Evercreech denies 80 Bovis Homes: Report from Peter Bradshaw, district councillor
1 - Preface - Statement of Peter Bradshaw: District Councillor for Evercreech
I confirm the preliminary comments within this document are made on the basis of the information available to me at this time, and that I will decide the matter afresh should the application be referred to the Planning Board, taking into account at that time further information available to me.
2 - Appraisal of Outline Planning Application Permission application by Bovis Homes for the erection of eighty dwellings, and associated infrastructure, on land at Prestleigh Road, Evercreech. Mendip District Council Reference 2013/2010
This appraisal has been prepared by Peter Bradshaw, District Councillor for Evercreech, in collaboration with Evercreech Parish Council, of which he is also a member.
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The sources of information consist of;
• The Application Planning (Reference 2013/2010)
• The National Policy Planning Framework (NPPF)
• The appeal decision: Land at Horsehill Farm, Prestleigh Road, Evercreech. Reference App/Q3305/A/12/2188030
Brief outline appertaining to Horsehill Farm (Planning Reference 2012/2044)
The enquiry took place on the 4-6th March 2013 and the decision date of 18th April 2013 allowed the appeal against the failure of Mendip District Council (MDC) to give notice within the prescribed period of a decision on an application for outline planning permission.
Four Issues were identified by the inspector:
• Whether or not there was a shortfall in the five year supply of housing land within the district
• Whether allowing development would have adverse implications for the emerging local plan
• Would material harm be caused to the intrinsic character of the countryside and natural landscape
• Whether the site is in a sustainable location.
This appeal marked the first public examination of the local plan, notwithstanding that other statutory examinations had yet to be completed. The hearing was adjourned when MDC conceded that they could not demonstrate a five year supply of housing land.
Note: MDC had relied on historical data and methodology to calculate the land supply. The only guidance within the NPPF was contained in paragraphs 47 & 48 with footnotes 11 & 12 (Pages 12&13 NPPF refers)
Notwithstanding this failure to demonstrate the housing land supply, there remained issues 2,3 & 4. The planning inspector made comment on each issue and these comments will be used to test the same issues contained within the Bovis application bundle.
It is noted, without further comment, that the land owner of the proposed Bovis site submitted the land for inclusion in the Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA), 21 days after the horsehill Farm enquiry.
However the net fallout of this enquiry decision has been a deluge of planning applications citing the failure of MDC to demonstrate land supply and consequently seeking to rely upon para 49 of the NPPF, and the presumption in favour of sustainable development. This is a condensed assessment as it is not the purpose of this document to explain the provisions, but to enlarge the argument with ancillary and pertinent statements contained within the NPPF.
3 - Planning Statement
It is necessary to address the misinformation in the applicants Design and Access Statement / Planning Statement of a link road to the proposed Maesedown Road project (P7). This arose as a result of a communication which had not been authorised by the Parish Council, and presumably a purely personal view.
The applicants Planning Statement merits particular scrutiny. There is heavy reliance on the NPPF in Para 6 (Page 15) especially at 6.1.2 and subsequently paras 6.2.1 to 6.2.7.As an appendix, officer reports on other proposed sites are submitted by the applicant as supporting evidence. The applicant also quotes Para 7.2 part of which refers to ‘up to date’ policies of the MDC Local Plan and relate to adverse impacts which would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits of a development.
This précis of the application is considered to be an accurate an impartial statement.
It is important to emphasise the NPPF statements which are not mentioned in the Bovis application, but are of merit.
3A - Para 215 of the NPPF
Para 215 of the NPPF states ‘ Due weight should be given to relevant policies in existing plans according to their degree of consistency with the framework’. This paragraph is of great significance when compared to the inspectors Horsehill Farm report (page 3 Para 10) that development would comprehensively colonise (Horsehill Farm) transforming its character from one of pastoral openness to dense human habitation. Further it would erode the rural context of the village and result in a limited degree of harm to the intrinsic character of the countryside and the wider agrarian landscape. Most importantly it would not succeed in either maintaining or enhancing the existing environment and is contrary to policy 1 of the Mendip District Local Plan 2002. Later in the judgement this is classified to be of Medium Quantum. This Para 215 applies and can be given weight.
An additional 80 houses must raise the threshold to High by virtue of the logic or rationale in the mind of a reasonable citizen. It is therefore clear that the Planning Statement, Landscape and Visual Impact Statement (Page 21 Para 6.2.18) is flawed, and evidence to support refusal. Further the foreword to the NPPF advocates ‘Allowing people and communities back into planning’.
3B - Mendip Local Plan
The Mendip Local Plan is well advanced and considered by many to be viable in all respects. Para 17 of the NPPF states planning should be ‘ Genuinely Plan Led, empowering local people to shape their surroundings’, and “Be not simply about scrutiny, but instead be a creative exercise in ways to enhance and improve the places in which people live their lives’.
