“RIBA slams moves to extend permitted development rights”

“The government’s ambition to simplify the country’s planning system will be wrecked by ministers’ determination to persist with extending permitted development rights, the RIBA has warned.

Alongside a number of other housing initiatives announced earlier this week, including plans to change energy regulations and introduce a new housebuilding standard, the housing secretary Robert Jenrick said the government would be looking to reform the planning system, “making it faster and more efficient for everyone, from households to large developers”.

The government wants to allow homes to be built above existing properties and is seeking views on demolishing old commercial buildings for new housing, a move it claimed would revitalise high streets in the process.

An accelerated green paper on planning reforms will be published next month, outlining ministers’ thinking.

But the RIBA president Alan Jones pointed to a “huge contradiction” at the heart of the government’s ambitions and said moves to create “a planning system that works for society would be undermined by the proposal to extend permitted development rights”.

Jones said the RIBA said it would continue to urge the government to reconsider its plans, since these “would only lead to more homes that sidestep vital quality and environmental standards and inhibit any plans to incite a ‘green housing revolution’”.

The architects’ trade body has been a vociferous critic of those developers who used permitted development rights to turn redundant office and commercial space into residential properties, many of which do not meet minimum space standards.

It backed a Children’s Commissioner report, published in August, which the RIBA said provided “further evidence of the damaging effect that current regulations have on people, including families with children, who end up living in these poor-quality homes, often through no choice of their own”.

Other organisations have warned that prolific use of permitted development rights to convert offices and warehousing space into homes would create the “slums of the future”.

The Labour Party has committed to scrapping permitted development rights if it gets into government, while the Royal Town Planning Institute believed such rights “put housing affordability and design quality at risk” and undermined the planning system.

At the Conservative Party conference earliest this week housing minister Esther McVey said the government would tweak the permitted development rights’ regime but ruled out rolling it back.”

https://www.housingtoday.co.uk/news/riba-slams-moves-to-extend-permitted-development-rights/5101950.article?

The curious case of the missing houses

Many council officers are honourable, many are not. Owl had hoped to to write “most officers are honourable, a few are not” but that hasn’t been Owl’s experience, sadly.

Now, all eyes are on a planning application in Salcombe, for two houses in an exceptionally good location were deleted from plans shown to a “planning workshop” for councillors.

Why? That old chestnut “commercial confidentiallity”.

“A council has been forced to reveal plans for two luxury homes on a beauty spot which were withheld from councillors during a meeting.

Above: original plan and plan shown to councillors and plans shown to councillors

South Hams District Council in Devon cited “commercial confidentiality” in keeping the Salcombe plans under wraps, but a watchdog rejected that excuse.

Environment group South Hams Society urged “more transparency in planning matters” by the council.

The authority said it “did not want the meeting to be sidetracked”.

Drawings of the homes had formed part of draft plans for the hill-top development off Shadycombe Road in the seaside town.

But a council officer told architects in an email on 11 October last year that “at this point” the scale of the four-bed detached houses should be left out of the plans.

He said the scale “concerns me” and added: “It would be a mistake to present this detail.”

In an email response, the architect sent back revised plans with circles instead of drawings of the houses “without being too prescriptive on their size and design”.

The email:

The revised plans were then put before a planning workshop of councillors and local businesses on 17 October.

The council initially refused South Hams Society’s request to reveal the original plans.

However, it appealed and the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) ordered the authority to divulge the omitted details.

In a statement, the council said it had “sought legal advice” and “we were of the view that we were entitled to withhold them”.

“It was clear to us that the plans as they were, would not be recommended for approval by the council.

“We felt that the size of the properties on the plan were inappropriate.”

The workshop had been arranged to talk to key stakeholders about a masterplan for the whole area and we did not want the meeting to be side-tracked by a proposal which we were sure would never come forward in its current state.”

It added it now “fully respects” the demand to release the full plans.”

Above: plans presented to workshop

Didi Alayli, chair of the society, said she hoped the ICO ruling “will lead to real change” in how council planners deal with draft plans.

“The huge profits to be made by landowners and developers in our beautiful area make it all the more important that our planning system is fit for purpose and we are not there yet,” she said.

It is understood landowner Jason Smith, who has not yet responded to a BBC request for comment, has not taken the proposals forward.”

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-devon-49812449

John Loudon (EDDC Sidmouth Rural councillor on Sidford Business Park planning application

From the blog of John Loudon, East Devon Alliance councillor for Sidmouth Rural.

The Sidford Business Park, Chief Executive, Council Leader & Private Eye
The planning applications to build the Business Park in Sidford have received a great deal of local attention and significant opposition, and I was pleased to be able to recently give evidence at the Inquiry in opposition to the proposed development. I believe that it is the wrong thing in the wrong place. Unfortunately, the Planning Inspector who adjudicated at the Inquiry disagreed and has now given the go ahead for the Business Park.

