All posts by Phil Summerton

VEARSE FARM RESERVED MATTERS UPDATE

We have been in correspondence with Mr Garrity (Head of Planning, Economic Growth and Infrastructure at Dorset Council) about the VF application going to committee. Below is the letter sent by Barry Bates and the reply just received from Mr Garrity.

Highlighted in bold is the key part of the reply where he says “….this would be an application that I expect to go to Planning Committee for determination”

Under the Dorset Council constitution Mr Garrity has the power to make the final decision on whether an application is referred to committee irrespective of the councillor views. This seems a pretty good indication that this application will go to committee although the date is not known. So very good news and means that we will have an opportunity to make our concerns know at the committee meeting.

But we have to accept that the outline application is approved – so the development will go ahead and there is nothing we can do to prevent this. All we can do is to push Dorset Council and the developers to make sure that all the promised benefits to Bridport are delivered and that the risks of the development are properaly mitigated.

“Dear Mr and Mrs Bates,

Thank you for your email and letter regarding the Foundry Lea (Vearse Farm) reserved matters application. I believe your local councillors, and Cllr David Walsh, have advised you quite correctly as Dorset Council’s constitution sets out a committee referral process before a final decision is made on whether or not to take an application to committee. Therefore, at the point you asked the question, there would not have been a definitive answer.

Although this is a reserved matters application (and therefore the principle of development has been established), I am aware that it is of great local interest and is clearly significant in scale. I am therefore able to confirm that this would be an application that I expect to go to Planning Committee for determination. However, as yet I cannot give you an indication of a committee date as we will not know this until the case officer has been in a position to fully assess the proposal.

Kind regards,

Mike Garrity, Head of Planning, Economic Growth and Infrastructure

Dear Mr Garrity,

Ref: Reserved Matters stage of the Foundry Lea application

We have been unable to obtain assurances from our local councillors that the application will be referred to the Planning Committee. This is both disappointing and worrying and I hope you will be able to give that assurance.

I would point out the following for your consideration

  • I have written to both the Planning Officers and Councillor Walsh on a number of occasions since Outline Planning Permission was granted to make the case. I can supply copies if you require them. I have added a reply from Mr Walsh dated 25 /11 /20 at the bottom of this letter.
  • We have asked Barratt and Vistry and they stated that they would expect an application of this complexity to go before Committee.
  • At the Outline Planning Hearing Officers stated that issues not covered then would be fully covered at the reserved matters stage. We believe that a number of these should be fully explored at a public hearing of the Committee.
  • The judge at the Judicial Review was very critical of the WDDC planners handling of the OPP. Dorset Council has an opportunity to establish a different reputation in its handling of the reserved matters stage.
  • To quote Mr Walsh, there is significant ‘public interest ‘in this development. In coming to your decision, you may wish to consider the reaction should you decide that it can simply remain as ‘ delegated to Officers.’ This case has much wider implications about democratic engagement and accountability in Dorset and how local councillors are able to represent the views of their residents. I urge you to refer it to the Committee.

I hope you can speedily reassure me and if possible, suggest the likely date for the Planning Committee meeting so we can secure the date in our diary. If there is any likelihood that the matter will be delegated to Officers, I would appreciate it if you could explain the reasons for that decision and do so well before decision time.

I would be grateful if you could forward the copy to Anna Lee whose e-mail address I do not have .

Anyone of the points made in this letter can be expanded upon if you require . Please contact me if you wish to discuss further .I look forward to hearing from you .

Yours sincerely

Barry Bates

 Extract from Mr Walsh’s letter

Part 3 of the Council’s Constitution includes the Officer Scheme of Delegation which sets out the circumstances, at para 134, in which applications will be referred to Planning Committee.  Usually, the decision is taken by the Service Manager for Development Management and Enforcement, and she will consider requests from the Town Council or Dorset Councillor(s) for the matter to be determined by Planning Committee.  In this case, I hope I can offer reassurances that, for any significant scale reserved matters application at Vearse Farm, officers would be giving very careful consideration to whether the application should be referred to the planning committee in any event, given the level of public interest in this development. Planning Officers do not “rubberstamp” applications.  They subject any applications to rigorous scrutiny and only approve applications which are acceptable in planning terms.

