The South Hams Society and the South Hams District Council help to protect the Countryside and Area of Outstanding Beauty.
1. The Lyte Lane Planning Application, the subsequent Written Appeal and the Inspectors Decision display a number of notable features of interest for anyone committed to protecting the unique countryside of the South Hams. It is quite unusual to clearly see so many of the arguments presented in the Society’s letters of representation finding their way into an Inspectors Planning Appeal Decision.
2. The reasons given by the Inspector for his Decision will be of great interest to anyone who wishes to object to planning applications for developments in the South Hams – particularly those within the designated and highly protected landscapes that are such a vital asset the people of Devon and all those who visit our wonderful towns, villages, countryside, estuaries and coast.
3. Following the Society’s first letter of representation, the SHDC Officers Report and the Development Management Committee decision to refuse the Application, it became clear that there was considerable ‘convergence’ in the position of the Society and the Council in regard to the material planning matters affecting the Application. The Appeal was conducted ‘In Writing’ and normally only the main parties are required to submit papers. The Society was able to cite the ‘new information’ contained in the Officers Report and the Appellant’s Statement of Case to justify making an additional ‘fresh’ representation to the Appeal Inspector. This second (updated) representation was accepted and considered by the Planning Inspector.
This area around the appeal site is described by the County Council as
being a “jewel in the crown of Devon”.
South Hams Society – Overview of Lyte Lane Appeal – Decision date: 26 March 2019
4. The controversial proposal to build 24. houses on productive agricultural land in the nationally protected South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) has finally been turned down by the Planning Inspectorate. The proposed development was strongly opposed by the members of South Hams Society and South Hams District Councillors.
5. After representations from the South Hams Society and local residents, and the expert professional advice of the SHDC Planning Officers, the original planning application was refused by South Hams Councillors in March 2018. The land owner/developer did not accept the Council’s decision and Appealed to the Planning Inspectorate for approval.
6. During the Appeal, the landowner had argued that the visual harm that would have been caused to the farmland and highly protected countryside could be reduced by sympathetic design, and that planting schemes would ‘improve’ the landscape. The South Hams Society and District Council disputed these claims. The Planning Inspector has supported their views.
7. The Appellant also argued that the development would not be a ‘major development’ within the protected area of the AONB and that even if it were that there were ‘exceptional circumnutates’ which supported the proposal. Both the South Hams Society and Local planners argued against the landowner’s claims. Again, the Society and SHDC arguments have been supported by the Inspector’s decision. His decision was that “whilst the provision of up to 24 dwellings on the site would serve a general need, and therefore provide a general public benefit, this would not in itself demonstrate the existence of “exceptional circumstances.” Consequently he gives only limited weight to the scheme’s general provision of housing.
8. The South Hams Society and the Council has also provided evidence for the recent approval of housing schemes within the district, on sites outside the AONB, indicating that scope for such development exists within less sensitive locations. There is no particular reason to consider that the costs of developing in these locations would significantly differ from that of the appeal site. The appellant did not challenge the evidence and so the Inspector decided there is no pressing need to develop the site for housing.
9. Contrary to the developers claims, the Inspector found no evidence to show that the development is necessary to provide support for existing services, and agreed with the South Hams Society that there would not be any adverse consequences to the local services in the absence of the development.
10. The Appellants had claimed that 24 houses would represent a small percentage increase in the overall number of dwellings within West Charleton. The Society disputed the Appellants claim. The Inspector has now ruled that the Appellants claim was “of no particular significance.” because it has little bearing on the negative impact that the development would have upon the landscape.
11. The Society drew the Inspectors attention to appeal APP/K1128/W/16/3156062 (Garden Mill Kingsbridge) within which it was considered that a scheme of 32 houses would not constitute major development in the AONB, and another case (Selworthy Court) in which the Council accepted that a development of 18 houses would not constitute major development in the AONB. Whilst both cases illustrate a differing approach to identification of major development, he noted that the specific circumstances of each of these cases differed from that of the current appeal scheme. In particular Society pointed out that the appeal scheme referenced was considered to have a minimal impact on the landscape, and as such, the cases have affected the Inspectors assessment of the proposed development.
12. The South Hams Society had also pointed out that the cases cited by the developer in support of their proposal were in fact so dissimilar to the proposed site in the open countryside that they did not support their case. The Inspector has agreed with the Society’s views on that point.
13. The South Hams Society had questioned the Applicants claims that surrounding the heritage assets on the proposed site with housing did not deliver any significant heritage benefits to weigh against the harm that the development would otherwise cause. The Inspector has, again, agreed with our view.
14. The Society argued that some ecological enhancements proposed by the Appellants to reduce the effect of the harms the development would cause could be achieved simply by provision of more varied planting and that the ecological enhancements could however equally be achieved within the context of the site in its current use. The Inspector agreed.
15. The Society had also made the point that most of the ‘so called’ benefits of the development claimed by the appellants would have been the products of required mitigation, and therefore not benefits at all. The Inspector has agreed.
16. The Inspector has conclude that whilst the provision of affordable housing and market housing would each provide some public benefits, including to the economy, no exceptional circumstances exist which would outweigh the harm that would be caused to the AONB. As such the development would not be in the public interest. Consequently paragraph 172 of the National Planning Police Framework indicates that planning permission should be refused.
