Rampisham Down Solar Farm – Another SSSI Test Case

Dorset Echo

PLANS for a huge solar park in West Dorset have been approved.

Dorset Echo: WORK STOPPED: The masts at Rampisham transmission station

Members of West Dorset District Council’s development control committee backed an application for a 24-megawatt solar farm at the former transmitting station at Rampisham Down at a meeting today.

The proposal for the 76-hectare site, which once featured 35 masts, will see all towers demolished except for one, which will be retained at a reduced height.

The scheme – worth up to £100m – proposes replacing the masts with 40 hectares of solar panels with the rest of the site remaining as open grassland.

After the meeting, Dorset Wildlife Trust said it was ‘shocked and appalled’ to learn that planning permission had been given for a scheme on such a ‘nationally important wildlife site’.

The council’s case officer Andrew Martin said councillors faced a balancing act between the benefits of the solar farm and removal of masts on the one hand and the impact of the proposed scheme on the landscape and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the other.

Sean Cooch from Natural England said the site, which was designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in August 2013, was the largest area of its grassland type – an acid grassland known as U4 – in Dorset and one of the largest in the whole of England.

He added that analysis of the solar farm proposals suggested the scheme would have a damaging impact on the ‘unique’ landscape.

Mr Cooch said: “It will have an adverse impact on the vegetation.”

However, Angus Macdonald from applicants British Solar Renewables, said field trials at the site and analysis from experts countered this view and suggested it would not be damaging to the site.

He said: “This proven science now disproves Natural England’s opinion and undoes the single critical opinion that held this application in the balance.”

Mr Macdonald also urged the committee to consider the benefits the scheme would deliver including an improvement of the site visually, an agreed management plan, job creation and an economic boost for the area and the delivery of renewable energy to power over 10,000 homes.

He said: “This project provides the perfect marriage of sustainability and ecology and it will also provide a great boost to Dorset.”

Local councillor Jill Haynes said the majority of people in the area were in favour of the scheme.

She said: “I think what we have here is a remarkable opportunity to find a use for this brownfield site.”

Committee members agreed to grant temporary permission for a period of 25 years, subject to a number of conditions.

There will also be 21-day ‘cooling off period’ for Natural England to consider any conditions it may wish to apply to the scheme and Dorset Wildlife Trust has already indicated it may refer the matter to the Secretary of State.

Cllr Haynes said after the meeting that she was ‘delighted’ with the outcome.

Also speaking after the meeting, Dorset Wildlife Trust’s Chief Executive, Dr Simon Cripps, said, “With a viable alternative site available, we can’t understand why the council have allowed this important wildlife site to be lost to developers.

“Dorset Wildlife Trust supports renewable energy, in the right place.

“These special, legally protected wildlife sites are few and far between and there’s no need to destroy them, especially in this case, when there is a perfectly acceptable alternative site nearby, which we support.”

He said the site was one of the largest sites of lowland acid grassland remaining in England. It is home to an ‘incredibly rare’ grouping of plants and fungi, including lose wort, eyebright and waxcap fungi, and supports a range of wildlife from adders to skylarks.

DWT said it couldn’t understand why an alternative site for the solar farm on the other side of the road wasn’t supported instead.

 

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Site for 1,000 Homes Sold for 1 pound Made General Election Issue by Pub Landlord

Manston Airport in Thanet was sold for 1 quid in 2013 to Ann Gloag, who co-founded the Stagecoach Group, for £1.  Last October but it closed and she put in plans for a mix of uses including 1,000 homes to the Thanet Local Plan.

The plan was backed by KCC as the same group was responsible for Disocvery Park in Sandwich and had a track record.

River Oak Group a us firm had four times tried to buy it as an an ongoing commercil freight airport, and Thanet swiftly agreed to a CPO having just won the ongoing Dreamlands case.

There is even a local ‘Save Manston’ party.

Now newly decared cnadidate Al Murray has got in on the act in his first interview with the local rag

What does the Guv think about Manston, airport or houses?

“I am a great believer in history and heritage and in preserving that heritage, which is why  I believe that Manston must be saved and more than that become the new HQ of the RAF, and the four squadrons of Spitfires I propose to have patrolling the Channel during daylight hours.”

Perhaps Mr Farage should be asked on the stump which Greenfield site for 1,000 homes he favours over this brownfield site?