VEARSE FARM, LOCAL DEMOCRACY & PLANNING – THE REPLY

Following yesterdays post we have now received a reply from Dorset Council legal team and this is set out below. The reply basically says councillors agreed to the officers having final say on planning applications going to committee – so it is not undemocratic!

I think we need to be lobbying for the scrapping of this undemocratic scheme of delegation. I know that there are local and county councillors who agree with this sentiment but may find it difficult to challenge the unelected officers!

“Dear Mr Summerton

I am sorry that you did not receive a response to your 16 September email to Mr Prosser. The email was passed to me because of your concerns about delegated decision making and the Council’s Constitution and I am afraid that I overlooked completely the need to reply.

The Council’s Constitution includes a scheme of delegation describing those decisions that councillors have themselves decided should be made on their behalf by officers. Before Dorset Council was formed the Shadow Council (that is to say the 205 councillors from the six predecessor councils) agreed a scheme of delegation. Councillors who were subsequently elected to Dorset Council were unhappy with aspects of the scheme and required changes to be made, in particular to ensure a greater say for local ward councillors in relation to “calling in” planning proposals for decision by an area planning committee rather than by officers. I am confident therefore that the scheme of delegation and how it operates in relation to planning is not something that has been introduced without the knowledge and approval of councillors. As the scheme of delegation is something that elected councillors have themselves decided upon I do not believe that it can fairly be criticised as undemocratic.

I note that the application (P/FUL/2021/01762) is listed as still being under consideration and that two of the three ward councillors and the neighbouring Town Council have asked that it should be called in to the Area Planning Committee for decision. Before the application is determined planning colleagues will need to review with the chair and vice-chair whether the application should be called in. By copy I have asked Mr Garrity to let you know whether the application is to be called-in or decided under delegated powers and the reasons.  

Lobbying of councillors is a usual part of the planning process and we have arrangements in place so that if an application is to be decided by committee people (whether the applicant, objectors or supporters) can make their representations to the committee, in public. Planning decisions are though made within a legal framework, key parts of which are structured consultation in advance about the proposal and the publication (for all to see) of the various representations received. Mr Garrity did not try to dissuade you from making representations. Instead his encouragement was to submit representations via the planning portal so that they reached the case officer. Whilst I recognise that you dislike the prospect, there is the potential for this application to be decided by an officer under delegated powers. It would not help you to get your points across if you were to lobby and make direct representations to councillors on the Area Planning Committee, only to find that the decision was to be made by an officer unaware of separate submissions that you had made directly to councillors.

Once again, I apologise for overlooking your email.

Yours sincerely

Jonathan Mair
Corporate Director Legal & Democratic
Senior Leadership Team

VEARSE FARM, LOCAL DEMOCRACY AND PLANNING

We still have no guarantee that the Vearse Farm reserved matters application will go to the planning committee for approval. The application shows the decision as delegated to the case officer. Our earlier post explains how under the Dorset Council Constitution this could be allowed to happen. We continue to lobby the council on this matter.

Concerns about local democracy were raised with Mr Prosser (Dorset Council CEO) on 16 September 2021. The email sent is set out below and when a response to these concerns is received we will post it!

“Dear Mr Prosser

I am concerned that the Dorset Council Constitution allows paid Officers to over rule democratically elected Councils and Councillors and so a measure introduced for a council department’s expediency is destroying Democracy.

This is based on my recent interactions with the Council planning department and also on concerns I have received from other local people.

