Homes to be built on ‘green wedge’ near towns

If this becomes the norm it spells the beginning of the end for Seaton/Colyton Seaton/Beer and other areas. – Owl  

Joe Ives www.devonlive.com 

Controversial plans for 80 new homes on a ‘green wedge’ separating Bickington and Fremington have been approved by North Devon Council (NDC).

The development, which will provide affordable homes, is seen as a necessary evil by some members of the council’s planning committee but too much of an incursion into the land separating Bickington and Fremington by others.

In the end, the planning committee was split down the middle with its chair, Councillor Eric Ley (Independent, Bishops Nympton), breaking the deadlock and voting in favour.

The development will be built to the west of Bickington and will be accessible through another area of new housing being built off Mead Park.

The land, currently agricultural, is seen as an important ‘green wedge’ separating Bickington and Fremington. It was not in the council’s plans to be built on.

However, North Devon Council, whose housing plans are made in combination with neighbouring Torridge, does not have a five-year housing land supply. This means the two councils need to be more accepting about housing developments they might otherwise turn down.

As the councils are behind on housing targets, by law any development which is deemed sustainable, even if outside the local plan, is weighted towards approval. This is unless it can be clearly demonstrated that the adverse impacts outweigh benefits. Councillors voting in favour of the 80 home Bickington development argued that, regrettably, this could not be done.

New 80 home development. Credit: LHC Designs

New 80 home development. Credit: LHC Designs

Councillor Jasmine Chesters (North Devon Independent, Braunton West and Georgeham) summed up the mood, saying: “None of us want this application but none of us can find substantial reasons to turn it down.”

Councillor Jayne Mackie (Independent, Fremington) understood the concerns but said, in policy terms, there were no ‘clear’ reasons for refusal, adding: “We’ve got to look at some really hard decisions.”

Addressing the planning committee, Cllr David Knight (Liberal Democrats, Roundswell), like several others against the plans, said the new homes would create too much additional traffic on already congested roads.

He continued: “The volume of traffic is just too much and adding further developments in this area – there are no measures that can actually mitigate against this – we will just have stationary traffic.”

There were also concerns about air pollution caused by vehicles driving to and from the new homes.

Councillor Robbie Mack (Green Group, Barnstaple Central Ward) was particularly worried about the loss of part of the ‘green wedge’ field separating Bickington and Fremington. He told the meeting: “If you tighten the wedge any further there isn’t a wedge at all. It is just one park in the middle of southern Barnstaple.”

Cllr Frank Biederman (Independent, Fremington) urged councillors to reject the plans, asking members: “Are we here to support our residents or are we here to support the government’s ‘build, build, build at all costs’ policy?”

Councillors were more positive about the affordable homes stipulated as part of the approval. Twenty-four will be built; ten two-bed, seven one-bed, five three-bed and two four-bed homes. Around 18 of these are to be socially rented.

It means the plans reach the council’s targets for 30 per cent affordable homes – a situation that has become increasingly rare. Developers across Devon have a track record of providing viability assessments to demonstrate they can’t afford to build the number of affordable homes councils want.

Welcome to the DevonLive news brand dedicated to all things North Devon. Follow NorthDevonLive on Facebook and Twitter and sign up for our daily newsletters here!

Despite the promises, some councillors remained unconvinced that Cavanna Homes, the Torquay-based developer behind the proposals, will ultimately build the 24 affordable properties.

Councillor Joe Tucker (Liberal Democrats, Marwood) said: “This viability thing is basically a nonsense. A complete and utter nonsense. We’ve seen that already with one or two applications in this area.” He wanted firm guarantees that the affordable properties would be delivered.

Andrew Rowe, speaking on behalf of Cavanna, said the plans would ease the council’s housing supply problem and help deliver “chronically needed” affordable housing for local residents.

If the developers backtrack on their commitment to affordable homes, the plans will go back to councillors to consider again.

On top of the affordable homes, as part of planning permission currently granted, Cavanna will also have to pay just over £635,000 for education provision in the area and more than £45,000 towards expanding Fremington Medical Practice.

A further £68,000 will go on improving the A3125/B3233 junction and the A3125/Old Torrington Road junction.