The Welbeck site on land west of Hayne Lane will be determined by the Planning Inspections Committee (PIC) at EDDC on Friday this week.
The application, which has been both contentious and highly controversial, has been rumbling around for some time. The site was designed as a ‘reserve site’ under the draft Local Plan, meaning that it should not come forward in the plan period (currently to 2026) unless all other attempts to find suitable land in Honiton have failed.
The application was first submitted just before Christmas 2013 (https://susiebond.wordpress.com/2013/12/20/massive-housing-application-proposed-for-gittisham-vale/) and finally went before the Development Management Committee (EDDC’s planning committee) in early April. Committee members raised concerns about the sustainability of the site and the single access from a country lane under a narrow railway bridge.
It was determined that the decision should be deferred to the Planning Inspections Committee, members of which duly made a site visit on 25 April. On the visit they were accompanied by planning officers from EDDC and a DCC traffic officer, who attempted to allay the fears of members about access to the site.
On returning to EDDC’s offices, the application was approved by members (by 5 votes to 3), not because it was the most suitable site to build on the outskirts of Honiton, but because they did not have robust enough reasons for refusal that would stand up at appeal.
And that, sadly, is how planning decisions are taken in the absence of a Local Plan.
Many (including members of Gittisham Parish Council and me, as ward member) expressed concern about the decision and, following a meeting with members of the Legal Department, planning officers and the Chief Executive, Mark Williams, it was decided that the application would be returned to the Planning Inspections Committee for consideration of the landscape issues. The site sits between two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and it is the setting of the AONBs which needs to be taken into consideration with this application.
The Planning Inspections Committee reconvened in July (https://susiebond.wordpress.com/2014/07/10/further-delay-in-determining-application-for-300-homes-on-edge-of-honiton/), but as many of the statutory consultees had only just responded to the application, officers recommended that the application be deferred until such time as full consideration had been given to these late reports.
PIC will meet on Friday 5 September at 11 o’clock at the Knowle (EDDC offices) in Sidmouth. The officer recommendation is for approval of the application, but concern is still being raised that due consideration has not been given to all the reports, particularly from those commenting on the landscape value of the site.
But there should be no doubt that none of the angst currently being suffered by those in Gittisham Village, Gittisham Vale and Honiton itself would be felt if EDDC had its Local Plan in place. While the Council can boast happily about the number of appeals it has won, it does not negate the worry and financial cost residents of East Devon are having to face to fight inappropriate development.
Currently, the adoption of the draft Local Plan is scheduled for summer 2015, but there are many hoops to jump through first.