Time for a glass of bubbles all round?

Walking the route of Feniton's flood alleviation scheme on one of the wettest days in August!

Walking the route of Feniton’s flood alleviation scheme on one of the wettest days in August!

At the end of August, I was delighted to be invited to walk the route of phases 1 and 2 of Feniton’s flood alleviation scheme. It was an exciting moment to have got to this half-way point and to know that the endless hard work by the multi-agency team, involving Devon County Council, the Environment Agency and, of course, East Devon District Council, was finally coming to fruition.

Phases 3 and 4 are imminent, and while the inevitable road closures and noise from heavy machinery will all be very disruptive, it will be worth it in the end.

As flood wardens, we dread the onset of winter or the rumbles of thunder from a summer storm, but of course it is entirely another matter to have suffered flooding yourself. The houses which have benefited from the scheme thus far are reaping the benefits in bucketfuls, as it were, with the water which used to wash through their houses or lap at their front door now being channelled around their properties.

Owners of properties south of Patteson’s Cross who feared they would be at greater risk of flooding now have all-singing, all-dancing flood mitigation measures, to help alleviate any increase in surface water flowing past their houses.

Having got this far I have to say that while the scheme has been very complicated, not least since it involves managing high expectations, Feniton is in a very much better position than it used to be. Residents are hoping that when finished, these flood defences will help them sleep better at nights, while the landowners involved have their own concerns and priorities. (Indeed some landowners are of the opinion that they are owed considerable amounts in compensation.) It’s all very expensive and all very time-consuming at a time when resources are constrained, but I think we can allow ourselves just a small, interim celebration.

There are of course many players involved over the years who deserve thanks for keeping the profile high and the pressure up; not just the ever patient residents, but also the Parish Council and former District Councillor Claire Wright.

But I would also like to raise a metaphorical glass of champagne to one particular party which, in my opinion, doesn’t always get the credit it deserves – East Devon District Council.

Like many of you I haven’t always seen eye to eye with EDDC, but when it comes to Feniton’s flood defences, these officers have worked really hard on our behalf, and merit a bit of thanks and respect from us as a result.

There have been times, I know, when it seemed all but impossible to get approval for a flood defence scheme at all, a time when developers were arguing that if a £1.6 million scheme was to be the answer, the only way it would work was if they were allowed to build literally hundreds of houses on our green fields. EDDC stood up for us then, and for an independent flood defence scheme.

And where would we be now if they had decided to walk away from Feniton and its many problems?

A full report of the site visit can be read here … http://eastdevon.gov.uk/news/2016/09/second-phase-of-feniton-flood-alleviation-scheme-now-complete/ and full background details of this critical project are provided at http://eastdevon.gov.uk/flooding/flood-alleviation-schemes/

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Confusion in Feniton over Villages Plan consultation

Development in Feniton always excites comment, but I was especially disappointed to read an ill-informed, anonymous letter in the September issue of Feniton’s parish magazine.

It’s all too easy to set rumours running and temperatures rising, by which time of course the damage is done. However, this letter was so unhelpful, I thought it needed addressing paragraph by paragraph:

“I was surprised to receive details of the so called proposed changes in Feniton’s Built Up Boundary through an e-mail from a local estate agent.”

Why would an estate agent have any interest in Feniton’s Built Up Area Boundary (to give it its proper name)? Unless of course the correspondent meant a ‘planning agent’, i.e. developer, who of course would have a vested interest in moving the site in question to within the boundary.

“There is a large piece of land to the east of Ottery Road leading up to the station which has been the home to some dilapidated greenhouses for as long as I can remember having lived in the village for nearly fifteen years and as far as I know throughout this time, this land has been included in Feniton’s Built up Boundary.”

This paragraph is probably the only paragraph that is factually correct.

“Why suddenly do I hear of a proposal to take it outside the Built-up Boundary and who exactly proposed this. There is no point in pretending that further development will not occur in Feniton at some point to come, but I do object to this eleventh hour clandestine approach to remove a site that has always been earmarked for such further development without understanding who and what reasons are behind such a proposal.”

I posted a blog about this on 9 August (https://susiebond.wordpress.com/2016/08/09/planning-policy-strengthened-in-east-devon/), and of course EDDC’s proposed changes have been discussed extensively, including at the monthly public meeting of Feniton Parish Council on 11 July (minuted in the August issue of the parish magazine). There is nothing ‘clandestine’ about any of this, and the author seems not to understand what a Built Up Area Boundary (BUAB) actually is. It does not, for example, designate areas for development.