17. The Inspector has agreed with the Societies arguments and he concluded that the development would have an unacceptably adverse effect on the character and appearance of the area, including the landscape and scenic beauty of the AONB. It would therefore conflict with Policies CS9 of the South Hams Local Development Framework Core Strategy 2006 (the CS) which states that development will not be permitted where it would damage the natural beauty, character or special quality of the AONB, Policy DP2 of the South Hams Local Development Framework Development Polices Development Plan Document 2010 (the DPD), which seeks to conserve landscape character, including by avoiding unsympathetic intrusion into the wider landscape; and part (e) of Policy DP1 of DPD, which seeks to secure development that enhances views conflict with Policies Lan/P1 and Lan/P5 of the South Devon AONB Management Plan 2014-2019 which seek to conserve and enhance the landscape, and protect views. In its decision the Council also referenced Policies SPT11, DEV24, DEV27 within the emerging South West Devon Joint Local Plan 20142034 (the JLP), which is now at an advanced stage of preparation and so carries moderate weight. Insofar as each seeks to support the conservation of landscape and scenic beauty, the development would conflict with these emerging policies.
18. In the matter of costs the Inspector has conclude that the Council did not act unreasonably on the grounds claimed by the applicants. As such no unnecessary or wasted expense was incurred by the applicants in making the appeal. The Appellants application for costs was therefore (separately) dismissed.
SUMMERY CONCLUSIONS – APPEAL LETTER OF REPRESENTATION – SOUTH HAMS SOCIETY
19. It was the “wrong development in the wrong place.”
20. The proposed development would result in the permanent loss of productive agricultural land in highly valued countryside and would fail to conserve the landscape and scenic beauty of the South Devon AONB
21. The area around the appeal site is described by the County Council as being a “jewel in the crown of Devon”.
22. While it is for the Inspector to now decide, the Society and SHDC Officers concluded that the appeal proposal is a major development in the AONB.
23. And that the adverse landscape impact arising from the proposed development, rendered the proposal unsustainable.
24. They also concluded that the dramatic views through the surrounding countryside and over the estuaries in the SD AONB would be harmed and that development which is uncharacteristic and visually intrusive over wide areas or results in linear spread of development along the roads between villages should be resisted.
25. The local housing needs survey which identified a local need for affordable homes is now over 5 years out of date. The Garden Mill case, cited by the appellants, refers to there being approval for some 300 houses including affordable homes in the Kingsbridge area. Which we believe is a more up to date indicator of housing need and demand in the local area.
26. In any case we believe that a general need for more homes, on its own, is not a compelling reason to allow major development in the AONB
27. We do not believe that the appellant’s have convincingly demonstrated that there would be any significant social or economic cost to the village if this development were not to proceed.
28. It is clear that parts of the appeal development would appear, from sensitive views within the designated landscape, as an alien pocket of development, having little or no relationship with the village. We do not believe that the harms that would be caused would be overcome through mitigation landscaping or sensitive design.
29. The Appeal proposal would detrimentally affect existing views of the site, particularly when approaching the village from the East but also the panoramic views from the South.
30. The benefit of a small public space is not a reasonable substitute for the amenity value provided by the existing high-quality landscape and the “stunning” views in this highly sensitive part of Devon and its Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
31. The appeal development would clearly encroach into the existing green buffer between West and East Charleton. This would erode the distinction between the two villages.
32. The Appeal proposal would fail to conserve and enhance the quality, character, diversity and local distinctiveness of the natural environment, and would fail to avoid unsympathetic intrusion in the wider landscape and would have a detrimental impact on the character of views from public vantage points.
33. The areas experiencing these impacts fall within the South Devon AONB, and the appeal site that would experience the most significant impacts also lies within the Undeveloped Coast.
34. The appeal development fails to conserves or enhance what is special and locally distinctive about the landscape character; and would fail to avoid unsympathetic intrusion in the wider landscape; that respects the unspoilt nature and tranquillity of the area.
35. The appeal proposal does not demonstrate any exceptional circumstances that are demonstrably in the public interest and that having regard to the significant adverse landscape impact, it is not sustainable development.
36. It is now for the Inspector to decide what weight is to be given to the material considerations, and whether the proposal is considered to be a major development. The Selworthy application does not support the appellant’s argument that the appeal development should not be considered by the Inspector as a major development.
37. The landscape characteristics of the Kingsbridge Garden Mill site are so dissimilar to the Lyte Lane appeal site, with its widespread views of the proposed development from the surrounding designated countryside, that we believe the case does not support the appellant’s point.
38. We do not believe that introducing housing development, that would have an alien and high visual presence within the near and wider countryside can reasonably be described by the appellant as conserving the landscape and scenic beauty of the AONB, or an enhancement of the existing high-value
39. The mitigation screening will not be as effective as the appellant suggests. The proposed planting is not characteristic of the appeal site and the mitigation measures would inevitably interrupt the existing wide panoramic views South and West, across the AONB, towards the Frogmore and Kingsbridge estuaries, or the existing views North West towards the hill ridgeline.
40. The representations received from village residents at the application stage showed that six residents objected, four were undecided and one supported the proposal. In total, the letters produced twelve objections, five undecided and one in support.
41. We do not believe that the appeal development would make positive contribution to the landscape character and visual amenity of the AONB and Undeveloped Coast or acts to conserve the landscape and scenic beauty of the AONB and an enhancement of existing, valued landscape and historic features or introduce of additional natural features characteristic of the areas Landscape Character.
42. The appeal proposal would significantly erode the existing green open space that currently the visual separation of East and West Charleton.
43. We do not believe that there are “no negative economic impacts that would arise from the development” We believe there would be permanent loss of the valuable productive farmland and a potential detrimental effects on tourism.