The dust has settled following the announcement of the appeal decision and the sun has been shining all week on the beautiful fields which surround Feniton.
Like many, I have been trawling through the decision and have summarised the main points below. The 40-page decision is available if anyone would like to read it. Please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll let you have a copy in pdf format.
The main issues which had to be decided and which were common to all three sites were:
1. The district’s housing supply position and its policy implications
2. The effect the proposed development would have on the character and appearance of the area and
3. Whether Feniton is an appropriate location for the proposed development.
The Planning Inspector, Jessica Graham, allowed the Acland Park site for 32 houses and dismissed the appeal by Wainhomes for 83 houses on land adjoining their existing site off Station Road and two appeals by Strategic Land Partnerships for 120 and 59 houses on land west of Ottery Road.
Having decided that the Acland Park site should go ahead, the Inspector had to then decide if the other two sites should be allowed. She was mindful of the cumulative impact on the village. Together with the 50 homes won by Wainhomes at appeal in 2012, the Acland Park site for 32 homes increases the size of the village by over 12% in a very short space of time. She expressed concerns about community cohesion and accepted the Parish Council’s view that allowing all the sites may have adverse consequences for the social and cultural wellbeing of existing residents.
She felt that Feniton, like other communities, quite rightly expects that decisions on housing numbers should be made through the Local Plan process. The Inspector in the Examination in Public of EDDC’s Local Plan has already expressed the view that some villages should take more than 5% growth (in the case of Feniton, this was 35 houses).
Wainhomes and Strategic Land Partnerships will no doubt be arguing hard for Feniton to take substantially more than the 82 houses currently on the table at the next Local Plan housing sessions.
Acland Park site
The Planning Inspector allowed this site for 32 houses on condition that work commences on site within 2 years. Usually, developers are allowed 3 years before starting to build, but the Planning Inspector had concerns about the current housing shortage in the district and placing this condition on the development will help the current shortage of housing.
The drainage strategy for the development involves disconnecting the surface water from Feniton’s combined sewer system. The developer must provide a detailed surface water drainage scheme before development starts.
Wainhomes site for 83 homes
At the Wainhomes public exhibition in the sports and social club back in 2011, their representative made it perfectly clear that the company was looking to plonk a housing estate (in the words of David Cameron) which would stretch from Station Road right across to Green Lane. They subsequently took the view that such a large-scale development would not be passed and scaled it back to 50 homes.
It was of no surprise then that having won the 50 homes at appeal in August 2012, they very soon put in a planning application for a further 83, the subject of this appeal.
Jessica Graham concluded, however, that despite Wainhomes offering 33 of the 83 houses as affordable homes, she should dismiss the appeal. Her reasons were:
1. The harm the proposed development would cause to the character and appearance of the area is an adverse impact of considerable weight.
2. Loss of grade 2 agricultural land would be an adverse impact of some weight.
3. Increase of journeys taken by private car.
4. There would be an adverse impact on the existing community.
Strategic Land Partnerships site for 120 homes
The SLP proposal has been through a public consultation process and pushed through the planning process, and each time has been found wanting. Jessica Graham looked at the proposal for 120 homes on Camp Field and dismissed the appeal for the following reasons:
1. Allowing the scheme would have an adverse impact on the character and appearance of the village.
2. It would have an adverse impact on the Grade II listed buildings known as Sweethams.
3. It would have an adverse impact on the ancient boundary between Ottery St Mary and Feniton
4. Loss of 5 ha of Grade 2 agricultural land
5. While the SLP site proposed that their site would allow the early construction of a ditch to protect Sweethams and Metcombe, this could easily be achieved by the Council under existing powers.
6. SLP’s site was the only site which proposed any employment land, but little weight was attached to this, mainly because there was no real likelihood of it being delivered.
7. SLP’s proposal to sell the land they own next to the school had a neutral impact on the Inspector’s decision.
8. The scheme is likely to increase traffic which would have an adverse environmental impact of some weight.
Strategic Land Partnerships site for 59 homes
The lesser SLP proposal for 59 homes fared little better in the Inspector’s decision-making. The various benefits and impact were similar, but with the smaller site only offering 25% affordable housing.
Strategic Land Partnerships took a somewhat different approach to development in Feniton.
Some years ago, the village tried to buy the land in the centre of the village where the Sports and Social Club sits. The land was owned at the time by the Acland family, but inevitably the village could not come up with the money.
However, the deep pockets of this particular developer found the cash for the site and during the public inquiry it was being used as a bargaining chip in an attempt to force the arm of the Inspector to allow development on Camp Field.
Their proposal was that, in return for building outside the built-up area boundary, they would sell the land beside the school to Devon County Council to provide an extension to the school for children arising from the new developments in Feniton and the wider area.
However, the Planning Inspector felt that this could equally well be achieved through DCC’s powers of Compulsory Purchase and she felt that this strategic bargaining chip did not carry any additional weight.
SLP’s second bit of barrow-boy mentality involved the Sports and Social Club itself. SLP offered to pay the princely sum of £200,000 (pause and think about that) to the private club as compensation for the loss of their site. The Planning Inspector was less than impressed by this and considered that it did not carry any appreciable weight in her deliberations.
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The village is now pausing while it congratulates itself on a job well done. The strength of feeling in the village against the proposed developments was palpable.
Messages of thanks and support have been flying through the ether to Feniton Parish Council and their expert witnesses, Fight for Feniton for tireless campaigning, County Councillor Claire Wright for her knowledge, expertise and advice, the East Devon Alliance for constant support, East Devon District Council for mounting a robust defence of the Planning Committee’s decisions, and Neil Parish MP for taking time out of his busy schedule to attend and speak at the inquiry.