I’d like to tell you that watching a planning public inquiry is fascinating – but my nose would grow out of control. So why did I spend half of last Thursday observing a planning inquiry? I needed to do so because they were discussing SAMDev, the county’s blueprint for housing and employment sites. And specifically the inquiry was discussing development in Ludlow and Ludford (see what the SAMDev plans say about Ludlow).

SAMDev overview mapThe only developer to turn up at this hearing was John Acres of Turley Associates – he’s promoting 137 houses off Foldgate Road, a site not in SAMDev.  Other developers have made written representations – see Matter S10.

Acres showed a masterly attention to detail and picked up a number of technical errors. I can’t help feeling that these matters might have been better dealt with in writing. He argued that as an attractive market town, Ludlow could take more housing. He questioned why Craven Arms was due to take so much housing in comparison, apparently unaware that the Arms is South Shropshire’s main employment growth centre.

I am not sure Acres succeeded in making a case for more housing in Ludlow than currently planned. The inspector was fairly inscrutable but I didn’t get the impression that she thought that we needed more housing. But do we need more or different sites?

Acres battled for Foldgate Lane. Tom Carter for Ludford parish council argued against this site as did council officers. They said the site had not been chosen for SAMDev because of its steep slopes, the adjacent listed buildings and the access issues. But they admitted that it was an “on balance decision”. Questioned by officers whether the Highways Agency has agreed to the proposed T-junction on the A49, Acres said the access was “agreed in principle” with the Agency, and it was now looking at the details. He said the site was “sensitive” to develop, but “not impossible, it’s feasible.”

I didn’t feel officers made a very convincing case against the Foldgate Lane development.

I didn’t hear officers make a convincing case for the 200 houses at Rocks Green either. Challenged by John Acres on why development was planned outside the bypass before sites closer to Ludlow have been developed, officers said: “There has to be a direction for the future.” Acres retorted that Rocks Green “is a completely different place.” He said: “It’s somewhere beyond Ludlow. Remote and detached.”

But I did hear them say very clearly that the 200 homes would not lead to a new footbridge across the A49. This is important as the current A49 crossing is pretty scary. It is also important because the inspector thought that the development might not be viable if the developer had to pay for a footbridge.

They said they were “front-loading infrastructure costs” on to the first developments beyond the bypass and are engaged in “longer-term strategic thinking.” Subsequent plans – I think they meant the core strategy revision due in 2016 – will include a masterplan for the Ludlow extension beyond the A49.

In its written submission, J Ross Developments says it is preparing a “concept masterplan” for this site. It gives more details about the A49 crossing:

“[We] will provide a financial contribution towards the delivery of the crossing over the A49 as necessary, as well as inclusion of the first part of the footpath to the south within the scheme design. In addition, suitable safe crossing arrangements can be provided.”

That’s no footbridge then. It’s a curious way of “front-loading infrastructure costs” by not providing the infrastructure essential to housing development beyond the bypass.

Tom Carter also spoke about the proposed industrial development south of Sheet Road. Ludford parish council want all future development to be between the Eco Park and Rocks Green. Officers responded that the site south of Sheet Road is “attractive for employment uses”, particularly for B2, general industrial uses. They said its development would “round off the junction” with the A49. Tom said this was “not a very convincing argument” and I agree.

The inquiry continues a few weeks.

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