We are where we are because there have been two planning applications submitted by Tim and Mike Ford, in the name of OG Holdings Retirement Benefits Scheme, to build this Business Park. The first of these applications was submitted in 2016 and rejected by East Devon District Council. The second was then submitted in 2018 and was again rejected by the District Council.

In listening to the evidence at the Inquiry I, and many others, were taken aback to learn a claim arising from the evidence given by a key witness for the Fords, their agent Joseph Marchant, which was repeated by their QC and which wasn’t challenged by the Council.

The claim was set out at paragraph 6.0.1 in Mr Marchant’s written evidence “Subsequent to the refusal of the 2016 application, an approach was made to Members (Councillors) including Councillor Hughes and the CEO (Chief Executive) of EDDC, Mark Williams”.

This is continued in paragraph 6.0.2 of Mr Marchant’s written evidence “We were advised by Mark Williams…. that in his opinion, the applicant (the Fords) may make more advance in progress towards delivery through appealing (the Council’s decision to refuse the 2016 planning application) rather than resubmission”.

This claim was also clearly set out in paragraphs 13 and 14 of the Fords’ QC’s final closing arguments at the Inquiry “After the 2016 application was refused, there was a meeting with Councillor Hughes and the CEO of the Council”. “The CEO advised that the way to progress was to appeal. That is an extraordinary state of affairs”.

In my opinion all of this raised serious questions, not for the first time, about the links between the District Council and developers. It could be construed that the Chief Executive’s actions and advice undermined the authority and responsibilities of not only the Council’s planning officers, but also that of the elected Members, particularly those with responsibility for oversight and decision making on planning applications.

I therefore took this matter up with the Leader of the Council and in doing so I asked him a number of questions about how this meeting, involving the District Council’s Chief Executive and the developers, came about, what was discussed at it and who was present. After a bit of toing and froing I received answers to some of my questions, and as a result I believe that this is what happened –

After the 2016 planning application to build the Business Park was turned down by the District Council Tim Ford contacted the Chief Executive’s PA on Thursday 3 November 2016 seeking a meeting with the Chief Executive. This request appears to have been acted up very quickly as the meeting took place on Tuesday 8 November at 8.30 am in the Chief Executive’s office.

Present at the meeting were the Chief Executive, Mark Williams, Paul Diviani, the then Conservative Leader of the District Council, Councillor Stuart Hughes plus the developers Tim and Mike Ford and their agent Joseph Marchant, the one and the same person who’s witness statement led to this meeting being made public. The reason for the meeting is recorded as “To discuss the Sidford Business Park”.

The District Council is unable to confirm how long this meeting took. In addition, the District Council appears to have no formal, or informal, record of what was discussed or any decisions that were reached.

I find this situation concerning. It is amazing that within 4 working days of requesting a meeting that a developer can hold a meeting involving the Chief Executive and Leader of the Council, the two most senior people within the Council, to discuss a planning application that their Council had refused. I wonder how many members of the public can get that sort of high-level access so quickly?

I am concerned that at this meeting there was no planning officer, legal adviser nor the Council’s Monitoring Officer present. Surely, any discussion about a matter relating to a planning application should have the input of a planning officer. Wouldn’t the Council be best protected by having a legal adviser present? Surely, the Monitoring Officer, who is responsible for the probity of the Council, ought to be in attendance?

There was no record of the meeting’s discussions made on behalf of the Council. I cannot understand why this was so. Surely, it’s important that a record of such a meeting is made and then shared with the planning officers? Surely, a record of the meeting should have been placed with all the other related documents in the planning application file? It’s almost as if no one wanted the meeting to have been known about by anyone else, or otherwise why not keep a record of its discussions?

My role as a campaigner against the Business Park and as a District Councillor pursing this matter has been challenged by the District Council. The Business Park is within my Ward. Local residents within my Ward and within a neighbouring Ward at Sidford have expressed concern at the proposed Business Park and the involvement of the Chief Executive in this matter. It is therefore only right and proper that I have pursued this on their behalf.

Afterall, the Local Government Association’s Guidance for new Councillors 2019/20, which the District Council provided to me upon taking office in May, states at page 7, in the section headed “The Councillor’s role” that –

“A councillor’s primary role is to represent their ward or division and the people who live in it. Councillors provide a bridge between the community and the council. As well as being an advocate for your local residents and signposting them to the right people at the council, you will need to keep them informed about the issues that affect them”.

It goes on to explain that –

“As a local councillor, your residents will expect you to: … know your patch and be aware of any problems … represent their views at council meetings … lead local campaigns on their behalf”.

This guidance was reinforced to Councillors through the training that it provided in May 2019.

