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Ballam Road Mk2 - Appeal Refused

Ballam Road Mk2 Appeal RefusedIn Ballam Road Mk2 we reported the second Public Inquiry into plans for land off Ballam Road

This was a second appeal against Fylde's failure to grant planning permission to local developer Peter Whitehead  for a different configuration and layout than the plan that was previously also refused on appeal.

There will be - as Professor Stanley Unwin would have said, "Deep joy in the fundemold"  of the posher parts of Lytham today as local residents digest the Inspector's decision.

To us, it now seems unlikely this land will be commercially developable.

Permission for an intense development of around 60 properties was previously refused on appeal, and now permission for eleven luxury properties has also been refused.

The reasons for the decision are quite interesting, and a reflection of the times in which we now live.

They also augur very well for the Rt Hon Saint Eric Pickles to issue a further refusal on the Queensway application which itself is due to come to a second Public Inquiry in January 2012

In Ballam Road Mk 2, little weight was given to the abolition of the Regional Strategy because the certainty of its abolition is not yet in place (Though it is likely to be certain after the Localism Bill gets Royal Assent which is due in November)

Little weight has also been given to the new draft National Planning Policy Framework's call for a further 20% increase in housing numbers - because at present it is - well - only a draft for consultation, and won't be considered again for the next 18 months or so.

Fylde's Policy SP2 (For the protection of land in the countryside) does not permit development in the countryside outside of settlement boundaries - unless it is for one of the specific purposes set out within that policy. The 'open market housing'  (i.e. not socially subsidised property) that was proposed in this case does not fall within one of those categories.

The Inspector acknowledged that Fylde's Interim Housing Policy wasn't a formal development plan document, but he said "However, it is being used in decision making."

He added that it had been subject to public consultation, and had the benefit of a sustainability appraisal, so implying that it was in practical use and it thus met many of the criteria that were required of a development plan document.

That said, he had only accorded it little weight.

He also addressed the 'Army Rule' (in the case of conflicting instructions, carry out the most recent) that had been argued by Mr Whitehead's side who said the Regional Strategy was more recent than Fylde's Local Plan so it should have more weight.

The Inspector considered this claim, but thought that the recent Metacre Decision at Wesham showed that such conflicts should be between individual policies (rather than a policy theme or guidance within the Regional Strategy), and to do otherwise would defeat the purpose of the planning judgment required by legislation. So by implication he wasn't going to have much to do with that argument.

He then looked at projected population numbers and, as we have been banging on about for some time, he noted that a population reduction was forecast for Fylde.

However he also said there is an anticipated need for a further 5,000 or so dwellings before 2028 (actually the 5,000 is between 2008 and 2028), and this was because of smaller households (i.e. the effects of divorce/separation and, typically, young people leaving home to set up on their own).

He made the point that such folk are unlikely to want luxury size houses (by implication they need smaller properties like flats), so that didn't argue in favour of this scheme either.

He also predicted the housing target that Fylde is likely to end up with.

Because of changing population and household projections, he thought it would be, for example, 250 or 260 dwellings a year. This would be substantially less than the present Regional Strategy requires, and it calls into question the "robustness of the evidence base behind the RS figure, which is therefore attributed limited weight in this case."

Too right it does.

It also calls into question the disgraceful attempt by a former Fylde Chief Executive to change the nature of Fylde by building twice as many socially subsidised rental houses as were needed for THE WHOLE of Fylde in total.

We covered this in detail in 'Failing to Impress' where we said "This fallacy went on to result in Fylde's Local Plan and subsequent policies being changed and updated. It gave Fylde a ridiculous set of housing figures for the local plan. The number of all types of houses needed for the local plan was 155 dwellings per annum and the number of affordable (socially supported) houses (that should have been a small part of the figure of 155) was a massive 420 dwellings per annum. This was more than double total number of houses defined in the local plan for ALL types of housing."

Those fudged numbers contributed to the lunacy of the Regional Strategy numbers and - had it not been for a group called CROWD at Warton, (whose arguments on this matter first exposed the wickedness, and those same arguments being picked up by counterbalance and by Cllr Trevor Fiddler who also saw the light), this Inspector might have been duped as well.

The Inspector went on to consider the impact on the landscape character,  and concluded that the effect would be create a "transition between town and country that, unlike at present, would be blurred by the proximity of the proposed houses to existing development outside the settlement boundary on Ballam Road". 

He thought the effect of this would be aggravated by "the seasonal absence of deciduous vegetation" (Lovely! he means being able to see through the trees and bushes when there are no leaves in winter), and he thought the scheme would harm the local character and conflict with Fylde's protective policies as well.

