Government policy to give residents more power in planning decisions is to be put to the test after developers Primegate Properties (Hook North) lodged an appeal against Swindon Council’s decision to reject a plan to build 175 homes on the last field between Grange Park and Lydiard Park.
The developers believe Swindon Council is breaking government requirements that local planning authorities should have a five year house building land bank available and have taken legal opinion to show that Swindon has about half that amount.
In mid-October, after intensive lobbying by councillors representing Freshbrook and Grange Park and over 200 letters of objection, over 100 residents attended the committee meeting in the council chamber and came away jubilent that councillors had supported planning officer’s recommendation to refuse the application. Click to read the report of the meeting.
The officer’s report described the site as outside the agreed defined Swindon urban area whilst the scale, layout and density of the Primegate proposal was deemed inappropriate to the site. Councillors spoke out against the application saying approval would encourage further proposals for development on unallocated greenfield sites across the borough.
More specifically councillors and residents are very concerned that more houses would place more pressure on an already inadequate road network, on local schools and on health services. There are considerable fears that heavy rain water flowing off the site would not be contained in proposed flood storage ponds and would again flood homes in Grange Park and further afield in Westlea.
There are also major fears that the Hook North proposal represented a wedge to prise open the door to development of 2,000 houses south of Lydiard Park to join Swindon to Hook, and also 800 houses north of Peatmoor at Ridgeway Farm – both areas outside Swindon in Wiltshire Council.
Les Durrant, managing director of Swindon planning consultants DPDS confirmed that his firm’s clients intend to appeal the decision of Swindon Council. "After taking considered advice of a top QC at the Planning Bar, as well as our professional team, an appeal is being lodged. We do not accept any of the reasons for refusal as being valid. As an example, in refusing the Hook North application, the Council claimed that there is not an issue about the 5 year housing land supply as required by government advice within the Borough. In fact the the actual supply position is between 2.5 and 3 years supply."
A spokeswoman said that the planning enquiry – to take place in public in the Spring – would be an opportunity for the borough council to defend its policy that the Grange Park site is outside the defined Swindon urban boundary in front of an independent planning inspector and for the developers to argue their case for building on the Hook Street site. Everybody involved involved in the original decision would be contacted in due course and the inspector will be able to read all letter’s sent to the council.
Commenting on Primegate North’s appeal against the planning decision, South Swindon MP Robert Buckland said, "Swindon Council’s reasons for turning down this application were clear and persuasive – it was local democracy in action. I very much hope that the Planning Inspectorate refuses this appeal."
Freshbrook and Grange Park councillor Mick Bray added, "it is only to be expected that the prospective developers would be intent on throwing their money away. However people living in the ward and our neighbours must once again be prepared to deliver our views on such ridiculous venture. The planners report rejecting the Hook North application appears to me a document that should stand up to intense scrutiny by any honest inspectorate."
Planning officers at Swindon Borough Council are drawing up a new planning Core Strategy to guide decisions for the long term on how many houses should be built and where future development should take place. The draft document will be put to Swindon’s cabinet in early December. A forward planning officer at the council said the Hook North site has never been part of a land allocation for housing and will not be as it is not a preffered site for an urban extension of the town.
Given that the previous Government’s Regional Spatial Strategy planning system has been scrapped, local council’s are using the calculations for housing numbers in each area from the Wiltshire Structure Plan agreed in 2006. However the information for this was drawn up in 1998 at a time of booming economic growth. Whether the idea of a 5 year land supply is still valid in the present climate will be at the crux of the argument in front of the planning inspector.
Click to find out more about the planning inspectorate.
Below, celebrating success after the planning committee meeting on 12 October, from left, coun Mick Bray, Tim Swinyard, Barrie Brocks, coun Peter Greehalgh, coun Michael Dickinson, Glynn Stevens, Troy Wilson