I don’t feel comfortable with some aspects of how the District Council has handled this planning application. I don’t feel comfortable about –

how quickly a developer was able to gain swift access to the most senior people in the Council.
that other key Officers weren’t present at the meeting.
that no record of the meeting was made by the Council.
I know for sure that many local residents remain uncomfortable too. As does Private Eye which has picked up on this story on 20 September.”

The Sidford Business Park, Chief Executive, Council Leader & Private Eye

“Pre-Application Openness And Transparency”

A useful guide from the South Hams Society on what developers and officers can co-operate on before a planning application goes in and what rights residents have to know what they are doung.

” …You are entitled to ask the district council:

If you suspect that discussion is being held on a proposal for development that hasn’t yet been published as a planning application, you are perfectly entitled to ask the district council, as the planning authority, what it knows about it.

The Environmental Information Regulations of 2004 require public bodies, if asked, to release to the requester, within 20 working days, any information they have on proposals for the land.

There are certain defined circumstances in which they can withhold it but they wouldn’t often apply in the cases in which the ordinary resident would be interested.

The rules cover pre-application discussions and any other less formal enquiries. Your request needn’t be in writing, it can be oral, for instance, by asking a councillor, in or out of a meeting, and the rules would equally apply to a town or parish council as well as to a district council.

Any blanket response such as ‘Pre-Application discussions are confidential’ is misconceived and should be challenged.

Your enquiry can be submitted online through the council’s Freedom of Information portal, citing the Environmental Information Regulations.

Requests are perhaps best framed in relation to an area or place and a time period, without any reference to the parties you think might be involved. For instance “Could I please be informed of any proposal of which the council has become aware in the last year, in the form of a pre-application request or otherwise, for development in the field of which the centre is at SX66805021? Please include the record of any advice the council may have given.”

Make sure your request is acknowledged, and follow it up if you haven’t had a reply within 20 working days.

[A model letter example from South Hams can be found here]:
https://southhamssociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/SHS-ICO-pre-application-ruling-Councillors-letter-230919.pdf

https://ico.org.uk/media/action-weve-taken/decision-notices/2019/2615823/fer0829003.pdf

Officers advise councillors not to fight Clinton Devon Estates over withdrawal of Newton Poppleford doctors’ surgery in planning application

EDDC fight CDE – not on your life say officers …unless, of course, councillors instruct them to do so …

https://www.sidmouthherald.co.uk/news/newton-poppleford-home-appeal-meeting-1-6194658

Greater Exeter Strategic Plan delayed

“A document that was set to reveal the possible locations for more than 57,000 new homes across four districts has been delayed.

The paper, which details sites put forward for developments of 500 homes or more in East Devon, Mid Devon, Teignbridge and Exeter (Greater Exeter) was due to be published in June.

More than 700 parcels of land were proposed by agents, developers and landowners during the ‘call for sites’ for the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan (GESP). Details of these options were due to be published in June.

However following the elections, a review of the timetable is ‘likely’ be needed, according to the GESP website.

Four councils are involved in the development of the plan – Exeter City Council, East Devon District Council, Mid Devon District Council and Teignbridge District Council.

But, in May’s elections the Conservative leadership at three of the district councils lost control.

The Local Housing Need Assessment for the Greater Exeter Area, published in November 2018, quotes an annual housing need figure in East Devon of 844. It states that the GESP authorities must plan to deliver at least 2,593 homes per annum between them up to 2040.

The assessment of larger strategic sites is being undertaken and the results will be published in a housing and economic land availability assessment (HELAA) alongside the draft Greater Exeter Strategic Plan.

The assessment of smaller sites will be undertaken by the four individual councils (as relevant). And, the results in HELAA will support the respective local plans.

The timetable is:

The Greater Exeter Strategic Plan timetable:

– Issues Consultation – February 2017 (completed).

– Draft policies and site options – June 2019 (Now under review).

– Draft Plan Consultation – November 2019 (Now under review).

– Publication (Proposed Submission) – February 2021.

– Submission – July 2021.

– Hearings – September 2021.

– Adoption – April 2022.

If approved, then the GESP would supersede and sit above the existing local plans, but they would not be scrapped.”

https://www.midweekherald.co.uk/news/greater-exeter-strategic-plan-document-is-delayed-1-6190128

Possible new East Devon “villages” (mostly extensions to current ones) are detailed here:

https://www.midweekherald.co.uk/news/possible-locations-for-new-devon-villages-set-to-be-released-1-6061225

Report on Sidford Business Park Planning Inquiry

Owl says: an excellent summary – but particularly pay attention to one interesting point in it:

QUOTE: …it transpires that after their 2016 application was refused by the District Council the appellants representatives met with the Council’s Chief Executive where he encouraged them to appeal the decision. UNQUOTE

Since when did the CEO give planning advice to appelants – and who (if anyone) was with him at that meeting. And to whom, who, if anyone did he/they subsequently disclose it?

