The next planning committee meeting at East Hants District Council will consider the proposals by Bargate Homes to build 40 homes off Lovedean Lane. This application was controversially pulled from the EHDC planning agenda just before the last meeting after pressure from local District Councillors to ensure the findings from the Horndean Planning Consultation we organised were fully considered in the application. In the last week we have seen the production and approval at full council of ‘LIPS’ Local Interim Planning Statements which are intended to be a planning policy document where the community view from these consultations can be considered as part of the decision making process.
We are in a difficult position in East Hants (like nearly every other planning authority in the country). The massive increase in housing need means we do not have sufficient homes being built to allow an adequate 5 year supply and this gives developers an upper hand in being able to build on sites we would normally be able to protect far better. The case officers have to consider applications with planning law in their mind and this does not always lead to recommendations we wish to hear, or agree with. As District Councillors we have unrestricted access to the planning team from policy making to decision making and I do know that the planning team are very aware of the concerns and receive very regular and robust representations from Councillors across the district. The case officers are making a recommendation on what they feel is the right decision based on planning law, and with no other agenda in mind. Of that I have no doubt at all.
This is where we get to the planning committee, and their role. The committee are very well aware of the dramatic increase in applications in the District and the danger this will lead to undesirable and damaging applications. We now need the planning committee to hear, and carefully consider the representations and confidently use the LIPS to come to a different conclusion.
For me the key text in the Horndean LIPS is in section 8 where it states that:
“On the evidence of the settlement profiles, the evidence base that accompanies the JCS and the event feedback the most sustainable location for the future development in Horndean is the Hazelton Farm – East Horndean area so long as it provides high quality development in accordance with the policies of the JCS, brings a new focus to Horndean with new commerce and facilities that are adequately served by services and infrastructure. A focus of development in that location would be most sustainable by diverting development from the peripheral areas of Lovedean and Catherington, the development of which is most likely to undermine the social cohesion and individuality of Horndean’s character”
Given that Lovedean also has very little infrastructure with no bus service and minimal facilities this adds weight to arguments for refusal. I firmly believe the outcome of the public consultation was very clear and we should give this the utmost weight at committee to steer housing into the right places. If I were on the planning committee I would confidently go against the officers recommendation and vote to refuse.
What are the consequences of going against the case officers recommendation? The planning officers have many years of experience assessing applications and as a result at East Hants very few applications get refused, then are lost on appeal. If refused, then the applicant who has invested tens of thousands of pounds into the application will certainly appeal. The outcome of this appeal will depend on the validity of the refusal, and also the status of the housing supply in East Hants at the time the appeal is heard. If we have sufficient housing approved for development to meet our 5 year plan then the housing need is lower at appeal. Effectively the rules of assessment can shift for the applicant in our favour. Hopefully this would be the case as it would add weight to refusal. Development is a risky business with developers looking to exploit the 5 year plan to try on sites they would not normally be successful with, and with this comes the risk they will fail if the circumstances change. I have little sympathy if we can out maneuver against a developer who is trying to exploit the current housing situation to their advantage. If the inspector finds we have unfairly refused then he can not only overturn this decision, but award conditions and assess developers contributions to a lower value than if we had approved. he can also award costs to the developer. At the end of the day, these costs are our money, not East Hants’.
I firmly feel it is important to test the robustness of the LIPS with a planning inspector to see how they would view them at appeal, so this may as well be the first opportunity to do so.
Please remember that Cllr Sara Schillemore who is the ward Councillor is also on the planning committee and is unable to express a view in public without risking her position on the planning committee. Sara will, I know, be fully open minded and is keen to hear your views, and will only be able to express here at the planning committee meeting on Thursday 26th June in the Council Chamber from 4:00pm at East Hants District Council. The public are of course very welcome.