At the end of last year, developer James Hepworth lodged yet another application for housing in the gardens of Linney House, this time for four homes. The previous application for eight homes lodged in March 2019 had not yet been decided. It still hasn’t been decided so Mr Hepworth has asked the planning inspectorate to decide the application. He is within his rights to do so but it takes the decision out of local democratic hands.
I have asked for both applications to be considered by the Southern Planning Committee. In the instance of the eight homes now being appealed, the committee can only give an indicative opinion, the decision it would have made. This will be passed to the planning inspector in Bristol.
I have rarely seen such a weak case for an appeal. The scheme is well designed and will be an attractive place to live. But it is the wrong place and is not needed in a town which already has planning permissions for nearly 750 unbuilt homes.
I explain the complex planning history of Linney House in this article.
The appeal has been applied for on the grounds on non-determination of the planning application. Applications of this size must be decided within eight weeks. In practice, many applications take longer, often by mutual agreement with the council. Where that doesn’t exist, developers are within their rights to ask the planning inspectorate to make a decision once the eight week deadline has passed.
A statement from James Hepworth’s solicitors submitted with the appeal says he had hoped that that the most recent application for four homes would have been dealt with swiftly. But as no decision has yet been made by Shropshire Council. This site already has planning permission for three houses, which the developer says is “implementable”. This is his “fall back position” in case either of the schemes for four or eight homes is not approved. However, there is agreement between the developer and Shropshire planners that a better design should be secured for the site. This would also make the site more profitable.
The role of the Planning Services Manager (head of planning), Ian Kilby, is highlighted in the developer’s statement. That’s unusual. The statement says Mr Kilby visited the site with other officers on two occasions to discuss the scheme. That’s not unusual. But “it is unusual for officers of this seniority to be involved in such discussions”, the statement claims. Kilby provided example designs of the modern style development he and his team preferred. Again, such discussions are not unusual.
The developer alleges that Ian Kilby gave an “assurance that he would deal with the application and ‘see it through’”. I don’t read that as Ian Kilby giving the scheme his backing. I believe he was talking about the process not the decision.
After several designs had been submitted by the developer and the number of planned homes whittled down from 17 to eight, the scheme went out to public consultation. The developer claims the contemporary Nordic woodland style “was universally supported locally and in subsequent meetings applauded by the Chief Planning Officer.” This is not the case. The Ludlow Town Council did not comment on the scheme even though it had received a presentation from the developer. Ten residents objected as did the Ludlow Conservation Area Advisory Committee. That’s not universal support.
Although I initially support the scheme, I changed my position to neutral after reading comments from Shropshire Council’s tree, conservation and highways teams.
The developer accepts that the proposal violates six significant planning policies and that Shropshire has a sufficient supply of housing land to render use of this site unnecessary. But it is argued, the site meets Shropshire’s sustainability rules and “represents a high quality contemporary response to the design objectives of the council”. The planning inspector is urged to use “planning judgement” or decide in favour of the scheme.
So, let’s get that straight. The developer says the scheme isn’t needed. It breaks at least six planning rules. But it should be approved anyway.
I have rarely seen such a weak argument put forward by a developer during an appeal. I can’t avoid the suspicion that this appeal is only about pressing Shropshire Council into approving the four home scheme.
This scheme is well designed and will be an attractive place to live. But it is the wrong place and is not needed in a town which has existing planning permissions for nearly 750 homes.
Appeal procedures and commenting
This appeal will be decided by written representations. In practice, that means an exchange of emails with the planning inspector who acts as an adjudicator. This is the simplest form of appeal and is well suited to our Covid-19 times. The developer could have gone for an appeal hearing. Hearings are more like arbitration. Parties sit around a table, exchange views and probe points. The planning inspector later declares a verdict. Developers promoting big schemes often prefer a planning inquiry. It’s rather like being in a court room with barristers scoring points off witnesses and each other. It can be an entertaining spectacle and a forbidding experience for non-professionals taking part.
If you have already made comments on this planning application, these have been forward to the planning inspectorate. If you wish to make additional comments, you can do so online at https://acp.planninginspectorate.gov.uk/ViewCase.aspx?caseid=3250229. Or you can send your comments to: The Planning Inspectorate, Room 3C Eagle Wing, Temple Quay House, 2 The Square, Bristol, BS1 6PN. All representations must be received by 20 July 2020.
The planning inspector will visit Linney House to view the site. Shropshire Council has said it is not essential for the inspector to enter the site to assess the impact of the proposal. I am surprised at this as landscaping and loss of trees is one of arguments against this development. I will be asking the inspector to enter the site to view the complex topography that has arisen from its history as a quarry. I will also be asking the inspector to view the site from the opposite bank of the Corve.