The inspector published her report yesterday along with a letter from the Minister supporting her findings.
In summary, this is what she concluded about our village after listing to barristers, experts, councillors and the public for 3 days and visiting the fields twice.
- this village can sustain any amount of growth in her opinion
- no harm has come from past growth and no harm will come from this
- it will harm the landscape character but we need houses more
- that allowing less than 30% affordable homes in the development with the balance in cash to Flintshire to spend elsewhere is a good thing
- that there is no issue with school places or doctors appointments because neither the education authority or health authority objected
- that we have good, connected public transport links
- that Flintshire County Council's case was weak and so was their defence
- that our questionnaire told her nothing
- she used our Place Plan only to support her decision by drawing on the positive things we had to say about our village and community
In the end this decision came down to two things:
1. Would the accepted breech of UDP policies outweigh the need to build houses - her answer was no.
2. Would 'Social Cohesion' be adversely affected by the addition of these new houses. Her opinion was that it would not.
Flintshire County Council have to take some responsibility - we encouraged the planning committee to refuse planning permission on as many grounds as possible - they refused 'on grounds of it being unsustainable' and later added in landscape harm (which the inspector didn't like). Flintshire employed a weak Barrister with a very poor planning expert to build a case. Anyone who sat through that inquiry will know how weak Flintshire'a case was.
As a community we have to take some responsibility - we failed to properly evidence social harm either through our documents or at the inquiry - through we thought we had done enough. To give an example - we explained that the pre-school nursery had closed down because of a lack of volunteers - the population was ageing, the engaged volunteers ageing and no new young volunteers coming forward. This was quoted against us - new houses would bring new people and therefore new volunteers apparently!
The inspector clearly has no expert knowledge in social cohesion or how society works at a community level. In her report she talks in detail about drainage issues, landscape character assessments, visibility splays, planning policy and so on - she is dismissive of the social issues because it is beyond her expertise. In fact, having sat through two inquiries and read too much about social cohesion - we are yet to meet ANYONE in planning who understands it.
The biggest responsibility lies with the Welsh Government. They have written a new law called the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act which is about people now and in the future. The new Planning Policy Wales legislation has just finished a consultation period and it talks about creating 'places' through planning, with the expertise being with Local Planning Authorities and working with communities. It encourages Place Plans.
This decision, against the professional judgement of the LPA planning experts, the planning committee, the local representations and the views of nearly 800 residents - against a cohesive community who have taken the time to create a Place Plan - undermined TOTALLY everything the Welsh Government seeks to deliver through the Wellbeing Act.
The inspector, with her lack of expertise, might find planning reasons for upholding the appeal but the Welsh Minister with all the available resources and time could easily have reached a different conclusion - and should have.
Our village will suffer forever as a consequence of this decision, and public faith in the whole planning system and local democracy has gone too.
Ironically, as a consequence of pressure from communities like ours, local planning authorities and local councillors across Wales, it looks likely that TAN1 - the single badly conceived clause in planning policy Wales that allows Redrow and others to build wherever they like - will be suspended after a consultation ending on the 22 June.
We may have won the war and lost all our battles.
That's a 'fair' Wales for you.
What happens Next?
Our options are limited but we can call for a Judicial Review and take the decision to the High Court. We are seeking legal advice right now and we have 6 weeks to act.
Otherwise we can expect Redrow to start work very quickly, given the preparations they made to stop birds nesting.
View the Full Inspectors Report and Ministers Letters here: