Upton Hellions) proposal stated two members share my concerns that it is at the heart of a small but vibrant community of permanent resident’s not second homers. The site is a green field site of under 2 acres with no existing buildings. I have scoured all similar applications nationally and the minimum size for a small rural holding of similar building is between 7 and 22 acres, exceptionally 5 acres never 1.5 acres. Do members feel that the employment of 1 on-site worker justifies this encroachment to village life? Has the case for an essential permanent dwelling been made? Again my research into applications has shown that where permission is granted for an associated dwelling it is for the siting of a temporary mobile home for 5 years to allow for sufficient time for the business to become viable. Do you think that the presentation of the 3 year business accounts relating to a far more diverse enterprise in Powys, Wales provides sufficient like for like evidence of the viability of the proposed narrow focus of this application? Members would you if you are minded to approve this recommendation please recommend the siting of a temporary mobile home not a permanent residence.
Holly Adams – referring to the Crediton Garden Centre proposal she asked if it was reasonable in planning terms to restrict the sale of traditional garden centre merchandise from the site for instance Christmas trees and tropical fish? Modern garden centres have evolved in the same way as any other successful business model due to customer requirements. The phrase ‘evolve or die’ is the testament to the success of garden centres. As every other business has cherry picked parts of the garden centre such as Christmas trees, plants, chemicals and pots to name but a few it is only fair that garden centres should have looked to protect their business and their employees. It is as well that they have, otherwise staff would be laid off or their hours reduced which has been the case in Crediton Garden Centre in the past which is incredibly unfair as they work incredibly all spring and summer to be rewarded with less or no income in the quieter months. If you read any list of the best garden centres you won’t find any dilapidated shed, customers demand a destination garden centre to find plants and products to enhance their homes and gardens and enjoy a sit down with some refreshments and a chat. Despite the best efforts of huge department stores, shopping centres and supermarkets nobody restricts their shopping habits to a single one stop shop and it is ridiculous to suggest that this is the case with garden centres. With this in mind I would like to hear the arguments backed with evidence as to why councillors believe that a reasonable case for restrictions to be made on the trading of this development and if the application is turned down how they will defend their decision to appeal?
Mrs Tucker – referring to the Crediton Garden Centre proposal stated at the October planning meeting the committee members were minded to refuse the application and made a decision to refer it for the harm it would create and requested an implications reports. Why was the applicant then allowed to resubmit the revised plans for the same application? Is this not frustrating the planning process overriding committee members’ decisions? Normally a substitute application would have been made. Please can the planning officer explain why this has not been done?
Cllr Chris Daw – referring to the Lidl proposal stated, I have come in this afternoon to represent Lidl’s because Cllr Jenny Roach and myself were sent out by the Scrutiny Committee to do a survey in the town and I would like to say that every person we spoke to that day (and the survey was not about Lidl’s) all asked that we have a Lidl’s or a store like it in our town and we are still getting that kind of response. I would like you to support this application in the town.
Adam Kuzara – Speaking about the falconry (Upton Hellions) proposal stated: I have 3 short questions why has the applicant been given several opportunities to refute her own claims about how noisy the raptors are? How can it make sense to duplicate the facilities and rear chicks in Devon when the facilities are well established in Wales? How would the business benefit Upton Hellions?
Steve Adams – Referring to the Crediton Garden Centre proposal said: do councillors think that it is fair to restrict the sale of merchandise at Crediton Garden Centre and if so what restrictions apply to other stores in the town who sell garden products which are not traditionally considered part of their businesses such as Tesco, Morrison’s and Mole Avon and also what restrictions have been applied to other garden centre expansions in the area? Much has been made of the presumption that this development will lead to the demise of the High Street but it is not based on hard facts or figures despite a small group of objectors’ tactics of hiring supposed independent studies one of which claims that Crediton Garden Centre is not a garden centre at all but a plant nursery, when it is clear that we don’t grow any plants on the site and haven’t done for a year. Following a feasibility study carried out by myself over 6 months last year which showed it to be impracticable, unprofitable and in parts loss making as will be borne out by the previous owner and that the business only sustained 3 staff, two of them part time and involved reducing their hours over the winter. A garden centre attracts completely different customers than any other business. The very presence of an anchor centre at the western entrance to town would create a suction effect and draw customers into Crediton. It is in no one’s best interest to close down other businesses and Homeleigh is not a greedy corporate body out to do that. In fact we actively seek to work with suppliers within the South West whenever possible many of these very local to Crediton such as Lidcot and Albion Nurseries and we are currently speaking to suppliers in Crediton itself such as the Crediton Coffee Company and Coxes Butchers regarding the possibility of using their products in the proposed café should it go ahead. In addition, any building work which is done will be offered to local firms and individuals not a national contractor. Do councillors also understand that if the sale of merchandise is restricted or the size of the building reduced further there will be a natural knock on effect with the amount of jobs we are able to offer. With the potential of hundreds of new houses planned for the area, many classified as affordable housing it would be interesting to know where the extra employment need will come from, especially if companies are willing to plough millions into the town’s economy, are to be restricted and objected to at every turn. I have here a list of 200 signatures from customers who have enquired about this planning application and when told of these latest referrals they have asked how they could demonstrate their frustrations. These customers were not cajoled, fed propaganda or half-truths and freely offered their support. So to conclude with my question again, do the councillors think it fair to restrict the sale of merchandise at Crediton Garden Centre compared to restrictions applied to other stores and expanding garden centres in the area?
