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Fighting A Planning Application

I’m sure that you’ve all heard of the phrase ‘NIMBY’ (Not In My Back Yard). It’s a phrase often used to describe people who object to new developments, be they airports, roads, rail or building developments close to their home. When looked at from the outside, these people can often appear selfish, standing in the path of progress simply to preserve their current lifestyle.

Well, suddenly and without warning I found myself in the exact same position. A letter from our local council informing us that a developer had applied for planning permission to build 110 houses in the field at the bottom of my garden!. Talking to friends and neighbours it soon became apparent that many of them felt that it was a done deal, it was bound to happen, the developers have massive resources and always win. Furthermore, it was a few weeks before Christmas, in fact objections had to be filed by Christmas Eve. Local residents had other things on their mind than writing letters of objection to the council.

I had a bit of time on my hands, I live on my own with my faithful dog, I would see if it was possible for a modern day David to fight Goliath. I had never had much interest in local politics and had never read a planning document in my life but I made up for that…..big time. On the district council website there were hundreds of documents detailing their vision for the future, their ideas of how the district should grow, what developments should and shouldn’t be allowed, the amount of housing that central government was insisting that they provide etc etc. The developers had lodged their application, with details of the properties that they proposed to build plus environmental and traffic assessments. I printed out all of their documents together with lots of relevant pages from the council planning documents and it was time to come up with a plan.

I realised that although most of the village was against the development, there were very few of them who would actually do anything about it. I wrote a letter, explaining what the developers were proposing and why I felt that it would be a bad idea and distributed it to the homes closest to the proposed development. Some other local residents also took copies of the letter to pass to their neighbours. There is a junior school very close to the proposed development, so a couple of mums volunteered to collect names and addresses from parents delivering their children to school. Both the letters and the school survey had the same purpose which was basically “if you’re not going to write a letter of objection would you like us to write one for you?”. The letter emphasized that it was a very busy time of the year and that we quite understood that people might not have the time or the inclination to sit and write such a letter. The plan worked, we had around 200 names and addresses to use for our objections, which we could file online.

At the very start of the process I’d read lots of stuff on the internet about what to say and more importantly what not to say in your objection. The planning committee would not be interested that you bought your house because it was such a peaceful location or that your house that currently overlooks rolling countryside would now be looking at a development of 110 new houses, or that the proposed development would reduce the value of your home. The secret of objecting to a new housing development is to study carefully all of the planning documents published by the local council and then point out how and where the new development would contravene their own guidelines. It’s also important that you read carefully through all of the documents within the developer’s planning application and that you point out any anomalies. In our particular case  it appeared that the developer had paid for a traffic assessment from a consultancy company, and the document was laughable.  The proposed access to the new development was down a narrow road that has a junior school at the end of it before it peters out into a farm track. The actual entrance to the development was to be around 100 yards past the start of the farm track. The road up to the school is very busy at school drop off / pick up times, and parking is always a problem at these times. The developer’s traffic assessment showed tiny traffic amounts, mainly because they had installed the traffic counter down the lane, past a sign stating “unsuitable for motor vehicles”.

The Back Lane

They had also suggested that parking problems could be eased by people parking on both sides of the road near to the school. In this picture the van is parked next to the kerb !

Narrow Gap

Incidentally, our mocking of the traffic assessment report eventually did us very little good, Just a couple of weeks before the council meeting to discuss the proposal the developer submitted a completely new traffic assessment which left out all of the laughable sections. The council planning department had sent our comments to the developers !. When I suggested to the planning officer that this seemed very unfair his reaction was that it saved his department work.

