Coate Bridge Hearing - Days 2/3

Posted by Philippa Morgan on 8 April 2016

Coate Bridge Appeal Hearing: Day 2 & 3

Day 2.

As before, please remember that this is report is written by a layman with a pre-judged position. Again it is a distillation of some nine hours of very technical debate and therefore highly selective in content.

Other than the two major players, Wiltshire Council and MacTaggart & Mickel Limited, other parties including members of the public of the public were able to speak.

On Day 1 Wiltshire Councillor Laura Mayes and Devizes Town Mayor, Roger Giraud-Saunders, had spoken of the considerable number of approaches they had received from their electorate, invariably expressing opposition to the proposed development.

Today the steering Group of the Devizes Community Area Neighbourhood Plan (DCANP) took up the cudgels.

First up was Deputy Town Clerk, Simon Fisher. He pointed out that the Steering Group were a voluntary body, none of whom were planners, who had put many hours into producing the plan. The community had been involved in a number of consultations throughout the process. The document had passed scrutiny by an independently appointed Inspector and achieved a ninety per cent approval rating in a local referendum. It is a work in progress and other subjects will be considered in due course and it will be updated on a regular basis. So far the main issues considered are the boundaries of the Devizes built up area, meeting local housing needs in a sustainable way and the strength of the infrastructure. Research had demonstrated that there is no need for a strategic development on the edge of the town. Devizes has an existing built density of 15.2 dwelling per hectare, which is very low. Research carried out in producing the Wiltshire Core Strategy had produced a list of thirty-six sites whose owners were considering development in the near future. Most of these were either brownfield, i.e. sites which had had previous uses, or small greenfield sites within or immediately adjacent to the current border. These sites had been evaluated on a points basis as to how they met the criteria for development and part of the involvement exercise had asked the public to list them in an order of preference, of the thirty-six listed Coate Bridge had come thirty-fifth. He was then cross-examined by the QC who tried to employ the “Yes” “No” technique he had used the previous day to lead witnesses into contradicting themselves. However Simon would have none of it, saying that he would answer the questions as he saw fit: the cross-examination was fairly short!

Next was Professor John Kirkman on behalf of The Council for the Preservation of Rural England. He contended that the proposal was outside the settlement boundary and would harm the setting of the canal and the nearby Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. He said the appellants had shown no evidence to support their claims that the development would bring economic benefit and that the claims were merely speculations and assertions. His view was that no jobs would be created but an additional five hundred people would be seeking employment. Again the cross-examination was fairly brief.

Eric Clarke, Clerk to Bishops Cannings Parish Council, who was also a member of the Steering Group referred the community involvement and support. He particularly drew attention to the potential effect on the hamlet of Coate where the roads are particularly narrow, single track in places. This is already used as a rat run when there is congestion on the A361, a problem which would be greatly exacerbated by the proposal.

Andy Geddes spoke on behalf of Roundway Parish Council, the parish in which the site is situated. He referred to the amount of development which had taken place in the last ten years. The population of Devizes had increased by twenty-four per cent and that of Roundway had more than doubled.

All agreed that the identified and accepted housing need will be better met by the sites identified in the DCANP and would make better use of the existing infrastructure. Limiting developments to only sixty-three units would be attractive to smaller, local builders and create employment.

It was now the turn of the appellants to present their case. The QC led M & M’ planning expert through his evidence. This was a two pronged attack on the Wiltshire Core Strategy and the DCANP, which the QC had described previously as “This curious document”. Their comments on the Core Strategy may have had some substance and I will return to that later. Most of the fire was concentrated on trying to undermine the DCANP. What was clearly demonstrated was that they had scant regard for the principles of localism or the government legislation on which it was founded.

The planning expert was then cross-examined by the Wiltshire Council’s barrister. The exchanges on the Core Strategy were mainly on issues of timeliness and whether the Council had done sufficient to maintain the relevance of the Strategy. Turning to the DCANP, she was on much stronger ground, since the grounds for the current appeal were almost identical to the grounds advanced in the High Court for having the DCANP quashed and which had been dismissed by a judge in chambers, i.e. it did not get off the ground.

Day 3

Today started off with what was really housekeeping matters, the agreement over certain documentation and other non-controversial matters.

Then came the final statements for both sides. This amounted to little more than a summarisation of their respective arguments.

The Wiltshire Council barrister sought to justify the timeliness of the Core Strategy and maintained that progress on various matters which, although slower than anticipated, was still timely and the policies were still relevant. On the DCANP she was on much stronger ground, able to reinforce the failure of the attempt to undermine it in the High Court.

The QC directed much of his attention to the Core Strategy and his attacks on the performance in meeting various deadlines and developing and updating policies were quite brutal. He also argued that there was a lack of conformity between the DCNAP and the Core Strategy.

My Opinion: The case for the DCANP still looks strong. The same cannot be said for certain aspects of the Core Strategy where there is definite slippage in the programme. This is almost certainly because the planning staff has been cut to the level where the resources are not sufficient to meet the demands made upon them.

Likely Outcome: The final decision lies with the Secretary of State not with the Inspector. The previous time that this appeal was heard Inspector Fellgate recommended that the appeal should be allowed but was over-ruled. This could happen again if the government has the political will to maintain its policy of localism. It will be some weeks before we know.

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