Then he went on to look at Agricultural Land. Readers will know we've been banging on about this and the protection of important areas of soil for months now. Fylde's most important industry - at least in terms of area - is farming, and that depends of having good land available. We're losing it too fast.

The Inspector noted that Fylde's policies didn't allow development on what's known as 'Best and Most Versatile' (BMV) land when there was less good farmland elsewhere that could be developed.

This is a really good policy that Fylde has, and it pays far too little attention to using it more strongly.

The Inspector at the last appeal decided that the need for (affordable) housing in the Borough might mean rural greenfield sites had to be developed, and that the loss of  BMV could be justified with no evidence of alternative poorer quality sites. That was the case because FBC's argument didn't provide enough / any evidence that existed in relation to poorer quality agricultural land.

But he noted that at the recent Metacre (Wesham) appeal, Saint Eric had agreed with the Inspector's conclusions that the permanent loss of 3ha of BMV land (even when dispersed amongst land of lower quality at Mowbreck Lane) was at odds with planning policy, and that the development of that agricultural land was not unavoidable.

By contrast, the current appeal site has an area of 2.13ha, which, in contrast to Mowbreck Lane, is all BMV and could readily be farmed.

Referring to BMV land on both the Wesham and Queensway sites, the Inspector said "While extensive areas of BMV land may exist around Lytham St Annes, it remains possible that the preferred alternative types of land to BMV would be available within the Borough to accommodate development of the scale proposed. In this respect the appeal scheme conflicts with LP Policy EP22."

We think that's an important precedent for the Queensway appeal and we hope it is a wake up(!) call to Fylde to get moving with a proper, decent and up to date analysis / mapping of all the agricultural land in Fylde as part of its new local plan.

The Inspector then looked at 'Sustainability' 

Whilst right in principle, this is a ridiculous topic in its execution. It purports to assess whether a new development had good public transport facilities, is close to public amenities and shops and services. We've heard arguments advanced that because there is a bus stop within 400m and the bus goes eventually passes a railway station then the development is conveniently located (and thus  "sustainable") for anywhere in the country. (Yes, Really!)

The Inspector in this case noted the decision of the previous Inspector (who decided that the appeal site would not be an unacceptably unsustainable location, and he agreed, but he weighed that against other matters.

Turning to the 'Unilateral Undertaking' - in effect the developer's offer to provide funding that would otherwise be met by Council tax, he noted potential contributions of £90,000, £47,359 and £410,000 toward public realm, education and affordable housing respectively.  As such, he attached significant weight to the offer.

In terms of road safety, he noted some benefits including extended lighting and 30 mph limit, However, he remarked that the remainder of the footway between the appeal site and parts of Lytham to the south would remain narrow for users that would seek to pass each other, and that such works would contribute to the erosion of the area's rural character.

He then referred to the 'Planning for Growth' announcement by the Government (a matter we have covered elsewhere) noting that it suggests planning decisions should facilitate housing, economic and other forms of sustainable development.

Summarising his consideration, the Inspector said "The proposed development would provide large detached houses that would undoubtedly be high quality well-designed dwellings. There is a clear need for housing, including affordable units, to be delivered in the Fylde Borough area and this weighs heavily in favour of the proposed development.

 However, Government objectives in PPS7 aim to provide sustainable development in rural areas by, amongst other things, addressing the use of land and protecting the intrinsic character of the countryside. This is reflected in local planning policy. The appeal site would be a sustainable location in relation to accessibility. However, it has not been demonstrated that it would be so in relation to the use of this BMV land for 11 dwellings and the implications of the development on the character of the countryside along this section of Ballam Road.

While the proposal would reflect the density and efficiency of development within the settlement boundary, it would not be an efficient use of this BMV land and it would be harmful to local character. In these respects it would conflict with PPS3 and the considerations within paragraph 69 of the document.

No planning conditions have been suggested that would provide effective mitigation for the identified harm and resultant policy conflict. These matters are paramount in this case and are sufficient to prevail over the factors that weigh in favour of the appeal scheme."

And so, he dismissed the appeal.

As we said earlier, we can't see how this site can be commercially developable.

We also think that if we were Kensington - where the loss of the best and most versatile agricultural land is huge in comparison with Wesham and Ballam Road - we would be more rattled by this judgement, and by the direction that Saint Eric is likely to move along as a result of it.

It's difficult to say whether the planning inspector is following the signals emanating from Government, or whether Government is following the signals emanating from the Inspectorate. But either way, this is good news for the people of Lytham and St Annes who are opposed to the Ballam Road and Queensway developments.

Dated:   26 October 2011


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