Despite monumental efforts by Parish Councillors, District Councillors, the County Councillor and MP Neil Parish, a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government, Penny Mordaunt, has said that the Secretary of State has refused to ‘call in’ the planning application for 300 homes on the western boundary of Honiton within the Parish of Gittisham.
DCLG had previously asked to review the decision made by the Planning Inspections Committee at EDDC because the site is so contentious. Natural England had expressed grave concern as the site nestles between two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and had recommended that the two westernmost fields of the site be removed from the application to minimise the impact on the AONBs. Their recommendation has been completely ignored.
The site itself is not an ideal site for development, stretching as it does in a narrow strip between the Exeter-Waterloo railway line and a working farmstead. I see trouble ahead with the new residents voicing their complaints about the smells, noise and flies emanating from the farm.
The field was identified for development in the Local Plan, but only as a reserve site in the event that Honiton did not have enough sites for development over the plan period (currently to 2026).
I’m still mystified how this could have been considered remotely sustainable. And ‘remotely’ is a good word to use here … residents will have to walk some considerable distance to take their children to school and they will have to negotiate a priority traffic system to get off the estate under a narrow bridge to get to work by car … any other form of transport is unlikely to be the choice for commuters.
Quite clearly, had EDDC’s Local Plan been in place, this site would not have come forward at this time … if at all.
Brandon Lewis, Planning and Housing Minister, said in a statement: “There remains strong protection of the countryside and Green Belt. The best way for councils to send speculative developers packing is to have an up to date Local Plan. Eighty per cent of councils now have a published Local Plan.”
Eighty per cent?
Assuming that this figure is accurate (it implies a considerable increase in the number of councils getting their act together and pushing through their Local Plans in the last year), East Devon is languishing in the bottom twenty per cent.
This is the single most important issue facing the Council. The lack of a Local Plan is causing misery across the District with developers swooping on lucrative greenfield sites in the hope of getting planning permission before the Council gets its act together.
In the case of the site in Gittisham Parish on the edge of Honiton, the developer brought a London QC to plead their case before the Planning Committee at EDDC. Councillors on the committee were clearly uncomfortable with approving this site, but took on board the legal advice dished out by the QC that the developer would take the application to appeal, would undoubtedly win and then a costs order would be made against the Council. The financial implications of this frightened the decision-makers on the committee and they reluctantly approved the site.
Is this how such major decisions should be made?
Obviously not … planning decisions should be plan-led, not developer-led, and certainly not landowner-led.
It is now incumbent on EDDC to renew efforts to put its Local Plan in place. To complacently crow about the number of appeals won when sites, like this one, are approved rather than risking an appeal is quite frankly not good enough.