What happened this week...
We had our second public inquiry in as many months, but this one was very different.
These are the words of the Chairman of the planning committee at December’s meeting:
“The following item is considered exempt by virtue according to Paragraph 16 Part 4 of Schedule 12a of the Local Government Act 1972 as amended “the public interest in withholding the information outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information. So we are asking for members of the public and members of the press to leave the chamber please.”
What was said at that meeting was classified as privileged information and we do not know the content.
We do know the outcome because it is described in the ‘Statement of Common Ground’ in the Hawarden Road appeal:
“Item 1.7 On the 6 of December 2017 the Council resolved to withdraw its reasons for refusal referred to at paragraph 1.6 and that they would not continue to oppose the application. The Council are now of the view that planning permission should be granted, subject to appropriate conditions and Section 106 obligation”
In the same document, the council set out lots of details on which they agree with the developer. The Hawarden Road site was described as:
“Item 2.4 To the north and west, beyond the A550, the appeal site is surrounded by open farm land. To the south and east, the site is surrounded by residential dwellings.”
There are no houses immediately to the south and most of the land to the south is farmland.
“Item 4.11 It is agreed that the appeal proposals do not raise issues of social and community cohesion.”
“Item 4.14 The Local Planning Authority do not allege that the scheme should be refused on the basis of harm to the character and appearance of the area”
“Item 5.12 There are no issues on matters relating to highways, ecology, trees, flood risk, agricultural land classification, drainage or environmental amenity”
The local primary and secondary schools have no capacity and therefore the Local Planning Authority were requesting payments towards schools:
- £98,056 towards Ysgol Penyffordd Primary School
- £110,814 toward Castell Alun
Unfortunately the developer saw the Redrow inquiry and concluded that with a new Primary school due in 2019 and secondary school capacity at Elfed, there is no shortage of space and so they will be making no payments.
In discussing the school contributions the Council also took a curious position. Rather than calculating the number of available school places on the numbers known today. They presumed that the planning application for the new school would be successful and that the funding application to Welsh Government would also be successful. The consequence of these two assumptions was the loss of a £98,056 to Ysgol Penyffordd.
In summing up today, the developer said this:
“the objection is that residents of Penyffordd may not be able to access their first choice school (Castell Alun) if planning permission is granted. That objection is hopeless: The evidence demonstrates that Castell Alun is attended by a very significant number of children who live closer to Elfed High School which is significantly under capacity.”
So our village children could be split between Elfed and Castell Alun and no one cares.
The Local Planning Authority could have included a ‘Community Infrastructure Levy’ as part of the same S106 agreement but failed to do so (a CIL could contribute £1,100 per property towards community projects i.e. £35,200).
The public inquiry was held this week at Theatre Clwyd in Mold despite the fact that the Legion, the Institute and the Flintshire owned Community Centre (Youth Club) were all available. A handful of residents did make it to show their support and we thank them for making the effort.
The inquiry consisted of the appellants team, a Barrister and two expert witnesses, one a landscape witness and the second a planning expert.
Flintshire sent a barrister and the planning officer, Flintshire County Council’s solicitor was there some of the time. Flintshire’s Barrister did not present a case. She appeared to be there to protect the Flintshire planning officer. Together they only became animated when the discussion moved onto the details of the application were it to be approved.
Prior to 6th December, Flintshire had appointed Eden Planning Consultancy to prepare their case. Eden had submitted a statement of evidence which contained much of the same background information as the Redrow submission (by the same company). At the beginning of this appeal, Flintshire’s Barrister instructed the Inspector that he could disregard that evidence as it no longer represented Flintshire’s case. The Inspector indicated that he had read it and had questions arising from it. It was our only ‘professional’ defence on record.
The appellant repeatedly referred back to the position of the Local Planning Authority in recommending refusal and the Planning Committee in withdrawing their objections.
The consequence then of the 6th December meeting was:
- For the planning committee to withdraw all objections and recommend approval, despite their original refusal
- For Flintshire to not contest the appeal
- For Flintshire to withdraw their own evidence supporting us
It will be interesting to know what was in the public interest that we didn’t hear when so much harm was done resulting from what we didn’t hear!
At the inquiry the community case was presented by local members of the Penyffordd Community Group:
- Alan Wight, Community Councillor
- Cllr David Williams, County Councillor and Chair of the Community Council
- Cllr Cindy Hinds, County and Community Councillor
- Roy Wakelam, Community Councillor
along with Mrs Randall, who lives opposite the site.
Cllr Heesom from the Planning Committee also attended the inquiry in support.
The inspector was very reasonable in allowing us to cross-examine and provide evidence.
Unfortunately, the community had no expert witnesses or Barrister to argue our case, though the Questionnaire and Place Plan gave us a solid defence. We were facing a planning specialist Barrister from Kings Chambers.
One of the things that came up in evidence was that, in preparing their planning statement, the local authority had approached the Welsh Government land unit to assess the land – the threshold for approaching Welsh Government is 20 hectares – significantly more than this site – so why did Flintshire approach them if it was not to try and defend their recommendation to refuse? This land classification would have saved the field in Higher Kinnerton that is being built on right now (56 houses).
The case for the developer, delivered aggressively, was :
- Flintshire have no development plan
- Flintshire have consistently failed to build enough houses
- It’s a rubbish piece of land that just happens to be on the wrong side of the road
- It’s not very much land (even though it is classified as Best-And-Most-Versatile land, protected by policy).
- Flintshire’s policies to protect against development in the open countryside are no longer relevant
- There would be no harm to the community from such a development
- School places is a matter for the Council’s admission policy – what’s wrong with Elfed?
- There should be no limit to how many houses are added to each settlement
The Council agree with their position.
So we’re not sure where that leaves us with future applications. We await an update on Rhos Road (South) and the final conditions on Rhos Road (North). Vounog is yet to be submitted as a full application.
On both Hawarden Road and Redrow, we are in the hands of the inspectors now and on this one his decision will be final – this application does not go to the Welsh Ministers (unlike the Redrow one).
- Flintshire’s planning department recommended approval of the application before July 2017 planning committee. Because there had been no site visit, the committee deferred it until September.
- In August the developer lodged an appeal to the planning inspectorate for ‘non-determination’ because they thought it would be refused so they might as well appeal anyway.
- At September’s planning committee it was strongly refused – despite severe pressure from the planning officers – 5 of them spoke to the committee to tell them to approve it.
- At December’s planning committee, behind closed doors, the committee were spoken to again and withdrew the refusal.