The Bovis application is contrary to both NPPF principals. It is also a pertinent fact that the inclusion of land in the SHLAA does not automatically confer the right to planning permissions. Further the NPPF offer no clear definition of sustainable development, in essence Para 6 and Paras 8-219 of the NPPF (which is almost the entire document) constitutes the view of the Government (HMG) of what sustainable development means in practice for the planning system.
3C - Sustainability
The application contains two strands of sustainability.
• Accessibility on foot, bicycle or bus (para 39 NPPF Page11)
• Existence and accessibility of Employment (Page 6 NPPF)
3C1 - Transport / Travel Plan
It is vitally important therefore to test the applicants Transport Plan.
The Travel Plan submitted is a flawed document and the faith shown in the proposals cause the utmost concern when analysed as a desktop exercise. The local knowledge of villagers would clearly be be at odds with the assessment given. This evidence can be adduced at a future date from villagers, who can give evidence in person.
Without being pedantic ,does the emphasis on access also include egress? The most cursory examination of the detailed plans reveals there appears to be no footpath on the nearside of the Prestleigh Road carriageway as you face toward the village centre. Instead pedestrians must cross the busy major road to access a pavement on the opposite side, then walk across the junction with a minor road (Bridge Close) and then cross the main road again to gain access to Maesdown Road, which gives access to the village primary school and nursery. This cannot be described as a safe pedestrian school route.
Consideration must be given to traffic using Prestleigh Road which consists of cars and light vehicles, HGV’s and PSV’s. It is a busy road carrying mixed traffic with a preponderance of HGV’s traveling to a from the Greencore factory.
Mothers holding children increase the width of human bodies taking up road space, notwithstanding buggies and additional family children. To use a bicycle would be dangerous for children of primary school age groups as well as their parents or carers. It is therefore highly probably that motor vehicles will be used for the school run, which will add to congestion and danger at the local ‘rush hour’.
These facts are contrary to the NPPF and merit grounds for refusal. Further evidence can be found in the Horsehill Farm appeal document (Para 11 Page 3) where the inspector embraces enhanced footpath provision. This is for the construction of a footpath from Horsehill to the existing pavement which terminates at Bridge Close, but these comments cannot equate with two major road crossings per day in term time. Neither does it address child movement by foot or bicycle during school holidays.
The inspector further states (Para 12 Page 3) that speeds are a cause for apprehension. Speed kills, especially children. The developer Bovis would appear not to share this view, and this stance is another reason for refusal. Reasonable people may think that a road traffic induced injury or fatality is a Demonstrable Adverse Impact totally outweighing any perceived benefit, and this fact is a reasonable cause to reject this housing.
The Travel Plan addresses bus use. The simple fact is that the bus service will not support a worker who’s hours are 0800-1600 or 0900-1700, or an established shift pattern. The traveling time is prohibitive to all towns outside the immediate area and difficult if the place of work is in Shepton Mallet. This is further evidence of the flaws within the travel plan. A redeemable green travel voucher, two high visibility jackets, a pedometer and a pedal cycle at a reduced price cannot hide the inherent road safety danger. Far from promoting road safety this development creates the danger.
3C2 - Employment
The existence and accessibility of employment required by the NPPF (Page 6) is not proven
The Principal local employers are Greencore and Peter Green. Greencore employ circa 350 staff and engage temporary staff in busy periods, e.g.. Christmas. Peter Green have a similar employment pattern.
Whilst the village is able to demonstrate an active labour market it is constrained by the type of employment opportunities available, which impacts the prevalent wage rates available locally. It is fair to say that the most mathematically challenged would quickly realise that many people would be unable to satisfy the mortgage requirements for the majority of the proposed properties. Once again the requirement of the NPPF is not satisfied, and the property owner/ occupier would require use of a car to travel to work. Also,has consideration being given to there being more than one wage earner per property?
4 - Bovis Design Statement
The Bovis Design Statement (Page 7) contains an interesting assertion, stating that the defined boundary and character of the village in the area is changing due to the fact that the Horsehill Farm appeal confirms the extension of the village boundary without adverse impact. This statement is totally incorrect. The village boundary is unchanged notwithstanding Horsehill Farm (source Principal Planning Officer).The statement goes on to say that it is within this changing context that the proposals be considered. It is presumed, but not stated within the application documents, that the Horsehill Farm development has been actually taken into consideration. This will be commented upon in The Conclusion.
It is fair to say, and quite proper, that the application is considered on merit with an open mind devoid of emotion and nimbysim. The application has been so considered but the previous parts of this report give grounds for refusal by virtue of the same NPPF document the applicant espouses, and the absence of a five year land supply does not in itself lend support to a further planning application.