Mr Bond – referring to the Crediton Garden Centre proposal stated can the planning officer please advise why he says there will be no harm to the town centre from this development? Our retail impact report indicates that the effect will be more like 20% rather than the 1% the applicant has stated. When Tesco opened, the High Street lost 20% of trade and footfall that was a direct result. Tesco did not close the whole High Street but it did create closure of some businesses. A similar sized development at the other end of town will unfortunately create another 20% of decline in footfall and thus a 20% loss in sales. If this is the case the viability of key retailers in the town such as Adams, such as Tuckers and other related shops who sell garden related goods would be threatened. Other retailer’s livelihoods would be threatened. I would also say on a personal note I have 10 local suppliers to my own shop, they will all be threatened and many other shops and the jobs which will be lost, not just on the High Street but its subsidiary companies and agricultural workers.
Lindsay Kuzara – speaking about the falconry (Upton Hellions) proposal said why has a video provided by the applicant of only 2 Harris Hawks been accepted as a starting point to work out noise level when it is not a realistic portrayal of a busy working falconry? Why didn’t the applicant make a recording of all the birds together? Also where is the sound recording that the applicant said she could provide when it suited her to say that the Raptors are notoriously noisy and thirdly how can the incubation of eggs be a good enough reason to build a house on a green field site when there are already the facilities for this in Wales?
John Moore - speaking about the Crediton Garden Centre proposal stated are members aware of the local issue in Higher Road of increasing traffic volume comes at peak times, one vehicle every 6 seconds are using Higher Road which is very narrow 4.2 metres at that point. The situation for our pedestrians whenever they access the bus services on the main road, the situation has been widely discussed for a period of time in the media and at HATOC to no avail. This application has addressed this situation both widening Higher Road and providing a footpath, a real community benefit. But if this application is not approved will our highways concerns be resolved by the local authority? Our prior discussions would indicate that this is unlikely.
Mr Adams - speaking about the Crediton Garden Centre proposal said please can the planning officer answer why this proposal has not been deemed as an inappropriate scale for the location? Total buildings in this application are 3 times larger than the existing horticultural structure on site and 10 times larger than the 2003 permission. This scale and massing of buildings is out of context for the area.
Sue Keogh - speaking about the falconry (Upton Hellion) proposal stated she wanted to ask a question about sustainability and its ability to be future proof. We sent a clip to all the councillors and the planning authority about the introduction of Roe birds that is drone technology that does exactly the same thing which is pest control of birds, that’s what the falcons are going to be doing, who are bred and reared and trained in Upton Hellions. Our question is do you think that this drone technology which is so much less expensive than the live falcons will very quickly make this business redundant.
Mr Tucker – referring to the Crediton Garden Centre proposal he asked, please can the planning officer explain why his report states that the limited 2003 planning permission is sufficient to develop the site further? How is this limited permission being relied upon to justify development of a major destination garden centre? The report independently from Xcel Planning clearly shows that this 2003 permission was for a small scale expansion of a nursery operation up until 2017. Since that time the new owner has not grown anything. The 2003 application just had a small shop and tea room although this was never formally legally commenced because conditions were not discharged. Xcel Planning’s report shows the 2003 permission does not in any way establish to garden centre use. The mere fact that the 2003 application is drawn round the whole of the site does not establish a planning consent for anything set out in the 2003 decision notice and approved plans. There is also no evidence in the planning history of the applicant stating a starting point of 6000sqm of development. Therefore the proposal represents a massive increase in retail space which is there today. Why is the planning officer now supporting the development which is so much larger than the 2003 application and so much larger than what has been on the site previously? And finally please can the planning officer advise why they classified the whole site as brownfield with development on it? This ignores 45% of the site which has never ever been developed upon. This 45% strip of land was only purchased in 2017; it had planning permission refused 6 times plus twice on appeal due to being in open countryside. We believe this is a clearly defined open countryside location that should be regarded as a material consideration for this proposal. Can the planning officer therefore please confirm that the whole site is not brownfield which he has previously said it is?
