It was a shame that the Super Inquiry could not have been finished within the original eight days envisaged. We reconvened this morning and I was struck with a sense of déjà vu … same room, same faces, same arguments (literally), but it all seemed rather tired and world weary.
The morning session was kicked off by the QC for Wainhomes (Vincent Fraser) who introduced Ian Awcock (Wainhomes’ adviser on transportation and drainage) and took him through his evidence.
Inevitably, Mr Awcock thought that the Wainhomes site was the site which should be given permission as it is a logical extension to the site for 50 homes already under construction. Sighs and raised eyebrows were exchanged among the residents present. It’s all been heard before, from each of the developers in turn. Each pushes their site over the others.
The Wainhomes site is preferable to the Strategic Land Partnerships’ (SLP) site because it is closer to the school. Indeed the SLP site (land west of Ottery Road) is so inaccessible (apparently) that it should be dismissed.
Mr Awcock then took us through his technical note on how Ottery Road is wide enough to take as many cars as any of us could have dreamed was possible.
Mr Awcock then took us through his evidence about the drainage of the Wainhomes site (as residents will vouch, the Wainhomes site is the source of a great deal of the surface runoff in the village).
Then it got more interesting.
Richard Ground, barrister for EDDC, cross-examined Mr Awcock. At this point, there was a silent cheer for Mr Ground for bursting the bubble of the sanctimonious Mr Awcock. There was a lengthy debate about how far someone would walk from their house to a train to commute to work and then to walk to work at the other end. For the last 20 years, the Government has been actively pursuing policies which encourage workers to use sustainable forms of transport, so the nitty gritty of how far you’d walk to catch a train becomes more interesting.
Mr Ground managed to get Mr Awcock to agree that the bus service was limited and the revised train service didn’t improve things very much for the poor residents of Feniton.
Mr Ground then took Mr Awock through the ward profile (Feniton and Buckerell ward) which showed that 68.63% of people usually travel to work by driving a car or van. This proportion is higher than the average for East Devon, the Southwest and even for the whole of England. To which Mr Awcock, in one of many moments of utter magic said, “As in many other rural wards.”
So finally he got it … Feniton is a rural community … which just happens to have a railway station.
Mr Ground then put it to Mr Awcock that Government policy was to actively encourage commuting by public transport, walking and cycling.
Mr Awcock then stated that Cranbrook was built near a railway which made it sustainable and so is Feniton. Fatal error. Mr Ground rounded on him saying that Cranbrook was more sustainable because it provided employment.
Mr Awcock then broached the subject of the passing loop which is proposed at Cranbrook which will bring major benefits to the railway system, allowing more trains. Mr Ground asked him when that was envisaged and was the funding in place. Mr Awcock couldn’t answer either question because the passing loop is currently just an aspiration and the funding … well, heaven knows in this climate.
Mr Ground then explored the flood scheme and Wainhomes’ contribution to it.
(At this point, I should say that I sit on the working group at EDDC which is planning the flood alleviation scheme. I know exactly how far we’ve got with the scheme, but of course wasn’t allowed to chip in. Basically, all the funding is in place … and we don’t need any developer contributions to see the scheme finalised.)
Next it was the turn of Charlie Hopkins, the legal representative for Feniton Parish Council, to cross-examine Mr Awcock.
Mr Hopkins asked Mr Awcock why he didn’t agree with Richard Ground that the Wainhomes site would produce a significant increase in car movements. Mr Awcock responded that there was no guidance on what constituted ‘significant’. To which Mr Hopkins retorted, ‘In which case, why produce a transport assessment for the Wainhomes site at all?’
Mr Awcock responded that in his considerable experience (yawn) producing a transport assessment was always a requirement.
And then came one of the quotes of the day, Mr Awcock said, ‘If we came back in 5 years’ time, no-one would be worried about the increase in traffic.’
