Gittisham Parish Council called a public meeting on Wednesday evening to discuss the recent planning approval granted for 300 houses on land west of Hayne Lane and to ask for a mandate from the village to take legal action over the planning consent.
The meeting was held in St Michael’s Church, Gittisham, and was attended by over 50 members of the public, members of Honiton Town Council, Parish Councillors, as well as District and County Councillors.
Chairman of the Parish Council, David Fallows, welcomed everyone and outlined how the meeting would run. Parish Councillor and barrister, Sara Trumper, explained what legal action could be taken and what the costs of this could be. She urged residents to write to MP Neil Parish and Chief Executive of EDDC, Mark Williams, to express their concerns and ask for the decision to be returned to the Planning Committee for further discussion.
The decision was taken on 25 April following a site visit and, during deliberations in the afternoon, members of the committee were struggling to find reasons to reject the application which would stand up at appeal.
At the public meeting called by Gittisham Parish Council this week, considerable disquiet was expressed on a number of issues which it was felt had not been adequately addressed by the officers and councillors at planning committee. These included:
1. No report had been received from Natural England, who clearly failed to meet the deadline for statutory consultees.
2. There was no independent Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment, despite the site’s proximity to the nearby Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
3. There appears to have been no consultation with East Devon AONB Partnership or the Blackdown Hills AONB Partnership (which was unaware of the application), despite the impact that this site will have on both AONBs.
4. Concerns were expressed about the sustainability of the site, which has no community building and is remote from the hub of social activity in the centre of Honiton, leaving residents isolated.
At a meeting Buckerell Parish Council, chairman Steve Stone, also expressed his grave concern about the development, given the impact of the site on the setting of the AONB.
Conservative District Councillor for Honiton St Michael’s, Mike Allen, spoke forcefully at the planning committee urging members to refuse the application.
Before the application was granted approval, the general consensus among those present was that it was unlikely to be passed. The field is, after all, in the open countryside stretching out on the western edge of Honiton. It was a reserve site only to be used in the event that Honiton could not find sufficient sites within the plan period up to 2026 (https://susiebond.wordpress.com/2014/04/27/major-decisions-for-honiton-taken-at-planning-committee/).
But that was before the NPPF.
Under the NPPF (current planning regulations), where there is no Local Plan and where there is no 5-year land supply, as is the case in East Devon, then there is a presumption in favour of sustainable development.
And there’s the rub.
Proving or disproving the sustainability of a site is extraordinarily difficult. There is no set model which can be applied and sustainability often comes down to the objective opinion of the person assessing it.
In this case, despite the fact that the site is considered not to conform to the aspirations of either Gittisham Parish Council or Honiton Town Council, because there is no Local Plan in place, councillors on the planning committee felt they had no alternative but to approve the site because they were unable to find reasons for refusal which could be defended at appeal.