Luckily, we had found lots of points that we could use in our letters of objection, these included :

  • Planning documents suggested that new developments should be within the village boundary  – This was outside
  • A government guideline suggested that all new developments be within 1,000 m of a health centre – This was 1,150 m at the nearest point
  • A government guideline suggested that all new developments be within 400 m of a bus stop – This wasn’t
  •  Planning documents suggested that new developments should not be built on Grade 1 or 2 agricultural land – This was Grade 2
  • Central Government gives each district council within the country a target for number of new homes to be built within 5 years. – Our village was required to build 110 new homes and we had already built or were in the process of building 199 homes.
  • One of the main points in the Government guidelines requires that councils improve air quality by reducing transport related pollutants – This development was 800 m from the nearest shop and 1,000 m from the post office, nobody was going to walk that far to buy a second class stamp or a pint of milk

We came up with quite a few more points, some more tenuous than others but all relevant in some way or other. We then split each of these points into small (2 – 4 paragraphs) documents and copy and pasted them into the council’s online objection form. Wherever possible we added the relevant planning guideline. Here is a small selection of our objections :

Regarding Planning Application 14/01166/OUT Ashfield Farm, Kirkby Road, Desford

In 2012 this government published the National Planning Policy Framework which replaced over a thousand pages of national planning policy to around 50 clearly written pages

In his ministerial foreword to the NPPF the Right Hon. Greg Clark, Minister for Planning says
“…in recent years, planning has tended to exclude, rather than to include, people and communities. In part, this has been a result of targets being imposed, and decisions taken, by bodies remote from them. Dismantling the unaccountable regional apparatus and introducing neighbourhood planning addresses this.

In part, people have been put off from getting involved because planning policy itself has become so elaborate and forbidding – the preserve of specialists, rather than people in communities.

This National Planning Policy Framework changes that. By replacing over a thousand pages of national policy with around fifty, written simply and clearly, we are allowing people and communities back into planning.”

The HBBC Local Plan 2006 – 2026 requires the village of Desford to build 110 dwellings. The Bellway development plus other building projects has supplied 138. Bellway has an application (14/00816/FUL) for a further 61 dwellings and this application is expected to be approved which will then give a total of 199 dwellings against our requirement of 110. The villagers of Desford would like to be allowed back into planning as proposed by the Minister for Planning and say “Enough Is Enough”. This proposed development is not sustainable. Schools and Medical facilities are creaking at the seams, we simply don’t have the facilities to support a further 120 family dwellings.

A quintet of sisters looking at making a quick profit from sale of the farm and land left to them by their late father should not and must not be allowed to destroy the village of Desford and the people who live in it. Please deny this application.


In the HBBC Site Allocations and Development Management Policies Development Plan Document- Pre-submission (Regulation 19) Proposed Modifications
Local Plan (2006 – 2026)
Published in December 2014 i.e. within the last week

Modification Reference MR5.1
“The residual minimum housing requirement for Desford, as of 1 September 2014 has been met and as such no sites are required to be allocated for residential development in Desford. Further information on residential commitments can be found in the Site Allocation Justification Paper.”

Having seen this and having also seen in the same report that Hinckley which had by far the largest outstanding minimum housing requirement shortfall (815 dwellings) has identified a site with 850 possible dwellings, there is no justification for allowing this application.

Please deny this application and stop Desford from being destroyed as a delightful Leicestershire village. The latest holy grail for planning committees throughout the country seems to be “sustainable development”. This development is not sustainable and rather than adding to our wellbeing, it could turn Desford into an unsustainable monster.


I am very disappointed with the quality of the Davidsons planning proposal 14/01166/OUT particularly because of the half-truths and total errors contained within it.

Their traffic survey contains a whole host of inaccuracies and irrelevant information instead of concentrating on the one major issue, the total unsuitability of Kirkby Road as a main access to a 120 dwelling building development. Their diagram showing that you can park on both sides of that road, their positioning of a traffic counter on a part of the road that leads to just a couple of farms, their suggestion that a mini-roundabout would solve the problems at the junction of Peckleton Lane and Kirkby road. All of these points prove that they really do not have any grasp on the situation.

I also note that although it was written in November 2014, the Landscape & Visual Impact Assessment talks of the 135 dwellings being built on the Bellway development, but conveniently forgets to mention the further 61 dwellings applied for in September 14th 2014 (14/00816/FUL).

This further allocation of 61 dwellings is expected to be approved by the HBBC Planning Committee on Tuesday 9th December 2014 bringing the size of that Bellway development to 196 dwellings.

