Our detailed response undermines Brimhay planner’s report

We recently posted the report by planning office Tom Sylger-Jones on SDRHA’s application for Brimhay.  Here is our detailed response, produced for circulation in advance of Wednesday morning’s planning decision at Follaton (do come, from 9.15am, the more people the better).  We feel we have identified enough errors and inaccuracies in his report, as well as the doubts raised by our research into the legalities of one of the land sales that made it possible, to insist that the application be pulled.  What do you think?  If one piece of national policy should ensure that South Hams reject the application it is surely this, from the National Planning Policy Framework (para 64):

“Permission should be refused for development of poor design that fails to take the opportunities available for improving the character and quality of an area and the way it functions”.

So here is our detailed evaluation of the Planning Officer’s report.  It has been sent to every member of the planning committee:

Re. Application 14/0142/15/F Brimhay, Dartington – on agenda for 1st July Development management Committee.

Community’s serious concerns at errors and inaccuracies in officers report

By now you will have received the report from planning case officer Tom-Sylger- Jones and many councillors will have attended the site visit to Brimhay last Monday. We were pleased and encouraged to see so many councillors there and their genuine interest in the site, the community’s concerns and alternative proposals.

Support for the alternative

Please remember that this application has generated over 250 written objections. Asked to choose between SDR’s proposals and the community- led alternative designed by Daily Telegraph Builder of the Year, 252 locals sent written forms back. 250 voted for the community plans, 2 for SDR’s. Dartington Hall Trust who sold land to facilitate SDR’s proposals are now supporting a community led alternative. They are pledging staff time to support this and urge ‘the Development Management Committee to postpone its decision on this application to give the local community a fair opportunity’. This strong support will help us to work in partnership with SDR on a community led alternative scheme.

Monday’s site visit

As those who attended may have understood, local people and parish councillors were not satisfied that the site was properly shown: The plans and extent of buildings were not explained onsite, Gidleys Meadow – the cul de sac that will be experiencing construction traffic and a the traffic from a five fold increase in population on site was not visited and the wild area beside the stream; 93% of which will be destroyed was not viewed. We appreciate that there were many sites to see that day, and so appreciate that several councillors have promised to revisit Brimhay in their own time. However if you did not make the site visit or are able to return before Wednesday, attached are some views of what you missed.

Gidleys Meadow was photographed on a quiet Saturday afternoon. The valley- (all vegetation to the left of the stream on site will be gone) – is habitat to 5 species of bat- several tree roosting, the scrub and hazel, dormice habitat. Cirl buntings have been seen this summer and the RSPB has been alerted.

Woods at Brimhay.  Destined for the chop.

Woods at Brimhay. Destined for the chop.

The Pre Application meeting for the Community- led alternative plan.

The Officers report

We write to you personally because we have very serious concerns about the report you have received. Whatever the recommendation on such a report, it should be clear, accurate, unbiased and factually correct. With work and time pressures, and taking on a complex case late in the day, we understand how inaccuracies could occur- however in this case, the following assumptions and misunderstanding of the facts could seriously influence the decisions that you make- so we respectfully wish to correct some of the assumptions made- and leave it to you to decide.

  1. Will these proposals enable and fund assisted living accommodation for ROC?

Five or six times in this long report it is implied that by allowing this application to be passed, the Robert Owen Community (ROC) will be enabled to build a special accommodation unit for adults with learning disabilities. Of course this is a laudable objective and one which has received good support from so many in Dartington- which it should. Members will be understandably keen to support assisted living units too.

The facts are that whilst happy to accommodate ROC on site, South Devon Rural Housing Association (SDR) have simply agreed to sell off a portion of the site to ROC. That this is small area, probably accounts for ROC’s proposals to build a dense 3 storey block on their piece of land. ROC aim to fund their build with £1.4 million outside funding. None of the proceeds from the 12 open market houses will fund ROC units; only the 12 SDR flats. All SDR’s finance calculations pertain to this and it appears that their £4m project will only facilitate a building estimate to cost £600,000. As you will appreciate, assisted living units cannot replace the local social homes lost at Brimhay (- 6 or 33% of the total), as they are housing for specialist needs.

Voting to accept SDR’s proposals on Wednesday will not secure ROC’s future on this site.

Does "a partial loss of woodland" really capture the impact of losing 93% of the woodland?

Does “a partial loss of woodland” really capture the impact of losing 93% of the woodland?

  1. Density, massing and design.

The height, massing and urban block style of the buildings proposed, have angered and upset so many local people, who were shocked that these proposals did not go before SHDC’s Design Panel. In his report, Tom Sylger- Jones offers no comment at all on designs so inappropriate for a rural village, neither has he or the previous case officer had any negotiations with the developer re design and massing. It would be very usual to expect some dialogue early on, to help the developer achieve his aims, whilst balancing the appearance of a new development in a sensitive village area.

Similarly 42 dwellings per ha is not ’at the higher end of what is typical’ but well beyond the maximum figure of SHDC’s Core Strategy CS2 for rural areas. It also disregards policy statements SHDC14, SHDC 16 and s.322 in SHDC’s own standards for development.

NPPF states para 64:

‘Permission should be refused for development of poor design that fails to take the opportunities available for improving the character and quality of an area and the way it functions.’

  1. Wildlife loss- the real picture.

As you can see from the attached photos of Brimhay valley, SDR’s development is not ‘just a matter of ecological impact rather than landscape’. Razing this valley side and erecting 1.8m high close boarded fencing within 3m of the stream will radically change the feel and appearance of this well used and loved amenity area as well as destroying the habitats of bats and dormice- all European Protected Species.

