Planning Application, Thorne farm, Ottery St Mary. DCC tries to override Local and Neighbourhood Plans

Owl’s attention has been drawn, by local residents, to the planning application for a 210 space primary school and 150 new houses on Thorne Farm, adjacent to the King’s School in Ottery St Mary, submitted by Devon County Council (DCC) to EDDC  20/1504/MOUT.

DCC want to develop a part of the land they own in Ottery St Mary, outside the Built-Up Area Boundary (BUAB), to help fund the building of a new primary school on the same site, in place of the existing Tipton St John Primary. 

This is proving to be a deeply controversial application, strongly opposed by communities in both Ottery and Tipton. Currently there are  102 objections and 11 supporting comments. The Environment Agency is objecting because there is insufficient information to assess flood risk. Most of the development site is located within flood zone 1, however the northern boundary of the development encroaches into flood zone 3. (Somewhat ironic since the purpose of this application is to relieve flood risk elsewhere).

Well reasoned objections cover a wide range of planning issues.

District Councillors have yet to comment. 

In Owl’s eyes, however, the fundamental objection lies in the application being in direct conflict with both the Local Plan and the Ottery St Mary and West Hill Neighbourhood Plan.

For Owl this crosses a red line. 

It is also a good example, as Owl will explain, of the use and misuse of the consultation process.

The opportunity for communities to create Neighbourhood Plans (NPs) is pretty much all that is left of the much trumpeted 2011 Localism Act. There are already 18  “Made” NPs in EDDC, and Ottery is one. These are plans that have gone through the full consultation and examination process and been voted on by the community. It represents the culmination of an enormous amount of community effort and is not something to be dismissed by the wave of an administrator’s pen in DCC, as an irritating inconvenience.

There are also a further 22 in preparation. Will all their efforts be in vain?

Ottery neighbourhood plan consultation process 2017

Ottery NP consultation period ended at the end of 2017. Not only was the community consulted but interested public and private bodies were consulted twice. This included DCC.

DCC employed a property consultancy NP SW Ltd to submit their consultation response in which they mentioned that the County Council, as the Local Education Authority (LEA), had recently informally consulted on the opportunity to provide a new primary school that will replace the existing Tipton St John Primary School and provide additional capacity for the Ottery St Mary area on the County Council’s land at Thorne Farm, outside the BUAB. The proposed primary school will provide 210 places and 26 nursery places in Phase 1 with a further 210 school places planned for Phase 2. A school of this size requires a site of around 1.76 ha (4.35 acres). This, together with the skateboard park, will require just over half of the allocated site within the adopted Local Plan.

The Ottery NP sought to allocate more of this land outside the BUAB for future social and educational needs but, following the formal objection from DCC, the Inspector reduced the area. However the Inspector agreed that the land should be safeguarded for education or community use, with strong preference  given to meeting the educational needs of the Neighbourhood Plan Area under Policy NP 25.

At no time did DCC, in its consultation response, cite building outside the BUAB in order to finance the school nor did it seek to extend the BUAB to cover its land.

DCC Tipton St John Primary School Relocation Community Consultation Summary Report January 2020 

This is a very clever use of public consultation. To begin with the questionnaire asked very innocuous questions like “Do you agree with the proposals to relocate Tipton St. John Primary School outside flood zone 3?” A resounding yes, we agree. But then the questions became more controversial. Question 5 “Do you agree that there are no viable options available to enable the relocation of Tipton St. John Primary School?”62% disagree. As DCC’s report on the consultation acknowledges: “the final question regarding whether the relocation should be funded by development at Thorne Farm resulted in the most significant negative response. Whilst similar to the figures above, 62% either ‘disagreed’ ‘strongly disagree’ responses (55% of total responses) than the other questions (Sic).”

Despite this, DCC has still has gone ahead with this application. How can they do so with such a negative reaction? It’s our old friend “balance” (plus employing an expert consultant). 

DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL RESPONSE: It is fully recognised that the movement of the school from the centre of the village will be a loss for the Tipton community. However, this needs to be balanced against the benefits of the solution proposed which does ensure a sustainable future for the school in the new location, for it to retain its excellent staff and core values and to continue to serve the children and community of Tipton St John for many years to come.”

Of course we must not forget our other friend  “in the public interest” either.

DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL RESPONSE: We acknowledge that the site is not allocated for housing in the adopted East Devon Local Plan or the Ottery Neighbourhood Plan. This will be a matter for East Devon District Council to consider alongside other elements of the proposal when determining the planning application. The local planning authority may depart from development plan policy where material considerations indicate the plan should not be followed. The scope of what can constitute a material consideration is very wide, however, in general planning is concerned with land use in the public interest.

In the light of this. How do you think the public would fare with a public consultation on the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan”? 

[This is another example of the consequences of blurring the lines between education authority and developer – see Goodmores Farm]