In respect of the planning application (Watton Lane, Bridport P/FUL/2021/01762) I requested that it should be sent to the planning committee given that it is a contentious application with a previous application for a smaller number of houses on the same site being overwhelmingly refused at committee only to be over turned by the inspector on appeal.

Mr Garrity responded by saying that although the planning chair and vice chair are consulted the final decision is taken by the nominated officer, either him or Anna Lee. It seems perverse and anti-democratic that elected councillors do not have a final say in which applications go to committee.

I was also discouraged from contacting local councillors on this matter. I wrote to planning committee members with copy to Mike Garrity (Head of Planning). In response I had an email from Mr Garrity advising:

“It is best not to email planning committee members directly as they must remain of an open mind when considering any applications that go before the committee.”.

I am very surprised by this advice as lobbying Councillors is a normal and healthy part of the planning process, which has been examined over the years, and continues to be practised throughout the UK. Councillors should not be prejudiced before a committee but they are within their rights and duties to gather opinions of constituents, and residents, and of any other representations.

I can’t help feeling that planning officials not only discourage local democracy but also want to avoid “difficult” planning applications going to committee and allowing public involvement

Would you be willing to implement an urgent review of the Dorset Council Constitution in relation to planning to ensure that local electors can feel confident that it is both democratic and fair?

Regards

Phil Summerton.”

QUESTIONS ON THE DETAILED PLANNING APPLIC ATION

We have had some questions raised on the developers detailed planning application and why this does not cover all the major features that were in the Outline Planning application made in 2017.

The major features omitted are:

  • 60 unit care home
  • 4 hectares of land for employment
  • on-site community infrastructure: mixed use local centre, crèche, Public House, retail, and community hall
  • primary school and associated playing fields

The reasons for their ommission is that they are not being provided by Barratts/Vistry and so don’t form part of their plans. However, these features are covered by the Section 106 agreement and are therefore legally secured (well at least in theory). as part of the VF development.

Obviously you’d think that these features (and the associated services) should be considered at the same time as the detailed housing plans. After all it is vital that the new residents have somewhere to work and a local school for their children!

But that is not the way it is allowed to work – instead the detailed housing plans are approved first and then the rest of the S106 features (benefits to Bridport) come later on. However, legally Dorset Council could change the S106 and possibly omit providing some of the items. For example the school may not be needed or the employment land could be curtailed.

The employment land is owned by Colfox (Symondsbury Estate) – See our earlier post on this subject and their statement.

The S106 legal agreement means that the housing provision can substantially go ahead without any emploment land being provided or built out. The S106 agreement allows for up to 400 houses to be occupied before the employment land has been provided. We have previously raised this concern with Dorset Council as without the employment to attract new residents it is highly likely that many of the new houses will go to retirees, second home owners or holiday homes.

DETAILED PLANNING RESPONSES DEADLINE

As previously posted the deadline for comments on the detailed planning applciation is 10 January. We have asked Dorset Council to extend this deadline to reflect the short time available for the detailed planning documents to be considered and for local people to raise any concerns or issues.

The response we received stated “The statutory consultation period for applications is 21 days. Any submissions made after the closing date by email or letter, will be added to the application for the officer’s consideration”.

So in effect late responses will be considered. Despite this assurance we are keen to ensure we get our responses in by 10 January. But it is important not to be deterred from commenting even after the 10th January. Any comments made will go on the planning portal and be open to public viewing.

Bridport Town Council will be commenting and will make their comments public. Plesse keep an eye out for the Town Council response as there may be points that you would like to pick up on when making your comments.

COMMENT ON DETAILED PLANS

A comment on the detailed plans has been lodged by Phil George. Phil has rightly questioned how the required level of scruitiny of these plans can be made in such a short time. Oversights made now will have serious consequences – most likely for the people of Bridport and not the developers or Dorset Council!

“I am writing to express concern over the latest stage of the proposed Housing development at Foundry Lea / Vearse Farm, Bridport. In particular the potential lack of due process,diligence and questionable practice which comes with such a limited time frame. 