 

 

Northhampton Borough seeks to Block Two Urban Extensions – Even though its Joint Core Strategy was Adopted Last Month

Quite incredible.  You can see why Northampton Borough once had to have its power to determine such applications taken away.

Report here

The West Northamptonshire Joint Core Strategy Part 1 Local Plan was adopted on 15th December 2014. The report seeks to clarify Northampton Borough Council‟s position in relation to its adoption; in particular Policies N5 and N6 and the strategic highways infrastructure which the Council‟s members on the West Northamptonshire Joint Strategic Planning Committee did not feel were adequately addressed in the Core Strategy adoption process.

In terms of representation, the numbers of voting members of the Committee are Northampton Borough 4, South Northamptonshire 3, Daventry 3 and Northamptonshire County Council 2 votes. Decisions are made on a majority basis with the chair (rotated annually between the three district Councils on a rolling basis) having the casting vote. [So Northampton could be outvoted – that was the whole point]

after considering representations made at the Examination Hearings, the Council‟s members had greater concerns than previously identified to officers about the appropriateness of the submitted CoreStrategy‟s allocations in Policy H5 on land south of Northampton (Collingtree) and Policy H6 on land south of Brackmills (Hardingstone). [ah they listed to verbal objections and not the advice from officers from the traffic model I see]
Time constraints caused by the Examination process meant that either the Committee had to propose modifications, or risk the Plan being found unsound by the Inspector. If found unsound the Core Strategy preparation would have had to recommence at the beginning of the statutory processes, leading to significant delay in attaining an adopted Core Strategy. This would have associated risks to the development management process in addition to requiring a further significant resource for completion. Notwithstanding these issues, the Council‟s members felt unable to support the modifications proposed by the Unit to the Joint Committee.

Ultimately overall consensus between the partner Councils was not reached. The decision to publish proposed modifications was approved by the Joint Strategic Planning Committee on the chair‟s casting vote (Daventry), with both Northampton Borough and Northamptonshire County Council voting against issuing the modifications….

The transport model used by the County Council was old and at the outset wasn‟t designed to cover such a long period or the volume of development proposed in the revised Core Strategy. It had a number of „patches‟ added to allow some estimation of impacts to occur for the purposes of strategic plan making. [This is becoming a farce]

[This could] undermine long term delivery by committing to sites which ultimately might require such expensive infrastructure post 2029 that development would become unviable. {utterl;y ridiculous to base a decision on NPV 15 years ahead, the sensitivity to simple assumptions on cost, interest rates etc. are huge over this period – total silly red herring].

To overcome this uncertainty associated with the traffic modelling, for additional housing in the period 2026-2029 the Council considered it more appropriate for the forthcoming Part 2 Northampton Related Development Area Local Plan to allocate the necessary sites. This would allow the partner Councils, developers and local communities more time to appraise the options using more robust evidence and come to a consensus on the most appropriate sites to allocate. [rotfl]

The Council was unable to make further comment on the policies N5 and N6 as there were no substantive changes to the original wording of these policies. As such any comment would have not been considered to be „duly made‟ and given limited weight by the Inspector in his deliberations. Nevertheless, the Inspector was aware of a letter provided by the Leader requesting that he gave weight to the concerns of local residents in relation to the Urban Extensions. [you cant duly make an objection in the middle of an examination].

Then it gets worse, option on do nothing or JR your own plan. (legal advice said it would be taken to cleaners)

As the Council delegated its Executive function of Development Plan adoption to the West Northamptonshire Joint Strategic Planning Committee and had representation on the Committee, Counsel considers based on case law it unlikely it will be able to meet the test of being “a person aggrieved”. Counsel‟s opinion is that this is not really an option open to the Council.

And ‘drum roll’ the recommended option is to

Council resolution confirming objection to policies N5 and N6 of the Joint Core Strategy and the inadequacy of the transport model for identifying the scope of strategic highways infrastructure including a North West by-pass in association with development.

(this) would constitute a material planning consideration in the determination of planning applications, provided it is founded on matters that relate to the use and development of land

The objection is a material consideration that the decision maker may take into account if relevant to a particular application; however Council should be mindful that in relation to S38(6) that as it is newly adopted, the Plan is the starting point for the determining of applications and will have substantial weight. In addition, the resolution should not be seen as binding on members of the Council who sit on Planning Committee, prejudicing the decision maker‟s (including Planning Committee‟s) ability to weigh up all the facts when determining an application. The resolution is not in any way planning policy itself.

