Clinton Devon Estates: Director with too many fingers in too many public body pies?

Owl has been pondering the potential for conflicts of interest between some of Clinton Devon Estates’ (CDEs’) more environmentally sensitive development plans and the activities of its Estates Director, John Varley.

On the CDE website, at the time of going to press, Estates’ Director, John Varley is described as follows:

“John’s current non-executive positions include Board Member of the Environment Agency (EA) and Natural England (NE).”

Clearly he is a very influential man.

Owl remembers him being appointed to the Environment Agency Board in 2012 (£21,002 per annum). [This coincided with CDE’s their first planning to extend their cow sheds in the Otter flood plain at the bottom of Colaton Raleigh – something we will return to]. Owl finds John is still on EA’s Board.

But he seems to be a bit confused about his role with Natural England. Owl doesn’t see his name listed as a current Natural England Board member. So Owl has had to call in the Ferrets.

They report that John Varley, whilst on the Environment Agency Board, was also welcomed onto board of Natural England on 29 April 2015 (remuneration £10K-£15K). They also have discovered that he was reported as being “sad to depart before the end of his term” at the meeting of 22 March 2017.

They also note that he has popped up again as chair of the review which will consider all aspects of Network Rail’s approach to vegetation management 12 July 2018.

There is no suggestion whatsoever that John Varley has ever failed to declare an interest. Indeed, the Ferrets find that, quite properly, he had to leave the room during discussion of the agenda item on the reintroduction of beavers on the River Otter at the Natural England Board in September 2015.

What worries Owl is the conflicts, real or imagined, this might pose to the local staff of the Environment Agency and Natural England as they comment on CDE planning applications “without fear or favour”. Owl is also concerned about how it looks in the daylight.

In the old fashioned world Owl was brought up in any potential conflict would have been avoided. Those in a position to wield influence would do the “honourable” thing of either resigning or at least ensuring any applications they could be associated with were made in exemplary fashion.

Owl is not convinced that CDE’s recent planning applications could be described in this way. For example, consider the controversial 2012 applications to extend the cow sheds at Otter Farm, Church Road, Colaton Raleigh (application 12/0400 superseded by 12/2660).

One aspect of the controversy concerns whether or not either of these applications should have had a flood risk assessment. The fact is that Otter Farm is in flood zone 3, but it was claimed that the adjacent cow shed site, literally only yards away, would only lie in Zone 1 (1 in a 1,000 years risk). This was confirmed by EA on 6 February 2013:

“We have had a look at this one and feel, due to the nature of the development that a Flood risk Assessment would not be necessary. Of course we would still expect the applicant to demonstrate a commitment to SUDs in the design of their surface management for the site.”
[SUD – Sustainable drainage system]

However, this was queried by many on the basis of local knowledge including the Parish council, which, in February 2013, asked “for a better assessment in view of recent flooding incidents in the area”. The details were spelled out rather more graphically by one resident who expressed concern that “recently slurry was allowed to escape into the river (Otter) and into Railway Cottages”.

EA wrote again later in February: “Regarding the above, we have been advised that the site is over 1ha, if the new access road is included. If this is the case we are happy to review the application if accompanied by a Flood Risk Assessment”.

Eventually a detailed Environmental Management and Waste Management plan was submitted in April along with a Sustainable Drainage System Design of 66 pages. In May the Environment Agency recorded its thanks to: “you and your colleagues for meeting on site with [ ] to consider measures that could reduce flooding risks for the nearby Railway Cottage.”

Owl now flies forward to a more recent, even more controversial, case that of CDE’s application 17/3022 to extend the Blackhill Engineering works on Woodbury Common, submitted in December 2017.

It is clear from NE’s first comments that the Visual and Environmental Impact Assessments accompanying the application were still not up to scratch. NE’s comments 6 February 2018 read: “As it stands, we have significant concerns regarding the potential impacts of these proposals. We will provide more detailed advice once we have reviewed the additional information.”

How many Retrospective Applications can one company do at once? Answer 9! Where? Greendale Business Park!

In 2017 FWS Carter and Sons, the owners of Greendale Business Park, appealed against an “Enforcement Notice” against the removal of various industrial compounds and buildings at their Business Park, which they had built prior to obtaining planning permission.

They lost their appeal with the Planning Inspector, who stated in his report that FWS Carter and Sons had misinterpreted the East Devon Local Plan and that their interpretation was “patently wrong”.

