Today was a truly turgid day at the Super Inquiry.
The morning saw Acland Park’s planners promoting their site and complaining endlessly that the site should have been decided before the Wainhomes site for 50 houses went to appeal. A not inconsiderable amount of time was taken up with this, not least because their advocates have suggested that they might apply for costs because of some perceived failure in the system.
The barrister for EDDC made a robust defence of their position, but it is clear that this has not yet been resolved. Acland Park has also reduced the number of affordable houses on their site.
So that’s what it’s all about (as if we didn’t know already). It’s not about Feniton at all … not about how the village will look in 10 years’ time. It’s all about the money!
Much is being made too about how dangerous the Acland Park site actually is. Really? Apparently, it’s rat infested, is frequented by drug users and there’s the hidden danger of asbestos … very strange then to park a mobile home on the site (without planning consent) and put the residents in such mortal peril. (If anyone’s seen an infestation of rats or indeed an infestation of drug users, please let me know!)
No mention today about cricket balls … the plan is to move the cricket pitch to the top of the sports fields, very close to where the new houses would be. Anyone see a problem with this? The residents of the new houses will be in the firing line from flying cricket balls sent across from the big hitters. But this will, no doubt, have been taken into consideration.
We also heard how David Cutler, who is promoting the site for development, is working with the community. (Again … really?)
We were then treated to an interesting discussion as to whether there were any slow worms on the Acland Park site. Slow worms are a protected species and no ecology survey has been undertaken to see if any frequent the place. Come to think of it, there probably isn’t room what with all the rats, asbestos and drug users.
In the afternoon, it was the turn of David Seaton of PCL Planning who is acting for Strategic Land Partnerships (land west of Ottery Road or Camp Field) to drag us through his evidence.
It was very long and very dull.
He exercised all the arguments he intends to use at the Examination in Public of the Local Plan. Basically (or so it seems to me), any site on which his client has an option is a sustainable place for development … no, really … you just couldn’t make it up.
He explained that only the SLP site could provide the one crucial element which Feniton needs and that’s an extension to the primary school.
SLP have bought the land where the current social club sits and have offered it to Devon County Council (price already agreed) if they get permission to build on Camp Field.
Again, if they get permission, they will give the social club the princely sum of £200,000 for them to vacate the site and build their new building at the top of the sports field. Their generosity knows no bounds.
Jessica Graham, the Planning Inspector, asked pertinent questions about the SLP proposal.
She probed Mr Seaton on the employment land on their site and then asked if the Social Club would get the money if SLP didn’t get their planning consent. Mr Seaton thought they wouldn’t get the money as his client was not a philanthropic organisation. Too right!
Next up was the barrister for EDDC who ripped through Seaton’s evidence. It was an easy target as so many of the claims made were completely outrageous.
Apparently, there are more employment opportunities in Feniton than there are in Colyton or Seaton. Putting Seaton (the town) to one side, Colyton has six offices, three pubs, countless shops, car workshop, factories and several stores.
However, according to Mr Seaton, because Feniton has a railway station, people can get to Exeter to work … and that ranks it higher on the sustainability scale.
In his evidence, Mr Seaton had produced an ‘Interim Comparative Appraisal for the Villages’, which listed the East Devon villages in order of sustainability. No prizes for guessing where Feniton came.
East Devon’s barrister asked him what information he had used to write the report and got the response from Mr Seaton that it was compiled by two people in his office. In one breath, he confirmed the proverb of ‘he who pays the piper …’.
The Council have produced a similar document with data produced from numerous sources and it came to a different conclusion.
Which of these two reports should be considered the most impartial?
East Devon’s barrister then said that the number of businesses in Feniton and Buckerell ward puts it at the bottom 20% of wards in the country.
At a time when the very essence of sustainability incorporates an aspiration to walk to work (reducing reliance on the car), the lack of businesses and employment opportunities in the village makes Feniton unsustainable on this fact alone.
He asked Mr Seaton to comment on this and he responded that ‘there are a lot of self-employed people in Feniton!’
He was then asked what would happen if the employment land proposed for Camp Field didn’t come forward, would they put houses there instead? Mr Seaton was getting flustered now and offered no coherent answer.
East Devon’s barrister then brought the cross-examination back to the land beside the school and asked, ‘Suppose you don’t get permission on either site. Then you own the land next to the school. So presumably your client would be reasonable about handing the site to DCC?’ Mr Seaton responded that his clients (SLP) would have to decide whether the site was better for housing. It wouldn’t be voluntarily available.
The barrister then repeated Cllr Claire Wright’s evidence in which she said that it was always possible for Devon County Council to compulsorily purchase the land. Mr Seaton said that it would be silly to embark on that process when they’ve already agreed terms.
They then discussed building on grade 2 agricultural land, which to any reasonable person would be a completely unthinkable proposition. Mr Seaton suggested that building almost anywhere in East Devon would require building on good quality agricultural land.
He was asked what percentage of grade 1 and 2 land there was in East Devon. He said he didn’t have the figures to hand. He was pressed to say whether it was more or less than 50%. He said he wouldn’t guess. (This was rapidly turning into a child’s game.)
The barrister said that SLP wouldn’t have difficulty in getting a farmer to farm the land.
This was a wonderful moment, as the tenant farmer of the land had attended almost every single day of the appeal and to hear Mr Seaton dismiss the importance of Camp Field had left her reeling.
The afternoon ended with a great deal of pencil chewing while they tried to work out the percentage of people who used the train from Feniton for commuting. Inevitably, Mr Seaton’s figures were grossly inflated.
(He stated that 25% of the residents of Feniton and Buckerell ward actually live in Buckerell … which is probably news to Buckerell. Patently no homework done!)
As he floundered around trying to justify the unjustifiable, a Feniton resident came over to me and whispered, ‘Why can’t we stand at the station and count the people who commute to work?’
Well, yes, that is the obvious answer, but I don’t think the people of Feniton would be considered impartial.