Of course iots planning policy.  The act clearly says all planning policy has to be in the development plan.  The planning policy for Northampton is the JCS.

The Council‟s Joint Strategic Planning Committee‟s members considered that the transport, impact on setting of the existing settlements, increased flooding risk and social infrastructure implications of the policy N5 and N6 allocations are so significant that these sites should not be allocated in the Core Strategy.

And the other JCS members disagreed as did comprehensively the inspector at teh JCS EIP.  So here we have the truth of it.  Northampton wanted to allocate land to iots neighbours were defeated and now want to use a pretext of traffic impact as an excuse to refuse plnning applications.

Let hope that when the inevitable appeals are heard the developers make partial award of costs.grounds on treating this matter as an ‘other material consideration’.  This is just a cover for the dodgy decision on the South of Brackmills planning application and shows how Northampton BC could not be trusted with taking over from the WNDC.

 

AJ – Treasury Backs Housebuilding LA Development Companies

AJ

English local authorities will be at the forefront of a new wave of housebuilding with a Treasury review set to recommend more councils establish their own development companies

According to the AJ’s sister title Construction News, at least four councils have put in place plans to establish their own housebuilding companies since December alone, with a leading consultant saying that many more are looking to follow suit.

Under the majority of blueprints seen by the publication, work will be put out to tender rather than carried out in-house, creating a major new income stream for contractors – and architects.

The review of local authority housing, due to be unveiled this month (January 2015), is expected to promote the use of such firms as a means of easing the housing crisis.

In total, the four councils have pledged to spend £130million through their own firms and plan to develop or refurbish almost 9,000 homes.

These will largely be available for private rent or sale, rather than as affordable rent.

Under most models, councils plan to borrow the capital costs from the Treasury’s Public Works Loan Board. This will then be invested in the new companies in the form of share purchases.

Despite the surge in the number of authorities planning such organisations, the review team is understood to be concerned about the failure of similar ventures in the past.

An attempt by the previous Labour government to kick-start a new breed of ‘local housing companies’ failed to materialise, with just two of 14 planned pilots getting off the ground.

Led by housing finance lawyer Natalie Elphicke and Eastleigh Borough Council leader Keith House, the review aims to help councils exploit their rental income and assets to boost housing supply.

While scores of authorities have had control of this income since 2012 – as well as around £2.9bn of borrowing power – few have used it to build new homes.

Only 34 out of 326 English councils which post housing starts told the government they had begun construction of new homes in 2013/14, with three-quarters of these building fewer than 50 homes.

To encourage wider participation in housing development, the review will suggest that councils with land but no current landlord role should begin developing new homes.

It will flag up a little-known Whitehall rule which permits the 150 or so authorities without housing departments to develop and manage a limited number of affordable homes.

Elphicke told Construction News the ‘re-activation’ of council housing in 2012 could create billions of pounds of business for the housebuilding industry.

‘For more than a decade there has been an ambition to increase housebuilding by about an extra 100,000 each year,’ she added.

‘That hasn’t happened. That’s a £15billion to £20billion opportunity for housebuilders which has been left on the table.’

Grant Thornton head of real estate Chris Shepherd said he was advising ‘large numbers’ of authorities that wanted to establish standalone firms. ‘The phone doesn’t stop ringing,’ he added.

According to Shepherd, many authorities saw them as a way of generating a ‘significant return’ to help with their current ‘tight’ financial states.

Homes built through development companies could also avoid the government’s ‘right to buy’ rules, which allow long-term tenants to purchase their homes at huge discounts.

‘Depending on how the company is structured, the right to buy is removed and the asset base won’t be eroded, although this shouldn’t be a driver for these companies,” he added.

County councils, which have historically not held a landlord role in local government, are also now looking at housing development to feed deflated budgets, according to Mr Shepherd.

‘The traditional model was local housing authorities building homes. These new models can be seen as a way of creating income for councils’ general funds.’

An analysis of council papers shows that authorities anticipate significant returns on their development projects.

Basildon Council expects a £5.1m return on the initial £10.6m investment it plans to plough into its housing company, Sempra Homes.

And Telford & Wrekin Council expects to raise an extra £8.6m over 10 years by building 425 homes.

Long term, the authority predicts boosting its budget of £80m over three decades, when additional council tax and new homes bonus income is taken into account

Oxfordshire – a Poor Way to Determine if a SHMA is right #NPPF

The row over the Oxfordshire SHMA published last spring is having implications across national policy.  John Howell MP (architect of the NPPF) lobbied the government to change national policy (duly changed in guidance) so that SHMA results do not immediately change OAN.