But undaunted the company challenged the Inspectors decision in the High Court. Early last year the company lost the appeal in the High Court. The Judge’s decision also restricted the owners any further opportunity to appeal and them to pay all costs arising from the case.

The Company was required to return the area back to agricultural use, but it transpires that they imported soil and laid this over the concrete yards and simply reseeded it.

It remains to be seen if the covering the concrete is enough to satisfy the Planning Inspectors requirement that the land must return to agricultural use.

Lessons learnt?

So once bitten, twice shy you would have thought with substantial losses, large court fees and professional fees involved!!

Unfortunately, it would seem not, for this family run business. Now there are 9 applications which are known to have been or are in the process of building work before the Planning Applications were submitted.

18/2866/FUL. A retrospective planning application for a rear roller shutter door and concrete pad on the rear of an industrial building onto agricultural land at Unit 11 Hogsbrook Farm. This application is before East Devon’s Planning Committee on Tuesday 4 March.

19/0034/COU. A Retrospective Application at Hogsbrook East 6. A retrospective change of use from agricultural use to industrial. An interesting history to this one! Originally built for a gas pipeline contractors’ compound that had to be returned to agricultural use when the pipeline was completed. However, FWS Carter and Sons applied for planning permission to retain the secure compound for fruit farming. Instead of fruit-growing, Woodbury Carbreakers as tenants stored scrapped vehicles there instead! After 3 years and a court case they were eventually evicted by the Environment Agency, but the owners then used it for commercial storage. Their application for industrial use failed 3 years ago, but just before an Enforcement Notice was served in late 2018 they submitted a further application. But they withdraw it and submitted this latest application.

19/0035/COU. A Retrospective Application next to Hogsbrook East 6. Very similar to the previous application which was used for the gas pipeline company. FWS Carter and Sons submitted, what is called a “Certificate of Lawfulness” which in planning terms means that after 10 years of illegal use they would not require planning permission, to allow to continue operations. However, their own documents clearly stated that gas pipeline contractors had been tenants until July 2009. As this was classified at permitted lawful use the submission was refused. Just as the previous application prior to an “Enforcement Notice” was served as the previous site in late 2018 they submitted a further planning application. They again withdraw it, a submitted this further application.

19/0332/CPE. This was a submission of a “Certificate of Lawfulness” at Greendale unit 33A. Following the publication of the East Devon Villages Plan it was realised that this unit was outside the permitted “Employment Zone” for Greendale Business Park. This was because in its 15 years of operations, planning permission had never been applied for! Therefore, the Local Authority asked the company to summit the paperwork to legalise the operation.

19/043/FUL. A Retrospective Application for 3 Freezer storage pods at Compound 31. The compound is used by DHL Logistics for parcel distribution, but early last year after winning a distribution contract with Kentucky Fried Chicken they started frozen food distribution as well. Several residents living close by the noisy freezer units and hearing the loading and unloading during the night reported the problem to Environmental Health at East Devon. They suggested to the Planning Department that a retrospective application should be submitted.

19/0288/FUL. A Retrospective Application for an extension to Unit 10 at Hogsbrook Farm to extend an Industrial Building which sits on the Employment Boundary of Greendale Business Park. This would mean that the extended building would straddle the boundary between Industrial/Agricultural use.

18/2867/FUL. A Retrospective Application to extend Compound 62 beyond the Employment Boundary into agricultural and landscaping area. The area has been built up over recent years with inert waste material under an Environment Agency permit but it would seem the Company has gone beyond the permitted landfill area.

There are 2 further Retrospective Planning Applications due for extensions to Agricultural units that have been reported to the Enforcement Officer at East Devon District Council.

That’s nine Retrospective Applications in a row. Is that a record!!

And the Government still insist that Planning Authorities treat Retrospective Applications the same as any other Application!

“Gove wasting his time” – “Wild Woodbury” responds to Blackhill Quarry incursion further into AONB

Press release:

“Michael Gove is Wasting his time!

Conservative Councillors Undermine Government Environmental plans

The Woodbury Common “Area 12” development in East Devon is a classic example of members of the conservative party undermining the leadership and the will of the electorate. The proposed development of factories within an Area of Outstanding Natural beauty caused a local outcry. There were 198 objections to the plans and 4 people supported the application. When the development was put to the planning committee the council chamber was packed with objectors. The plans were passed with 6 people voting in favour and 5 against. The 6 supporters were all Tory Councillors who were not only out of step with the wishes of the electorate but also showed a total disregard for Michael Gove’s 25-year Environmental Plan.