Our little village simply cannot cope with more homes, especially when you consider that the majority of the houses on the adjoining Bellway estate have still not been built. Please stop trying to squeeze a quart into a pint pot, Desford does not have the infrastructure or facilities to cope with even these extra dwellings


The HBBC Sustainability Appraisal Scoping Report (2012) has a number of points that seem to be relevant to the proposed development at Ashfield Farm (14/01166/OUT) as follows :

SA Objective Point 2 “To improve health and reduce health inequalities by promoting healthy lifestyles, protecting health and providing access to health services.”

The distance between the centre of the proposed development and the health centre is 1,168m, that’s a an awful long way for a sick person to walk. Government guidelines suggest that new developments are built within 1,000m of a health centre

SA Objective Point 13 ” To improve air quality particularly through reducing transport related pollutants.”

The proposed development is at least 800m from any of the facilities in the village centre. Nobody is going to walk that far to buy a second class stamp or a pint of milk, they will drive their cars of course

SA Objective Point 25 “To encourage and develop the use of public transport, cycling and walking as alternatives to the private car.”

As stated above, this development is so far out of the village that most journeys will be made by car, thus increasing pollution. With more cars using Kirkby Road many of the children who currently cycle to school will be less inclined to do so when there are huge construction lorries lumbering up and down that narrow road. No responsible parent would allow their child to cycle along Kirkby Road if the new development were to go ahead.

This proposed development appears to be contrary to many of the guidelines published on the HBBC website and I trust that you will bear these guidelines in mind when considering the Davidsons Application.


Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA) 2013 Point 3.7.6 states that
“‘Shaping Neighbourhoods’ identifies a reasonable accessible distance to a health centre as within 1000 metres and a secondary school as within 1500 metres. These measurements have been used as the benchmark for these two services within the 2013 SHLAA Review.”

In other words, developments further than 1,000m from a health centre have been discounted as possible development sites during the review.

From the centre of the proposed Davidsons site at Ashfield Farm, Kirkby Road (14/01166/OUT) to the health centre is 1,168m, from the furthest point it is nearer to 1,250m.

The village has already increased in size and population in recent years with several other developments. The primary school, doctors and dentist are at capacity and a large proportion of the Bellway development of 196 houses is still unoccupied. I appreciate that developers think that if they throw enough money around then they can buy a new classroom at the school, maybe a supply teacher for a few terms and of course a few new swings in the recreation ground. However, these short term cash injections will not and cannot produce a sustainable environment for the village of Desford, the infrastructure to support so many new houses is simply not in place, we need a big FULL UP sign posted in the village centre.


The HBBC Sustainability Appraisal Scoping Report (2012) has a number of points that seem to be relevant to the proposed development at Ashfield Farm (14/01166/OUT) as follows :

SA Objective Point 13 ” To improve air quality particularly through reducing transport related pollutants.”

The proposed development is at least 800m from any of the facilities in the village centre. Nobody is going to walk that far to buy a second class stamp or a pint of milk, they will drive their cars of course

SA Objective Point 25 “To encourage and develop the use of public transport, cycling and walking as alternatives to the private car.”

As stated above, this development is so far out of the village that most journeys will be made by car, this increasing pollution. With more cars using Kirkby Road local residents will be even less inclined to use a bicycle for their local journeys. Kirkby Road once it gets past the recreation ground is known locally as the “Back Lane” and it is a very popular track for cyclists. This will lose its attraction once huge lumbering construction lorries start using the road

SA Objective Point 2 “To improve health and reduce health inequalities by promoting healthy lifestyles, protecting health and providing access to health services.”

The distance between the centre of the proposed development and the health centre is 1,168m, that’s a an awful long way for a sick person to walk. Government guidelines suggest that new developments are built within 1,000m of a health centre

This proposed development appears to be contrary to many of the guidelines published on the HBBC website and I trust that you will bear these guidelines in mind when considering the Davidsons Application.


 

As a resident of Desford I am very disturbed to see that HBBC is even considering the planning application 14/01166/OUT for a development of 120 houses at Ashfield Farm, Kirkby Road, Desford from Davidsons. This is prime farming land and should be preserved as such. There are many reasons why this application should be refused, especially because of the proposed access via Kirkby Road, but I would like to lodge my objection on the simple basis that we cannot and should not continue to build on high quality farm land.