Oxfordshire CPRE commissioned Alan Wenbaugh Smith to challenge it.  The problem was the SHMA was so sensitive to certain assumptions it led to a doubling of need. I don’t think a lot of the criticisms are valid but many are.  The double counting of a ‘backlog’ of SEP undershoot for example is contrary to PAS/ONS advice and the employment growth assumptions are ‘policy on’ aspirational contrary to other inspector’s findings.  Of course there are also arguments, not least from Oxford City, that the numbers are too low.   The isue for them being that Cherwell plans for its own needs and none of Oxford’s overspill (which requires a Green Belt review which of course an inspector now cant require under the Boles doctrine).  At the first examination last june the local MP Tony Baldry said

The opening day of the EIP was dominated by loud, synthetically angry, farragoes speeches by well-paid Planning Silks instructed by Oxford City Council declaiming Cherwell’s agreed Local Plan as being inadequate.

On day two it was suspended for six months and Cherwell increased its numbers in line with the new SHMA.

So where and how are these challenged and tested?  In the days of Structure Plans we would have been the HBF on one side and the CPRE on the other.  Now the HBF tactics seem to be to not even turn up and get their individual members to – out numbering the opposition and giving a false impression of objective groupthink.  This gang approach may sometimes argue for figures which are approximate to OAN, but it can easily confuse the issue over what the objective demographic OAN is with particularist issues (what the housing built should be, how strictly should constraints should be held etc.).  For example a green belt campaign has no place in an EIP session on what the OAN should be, on what the housing target should be yes, but these are separate sequential  issues as the latest guidance makes clear.  There is also a democratic defict as the jobs target has been on the LEP strategic economic plan which is aspirational,not consulted on and untested at any examination.

In October last year the Inspectorate wrote a letter in relationship to the Cherwell examination.

‘As this evidence, is, as yet, untested it is likely to be given very careful consideration by the Inspector when the examination resumes’.

The hearing on the 9th December didnt even have a hearing on whether the evidence was robust, simply asking

Is the overall number of new dwellings sought in policy BSC 1 based on clear and robust
evidence of the full, objectively assessed, local need for new (including affordable) housing
over the plan period, in accord with the NPPF or, if not, what needs to be changed and why?

As you will notice the subject of this question is not the evidence. The PINs committment was not met.    I don’t like to criticise inspectors but this was an inadequate way to deal with an issue which has seized national attention as will be seen as a test case.

The inspector rightly bemoaned that the government announcement of 15,000 extra homes at Bicester rather undercut his recommendations. By all accounts the rancour at the examination was a poor show.

As the BRUM inspector said a couple of weeks ago the only way to challenge a SHMA or LEP strategy is through the multiple individual examinations of every single participating body.

Now a campaign has been launched headed by BBC Alumni Peter Jay to raise money to JR the SHMA (how do you JR a SHMA?) – ROAR – with a rally this week.

PINS should really sense the tinderbox (sorry South Oxfordshire/VOWH – what a shocker) this issue has become has, reopen this examination – on the pretext of the impact of the new guidance, and appoint a second inspector to advise on the technical housing and employment issues.

Overall this shows how the Duty to Cooperate is painful in practice with no proper forum or mechanism to produce, consult on and challenge strategic proposals and in Oxfordshire’s case the number 1 issue, whether or not you need to do a strategic green belt review before you finalise local plans, has not even been answered.  Its a joke and an expensive one.

How much simpler it would be if OAN was determined by a body like a reconstituted HPAU with a consistent methodology that ensured no cheating on migration etc.  A baseline recommendation that would be firmly ‘policy off’ re employment policy.  Then LPAs would jointly determine their position on employment targets, finalize their joint housing target and determine if strategic constraints (such as Green Belt) needed review and consult ‘early’ as the  EU SEA directive requires on realistic options for housing, employment and spatial options, with a joint approach to examination of those underlying strategic assumptions.   It is clear that Cherwell has not consulted on realtistic options for employment targets, and spatial options including for example Green Belt review rather than all strategic growth in market towns and not around Oxford.  Were ROAR to conduct a JR on Forest Heath grounds I think they would succeed.  There really is no proper alternative to strategic planning, and the heads in the ground leaders of Oxfordshires districts have simply led their authorities to inevitable legal failure.