In April of last year SHDC's Development Management Committee authorised officers to grant planning permission for a dwelling and four large buildings for the storage and processing of potatoes on a greenfield site in the South Devon AONB. However the applications and the way in which they were processed were found by lawyers to be seriously deficient, and the permissions have still not been issued.
In April of this year officers produced a new report, still recommending approval, and referred the applications back to the DMC for reconsideration, only to withdraw them after receiving further expert and legal opinion. It is understood that they are going to come before the DMC once again on 1 July. This Society and the AONB Unit have strongly objected to them, not because the need for the new facilities is questioned, but principally because the buildings don't have to be in protected land. The National Planning Policy Framework states quite clearly what tests have to be applied for a major development such as this one in an AONB. Almost no evidence has been produced to show that the proposal satisfies those tests, and the indications are that it falls far short of doing so. The Society has commissioned an independent report on the case because it wants to uphold the important principle of protecting the AONB from inappropriate development. It wants SHDC to be much more attentive to its duty to conserve protected landscape.
The independent report can be read here.
At the DMC meeting on 1 July the reasons for refusing the applications were well presented. Tom Rocke, the independent planning specialist, explained very clearly that the tests required by the NPPF for development in an AONB had not been satisfied. The applications were nevertheless approved by eight votes to four. Cllrs Cane, Hitchins, Holway, Cuthbert, Vint, Brazil, Steer and Foss voted for approval, Cllrs Rowe, Pearce, Bramble and Hodgson against. (Cllr Foss was chair of the AONB Partnership Committee until last year, Cllr Cane is a current member, and Cllr Rowe is its acting chair.)
If SHDC finds that it doesn't have to comply with paragraphs 115 and 116 of the NPPF the implications for our AONB are very serious indeed. It is worrying that there seems to be very little official support for enforcement of the protection that the NPPF ostensibly gives. The AONB Unit submitted a detailed and well-reasoned objection to the applications, but the Partnership Committee considered that any further action 'would fall outside its remit'. Natural England flatly refused to get involved. The Secretary of State will not call in the applications, apparently because it's government policy increasingly to leave planning to local authorities - which seems perverse, given the official status of AONBs as national assets with national protection.
So it's down to the public to make sure that the protection set out in the NPPF is a reality, and because the issues in this case are so clear cut there is a good opportunity to examine the way in which SHDC has handled it. So far the load has been shouldered by a mainly local but expanding group centred round Churchstow. It has spent over £13,000 on legal and planning advice and it is more certain than ever that there has been a miscarriage. It is determined that the principle of protecting the AONB in accordance with the NPPF should be upheld, and it now wishes to raise the £25,000 or so that is needed safely to seek judicial review. It needs help.
Please remember that the objection is to the siting of the buildings. A good case can surely be made for the applicants having new premises, but it has not been made for their being in the AONB and there appear to be alternative solutions. Getting things in the right place is what planning is all about.
A quick guide.....
The Society's objectives are:
To stimulate interest and care for the beauty, history and character of the South Hams.
To encourage high standards of planning and architecture that respect the character of the South Hams.
To secure the protection and improvement of the landscape, features of historic interest and public amenity.
To promote the conservation of the South Hams as a living, working environment.
We publish four bulletins a year. Any issue since 2007 can be downloaded from About/Bulletins.
Beach cleans and the social programme for 2015 are at Events.
We take the South Devon AONB very seriously. The pages under Protected Areas are intended to increase people's knowledge and appreciation of the AONB and the other designated areas. If the protected landscape matters to you, you should look at the two items highlighted at the top of this page.
SHDC's new local plan - called 'Our Plan' - is a source of concern because it is making so little progress and because there is as yet little of substance for the public to consider. The Society's comments are here.
Since the beginning of 2012 the Society has commented on planning applications in Bantham, Brixham, Buckland Tout Saints, Chivelstone, Dartington, Dean Prior, Frogmore & Sherford,Halwell & Moreleigh, Harberton, Kingsbridge, Loddiswell, Malborough, Modbury, Newton & Noss, North Huish, Rattery, Salcombe, Stoke Fleming, Stoke Gabriel, Stokenham, Strete, Wembury and Woodleigh. The texts are at Planning/Applications.