Sunday, May 31, 2020

Creeting St Peter - a tricky planning application lands...

One of the joys of Parish Council life is our status as a statutory consultee when it comes to planning applications. Admittedly, some of them are pretty straightforward, for example the recent application from Muntons, the local malt business, who wanted to build a new staff car park. Given that you couldn’t see the site because it’s hidden from view by... a bloody great malt factory... there didn’t seem to be much for an issue.

However, a proposal last year to knock down a house in the centre of the village and replace it with five “executive homes”, leaving scope to extend the development into a neighbouring meadow, went down rather badly. Unfortunately the applicant failed to make any effort to consult, and their application drew a justifiably hostile response from the owners of neighbouring properties.

Indeed, nobody seemed to much like it, as it extended beyond the village’s planning envelope as laid down on the District Council’s Local Plan, thus potentially setting a troubling precedent. Highways didn’t like it, and it was rather emphatically turned down by Mid Suffolk District Council on the basis that it breached a large swathe of their planning policies.

Eventually, I was asked by the applicant for a meeting, in my capacity as Chair of the Parish Council. That made me nervous, as I prefer transparency, so I offered him an opportunity to present to a Parish Council meeting, should he wish to proceed with a revised application, an offer which was taken up.

It would be fair to say that the meeting which followed was... lively. It was, at least, mostly amicable, although tempers did occasionally flare. The views of the citizenry were made clear to the applicant and his planning consultant, and there was a sense that the message had gotten across.

Two weeks ago, a revised planning application was notified to the Parish Council. Five executive homes had become four bungalows, access to the meadow was now removed, and there was a sense that, whilst the unhappiness at the prospect of new housing remained, there had been an attempt to respond to some of the concerns.

There are a number of remaining problems, however;
  • the development still extends well beyond the village’s planning envelope - would approval offer an opportunity to others to do likewise?
  • the status of the village, defined by Mid Suffolk District Council as “countryside”, indicates that no new housing is permitted
  • The absence of any facilities - shop, school, public transport - mean that new residents would be obliged to drive, contrary to policy encouraging environmentally-friendly means of travel
None of these have really been addressed by the new proposals, other than in effectively wishing them away.

And so, we held our first virtual Parish Council meeting to discuss it, inviting those residents that we could reach via social media - which is a surprisingly large number. Concerns were noted and recorded, the District Council planning guidance referred to, and civility prevailed.

Our Vice-Chair was prevailed upon to draft our reply, and life moved on. And then, Suffolk Highways intervened.

They noted that the access to the road was partly-owned by a third party, i.e. one of the neighbours, and that the access road itself wasn’t wide enough, and didn’t have a footway. Cue men with tape measures. Now, admittedly, there is an issue over access, and this does complicate matters somewhat, so we’ll see whether or not any alterations can be made to remedy this.

Ultimately, however, the rejection of the original application included the following;
The proposed development would be more than 2km from the nearest services in Stowupland and Stowmarket, resulting in the likely reliance on private motor vehicle use and increase in traffic, less integrated communities leading to poor social cohesion and failure to take opportunities to design for functional communities. There is insufficient access to public transport alternatives available within short walking distance from the site to otherwise outweigh other considerations of the location and poor access to services outlined. In conclusion with consideration of the above, the NPPF states that decision- taking authorities should approve development proposals that accord with the development plan without delay, actively manage patterns of growth to make the fullest possible use of public transport, walking and cycling, and focus significant development in locations which are or can be made sustainable. 
As such it is considered that the proposal represents unsustainable development, contrary to the NPPF. In all circumstances the LPA is of the opinion that no residential development would be supported on this site. 
This new proposal doesn’t address this core issue, and I suspect that, whilst any other issues may be an obstacle, this particular difficulty might well prove to be Himalayan.

And so, we’ll see how it goes. Or not, as the case may be...

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