There is need for evidence when considering specific sections of the application such as flooding. Every villager is aware of the surface water to found in Prestleigh Road after heavy rainfall. People in Bridge Close and Prestleigh Road have suffered problems as a result. The removal of natural drainage from two housing development areas may significantly add to this problem. Consideration must also be given that bedrock is at best some eighteen inches beneath the topsoil. It cannot be disputed that certain engineering solutions may mitigate flooding. A laboratory model cannot replicate real events, and there is indisputable evidence available from nearby residents, which can be adduced at a later date.
5 - Local Medical Services
This document concludes with an appreciation of the medical service available to villagers. The local surgery is part of the Park Medical Practice, based in Shepton Mallet. It is reasonable therefore to examine the cumulative impact of the Bovis site with Horsehill Farm and other developments in Shepton Mallet, which are extensive, and have a direct effect on the demand affecting the medical practice and its ability to deliver services.
The Evercreech Surgery is a satellite of the main Park Medical Practice and as such, patients from both localities have access to its services. There is a limit to the number of patients a site can treat, and there is already a difficulty in obtaining timely appointments for village residents. Increased demand can be met by additional appointments being available, but recent history shows that patients travel by car or bus to the Park Practice site to access timely appointments. This solution is not suitable for all patients, particularly the young, disabled, elderly or housebound. Likewise Shepton residents may visit the Evercreech site. Multiple facility access encourages car use contrary to the NPPF.
The effect on medical services is difficult to quantify without accurate demographic statistics, but it is reasonable to assume at this juncture that this is a demonstrable adverse impact and disputes the assertion of sustainability made by Bovis Homes.
6 - Conclusion
NOTWITHSTANDING ANY OF THE ABOVE, THE CONCLUSION STATEMENT IS CONSIDERED THE BEST OPTION IN REFUSING THE APPLICATION.
There was a need to go back to basics in the process to date, in evaluating the previous findings related to the NPPF, as it quantified the housing requirement for Evercreech.
In 2010 the local plan envisaged a 15% increase in housing stock for Evercreech (A Primary Village) and for secondary villages, again 15% but with a cap of 40.
Therefore, the Evercreech total housing stock = 860 units.
15% of that total =129. M.D.C. thought that excessive and scaled the total back to 70.
The Pre-submission Local Plan Draft, November 2012, AGAIN states a requirement of 70, but with 30 completions and 5 consents, THIS IS REDUCED TO 35. The figures are of 16th October 2013. Note that the 2010 and 2013 requirements are identical, save any unknown minor correction.
THE OUTLINE PERMISSION OF 90 HOMES AT HORSEHILL FARM PLUS THE MAESDOWN DEVELOPMENT (30 HOMES) EQUALS 120 HOMES, A 240% INCREASE ON 35 UNITS. IF 80 ARE CONSTRUCTED AT PRESTLEIGH ROAD, A GRAND TOTAL OF 200 EQUALS A 471% INCREASE OVER THE 35 UNITS.
Why is this important? Ian Elliot and myself attended the Horsehill Farm hearing in its entirety. The applicant queried the arbitrary 15% increase, and asked why not 20 or 30%? IT IS TO BE NOTED THAT THE INSPECTOR TOOK NO VIEW OF THIS ARGUMENT IN HIS REPORT, SO IT MAY BE CONFIDENTLY CONCLUDED THIS FIGURE IS IN THE GIFT OF THE LOCAL AUTHORITY.
MORE IMPORTANTLY, THE BOVIS BUNDLE DOES NOT ADDRESS THIS POINT, THEREFORE THEY ARE IN TACIT AGREEMENT. THERE ARE NO ADDITIONAL DOCUMENTS FROM BOVIS ADDRESSING THIS ISSUE HELD BY M.D.C.
BOVIS RELY ON HOUSING LAND SUPPLY FIGURES NOT BEING UP TO DATE. THIS IS CONCEDED,BUT NOWHERE IS THE EVERCREECH HOUSING FIGURE BROUGHT EITHER INTO SCRUTINY OR DISREPUTE.
Finally, it is crucial to check the validity of the 15% stock figure . This is proven in The Technical Paper Update ,Housing Distributions Options for 2006-2028, page 29.This document is again neither challenged nor referred to within the application, and again is evidence to support the reasons behind the recommendation.
Consequently. The application may be refused on the cumulative impact to the village, the flawed travel/transport plan, and the failure to maintain or enhance the existing environment contrary to saved policy s1 MENDIP DISTRICT LOCAL PLAN 2002, as evidenced by the Horsehill Appeal decision. A recent Mells appeal has restated the validity of S1.