Wednesday, 26 March 2014

An open letter to Councillor Chris Saint, leader of Stratford-on-Avon District Council…

Dear Councillor Saint –

Proposed development of land south of Oxhill Road, Tysoe [13/02515/OUT]

As you will be aware, Gladman Developments have formally appealed against the unanimous vote of Stratford-on-Avon District Council’s Planning Committee (East), on 8 January 2014: which rejected the proposal for outline planning permission for an estate of eighty urban-style houses on the edge of Tysoe – and a Public Enquiry will therefore be held at Elizabeth House in the near future.

I am writing to you, therefore, to ask what help you and the council will be giving to the inhabitants of Tysoe – particularly the Tysoe Residents (Neighbourhood Planning) Group (TRNPG) – both in the run-up to this inquiry, and during it: especially in light of the staunch support Gill Roache provided for the initial hearing.

In a meeting you held with one of the members of the Steering Committee of the TRNPG (of which I was then a member), just before Christmas, last year, you stated that you did not want to see this particular development happen; and that you were happy to be quoted in saying that Stratford-on-Avon District Council (SDC) would defend the decision if the committee voted to reject the application and Gladman then appealed – as they now have.

Additionally, in last week’s Stratford-upon-Avon Herald (20 March 2014), Peter Reading, vice-chair of Friends of a Rural and Sustainable Environment (Forse), detailed the following – from “a public meeting in Long Itchington”, where you gave “a compelling insight into [your] beliefs relating to to planning development and the preparation of SDC’s emerging core strategy…”:

He told us that there is no point in having isolated housing with no bus routes or employment and that communities should develop in an organic way which is sustainable. In response to a question, he assured us that he wants to keep boundaries around settlements and not join them. He said he is actively looking for opportunities for community identities and character to be maintained and will only allow development if villages have the existing infrastructure to support them.

Further, he went on to promise that our rural landscape is safe because special landscape areas are being introduced; that he wants the characteristics of that landscape preserved, not to have any houses built on it, and will resist any planning inspector who suggests otherwise.

While I do not doubt either the sincerity or the passion behind these pronouncements, nor your integrity in making them, I am keen – as they are all pertinent (and parallel) to Tysoe’s existing defence against Gladman’s proposals (as detailed in the TRNPG’s briefing paper to the planning committee, Sustainable Tysoe?) – to learn:
– how you and the council plan to implement them;
 when they will be put in place; and
 what the legal basis is for their foundation.

As the Planning Inquiry is imminent – with written submissions having to be received by the Planning Inspectorate before 1 May 2014 – I would also like to know what part these statements – and their enaction – will play in your support of our village at that event; and what resources (e.g. monetary and manpower) the council will provide to enable us to successfully oppose Gladman’s wholly unsustainable and speculative proposals. Additionally: do you plan to be proactive in your/our defence; or do you intend to be reactive, and therefore led by the TRNPG?

Planning Practice Guidance
I am also curious to discover what role you think the new/revised planning guidelines have to play in the above: particularly the improved protection of Green Belt (which obviously echoes your pronouncements); and the reinforced arguments concerning prematurity – i.e. answering “In what circumstances might it be justifiable to refuse planning permission on the grounds of prematurity?”.

As far as the latter is concerned: although Tysoe’s Neighbourhood Plan is only just getting off the ground (i.e. is barely “emerging”), would you agree that the council’s Core Strategy is well-advanced enough “to refuse planning permission on the grounds of prematurity” because “the development proposed is so substantial, or its cumulative effect would be so significant, that to grant permission would undermine the plan-making process by predetermining decisions about the scale, location or phasing of new development”? If so, would you then also be prepared (in both theory and practice) “to indicate clearly how the grant of permission for the development concerned would prejudice the outcome of the plan-making process”?

[As you may know: in January – before the new guidelines were announced – David Wilson Homes dropped plans for a legal challenge to an emerging Neighbourhood Plan in a village governed by Harborough District Council: which I believe had been detailed as one of the reasons for not giving planning permission. Admittedly, the plan was at the final referendum phase; but this does show, I believe, that prematurity arguments can be made to hold water. I also think that, at some stage (preferably soon), these planning guidelines will have to be tested; and that the Tysoe Planning Inquiry would provide a good opportunity to do so.]

Defending the district
Finally, it is obvious from the content of the Herald over the last few months that more and more bodies are springing up, throughout SDC’s jurisdiction, to fight what Nadhim Zahawi has described as “rapacious developers” – e.g. SHAPE, in Ettington; as well as Forse, and the TRNPG.

Although some of these groups (for obvious and comprehensible reasons) appear to be opposing the district council, as well as local development proposals, do you feel that SDC has a part to play in bringing them together – perhaps in alliance with our MP – to help them in their fight for true localism and truly sustainable development (which, of course, is the “golden thread” running through the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF))?

If so: how? If not: why?

[I, for one, do not blame SDC for the position we find ourselves in – as you can read on my blog – but I sympathize strongly with the plight of those that do.]

Thank you for taking the time to read this lengthy and complex missive. I look forward to receiving your detailed and comprehensive answers to my questions.

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