Diane Fyfe – Referring to the falconry (Upton Hellions) asked why this application is being recommended when the applicant herself said a site in a village with close neighbours is unsuitable because Harris hawks are notoriously noisy and the fledglings screech continuously, that’s her words. As part of the business plan how has the applicant researched and taken into consideration the number of dogs and free roaming cats which already live within a quarter of a mile of this proposed falconry within the village of Upton Hellions. These are the very animals which she stated in her initial application would cause disturbance and risk to her birds. Are we therefore likely to be treated to a spiralling cacophony of very loud hawk screeching and dogs barking each time the 24 dogs that live permanently in Upton Hellions, plus the dogs which walk through from Sandford walk down the lane as they do at present. Do the resident cats in the village which currently number 12, are they in danger of the person who holds the shotgun licence to ward off predators.
Mr Schofield - peaking with regard to the Crediton Garden Centre proposal asked can the planning officer please tell us how this development can be sustainable? It will not be possible to walk or cycle from the town as it cannot be reached safely. Buses do not run on Sundays, one of the busiest days for garden centres. Most of the journeys to this site would be by car. The independent report by Mark Baker Consulting concludes the site is not sustainable. Please can the planning officer inform us why this application is not being treated as a change of use from a nursery to a garden centre? Up until 2017 the previous owners operated this site as a nursery, all evidence presented by Xcel Planning shows that sales were ancillary to the nursery’s activity. However, what is now proposed is an activity where the selling of the plants is ancillary to an A1 retail use and there is a very big difference.
Ian Cole - Referring to the falconry (Upton Hellions) said with regard to wild birds the planning officers report says that there is the possibility of disturbance to native wildlife and admits that there has been no research done on this topic. How can this be acceptable evidence of minimal impact?
Mr Webber – referring to the Crediton Garden Centre proposal stated can the planning officer please advise how the 420sqm retail restriction could possibly protect town centre retail outlets such as Adams and Tuckers which both sell garden related products already? How does the planning officer propose to force these restrictions on A1 retail space? We have been told by the planning officer that we personally would have to report any breaches to the planning officer which is just not practical.
Karen Cole - Referring to the falconry (Upton Hellions) said my question is in regard to the visual impact and why can’t the house have a lower roof to reduce the visual impact?
Ms Holloway - speaking about the Crediton Garden Centre proposal stated could the planning officer please tell us the impact of a massive café on the local economy it has hugely been under estimated again. The café would become the largest in Crediton with a turnover of around £1m. This is bound to have a major negative effect on all the cafes and pub’s in Crediton and could lead to up to 50 job losses from catering alone.
Ms Hutchings - speaking about the Crediton Garden Centre proposal stated can the planning officer please answer why the proposal ‘s new entrance has not been judged as a major safety concern? The independent highways report from traffic engineer and transport planning expert Mark Baker Consulting states that the road layout and visibility splays are not sufficient for a 60mph road and say the access is fundamentally unsafe. In addition lorries and coaches have to use the whole site access width and this would also not be safe. It means large vehicles could still be sticking out in the east bound lane before a vehicle travelling 50-60mph coming over the brow of the hill with a high risk of an accident. We also ask why no proper speed survey was done at the site. This means that the observed speed of the highways officer of 50mph cannot be relied upon. We believe that the application should be refused on safety grounds alone.
Mr Peacock – referring to the Crediton Garden Centre proposal stated can the planning officer please tell us how air pollution from the development would be dealt with? Around 80% of the traffic for this development will go through Crediton town centre creating extra pollution which is against policy DM6?
Mr David Counter asked can the planning officer please ask why the ten year retail impact assessment full analysis was not carried out. Previously the officer stated that there was only a small increase in the scale and they would not be required. However Xcel Planning showed the size of the development is over the 500sqm threshold which triggers a need for a 10 year retail assessment and over the 2500sqm for a sequential test. Why are these key developments of the National Planning Policy Framework not carried out?
Ms Green - Speaking about the Crediton Garden Centre proposal stated can I ask the planning officer to comment on how the highways impact has been judged. The independent highways report from Mark Baker Consulting concludes there would in reality be a severe and unacceptable impact on the road network as a result of this development. The applicant’s traffic report has clearly shown by this independent report to have dramatically underestimated the traffic impact. Mark Baker concludes that these original reports should not have been relied upon by highways. In reality traffic flows are forecasted to increase by a massive 12 times. Parking spaces grow from 12.5 times from 20 to a whopping 255 spaces. Based on this independent report there will be major traffic congestion in the area and it is clear that the highways authority conclusion that the impact is permissible is wrong. I would like to know why highways did not sufficiently interrogate the reports to notice that they were grossly inaccurate.
Mr Steve Adams on behalf of Cllr Stuart Penny and referring to the Crediton Garden Centre proposal stated that the expansion of the Homeleigh Garden Centre can only be beneficial to our rural community. Not only will it bring revenue and jobs to the area but also a pleasant visiting experience. I have heard not one negative comment or objection to the proposal on the street or at my council meetings. My question is what other gardens centres in the district have expanded in size and by how much?