The highly contentious Welbeck site makes its third appearance before EDDC’s Planning Committee on Friday this week.
The site is a reserve site under the Local Plan only to be considered for development should insufficient sites come forward to meet Honiton’s allocation over the current plan period to 2026.
The problem for decision-makers on the committee is that East Devon’s Local Plan has yet to be adopted and, under the current Draconian planning rules, there is a presumption in favour of sustainable development. This means that if members of the committee consider that the site is sustainable from an economic, environmental and social perspective (the three strands of sustainability), they have no alternative but to approve the application.
However, the sustainability credentials of the site are debatable.
The site is a greenfield site currently used by the adjoining farm for permanent grazing which is of economic importance to the farming enterprise. The application proposes 300 homes with no community building to promote community cohesion. Residents will be isolated on a site which sticks out like a sore thumb into open countryside wedged between two Areas of Outstanding Beauty (AONB) and building here would constitute ribbon development.
The proposal has taken a tortuous route to get to this point.
It was first put before the Development Management Committee (DMC) on 3 April. Members of the committee appeared to me to be minded to refuse the application, but were struggling to find reasons for refusal which would stand up at appeal. They voiced concern about the access to the site (which Devon County Council Highways had approved) and felt that the location of the site made it unsustainable. They determined to refer the application to the Planning Inspections Committee (PIC).
Along with ward members, planning officers and a Devon County Council traffic officer, members of PIC visited the site on 25 April. The traffic officer assured members that the mitigation measures being proposed to deal with the traffic under the narrow railway bridge would not create a bottleneck at peak times. Many members were sceptical.
Following the site inspection visit, members reconvened at EDDC’s council chamber to chew over their decision. Reluctantly, they voted 5-3 in favour of the application (see https://susiebond.wordpress.com/2014/04/27/major-decisions-for-honiton-taken-at-planning-committee/).
The dismay felt by residents, members of Gittisham Parish Council and members of Honiton Town Council was palpable.
In the normal course of events, that would have been the end of the story. The developer would move in at leisure and concrete over yet another swathe of East Devon’s countryside.
However, at a meeting with members of Gittisham Parish Council and EDDC’s Chief Executive, concern was expressed that the landscape value of the site had not been given sufficient weight in the planning officer’s report. The site lies between two AONBs (East Devon and Blackdown Hills) and current planning guidance dictates that when deciding planning applications the setting of the AONB must be taken into consideration.
The whole application is to be reviewed by the Planning Inspection Committee on Friday 11 July with the meeting starting at 10 a.m. It is the only item on the agenda (see http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/110714_combined_pic_agenda.pdf).