Chillington shows the dangers in the governments proposed planning bill by SHS member : Alyson Cadd-Harlington
There has been widespread concern that the government’s forthcoming planning bill is going to remove or greatly dilute public consultation with local stakeholders.
However the Chillington application by Acorn is a perfect example as to why public and wider consultation not only matters but can really make a huge difference. In that case objectors were able to highlight massive inaccuracies and inconsistencies in the application, mainly but not exclusively relating to surface drainage, demonstrating how even the statutory consultees and ‘experts’, such as DCC Flood Risk Team, could be misled or, more worryingly, miss glaringly obvious and even dangerous errors in a scheme, before approving the application.
To give but a few examples from the five year saga in Chillington for a development for up to 65 homes, currently still under appeal:
– A huge infiltration tank was originally proposed to be positioned one third below a deep clay layer and two thirds above the impermeable clay layer (rendering most of it useless).
That tank was intended to go within a high built up platform of new material (2-3m high) to level out the steep hillside, but due to the situation mentioned above re being above the clay layer, the result would be a catastrophic saturation and ‘slicking’ of the clay layer, meaning the chances of a landslip was extremely high, bringing earth, tarmac and the new properties down on the bungalows situated just a few meters from the site boundary. This was highlighted by Dr A Bennett, a Consultant Hydrologist and one of the UK’s leading experts in the field of surface water management. He was so concerned with the implications that he flew down from Scotland to speak personally at the DMC meeting.
– The fact that several of the 2 storey new properties were to be built on the high platform near the boundary
This extensive underbuild was originally missed by planning officers and therefore the DMC members, as the plans all quoted ‘building heights’ – so just the actual height to the apex from newground level, not from the existing field level. This concealed the fact that in real terms some of the properties were the equivalent of 3 storeys high, on sloping land above much lower lying bungalows. This created massive overlooking and dominance issues which was only revealed when the public paid for accurate elevation drawings and requested cross sections, which the planning department had not obtained themselves. The residents also constructed a mock up platform in the field at their own expense, to demonstrate the height and overlooking during a DMC site visit. The members and the then planning officer were clearly shocked by the true situation.
There are many more examples of public input being instrumental, such as:
- Outline Planning Conditions being disregarded until the public highlighted them
- Some proposed drainage pipework running uphill or discharging into non-existent drains
- Open trench swales running through the back gardens of the new properties and liable to damage or lack of maintenance
- Statutory bodies either not being consulted (e.g. Natural England) or not responding to the application – namely the SDAONB who, despite repeated requests from local people highlighting the massive impact of rooflines and viewpoints on the AONB, never actually submitted a response to either of the Full Planning applications. This left it to the public to take photographs and use topographical maps to show sight lines and defend the AONB.
To us this all means that it is absolutely vital that the public are fully included in any planning application. In this case just the fact that the plans were amended and resubmitted many times (after local input); drainage engineers were replaced; the plans were refused by the DMC and the appeal held in abeyance by the Planning Inspectorate, proves the point that the plans were substandard, misleading, lacking crucial details and were a potential threat to life, land and property below the site.
Yet the statutory bodies and the main officers involved all approved the scheme and recommended approval, or conditional approval, to the DMC.
When some of the glaring and potentially dangerous errors in the drainage scheme were pointed out verbally to the Flood Risk Officer, she responded that ‘it is just a job to me’ – that statement alone means that individual paid officers cannot be the only people entrusted with the close scrutiny of applications and the local stakeholders – those most affected – must be allowed an input into the process.