The fate of the last field between Grange Park and Lydiard Park has been settled after planning inspector Roger Pritchard decided that it can be built on following a hearing in September.
The Hook Street North site was turned down by Swindon Council planning committee in 2011 and rejected at appeal in 2012. Earlier this year the council turned down a revised proposal for 73 houses by Persimmon Homes adjacent to existing Grange Park houses, but with a new access off Hook Street.
Pictured right, Mr Pritchard, centre, leading a site tour starting from Lydiard House
Below, Grange Park residents making their prescence felt to the inspector
At the second appeal on 2 and 3 September Persimmon argued the new proposal could not be seen from Lydiard Park and satisfied the need for more housing in the town.
Councillors and residents argued that Swindon’s existing building envelope should not be breached. David Barnard of the Lydiard Fields Action Group said: “Mr Pritchard was thorough and knowledgeable in his approach and gave the public a fair hearing. I hope he was impressed by the passionate support for Lydiard Park by the community and our deep concern that the Hook Street application is just the start of more development proposals."
South Swindon MP Robert Buckland spoke at the hearing and afterwards said: “I was glad to hear that the inspector was particularly interested to discuss the impact that this proposal would have on the rural setting of Lydiard Park. It is not only one of our greatest local assets, but is an area of national importance. The inspector heard that message loud and clear.”
However, in his report published on 27 September, Mr Pritchard concludes that he does not have grounds to prevent the development because Swindon Council cannot demonstrate that there is a 5 year supply of land for housing development, whilst the impact of the smaller number of proposed housing would not impact significantly on Lydiard Park. Read the key points of conclusion from the report below.
David Barnard, chair of the Lydiard Fields Action Group, said he and members of the group were ‘absolutely gutted’ by the inspector’s decision and that a detailed commentary would be issued in a few days.
Swindon Borough Council expressed disappointment with the Mr Pritchard’s decision, stating the earlier planning inspector’s decision in 2012 had established certain principles in planning law which made it more difficult for the Council to stop the new application from going ahead. The site plan below
Cllr Dale Heenan, Cabinet Member for Strategic Planning and Sustainability said "This decision is really disappointing, but not surprising
“I am pleased the Inspector agreed with residents and the Council that the last thing anyone wanted was for Lydiard Park to be taken out of the countryside and to become ‘an urban park’.
“The application was refused by the Council with cross-party political support, but with Grange Park and a school directly next to Lydiard Park, a new development 300 metres further away was always going to be difficult to fight.
“I will be raising this application as an example of why Swindon needs its Local Plan approved by the Planning Inspectorate as soon as possible when I meet Nick Boles MP, Minister for Planning in December. When the Local Plan is approved, the Council will find it easier to prevent development in areas where it doesn’t want it."
Councillor Michael Bray for the Lydiard & Freshbrook Ward, which covers Lydiard Fields, was more direct in his reaction and bluntly critical of Government planning policies. He said: "I am absolutely disgusted. It has demonstrateed the pressure exerted by the Secretary of State Eric Pickles on his staff to ensure that soon there will only be a minimum green belt land left untouched for the enjoyment of the people of this town and the County of Wiltshire.
"The next challenge will no doubt be an application to build on the south hand side of Hook Street, between it and the M4 all the way to Hook and Royal Wootton Bassett."
Robert Buckland MP added: "I am deeply disappointed by this decision but I pay tribute to the hard work of the local campaigners. I would like to meet the developers as soon as convenient to help ensure that as much as possible will be done to minimise the impact upon the landscape and our community.
The battle against housing development at Lydiard Fields reported by SwindonLink.com
Mr Pritchard’s (pictured right, in front of Lydiard House) main comments:
"59. I was left in no doubt either in the correspondence put before me or in the views I was given at the Hearing by residents and their national and local representatives that a very high value is put on protecting the character and
amenities of Lydiard Park. Moreover, that appreciation of Lydiard Park extends to the whole of Swindon. I give weight to those views. Nor do I have any difficulty in understanding what caused the Inspector to dismiss the previous appeal. The material harm the earlier proposal would have produced on the landscape and to the setting of the heritage assets seems to me incontrovertible.
"60. However, I was not convinced that the revised development – of substantially reduced scale compared to the previous proposal and located where it would have significantly less impact – would result in the degree of material harm to the landscape or the setting of these heritage assets that many local residents suggested to me.
"61. In respect of the landscape, the proposal remains sufficiently confined to the eastern (i.e. the Swindon) side of the Lydiard Ridge for me to conclude that this important physical and visual boundary would not be substantially
breached. In terms of harm to the setting of the heritage assets, I conclude the effects on the House and church would be negligible and those on the RPG very limited.
"62. In these circumstances, the balance that I have to apply where there is agreed to be no deliverable five-year supply of housing land was set out at the beginning of this decision. The Framework presumes that permission will be granted unless any adverse impacts would significantly and demonstrably (my emphasis) outweigh the benefits. In respect of the proposed development, I conclude that its adverse impacts on the main issues are not demonstrably significant and do not outweigh the benefits of the proposed development’s contribution to meeting the housing shortfall.
"63. Two additional factors were put before me arguing that I should set aside any presumption in favour of the proposed development.
"64. The first was that 73 dwellings were too small a scheme to make any difference to the shortage of housing land in Swindon. I reject this argument. The Framework stresses the need to deliver a wide choice of high quality homes and there is no suggestion that different criteria should be applied to smaller schemes than might apply to major developments.
"65. The second is that allowing the appeal would set a precedent for additional development in the vicinity that would produce the substantial harm which I have not found here. Two particular aspects were identified – that there would be future pressures to expand into the land that had been included in the previous, rejected proposal and that pushing the boundary of development eastwards along Hook Street would encourage development pressures on the
other side of the road to bring the development boundary ‘into conformity’.
"66. It is, of course, open for anyone to make a planning application to develop land at any time. But that application has to be judged on its own merits subject to the provisions of the development plan of the time and any other material considerations.
"67. Any proposal to build on the rest of the land previously proposed for development would have to demonstrate why the reasons given by the Inspector for dismissing the previous appeal – with which I have stated I strongly concur – had been overcome. Proposals to extend development in a piecemeal fashion to the south west of Hook Street would face similar issues associated with development on or adjacent to Windmill Hill. I therefore do not
accept that allowing this development sets any precedent for future development in this area.
"68. I therefore conclude that in the current circumstances where there is a lack of five year supply of housing land in Swindon – and no immediate prospect of how that shortage will be resolved – and where I have concluded that the
proposed development would not result in significant and demonstrable material harm, the presumption in the Framework should be applied and the appeal allowed."