Foldgate Lane housing inquiry ends on a cliff hanger

Update 9 October 2016

The planning inspectorate has said a decision will be made on or before 21 November.

I am glad that decision is not going to be dragged out. This appeal is not just about 137 houses on the edge of Ludlow. The whole future of planning in Shropshire depends on this decision. Are developers like Richborough going to be allowed to build anywhere they like, regardless of local wishes and our local plan? We need to win this appeal. I think the council has made a good case. But the final decision will be down to the planning inspector.

Main article 6 October 2016

The Foldgate Lane inquiry has concluded. Developer Richborough Estates wants to build 137 homes on green fields on the edge of Ludlow. A quarter of the homes will be affordable. When the inquiry closed yesterday afternoon, the result was too close to call. Shropshire Council put forward a strong case but Richborough put forward a strong team. As its barrister reminded us yesterday, the company has a reputation for winning nearly all of its planning appeals.

This site is not in our development plan, known as SAMDev, and was rejected by Shropshire’s planning officers. Richborough appealed to the planning inspectorate and a public inquiry has sat for six days hearing from witnesses and examining in minute detail the planning system in Shropshire.

Much of this inquiry has been taken up by arguments over whether Shropshire Council has identified enough land to build the housing needed during the next five years.

Christopher Young, acting for Richborough Estates, condemned what he called a shortfall in Shropshire’s housing delivery. He lent back on his chair, hands thrust in pockets, for every bit the schollboy who didn’t want to be in class, and said:

“After nearly a decade of under delivery, the shortfall has grown so large that it will take 167 years to clear. The council is not doing at all well. The council needs to deliver a total of 1,790 homes a year for the next five years. The council has never come close to delivering that number.

“The council is in serious difficulty over their housing land supply and is running out of time to solve it.”

Mr Young called on the council to release more housing sites, saying it was well short of the five-year supply required by government. He went on to describe the proposed development at Foldgate Lane as “truly exceptional”.

Earlier, Shropshire Council’s barrister Gary Grant, a more formal character than Mr Young, told the inquiry that Richborough’s arguments were inconsistent. He said the company had chosen to play down housing delivery rates because that suited their case. He pressed Richborough’s expert witness on housing hard, at times turning his head up to gaze at the ceiling while he waited for an answer. At one vital moment, the Richborough witness seemed to accept that the council had indeed identified sufficient land for housing.

Turning to address the inspector, Mr Grant said: “I ask you to find that there is not only a housing supply but that supply is well over five years.” He went on to say: “These proposals are not sustainable development. They harm the landscape.”

There were a few people who sat through the entire inquiry. I wasn’t one of them and take my hat off to residents’ stamina and their ability to keep listening during obscure arguments.

Usually, a decision is made within a couple of months of the planning inquiry ending. The inspector said he would notify participants of his likely timescale.

Vivienne Parry, Shropshire Councillor for Ludlow South, has Foldgate Lane in her ward. After the inquiry closed, she said:

“Shropshire Council’s team worked very hard on the five-year land supply issue. They were excellent. I can’t fault them.

“I worry that residents of Green Acres will suffer a severe loss of privacy if this development goes ahead. There is a real danger of flooding undermining the railway line.

“I am really proud that residents around the Foldgate area have stood together on this. It can’t be easy to attend a long public inquiry with all its technical jargon, let alone take the witness stand.”

My view is that this inquiry is a real cliff hanger. The barrister acting for Shropshire Council, Gary Grant, unpicked Richborough’s arguments on housing land supply bit by bit. But the developer fielded a large and determined team.

It really matters that our county has enough land to build houses for five years. If we don’t developers can build almost anywhere. I was impressed by the council’s case but none of us can guess what the outcome of the inquiry will be.

More articles on the Foldgate Lane proposals…