The public inquiry into 137 homes off Foldgate Lane in Ludlow resumes at 9.30am on Tuesday, 4 October at the Gateway, Craven Arms. We face two days of technical arguments over housing land supply followed by a summing up of the arguments for and against this development.
The future of planned development in Shropshire rests on the outcome of this inquiry.
The Foldgate Lane inquiry is not just about a developer’s bid to build 137 houses on lovely green fields on the edge of Ludlow (15/02340/REF). Richborough Estates want to get a ruling that our local plans, the core strategy and SAMDev, are out of date.
Out of date has a specific meaning in planning. If a council cannot demonstrate that it can get enough housing built in the next five years (a five-year land supply), then developers are allowed to put forward plans for housebuilding that would not normally be entertained. This has led to great anger in villages like Dorrington and towns such as Shifnal. Over the last few years, these settlements have had housing imposed on them just because the county didn’t at that time have sufficient housing land in the bank.
The current position of Shropshire Council is that we have a five-year land supply.
The council says that it expects 13,637 homes will be built across the county by 2026. That’s enough to meet our commitments to the government. But the planning specialists acting for developer Richborough Estates say that only 11,296 homes are likely to be built. That is a gap between the two sides of 2,341 homes.
Richborough has invested a lot of money and time in examining whether we have sufficient housing supply to satisfy government rules. It told the inquiry in August that it had employed seven people to work for four months trawling through the technical details of Shropshire’s five-year land supply. Shropshire Council simply doesn’t have the resources to match this effort.
In all, Richborough is challenging 63 housing sites around the county. It is saying that Shropshire Council being too ambitious about how many dwellings can be delivered and by what date. In Ruyton XI Towns, Richborough says only 60 homes will be delivered not 80 as planned. Shropshire Council agrees but says they will be all be built within five years. Plans for 13 houses at Clee Hill will not be built any time soon says Richborough. Yes, they will, says Shropshire Council. Richborough’s claims that plans for 35 houses in Clun have “unresolved issues” are rebutted by the council. And so the technical arguments go on.
This is as much about timing as the number of houses that will eventually built. We are expecting a planning permission for housing behind the Nelson on Rocks Green in the next three months. SAMDev allocates 200 dwellings on this site but Richborough says only 40 will be built in the next five years. Shropshire Council says 108 will be built. It’s the same with the housing site between the Eco Park and Sheet village. Its due to have 80 houses but Richborough, rather arbitrarily, says only 40 will be built in the next five years.
For many sites, I can’t see how the disputed house numbers and timescales can be resolved.
Richborough are hoping that the inspector, Cullum Parker, accepts their data. If he does, this county will once again face a situation where housing developers can build almost anywhere they want, providing they can claim the site is “sustainable”. Sustainability is a key principle in planning but it is notoriously difficult to define a practical definition. Big developers with deep pockets have become experts in arguing that just about anything anywhere will be sustainable.
If we lose this appeal, we will lose control of planning for housing in Shropshire.
The meeting is open to the public. There is now no opportunity for public participation in the inquiry, unless the inspector allows late contributions. But if there is a good audience, it sends the message that people in Ludlow do not want this development to go ahead.
A development that doesn’t work for Ludlow should never go ahead. But this is more than a local issue. This inquiry is about an attempt by a developer with deep pockets to impose development regardless of local opinion. Richborough has no interest in Ludlow. It doesn’t even want to develop the site itself. It just wants to pocket the profits.