Mostly I am looking forward to tomorrow. The whole day is allocated for a public inquiry into plans for 215 houses above the river Corve between Bromfield Road and the A49. But, unusually for me, there is a touch of nervousness too.
The reason I am looking forward to the event is that it will all but bring to a conclusion the long and complex debate over the plans for Bromfield Meadow. They have been thrown out by the South Planning Committee not once, but twice. The committee said the development was unsustainable and the benefits of new housing would be outweighed by the adverse impacts. The committee decided:
The site is not suitable for small family homes and affordable dwellings because road and rail noise from the adjacent the A49, river Corve and railway line, which would also pose a safety risk for children
The site has just one vehicle entrance, limited pedestrian and disability access and is a significant walking distance from Ludlow town centre.
The second time committee threw the application out, it added the reason that the site is not allocated for development in local plans, including the emerging SAMDev.
The committee was against building a footbridge over the Corve to Fishmore View, but this did not make the grounds for the refusal. I think that should have been cited.
That footbridge has always been controversial, with 23 of 27 households on Fishmore View saying they oppose it. They are worried about dog walker’s cars clogging up their quiet, narrow cul de sac. They say that the bridge could bring a return of antisocial behaviour to the close and that it posed a safety risk in adverse weather.
After the second application was rejected, the developer decided to appeal to the planning inspectorate.
Appeals can be heard in three ways. Most are decided after written representations, an exchange of documents and letters. At the other extreme, public inquiries are akin to court hearings. In between are hearings, a roundtable discussion chaired by the inspector.
Which route is followed is down to the developer. Tesni decided to go for a public inquiry, a process that puts maximum pressure – and potentially the largest costs – on those defending the decision to reject a scheme. The council decided, as did members of the South Planning Committee, that it would not defend the decision to refuse the application. I was not party to those discussions, so I can’t give the reasons for that decision.
The council wanted the appeal to proceed by written representations to lower its own costs and its exposure to the developer’s costs. I wanted a hearing. But Tesni has stuck to its guns by insisting on an inquiry, though it has agreed that only one day will be needed rather than the three days originally allocated. That hearing is tomorrow.
Being grilled by a barrister at the public inquiry does not concern me one bit. However, I think that planning matters are better resolved through roundtable discussion.
I was very concerned that, because the council decided not defending its decision to reject the application, the footbridge would be sidelined at the inquiry. The developer told the South Planning Committee that it is more than willing to withdraw the footbridge. But the council is still backing it, only admitting – somewhat mealy mouthed in my view – that it thinks the decision to retain the footbridge in the scheme “would not be defensible at appeal”.
This footbridge is being backed by a council that has not done any analysis of its impact on existing communities or on traffic. It’s being backed by a council that has not consulted on the matter with its own councillors or Ludlow Town Council. It’s being backed by people in offices a long way from Ludlow deciding what’s best for a town without asking the town what’s best for it.
That’s why I decided to take Rule 6 status at tomorrow’s inquiry. It means that I have been consulted on every detail of the inquiry process. Indeed, I had six inches of paperwork delivered by the developer yesterday to wade through before I get the train to Shrewsbury tomorrow morning. The status has also meant that I have been able to keep the Fishmore View footbridge firmly in the centre of the inquiry.
I wanted to take Rule 6 status as a Shropshire Councillor representing the residents of Ludlow North. But the planning inspectorate blocked that. Neither would it allow me to take the status as Andy Boddington, Ludlow resident. I had to represent something, so I am representing the residents of Fishmore View.
There are two adverse effects of Rule 6 status and that’s why I am a bit nervous about tomorrow’s inquiry. The first is that my brief is restricted to the bridge only – not the wider merits or demerits of the development. The second is that if I stray off my brief, the developers could pursue me for their costs.
Be that as it may. This is an important battle to fight. The Foldgate development was rejected. This scheme should also be rejected. But that decision now lies in the hands of the planning inspectorate in Bristol, not local councillors.