The public inquiry into plans to build 137 homes on green fields either side of Foldgate Lane begins on Tuesday morning, 2 August. It is bound to be both challenging and, at times, tedious.
This inquiry is important not just for Ludlow but for the county as a whole. The promoters of this scheme want to get their money by obtaining planning permission to develop the site. In doing so, they want to smash apart local planning rules and create a free-for-all for housing development. This would be a disaster for planning in Shropshire. That is why Shropshire Council has engaged a top flight barrister, Gary Grant, to fight its case.
The appeal has been launched by developer Richborough Estates, supported by planning consultants Turley. Richborough’s stated aim is to get planning permission for the site and then sell it on to a housing developer. This is a dangerous situation for us, not just because of the company’s ambition to take the money and run.
The latest indicative site plan (larger version)
Richborough Estates purchased the land either side of Foldgate on 29 April 2014 for an undisclosed sum. They are applying for outline planning permission for a housing estate of 137 dwellings with access via a T-junction on the A49. If they gain that permission, the value of the site will leap enormously and they will sell for a profit. The company has said that it no intention of developing the site itself.
We could end up with more than 137 homes on this site, should the appeal be lost. Any developer that buys a site as big as this is likely to look at the total number of homes and the generous provision of green space in Richborough’s indicative plan. Although any increase in housing is likely be strongly resisted by residents and by Ludford and Ludlow councils, the developer will argue that if 137 homes are sustainable at this location, then 250 or more will also be sustainable. They will also argue that the development would not be viable with fewer homes. If Richborough succeed in demonstrating that Shropshire is not providing enough land for housing at this planning inquiry, then the sky is the limit for housing at this site or around Ludlow.
That is why this public inquiry is so important.
The inquiry will take place at the Gateway in Craven Arms (15/02340/REF). It kicks off at 10am on Tuesday but please come for 9.30am, especially if you want to speak. The inspector, Cullum Parker, has indicated that members of the public and representatives of councils will be asked to speak before lunch on Tuesday morning. But this could change. The site visit is likely to take place on Friday morning. The inquiry is then expected to resume in September to review evidence of housing need.
The inspector has set out the main points of contention between Shropshire Council and the developers:
- The effect of the proposed development on the character and appearance of the area, and;
- Whether the proposed development would preserve the setting of nearby designated heritage assets, and if not whether any public benefits would outweigh any harm, and;
- Whether the council is able to demonstrate a five year supply of housing land for their area, and;
- Whether the proposal comprises sustainable development.
Cullum Parker has also set out other matters for the council and Richborough to consider.
He wants to know whether the housing will harm the character and appearance of the landscape. He asks about the quality of the agricultural land and whether poorer quality land is available locally.
The inspector asks whether the development would harm the setting of the Grade II listed Foldgate Farmhouse and how this should be considered under national planning policy. He has asked a technical question about how this harm should be assessed. We can expect plenty of dry legal argument here.
Much of this inquiry will be taken up with argument over the supply of housing land. This is the direst subject on earth. It is equally as bad as Vogon Poetry but goes on for days. Shropshire needs to keep five years land supply in the bank to meet national requirements. If not, planners have little control over where housing will go. The inspector asks whether Shropshire Council has worked with communities, town and parish councils, businesses, etc. in preparing evidence on housing needs. Is the housing numbers robust? How much does it matter?
It seems also that Network Rail has also raised concerns about the footpath crossing the rail line from the site to Steventon Road but I can’t find the file on this.
Public inquiries are can be tough and they are rarely not enjoyable. But this one is important for our town and for the future of planned development in our county. That’s why we must win.
. I keep calling Richborough Estates a developer. It is not. It is a speculator that specialises in getting planning permission for sites and then selling them on to a company that will build the houses. I don’t know what Richborough’s financial model is. A similar company, Gladman Developments works on a no win, no fee basis. It has boasted that it is not cheap, but it does win a majority of cases. None of these companies has more than a passing interest in the communities where they are trying to get planning permission.
. The inspector seems to be referring to a recent court case that strengthened heritage protection under the NPPF. In essence, the judge ruled that harm to heritage assets must be assessed before the overall planning balance for against the application is determined.
. The supply of housing land is determined by a process known as Full Objectively Assessed Housing Need. The rules for determining FOAHN and which sites should be included are far from straightforward. But if a council cannot demonstrate a five-year land supply, then any housing policies in the local plan are out of date. If we don’t have a five-year land supply, developers can get permission to build on green fields and in locations where we would not normally build housing.