Let battle commence! Super inquiry, day 1

Over 100 residents of Feniton and the surrounding area came to the first day of the Super Inquiry at the FlyBe Training Academy this morning. Such was the level of interest, that Planning Inspector, Jessica Graham immediately adjourned the inquiry for 10 minutes in order for more chairs to be brought into the room.

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Boxes of files lined up at the start of the Feniton Super Inquiry

She then started proceedings by introducing the Super Inquiry against a total of 235 by three developers (Feniton Park Ltd for Acland Park, Wainhomes for an extension to their 50 houses won at appeal in 2012, and Strategic Land Partnership for development on land west of Ottery Road).

Ms Graham then emphasised to those members of the public present that she was keen to hear their views. “I won’t close this inquiry until I’ve heard from everyone who wants to speak”, she said.

Feniton resident, Anthony Harper, raised residents’ concerns about the change of venue and presented a petition to the Inspector with 300 signatures protesting that the inquiry was not to be held in the village.

As a result of public concerns expressed at the inquiry, as well as previously, Ms Graham has requested that a public meeting be held in the village during the inquiry:

Public Inquiry Open Meeting, Feniton Primary School
Wednesday, 15 January from 6 p.m.

Ms Graham reiterated her desire to hear from concerned residents, but requested that people did not repeat what others had said. This doesn’t serve any useful purpose in helping her come to a decision.

It was announced that all parties have agreed that EDDC does not have a 5-year land supply. Estimates currently range between 2.2 and 4.3 years, with developers suggesting the lower figure and EDDC defending the higher figure. The agreement only came about a day or so before the inquiry and Tim Hale of CPRE commented that they have concerns about the numbers of houses required for East Devon and he had not had sight of this new paperwork. The central plank of the CPRE’s argument is that far too many houses are envisaged in the region.

Ms Graham then explained that she expected the inquiry to consider:

1. Housing land supply and policy implications
2. Whether Feniton is an appropriate location in terms of infrastructure and accessibility
3. The impact on landscape

Each of the parties then went through their opening statements.

The barrister for Acland Park made his opening statements suggesting that the site is currently dangerous. Feniton residents will remember the endless number of times we were told it was dangerous because it contained asbestos. The site now houses a static mobile home, linked up to all the services, placed there by the developer for ‘security’. Many are perplexed by this as security was never required before. This caravan was the subject of a planning enforcement order requiring it to be moved.

The usual arguments were trotted out by Strategic Land Partnership who apparently can provide all the infrastructure required. SLP own the site of the current social club which they will offer to DCC at cost in exchange for planning consent on the land west of Ottery Road. Should it be deemed necessary, however, DCC have indicated that the site can be purchased through a compulsory purchase order.

Wainhomes described their proposed development as the ‘second phase’ … this was met with derision by members of the public present and the Planning Inspector requested that people should not call out.

Charlie Hopkins, the legal representative for Feniton Parish Council, explained sustainability as it is enshrined in the NPPF. (When a council doesn’t have a Local Plan in place, there is a presumption in favour of sustainable development.) The central focus of FPC’s case is that Feniton is not a sustainable location for development of the levels currently proposed.

EDDC’s barrister described Feniton as being at the bottom of the hierarchy of sustainability. Feniton has already taken more houses than is anticipated up to 2026. WH and SLP cause landscape harm which is against national and local policies. He then listed the reasons why Feniton is at the bottom of the hierarchy. He touched on the 5-year land supply and mentioned ‘disaggregation’, which is essentially EDDC’s preference to build close to Exeter where there is employment. He spoke about the harm to the landscape around Feniton and the waste of good agricultural land which would be squandered on building.

EDDC’s Planning Policy Manager then spoke about the Local Plan being Localism in action. Although EDDC does not have its 5-year land supply, rapid steps are being taken towards it. He said that there were no strategic development allocations in villages (the major towns in East Devon have higher levels of growth under the Local Plan). The hierarchy of development under the Local Plan is first of all the area in the West End near Exeter (the principal urban area, PUA), the second level is the towns and the third area is the villages where only limited development is envisaged. In the villages, a local needs based, organically generated growth level of 5% was envisaged. Some parish councils wanted more than 5%, but in the case of Feniton that aspiration wasn’t identified.

There then followed debate about the Examination in Public of the Local Plan, which is due to start on 11 February. Ms Graham asked what the date was for the adoption of the Local Plan. EDDC said that the issues being debated at this inquiry should be resolved through the local plan inquiry, where housing needs issues can be explored in more depth. Reference was made to the appeal decision on WH50. EDDC talked about the importance of Cranbrook where delivery rates were just below 500 houses a year.

SLP submitted additional core documents the day before the inquiry, much to the surprise of all the other parties, not least the Planning Inspector. During the afternoon, EDDC’s barrister suggested that these documents should not be allowed to be submitted as no-one would have the time to examine them (the extra documents ran to more than 400 pages!). SLP was asked to pull out a couple of relevant documents and submit them as evidence and not as core documents. (There’s a lot of paper to be recycled this evening!)

Barristers for the three developers then spent a considerable amount of time trying to cut through the planning policy manager’s evidence. The Acland Park barrister made much of the fact that the site had been the preferred site of the parish council (this was changed once Wainhomes was granted the 50 homes at appeal). WH barrister spent a great deal of time trying to prove that Cranbrook is not delivering as fast as EDDC suggests. This was a lengthy and arduous process for the EDDC officer, with each developer trying to score points for their particular site.

Tomorrow, proceedings start at 9.30 and EDDC’s landscape architect will be presenting his evidence and no doubt being put through the mill by the developers.

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