Michael Gove is wasting his time! He is being undermined by his own Party and would be more effective working for an organisation with real environmental integrity such as The Wildlife Trust. He may be the most progressive and forward thinking Conservative Secretary for the Environment that we have had in decades. He recently stated “Outside the EU we are going to make sure that our environment is enhanced and protected. We believe in a greener Britain.”

If he hasn’t been a closet environmentalist all his life he has learned very quickly. He has listened to the much maligned “so called experts” and taken their ideas onboard. He isn’t afraid of speaking out either. When Donald Trump pulled the USA out of the Paris International Climate agreement most of the government were shuffling around looking at their shoes and scared to speak out in case they caused any offence. Michael however came out and condemned the move in his first speech after being returned to the cabinet. People have said that the new Tory “Green” policies that he is putting forward are just “vote bait” and that the conservatives are desperate to grab votes from the younger generation.

It is true that the younger generation in general tend to be greener than the traditional Tory voter, but they are also quite canny. It is not enough these days for a party to Talk the Talk, they will have to be seen to Walk the Walk if they are to get the youth vote. If the Tories don’t make good on their promises the next generation of voters will be even more disaffected about politics than the current ones. Plans for environmental initiatives like the bottle deposit scheme, banning single use plastics, and a switch to electric cars are very welcome, but until the legislation necessary to get them working is in place they are just a good idea and nothing more. Michael may have good intentions but after a year in the job the harsh reality is that he has changed very little.

Michaels downfall will not come because of criticism from environmental groups as most of the conservationists I talk to agree with his proposals. He is in step with most current thinking on environmental protection and is happy to express his own ideas. The document “A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment” contains enough positive ideology to satisfy most environmental campaigners. The document is elegantly designed, and its contents has been carefully thought out. It covers a huge range of subjects: sustainable land use, enhancing the beauty of landscapes, ways of reducing pollution and waste, fishing policy that ensures seas return to health and fish stocks are replenished, climate change, and new forests. The document even covers wildlife crime, poaching and illegal wildlife trade beyond our borders.

The problem that Michael has is that the document is a vision and not legislation. It is a collection of really good ideas, but it is not law. When there is a conflict between potential industrial development and the environment the ideals will get thrown into the river like toxic waste. If there is a chance for a profit to be made Tory councils will always find ways to get around even the most stringent protections. The “Green Future” is not seen as a moral compass for development it is just viewed as a bit of a nuisance.”

“Air pollution causes ‘huge’ reduction in intelligence, study reveals”

Not good news for people on the route of the Sidford Fields Industrial Estate – or anyone in any of the villages close to Exeter that EDDC wants to expand.

“Air pollution causes a “huge” reduction in intelligence, according to new research, indicating that the damage to society of toxic air is far deeper than the well-known impacts on physical health.

The research was conducted in China but is relevant across the world, with 95% of the global population breathing unsafe air. It found that high pollution levels led to significant drops in test scores in language and arithmetic, with the average impact equivalent to having lost a year of the person’s education.

“Polluted air can cause everyone to reduce their level of education by one year, which is huge,” said Xi Chen at Yale School of Public Health in the US, a member of the research team. “But we know the effect is worse for the elderly, especially those over 64, and for men, and for those with low education. If we calculate [the loss] for those, it may be a few years of education.”

Previous research has found that air pollution harms cognitive performance in students, but this is the first to examine people of all ages and the difference between men and women.

The damage in intelligence was worst for those over 64 years old, with serious consequences, said Chen: “We usually make the most critical financial decisions in old age.” Rebecca Daniels, from the UK public health charity Medact, said: “This report’s findings are extremely worrying.” “

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/aug/27/air-pollution-causes-huge-reduction-in-intelligence-study-reveals

Is YOUR village on the EDDC list for expansion? And another east/west divide

East Devon District Council Strategic Planning Committee are going to discuss:

“Principles for accommodating the future growth needs of East Devon”

on 4 September 2018.

The Committee are being asked to endorse

“The proposed principles for growth” as the basis for future discussion and consultation on accommodating extra growth in the district.”

The document is described as the “start of the debate” for future East Devon growth points for both the GESP (The Greater Exeter Strategic Plan) and the East Devon Local Plan review, which is required to be updated within the next two years.

For the last few years East Devon District Council have achieved their own Local Plan agreed target of 950 dwellings per year. (EDDC Target is 17,100 dwellings between the years of 2013 to 2031).