Green Ecology, the developer’s consultant stated that:

The woodland edge that runs along the stream adjacent to the mixed semi natural woodland at the east of the Site offers the best habitat for foraging and commuting bats on the Site.’ …’This area is the only area of the Site which is not subjected to artificial lighting’.

Erecting 1.8 m fencing at the bottom of a steep slope will not block the light from upstairs windows of the houses or flats. It will have no beneficial effects on bats; only change the rural amenity of the valley.

Inaccuracies in the report play down the effects on wildlife-

  • ‘a partial loss of woodland’ is actually 93%!
  • Greater Horseshoe bats, a critically endangered species with a South Devon stronghold, may only ‘forage within 1km of their roosts in winter’ but need to fly up to 5km- so feed at Brimhay in summer. That is when these bats accumulate vital fat reserves to see them through hibernation in the winter months.
  • There is a clear ‘net loss in biodiversity’ that cannot be remedied on this site. This contravenes the NPPF and NERC guidelines.
  • We dispute the ‘over riding public interest’ claimed under the 3 derogation test. There is a ‘satisfactory alternative’- to pull back development and not turn this wild valley into gardens. We achieve this easily in the alternative community led proposals. The measures taken- planting hazel in private garden with no management control after the sale of the houses, will not ‘maintain favourable status of the species’.
  • NPPF para 9 advises’ moving from a net loss of bio-diversity to achieving net gains for nature’
One day my son, all this will be parking for South Devon Rural Housing Association".

One day my son, all this will be parking for South Devon Rural Housing Association”.

  1. Development and Traffic ‘The principle of development at the site is not in question since the proposal is for the redevelopment of the same use’ Nothing is said of increased scale and impact upon the site and neighbouring environment.
  • An increase in the site’s population from 20 to 100 will affect pressures on traffic, amenity and environment. Three different uses of the site; open market houses with more cars, the servicing and round the clock staffing of ROC will impact hugely on the adjoining lane and cul de sac.
  • A traffic Impact assessment has not been carried out for Gidleys Meadow- which would become the main access.
  • Much of the site is open space, traffic free walking areas, a green play space and wildlife corridor. This development radically changes the character of Brimhay. The losers are social tenants and the local community. This design around a green was central to the principles of Dartington’s founders the Elmhirsts. To state that this cramped development is ‘in keeping with the principles of their legacy’ is to totally misunderstand them. NPPF point 70 advises planners to ‘guard against the unnecessary loss of valued facilities’. And that’ 4. Existing open space, …..should not be built on’.
  • The development will severely affect the quality of lives of neighbours and have an adverse effect upon the economy. It will greatly lose value from adjoining properties and by nature of the cramped development with ‘clone’ design homes for sale will lose the potential for profit from their sale. The nearby and more spaciously designed Origins development is currently discounting the price of its new houses. The community led design will maximise profits by offering more attractive, sustainable unique homes ina garden- centred development; meaning less need to be built within the site. Local builders and materials will maximise local economic benefits.
  1. Consulting and engaging with the community.

Consultation should not be a case of just ‘ticking the box’. As you know SDR ‘s event attracted only 7 people and full plans were not shown. Any further requests to talk to local people were ignored.  Instead, local volunteers have dedicated hundreds of hours of their time to inform and let local people have a say, later addressing all their concerns in a community led alternative design- we turned each problem into a solution. We would remind you of the 2011 Localism Act para 66:

 ‘Applicants will be expected to work closely with those directly affected by their proposals to evolve designs that take account of the views of the community. Proposals that can demonstrate this in developing the design of the new development should be looked on more favourably’.

  1. Viability and deliverability

Although not material planning considerations, much has been made in the planner’s report of the opinion that SDR feel that their scheme is viable; the community led Living Village Trust scheme is not.

After a pre application meeting with case Officer Tom Sylger- Jones and SHDC Affordable Housing Officer Cassandra Harrison on Friday, both were reassured that the community- led alternative had a sound financial base and that in building just 6 high- spec eco houses, we could fund 14 ( 2 more additional) social homes without grants.  Additional security to the scheme would come from Crowdfunding, local shares, local loans and interest in purchasing the houses (already offered) a likely grant from the Homes and Communities Agency of around £20,000 per social home- all backed by expert funding advice from the team at Totnes Community Development Trust.

Concern was raised re changes in the Tax legislation that would mean that over £200,000 already built into SDR’s budget as reclaimable would no longer be so, bringing their current calculations well under their required budget. 

  1. Legal issues that may affect deliverability.
  • Concerns that land sold from Dartington Hall Trust (DHT) was not carried out in accordance with Charity Law and guidelines, are currently being investigated. Lawyers are proceeding to question DHT and their surveyors on the procedures followed. The outcome may affect SDR having control over the site to deliver their proposals.
  • The declaration of a Public Right Of Way across the centre of the site is currently underway and being considered by Devon County Council PROW team. Whilst a decision is awaited, building may not commence across the areas in question. A decision may not be made until early 2016.

These notes update the information available at the time of writing the Officers Report. They also seek to correct some major omissions and facts that relate to the site and the application of policy to the application.

Consider the alternative.

Accepting SDR’s proposals on Wednesday shuts the door on community supported alternative that delivers 2 additional social homes.

The altogether positive response that community representatives and builders The Living Village Trust received at a pre application meeting on Friday resulted in Tom Sylger- Jones agreeing that our proposals were viable, buildable and very well considered. We have over 200 people supporting our application, which would be ready to present to this committee in 3 months. Delivering homes amenity and community benefits on site, we would gift 14 social homes to SDR to manage. Tom Sylger- Jones stated that if our alternative came before him, he would recommend approval.

We thank you for your consideration of these issues and hope that these notes have aided a balanced view of the issues at stake at Brimhay.

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