“Apologies for this lengthy Update but we wanted to provide the full flavour of the Planning Inquiry.

As we are sure you all are aware last week there was the Planning Inquiry into the appeal lodged by Tim and Mike Ford, trading as OG Holdings Retirement Benefits Scheme, into the planning application to build a Business Park in Sidford that was refused by East Devon District Council at the end of last year. The Inquiry was held in public in front of a Planning Inspector.

The District Council was represented by a very competent barrister and had one of its planning officers and a highways officer from Devon County Council as their witnesses. On the other side, the Fords, known throughout the Inquiry as the appellants, were represented by a QC and had a plethora of witnesses.

Four representatives from this Campaign were present continuously at the Inquiry from the very moment when it commenced and over three days until the moment that it concluded. Indeed, three of the Campaign’s representatives gave evidence to the Inquiry, were cross examined by the appellants’ QC and were able to direct questions to be put to witnesses, as well as participating in several “round table” discussions on specific issues related to the matters under consideration.

The three Campaign representatives who gave evidence were District Councillor Marianne Rixson, Keith Hudson and John Loudoun. There were also three other witnesses, all speaking against the proposed Business Park. These were – Town Councillor Jeff Turner, County Councillor Stuart Hughes and Sidford resident Jackie Powell. In reality, and for all other appearances, this Campaign’s representatives were treated as, and able to participate as, full participants alongside the Council and the appellants.

At all stages of the Inquiry it was pleasing to have a number of members of the public in attendance for what on a number of occasions must have been a rather dry affair, particularly when legal arguments were being exchanged and technical data argued over.

The bulk of all of the evidence and legal arguments centred primarily, as one would expect, around the issue of the suitability and safety of the highway (the A375 through Sidford and Sidbury) as this had been the grounds upon which the District Council had refused the latest planning application. Its worth recalling that for the appellants the planning application which was the subject of this Inquiry was the latest on for that site, with the first one being back in 2012, whilst the Fords submitted their first in 2016, which as we know was refused in the same year.

On the final day of the Inquiry this Campaign’s representatives were able to make strong interventions on what could become an important set of issues. As in any such Inquiry the Inspector, whilst they have all the parties together, go through what planning conditions would apply should the Inspector uphold the appeal. None of this is meant to signify that the Inspector has made a decision one way or another, but rather makes good use of everyone’s time.

We were able to put arguments on behalf of local residents for some of the main planning conditions. These conditions include important matters such as the days and hours when noisy machinery could be operated, the days and times when deliveries or collections could be made to businesses using the Business Park, having an agreed site lighting scheme which would include the use of illuminated advertising, the days and times of when the construction can take place and when construction vehicles can access the site.

Both parties agreed that if the site becomes operational there will be provision made at it for a cycle/footpath through it. This would link to the existing cycle/footpath that goes from Two Bridges Road down to the Byes and is meant to be an additional link to join through to the centre of Sidbury. The only problem here is that the County Council appears to have made no progress in developing the route into Sidbury.

This Campaign argued that the appellants, if successful at the appeal, should agree to fund the full cost of the cycle/footpath from Sidford to Sidbury and that such a condition should remain for the next 10 years. The appellants, not unsurprisingly, did not accept that this should be a condition that either legally or voluntarily should be applied!
We were very pleased to hear from the Inspector that the day before the Inquiry started, he had visited the site, as well as key areas within Sidford and Sidbury.

At the end of the Inquiry the Inspector invited both parties and this Campaign to identify sites that we wanted him to revisit. We are pleased that our proposed locations were accepted by the appellants representatives.
During the Inquiry we were able to persuade the Inspector to pay five videos that we had submitted as part of our evidence. These videos, we argued illustratively show the effects on the A375 in both Sidford and Sidbury of traffic problems given the current level of traffic, and we argued that with the additional traffic that would be generated by the Business Park this would only get worse. Links to each of these videos are set out at the end of this Update.

Interestingly, three new pieces of information came from evidence provided on behalf of the appellants.

The first is that the appellants argued that the planning application as it currently stands is the least that would make the site financially viable for them. In other words, if the appeal is lost then there is no point in the appellants submitting another application as it wouldn’t make them enough money.

Secondly, it transpires that after their 2016 application was refused by the District Council the appellants representatives met with the Council’s Chief Executive where he encouraged them to appeal the decision.

The third was that even if the appeal is successful and the appellants are able to build the Business Park, they would not be intending to build a phase two development in the neighbouring field as was expected.
The documents that both parties, this Campaign and members of the public have submitted to the Inquiry, and which the Inspector assured us he has diligently all read are available via this link –

https://planningapps.eastdevon.gov.uk/Planning/lg/dialog.page?Param=lg.Planning&org.apache.shale.dialog.DIALOG_NAME=gfplanningsearch&SDescription=18/1094/MOUT&viewdocs=true