Recently Central Government decided to calculate each District`s housing requirement targets on a set matrix. East Devon’s build out figure has been set to be 844 homes per year. However, the report suggests that rather than achieve the Government target of 844 new houses per year there is a proposal to build out much higher levels of growth.

The report explains that the objective of higher growth could be achieved by what is called a “Growth Deal” with Central Government where a group of Councils agree to build more housing in return for infrastructure investment from central funds.

This proposed “Growth Deal” is being prepared by the Councils of East Devon, Exeter, Teignbridge and Mid Devon through the “GESP” Greater Exeter Strategic Plan.

It is recognised that Exeter is unable to provide the housing land required to sustain the expected growth of the city, and the rural areas and towns in the rest of the combined area will be required to increase their housing requirements in exchange for the infrastructure improvements for access to and from the city of Exeter.

Improvements to the motorway junctions, new roads, extra park and rides, rail improvements, new stations and an integrated transport system are all identified as priority improvements to overcome the already chronic delays on Exeter`s transport network. There are also aspirations for a “sports hub and concert venue” for Greater Exeter to be included in the GESP infrastructure needs.

The report gives a brief synopsis of the towns in East Devon and concludes that other than the new town of Cranbrook there is limited scope for growth due to the various towns’ proximity to the AONB designated areas, or they are bordering on the coast or close to flood plains.

The conclusion from the report is that the existing towns will only accommodate minimal growth, and with two-thirds of East Devon being included in the AONB of the Pebblebed Heaths or the Blackdown Hills the only area that can accommodate substantial growth is within the North West part of the district.

The report describes this area as the Western most quadrant of this district to the North of Exmouth and West of Ottery St Mary. The land is described to benefit from being relatively flat with no landscape designations. It is also well served by main roads with good vehicle access via the M5, A30, A3052 and A376 and has good existing public transport links with the railway line and existing bus routes.

There are 3 possible ways described as to how development could be achieved in this area.

1. Establish a further new town. Basically, create another Cranbrook. However, the report considers that the creation of another new town in the area could harm the delivery of Cranbrook.

2. Establish a number of new villages. Create a series of modern Devon villages but the report considers that this option would be most damaging in landscape terms.

3. Centre Growth around Existing Villages.

Growth would be required to be substantial with around 400 to 500 extra homes to be added to a number of existing villages (The report does not state how many villages will be required within this area). However, this could harm the character of the village and the existing community.

The new NPPF acknowledges that:

“The supply of a large number of new homes can often be best achieved through planning for larger scale development such as new settlements or significant extensions to existing villages and towns, provided they are well located and designed, and supported by necessary infrastructure and facilities.”

A list of the Parishes within the expansion area for extra housing area

By referring to a map of the area these are the Parishes(villages) which are within the West of the district which could have development of between 400 to 500 extra dwellings, parishes identified could be:

Nether Exe
Rewe
Brampford Speke
Upton Pyne.
Stoke Canon ​

All these Villages are North of Exeter and access is by way of the A377 – which is not listed as one of the featured roads, so it is unlikely these will be included.

Broadclyst
Clyst Honiton
Sowton
Rockbeare
Wimple.​

These Villages are close to Cranbrook and therefore unlikely to be selected to avoid the villages and town merging.

Clyst Hydon
Clyst St Lawrence
Aylesbeare
Marsh Green

These Parishes are remote from a main road or railway station which probably eliminates them because of their unsustainable location.

Lympstone

This Village is already designated in the report to provide growth for Exmouth.

This leaves the following Parishes most likely to be included for further expansion in the proposals:

Poltimore
Huxham
Clyst St Mary
Clyst St George (includes the village of Ebford)
West Hill
Woodbury​ (includes the village of Woodbury Salterton and Exton)
Farringdon.

The “Principles for Growth” which the committee are being asked to agree to:

• A significant proportion of growth to be in the Western part of the district by either a new town or extending a number of villages or building new villages.

• Plus, modest growth in existing towns with strategic growth around Axminster, Exmouth (including Lympstone), Honiton and Ottery St Mary.

• All other Villages to be encouraged to provide modest growth through their Neighbourhood Plans.

• Focus development on main transport corridors if possible.

Conclusion:

For the last few years, East Devon has successfully complied with the government`s Housing Strategy, with their current Local Plan and at present build out rates, this will over subscribe the Government Building Target until the year 2031.

The Government is not forcing East Devon to co-operate with Exeter to provide some of their housing needs. This decision is totally at the discretion of the District Council and their leaders.

Yes, Exeter is a thriving growth city, and it is recognised that the road and rail connections are dire, but why destroy the character of a part of East Devon for these improvements?