The National Planning Policy Framework 2012 Para 112 says
“Local planning authorities should take into account the economic and other benefits of the best and most versatile agricultural land. Where significant development of agricultural land is demonstrated to be necessary, local planning authorities should seek to use areas of poorer quality land in preference to that of a higher quality.”.

Annex 2 : Glossary of the same document defines Best and most versatile agricultural land as Land in grades 1, 2 and 3a of the Agricultural Land Classification. The proposed development is on a Grade 2 greenfield site that was growing maize until it was harvested a few weeks back. Grade 2 is the second highest grade of agricultural land in the entire country and as such it should be retained for that purpose.

Please dismiss this application and help to preserve our beautiful countryside


 

Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA) 2013

The SHLAA determines which sites are suitable, available and achievable for housing development. A number of red constraints (as defined by the Joint Leicester and Leicestershire
SHLAA Methodology) exclude possible development sites from consideration. One of these red constraints seems to affect the proposed development at Ashfield Farm, Kirkby Road, Desford (14/01166/OUT) as follows :

3.5.11 “Agricultural Land Classification as a constraint has been limited to grades 1 & 2 due to the high quality and high value of the soil. The data has been sourced from Natural England. Climate, site, soil characteristics and the interactions between them are factors affecting the agricultural grade assigned. The classification is concerned with the inherent potential of land under a range of farming issues. Sites which have grade 1 or 2 agricultural land within them have been identified as an environmental and red constraint but have not been excluded from consideration if the site is only partially covered. The presence of grade 1 or 2 agricultural land on a site may reduce the residential capacity below that stated in the assessment. Residential capacity has not been reduced to reflect the volume of on-site grade 1 or 2 agricultural land.”

The whole of the proposed site is Grade 2 agricultural land

The Site Allocations and Development Management Policies Development Plan Document – Pre-submission Report (Regulation 19)
Proposed Modifications – Local Plan (2006 – 2026) Discounted Sites Paper
published just a few days ago discounts many possible development sites e.g. AS455, AS440, AS455, AS446, AS447, AS448, AS685, AS616 where Grade 2 agricultural land is submitted, with comments such as “This site has not been selected for allocation as it lies wholly within Grade 2 agricultural land.”

What is so different about this development?, surely it too should have a red constraint.


 

This proposed development is outside of the Desford Settlement Boundary. In the HBBC “Areas of Separation Review” March 2012 (page 47) can be found the following statement :

“Local Plan Policy NE5: Development in the countryside affords areas which stand outside the settlement boundary a level of protection from development to ensure the countryside is protected for its own sake. It allows development of such areas only for sport or recreation purposes, development important to the local economy and for the change of use, reuse or extension of existing buildings.”

This development could never be described as “development important to the local economy”, in fact a more apt description might be “opportunistic money grabbing by a group of sisters who were lucky enough to be bequeathed this land by their late father (a local farmer)”.

Since this development appears to be in total contradiction of Local Plan Policy NE5 I respectfully ask that this planning application be dismissed.


In support of their planning application to build 120 dwellings on Grade 2 agricultural land at Ashfield Farm, Kirkby Rd (14/01166/OUT), the developers Davidsons paid the “Consulting Civil & Structural Engineers” Rodgers Leask to carry out a transport assessment. The main point of this was to address fears from residents concerning the suitability of Kirkby Road as the only access point to the site both for construction traffic and for traffic from residents once the development was complete.

The top of Kirkby Road, once it has passed Peckleton Lane is signposted as “unsuitable for heavy traffic” and the road has a 7.5t weight limit on it. At certain times of the day traffic is quite heavy on this road, particularly when pupils are entering or leaving the primary school near the bottom of the road and also when shifts change at the massive Caterpillar factory in Peckleton Lane.

Without a doubt, it’s possible that buried somewhere inside the huge mass of irrelevant pages of the Rodgers Leask report there might be some actual traffic counts of vehicles using Kirkby Road but I couldn’t find them and just in case the planning department has a similar problem Mr Max Lowry, a Desford resident gave up his time to produce the following data :

WEDNESDAY 10TH SEPTEMBER 08.15am – 09.00am
Desford Community Primary School (Kirkby Road)
68 vehicles counted
This might not seem to be a big number but please bear in mind that at this point Kirkby Road is going nowhere, it’s a dead end except for a small number of houses in Cambridge Drive. The vast majority of those 68 vehicles were dropping off children at the primary school.