The proposed BUAB also draws a line tightly around the current Wainhomes estate, i.e. making it harder for Wainhomes to build the hundred or so more houses it wants to there.

“Essentially such a proposal, if successful will once again leave the rest of the village wondering nervously where further inevitable development will take place.”

Had the correspondent undertaken some elementary research, including on the Villages Development Plan Document (DPD) to which he refers, a lot of this scare mongering could have been avoided.

For example, the Villages DPD is an ancillary document underpinning the Local Plan. Planning policy in East Devon, outlined in the newly adopted Local Plan, is for development to be prioritised around Cranbrook, where there is easy access to employment within the thriving city of Exeter. Indeed, the draft East Devon Villages DPD makes clear just how unsuited Feniton is to mass development.

The decision to site the black line (proposed boundary) for Feniton as it is shown in the parish magazine and in my 9 August blog was taken by EDDC following extensive discussions by a team of planning policy officers and no-one else. Not landowners, not developers, not District Councillors, not Parish Councillors, not the residents of villages who may/may not own land they wish to propose for development. The planners undertook a full site assessment (the results of this exercise can be found through a link on my blog of 9 August).

The Built-Up Area Boundary is for consultation at this stage, but the black lines drawn on the map will only move if there is strong evidence that they should do so. I feel sure that the anonymous correspondent will put in a submission to EDDC voicing his views … although he should be aware that if he does this, he will lose his anonymity.

East Devon is not looking to increase development in Feniton for the time being. This position will undoubtedly change in the future, but the decision as to where development should take place will have to take into account Feniton’s emerging Neighbourhood Plan.

I would urge the anonymous correspondent to come along to Feniton Parish Council meetings where there are frank and open discussions. Using the parish magazine to needlessly raise inaccurate and misleading stories only fuels the fires of rumour and gossip.

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And now even the AONBs aren’t safe from grasping developers!

Appeal decision at Milton-under-Wychwood

An extraordinary decision following the planning appeal on land at Milton-under-Wychwood in West Oxfordshire has seen the Draconian planning rules turned completely on their head.

NPPF

Current planning policy, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) identifies that, in the absence of a Local Plan, houses should be built in locations which are sustainable from an environmental, social and economic perspective.

Paragraph 115 of the NPPF clearly stipulates that AONBs should have the ‘highest level of protection’ from development:

115. Great weight should be given to conserving landscape and scenic beauty in National Parks, the Broads and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which have the highest status of protection in relation to landscape and scenic beauty.

(https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/6077/2116950.pdf)

West Oxfordshire’s Local Plan

The NPPF came into force in 2012 with councils given a year’s grace to March 2013 to get their Local Plans in place and identify that they had a 5-year supply of land for housing development. West Oxfordshire District Council seems to be woefully far behind in this process and, according to the planning decision, could only demonstrate a 2-year land supply. The figures, of course, did not take into consideration the number of houses in the pipeline.

View of Cotswold AONB from Milton-under-Wychwood

View of Cotswold AONB from Milton-under-Wychwood

The site is in David Cameron’s own constituency, at Milton-under-Wychwood in West Oxfordshire, where the appeal has allowed 62 houses in the very heart of the Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

I gather that local residents are understandably livid and have major concerns that 100+ cars will exit the new development directly on to a single track road, through a village with impossible parking facilities. There are no places in the school, the surgery is full, and there is already another approved development for 40 houses in the village. The population of the village is under 1,700 and the combined developments will swamp the village with over a hundred new houses. A massive development is currently being built in Chipping Norton, with another one going through the appeal process (and yet another in Burford and another in Charlbury).

Fears over surface water flooding

Worries about flooding from the site are very real, with concerns about houses downhill of the site at high risk of flooding. The planning inspector has recognised this and stipulated that flood mitigation measures must be put in place before a single house is occupied, and given our experience here in Feniton at Wainhomes’ Winchester Park site, I would strongly urge residents to keep a close eye on this one.

Campaigners in Milton-under-Wychwood now have to consider their position and there are very few options open to them. Judicial review is the only route left, but it requires money and a determination to carry on the fight.

MP for West Oxfordshire

David Cameron is currently on holiday, but I’m sure he has been pondering what legacy he has left this country … He certainly has some serious questions to answer from the residents of Milton-under-Wychwood.

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