The fifth day of the Super Inquiry into mass development in Feniton opened with the second day of the Parish Council’s defence of the village.
Dr Claire Horrocks
Their first Expert Witness, Dr Claire Horrocks, read through her proof evidence and was then asked questions by Charlie Hopkins (Feniton Parish Council (FPC)’s legal representative). She explained the three strands of sustainability (environmental, economic and social) and the DEFRA indicators of sustainability. She explained that sustainability was so much more than a tick-box exercise and how it should consider how a location gives a sense of ownership and a sense of place. Well-being should be more highly regarded than it is in any sustainability appraisal she had seen.
She said that the sustainability appraisal of Devon villages carried out by PCL Planning (for Strategic Land Partnership) was subjective and not objective and said that the report is short-sighted.
Jessica Graham, the Planning Inspector, asked Claire about sustainability and its place within the NPPF. She said it was about decision-taking when there was no 5-year land supply in place. The test is “are there any adverse impacts of permission being given”. Claire responded that you can’t have a half-way house. A location is either sustainable or not sustainable and she felt that the adverse effects of these developments in Feniton outweigh the benefits ‘for sure’.
Ms Graham said that in practical terms she has to make a decision. Dr Horrocks said that it was all about the quality of life across the three strands of sustainability and about long-term security.
She was then cross-examined by the advocate for Acland Park who asked, “What is sustainable development? … the application of the NPPF is a balancing act.”
Claire responded that it was about the right development in the right place. We must be absolute about that. Feniton is not sustainable. We need to be smart about it. There is no need to ‘whack up’ a few more houses on the edge of an unsustainable village.
He then asked if she was asking the inspector to ignore the NPPF. He suggested to her that the need for housing is a recognised need under the social strand of sustainability.
On greenfield sites, he asked her if she was aware that the Acland Park site’s surface area was 75% concrete. “What is the value of that land for agriculture as the land has been derelict for many years?” Claire responded that it was better than using open fields, but given all the other aspects, it is still not sustainable.
The advocate suggested that the money that was being given to the flood scheme if his site were allowed makes it a sustainable option. Claire responded that it would as long as he was 100% certain that the flood alleviation scheme would improve the situation.
The advocate for AP then said, “If the Inspector was satisfied that the proposed development was an improvement over the existing situation, should she then find in favour of Acland Park?” Claire responded that this was a decision for the Inspector.
He then put it to her that she used to live in a village and she replied that she had to move out as she couldn’t afford the transport costs!
Cross-examinination by the barrister for Strategic Land Partnerships (SLP) then followed and he asked her whether in her opinion any weight should be given to the strength of local feeling. Claire responded that that was a decision for the Inspector.
He then asked her if any development on a greenfield site was contrary to the principles of sustainability. Claire responded that in this case, the greenfield site is particularly against the principles.
Cllr Roger Giles
The second Expert Witness for Feniton Parish Council was former County Councillor, Roger Giles. He was taken through his evidence by Charlie Hopkins who asked him extensive questions on the improvements (or otherwise) of the rail network serving the Exeter to Waterloo line.
Roger said that any further improvements would require massive investment in order to put in a passing loop on the single track line.
He said that Cranbrook was being established as a sustainable location and that by 2026 there could be 12,000 to 15,000 people living there. He felt that Feniton and Whimple could suffer a reduced service in order to improve the service Cranbrook receives by dint of the number of residents, but that was only his opinion.
Charlie asked him about the passing loop at Axminster which had resulted in an increase in the number of trains. Had there been an increase in uptake of the train since the loop opened in 2009? Roger responded that there had been a marginal increase.
Roger said that Feniton had an extremely low usage of the train for a village which had a station. There had been a tiny increase in numbers of people using the train between 2001 and 2011 (using census figures). However, it was impossible to tell yet whether the slight increase in the number of trains seen as a result of the recent timetable change would show greater uptake.
Charlie then asked Roger about the bus service. Roger said that if the train service is limited, the bus service is worse. When asked if you could use the bus for commuting, he said it was hopeless and you can’t get back, but then qualified the statement saying that it was possible, maybe, if you worked part-time.
They then discussed the employment provision of the three sites and Charlie asked him about the policy whereby one job should come with one house built. Roger said that only Strategic Land Partnerships offered employment provision.
They then touched on flooding at Patteson’s Cross which Roger felt was far more frequent than perhaps Martyn Smith, Chairman of Feniton Parish Council had suggested (Martyn had thought that Patteson’s Cross was impassable due to flooding perhaps once in three years, but it was difficult to be sure). Roger felt that it was more likely that it was flooded once or twice a year, maybe more. Once it was twice in one week. As Devon County Councillor for Feniton he had been unable to get into the village to help residents.
Roger was then cross-examined by the barrister for Strategic Land Partnerships who indicated that the train timetable published in December 2013 was a considerable improvement for commuters. Roger disagreed with this and said there would never be great improvements until the passing loop was in place between Feniton and Exeter as it was constrained by being single track.
The barrister suggested that the new service was infinitely better, to which Roger responded that the old service was abysmal, so any improvement was a big improvement.
Roger said that what is sustainable is having employment near your home so you can walk to work, as in Axminster, which has very high levels of walking to work. The barrister then suggested that his site (west of Ottery Road) was only 200m from the railway station and obviously the nearer you live to a station, the more likely you are to use the train.
There then followed discussions ranging over flooding, the primary school, expansion of the King’s School and the medical centre at Ottery St Mary.
Dr Margaret Hall, CPRE
Roger’s evidence was followed by a statement from Dr Margaret Hall, secretary of the East Devon branch of the CPRE.
The parties (three appellants and EDDC) had agreed in pre-inquiry discussions that the housing land supply was not going to be a focal point of the inquiry. EDDC do not have enough sufficient land allocated for housing in the next 5/6 years, so there was little point in wasting inquiry time in arguing that they did. Instead the inquiry would focus on the sustainability of Feniton and the suitability of the three development sites.
The CPRE’s argument is that EDDC is using the wrong figures to decide how many houses should be built. Because of the economic downturn and a reduction in the numbers of people moving into the area, their figures were too high by 4,000 houses. Dr Hall read out her strongly reasoned argument and was thanked by Ms Graham.