THURSDAY 11TH SEPTEMBER 08.00am – 09.00am
High Street (Near Co-Op/Peckleton Lane Junction
535 vehicles counted (Occasional congestion)

FRIDAY 12TH SEPTEMBER 14.30pm – 15.30pm
B582 Roundabout (In front of Desford Library)
1221 vehicles counted (Occasional congestion + 3 near – miss collisions)

MONDAY 15TH SEPTEMBER 08.15am – 09.15am
Holmfield Road Junction to Kirkby Road
248 vehicles counted

In conclusion, I believe that Rodgers Leask realised that they were skating on very thin ice and have attempted to massage the data in order to show this development in a favourable but totally untrue light. I urge you to arrange for your council officers to visit the site and verify that what I have said is correct and that Kirkby road is totally unsuited to cope with construction and resident traffic from 120 new dwellings.


In a previous planning application to extend Ashfield Farm (11/00649/FUL – 27 October 2011) Planning Officer, Kevin Roeton, made a number of points that seem extremely relevant to the current planning application 14/01166/OUT to build 120 houses on that land. The report from the planning officer is Here

Within the “Appraisal” section Kevin states that
“The site is located outside the settlement boundary of Desford falling within countryside. Policy NE5 sets out the criteria for assessing applications stating that planning permission will be granted for built and other forms of development in the countryside if among other things it is an extension of existing buildings and it does not have an adverse effect on the appearance or character of the landscape, it is in keeping with the scale and character of existing buildings and general surroundings and where necessary it is effectively screened by landscaping or other methods.”
I wonder which of the “other things” mentioned above, allows a development of 120 new houses to creep under the radar ??

Within the “appraisal” section Kevin notes that
“The dwelling was permitted in 1961 with an agricultural occupancy condition attached to the decision. It is not clear whether the dwellings permitted development rights remain intact. However, with the original planning permission being absent from the Council’s records it is only reasonable to conclude that the permitted development rights do exist. Within this context it is important to note that the conversion of a garage into habitable space would be permitted development and can be carried out without the need to apply for planning permission.”
So, the farmhouse is limited to “agricultural occupancy” basically meaning that “The occupation of the dwelling and extension hereby approved, shall be limited to a person solely or mainly working, or last working in the locality in agriculture as defined in Section 336 (1) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, or in forestry or a widow or widower of such a person, and to any resident dependants.”. In simple language it’s a farm house on farmland to be lived in by farm workers or their dependants. There’s no mention of 120 friends having a house on the land.

In the “Reasons” section where Kevin Roeton justifies the reasons for allowing the modifications to the building Points 3 & 4 seem particularly relevant to the current application to build 120 houses on the site :
3 To ensure that the dwellinghouse remains commensurate with the agricultural needs of the holding to ensure compliance with the requirements of Planning Policy Statement 7 Sustainable Development in Rural Areas.
4 The site lies within an area where the Local Planning Authority would not normally grant permission for residential development. The existing dwlleinghouse is subject to an agricultural occupancy condition and in accordance with the requirements of Policy RES12 of the Adopted Hinckley and Bosworth Local Plan , control over the occupancy of the development proposed is necessary.
Come back Kevin all is forgiven, the village of Desford needs you to bring some sense to this madness

In total I think we came up with 40 or 50 different points and then we combined sections of them to form new objections. In total we submitted just under 200 online objections from the names and addresses that we had collected. Wherever possible we would add relevant reports and section numbers to our objections, we needed to ensure that the planners realised that we had been studying their documentation and that we were trying to speak their language.

Several months after objections had to be filed, the council planning committee met to consider the application. The planning department advised against the proposal, pointing out that they had received over 200 objections from local people and the planning committee voted unanimously to turn down the planning application…YIPPEE !!

The developers had up to a year to appeal the decision but it seems they have given up, the field has been ploughed and crops have been sown for the coming summer.

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