The very reason people choose to relocate to Exeter, its surrounding towns and villages is the beautiful Devon countryside; the building of a mass of new housing will simply make the area a mirror image of the existing areas the people are wanting to move away from!

So, to satisfy the aspirations and needs of the City of Exeter, the rural west area of East Devon will be required to build many more houses with either another new town or new villages or building an extra 500 houses to a number of existing village communities.

Will the Strategic Planning Committee endorse this proposal or not?

Fire close to Greendale Business Park

“Firefighters are tackling a huge blaze involving “300 to 400” hay bales near Exeter.

Fire crews were called to a field near Greendale Business Park in Woodbury Salterton at about 04:45.

Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service said “approximately 300 to 400 large straw bales” were on fire.

They remain at the scene and are trying to stop the blaze from spreading.

Appliances in the lanes surrounding so may be tricky driving around Woodbury/Woodbury Salterton.”

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/live/uk-england-devon-45085272

Greendale Business Park Tree Order – East Devon Alliance Councillor Geoff Jung instrumental in getting it passed

Well done, East Devon Alliance Councillor Jung! Others with business parks earmarked for their areas should take note! The tree order for the area around Greendale Business Park has been out for consultation and is now agreed and signed off. Let’s hope the owners of Greendale have the map – and understand it.

“Within the proposal for the 2009 extension to the business park back in 2009 there was an “agreed” landscaping proposal. However, agreements to maintain the landscaping proposals in a planning agreement do not generally extend beyond the agreed time of 5 years to maintain or replace the landscaping trees and shrubs in their first few years of growth.

Following many unauthorised tree and landscaping removals by the owners of Greendale Business Park, it was considered appropriate to instigate a review of all the trees existing surrounding the park and to include all the agreed landscaping.

The Local Authority (EDDC) following this review considered that the most appropriate way to stop further encroachment on the agreed landscape proposals would be to cover the whole area with a Tree Preservation Order.

Tree Preservation Order Proposal

The Tree Preservation Order (TPO) has been made to protect the significant individual trees and areas of newly created woodland. The TPO protects a total of 47 ‘Individual’ trees, 19 ‘Groups’ of trees, 3 ‘Areas’ of land and 17 ‘Woodland’ areas. The TPO collectively protects thousands of trees growing on and around the Greendale Business Park.

Extent of Tree Preservation Order 18/0002/TPO marked in green.

Most the trees within the TPO are contained within the landscape planting areas that were approved under the historic planning consent for the expansion of the business park (09/1195/MOUT). The extent of the business park is defined further within the adopted East Devon adopted Local plan 2013 – 2031.

Collectively the trees add to the rural character of the surrounding landscape. With the individual mature trees, their amenity is already significant. The landscape planting areas, will significantly increase in their amenity value, as the tree increase in size and develop into areas of woodland.

The protected trees and woodland areas are important in reducing the visual impact of the business park on the surrounding area and help maintain the rural character of the wider area.

Tree Preservation Order consultations

Three letters have been received requesting modifications to the provisional TPO, these modifications can be summarised as follows:

• Woodland, W2 – Request the removal of an area of land on the north-eastern corner of the woodland, as it does not contain any trees (Figure 2).

• Woodland, W8 – Request the removal the most southern end of the woodland as it is sandwiched between industrial units, is in places in contact with the buildings causing maintenance problems and it is of limited public amenity.

Area of Woodland (W2) showing absence of trees

What will this Tree Order mean?

No one can cut down, top, lop, uproot, wilfully damage or destroy a tree or cause or permit the cutting down, topping, lopping, uprooting, wilful damage or wilful destruction of any tree except with the written consent of the Local Authority.

This order does not restrict the management of these trees and woodland areas but if any work was to be carried out the landowner is now required to seek permission from the Local Authority.

Comment from the District Councillor

Councillor Geoff Jung (EDA Independent Councillor for Raleigh Ward which includes Greendale Business Park)

I really appreciate the work that the officers have done on this Tree Order that will in effect protect the trees and woodland in whole area surrounding the Business Park and the Rural Village of Woodbury Salterton.

I know that the Woodbury Salterton Residents Association and Woodbury Parish Council have been must concerned with industrial encroachment into the countryside within the area and important landscaping being removed prior to any planning approvals.

This TPO (Tree Preservation Order) and the shortly to be approved EDDC village development plan with its designated employment line around the business park will provide better certainty and protection to the rural landscape of Woodbury Salterton.”