Mr Hopkins then tore into Mr Awcock’s transport report, asking ‘What is your understanding of highway safety?’ Mr Awcock responded that it was a generic terms to cover all road users within a confined space. Mr Hopkins suggested that it might cover pedestrians in rural areas, horse riders, cyclists, Highway network, while the only element Mr Awcock had looked at was Ottery Road.
Mr Hopkins then pointed out that if Ottery Road was deemed the main route out of the village, consideration should be given to the fact that Patteson’s Cross floods and is likely to suffer from more flooding once the flood alleviation scheme is up and running.
Then came the second quote of the day. Mr Awcock actually said, ‘The beneficial effect of heavy rainfall means that more people work from home!’
After a much needed tea break, Mr Hopkins asked Mr Awcock about Wainhomes assertion that 30% of the new residents of the Wainhomes site would travel to work by train. Comparison was made between the 2001 and 2011 censuses which give information on modes of travel to work. Mr Hopkins asked the increasingly flustered Mr Awcock whether anywhere in Southwest England achieve 30% travel to work. To which Mr Awcock’s profound response was that it was ‘an aspiration’.
So our poor Planning Inspector is expected to make decisions on the aspirations (wildest dreams) of the developers.
And there you have it in a nutshell … he doesn’t have a clue about the village, and its history of unfettered mass development.
But finally, Mr Awcock presented us with the quote that really tells us how it is. We have to bear in mind here that all the arguments about Feniton have raged about how sustainable it is. So this quote from the lips of Mr Awcock (Wainhomes’ adviser on transportation and drainage) was, ‘Feniton is clearly not a very sustainable location at the moment!’
OK, then, let’s all go home.
Mr Hopkins wound up his questioning and the hapless Mr Awcock then had to face the advocate for Strategic Land Partnerships.
Yet again, we were faced with developers squabbling over the spoils of some of the best agricultural land in East Devon. It was not an edifying sight. Claims were made about the likelihood of the flood scheme not coming to fruition.
The QC for Wainhomes then took Stephen Harris, the planner for Wainhomes, through his evidence. Unsurprisingly, he felt that the Wainhomes site should be approved immediately in order to meet the shortfall in housing across the district. The Wainhomes site is the only proposed site to have 40% affordable housing. (We’ve heard all this before …)
Richard Ground, barrister for EDDC, then cross-examined Mr Harris (WH). Discussions ranged around the 5-year housing land supply and figures vary on this depending on how you calculate it. More importantly, the figure varies depending on how many houses is considered to be required in East Devon. And that won’t be decided until the Examination in Public of the emerging Local Plan … and that won’t start until next week. Mr Ground put it to Mr Harris that allowing these developments could actually prejudice the Local Plan which has very clear policies on where development should happen. There is a hierarchy of areas from the land closest to Exeter, the major towns (Honiton, Axminster, Exmouth) and finally, at the very bottom tier, the rural villages. Mr Harris said that it was imperative for development to take place and it should happen on land which has come forward.
He was asked how many houses he thought Feniton could sustain. To a ripple of laughter from the members of public present, he thought that Feniton could accommodate the Wainhomes development.
And so it went on, Mr Harris putting the case for Wainhomes and Mr Ground countering with valid arguments as to why Feniton is not the sustainable idyll we are lead to believe it is.
And that is why Ms Graham, the Planning Inspector, has an impossible job to decide between the three sites, none of the sites or all of the sites.
At the end of the day, Martyn Smith, chairman of Feniton Parish Council, raised concerns about Network Rail and asked if he could put a letter just received from Neil Parish MP into evidence. After discussion, the Planning Inspector agreed.
Finally, David Lanning, long-time resident of the village and church warden, asked to speak, requesting that the Inspector take into consideration the simple views of the village, adding that there’s more to life than the law.
Ms Graham assured Mr Lanning that she would take every submission into consideration.
The inquiry reconvenes at 9.30 on 5 February for final submissions from all parties.