When South Hams District Council refused the first retrospective application for the unlawful developments – an outsized garage, tennis court and skate park – at Gerston Point last September, the Case officer found that: ‘The development represents an unwelcome and incongruous intrusion into an undeveloped countryside location that is within the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and undeveloped coast, introducing inappropriate built form within this highly sensitive rural and estuary location’.
On top of this damning judgement, Judy Pearce, Leader of SHDC and Ward Councillor for West Alvington [in a quote for the Western Morning News, 11.9.19] stated that: ‘What they’ve done isn’t acceptable. Everybody has to respect planning policy’. The recommended action was – ‘Pass to Enforcement Team to commence formal enforcement action and serve notice with regards to returning the land to its former condition ..’.
The South Hams Society waited months for the promised enforcement action only to learn that SHDC was ‘in discussion’ with the applicant. Next we find that a second retrospective planning application is being considered. Why? Why hasn’t the recommended enforcement action taken place? We understand that there are not one but two legal problems with the current situation. First, the relevant Planning guidance states – ‘A person who has undertaken unauthorised development has only one opportunity to obtain planning permission after the event’. Yet we find that SHDC is considering a second retrospective application. Second, we were surprised to find that the ‘ecological enhancements’ now proposed at Gerston Point include the planting of over 1000 native trees – but not on land owned by the applicant! So how could SHDC enforce this condition if it needed to? Answer, it couldn’t.
This is exactly what we feared. SHDC’s planning enforcement function has been under-resourced and not fit for purpose for years. In 2019, the records show that just six Enforcement notices and one Breach of Conditions notice were issued, and no Stop notices. We do not believe that the Local Planning Authority is being proactive enough, especially in an area where land values are so high and there is a lot of money to be made. The developers know how this and behave accordingly. Only a few miles from Gerston we recently had an ancient copse overlooking the estuary decimated by unlicensed tree felling in preparation, we believe, for a new building. We are waiting to hear what response that will bring from the authorities.
The South Hams Society is genuinely concerned that the Local Planning Authority is not using its enforcement powers to best effect to uphold planning law and protect our countryside. We encourage everyone who shares this view to write to the Council Leader, Judy Pearce, to complain. As she said herself, it is time for everyone to respect planning policy.