Letter to Midweek Herald 28 June 2015
I am writing in response to the article in Axminster’s Pulman’s Weekly News, dated March 31st 2015
The article headline ” Amended Local Plan on its way to inspector” refers to the amendments to the plan that East Devon Councillors agreed to at a special meeting on Thursday 26th March, which included granting a “built-up-area Boundary ” for Chardstock, in order to facilitate sustainable development.
For the benefit of your readers, I would like to put this statement in context and point out how the the agreement to include this amendment would appear to have been reached. But firstly a bit of background information. Chardstock has always had a Built up Area Boundary ( BUAB) and the previous draft Local Plan allocated a quota of ten houses, which have subsequently been built. Since then planning permission has been granted for a further four dwellings. However, in December 2014 and February 2015, three planning applications, two of which went before the Development Management Committee ( DMC) were refused permission on the grounds that Chardstock was not considered to be sustainable.
This is the Planning Officers report :
The proposed development by reason of its location on the edge of a village in the countryside which has limited services to support growth, fails to accord with the definition of sustainable development, specifically the environmental role, found within the National Planning Policy Framework. In this case, the Local Planning Authority considers that the adverse impacts of this development in terms of unsustainable location with the occupiers of the dwellings having limited access to essential services and infrastructure (including public transport and access to it) significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits of providing these dwellings to meet the shortfall of housing within the district (5 year land supply) when assessed against the policies within the Framework as a whole.
During this period a DMC “Think-tank” along with planning officers were making a careful study of all the villages in East Devon, looking at their services and facilities as well as public transport and access to it. Chardstock is fortunate that it has an excellent local shop and Post Office, as well as a church, pub and primary school, but access to other essential services only found in Chard or Axminster necessitate a journey by car and are not realistically accessible by public transport, as the nearest bus stop is best part of a mile down a single track lane, with no lighting or pavements from the centre of the village. These facts therefore meant that under the latest draft of the Local Plan, Chardstock was one of the villages recommended to not have a BUAB.
This recommendation was upheld by the DMC at their special meeting on Monday 23rd March. But at the full Council meeting on 26th March, a member of the public, who isn’t actually a resident of East Devon, but happens to own a plot of land in Chardstock on which he has applied to build 5 houses, spoke and asked that Members also consider the inclusion of Chardstock in the list of sustainable villages.
Is it just coincidence, that what followed was a proposal from Cllr Andrew Moulding that Chardstock be added to the list of settlements to have a BUAB ? The minutes from this meeting also point out that,
- the village is not served by public transport,
- the views of the parish council had not been sought,
- it was more appropriate for the village to identify appropriate levels of development through a Neighbourhood Plan.
But the proposal was put to the vote and carried.
This decision and the way in which it was reached also demonstrates the lack of support from the Council for the Parish Council, the local community agenda and an apparent lack of engagement with Chardstock’s emerging Neighbourhood Plan, failing to consult with the Parish Council or local community over a major policy change, rather being led by the wishes of a local developer.
The issue of sustainability is one that the Parish Council and Neighbourhood Plan Team have been looking at very closely, and is an issue that has generated a lot of interest from the residents of Chardstock, who have been consulted on this and other subjects as part of the production of our Neighbourhood Plan.
It’s not just about not having a realistic bus service in the parish – less than 12% of the population have any sort of relatively easy access to the service, and the majority are anything from 1 to 4 miles from the nearest bus stop, as well as the fact that this is also a bus service that as of 12th April will be reduced from an hourly service to a 90 minute service, making access to Chard and Axminster even more difficult.
It is also about other aspects of our infrastructure, including poor roads, which with the cuts to services from Devon County Council will be receiving even less attention than they were before. So what is it that has made the Council decide that all of a sudden we are sustainable. Are there measures that are being put in place that we are unaware of ? Or is this indeed an example of the influence that developers have over the Council ?
Mary de Souza Chairman, Chardstock Parish Council and Neighbourhood Plan Team.