It seems  inconceivable that a planning officer can process hundreds of vital, complex, detailed documents and plans with essential multiple consultations and the need for scrutiny and comments from multiple stakeholders,properly, in what amounts to fewer than 20 working days with the Christmas holidays in the middle of the period. I note that the so called ‘Consultees’ process with 30 parties started on the 6/12/21 ends on the 27/12/21, 13 working days? Why is this huge project which will have with enormous impact on Bridport, being rushed through this vital process and why is it being dealt with under delegated powers? 

Should proof of attention to detail be required, perhaps a visit to the literally hundreds of documents contained in the application would be a good idea. As within 30 seconds I noted the ‘detailed’ plans actually have the site name wrong? Not a great start I am sure you would agree?”

detailed planning application LODGED

The developers of Vearse Farm (now Foundry Lea) have lodged their detailed planning application (reserved matters stage) for approval.

These are on the council website with the link below. Initially the deadline for comments was 3 January which given the Christmas/new year holidays was a ridiculously short period. This has now been extended to 10 January. There are 250 documents associated with the application and so highly complex and still with limited time to look at and comment!

https://planning.dorsetcouncil.gov.uk/plandisp.aspx?recno=377403

There remain serious concerns about this development and the possible negative impact on Bridport. We will be looking at the concerns and how they are addressed in the detailed plans.

These concerns include:

  • Planning committee – Currently the detailed planning application is to be decided by the planning officer on delegated authority – so it will not go before the planning committee and be open to public scrutiny. This is a huge issue and it is vital that pressure is put on the council to not allow this application to be decided on the quite away from the public gaze.
  • Sewage/flooding – The recent article in Bridport News from Wessex Water stated that ‘the Bridport area has a very high risk of sewerage incapacity and frequent storm overflows.’ We are communicating with Wessex Water on this and hope to get more clarity. Flooding has been and still is one of the biggest issues with the massive VF development.
  • Electricity supply issues – We have had credible concerns raised about the Bridport electricity supply infrastructure being inadequate to cope with the size of the VF development with the potential for problems effecting residents beyond just VF. We are aiming to get more information on this and will ask for assurances that this issue is being properly addressed.
  • Road works & Miles Cross roundabout – There are serious implications for road use not just on the A35 but for the whole of Bridport and the surrounding area during and after the VF building phase. We are in contact with the council and the Highways Authority on this issue.
  • Climate change and the lack of sustainability – It seems that a move to low carbon houses (eg solar panels, sustainable heating, suitable building materials etc) is not being considered. Whist there are some communal electric bike stores and some electric car charging points it is an opportunity missed not to properly address the climate change emergency that even Dorset Council have declared!
  • Environment – The plans are not clear on which trees/planting are staying and the promised mitigation measures to offset the environmental harm.
  • S106 promises – These include affordable housing, cycle routes/paths, employment land etc. These benefits to Bridport were promised as an integral part of VF development going ahead. We will be looking at the plans for how these will be delivered. In the case of the employment land this is owned by Symondsbury Estate and so up to them to provide. We will follow-up on this.

Over the next few weeks we will be posting detailed updates on these and other concerns. These can be incorporated into comments that you may want to make on the planning application.

There is an option on the above link for comments to be made directly on the council planning portal– and we encourage this as the more comments received the better the chance that it will get some traction with the council.

If you have any thoughts or identify any other points regarding the detailed plans then please let us know.

VF DETAILED PLANNING UPDATE

We have been in correspondance with Dorset Council to try and get some clarity on what is happending with the Detailed Planning Application for the VF development.

It has taken some time but we have an email response from James Lytton-Trevers, Lead Project Officer (Southern & Western), Economic Growth and Infrastructure. This is shown below in quotation marks.

Our biggest concern was that the detailed plans for VF might be approved by delegated authority (ie a council official) and not go to the planning committee. So there would be no opportunity for the people of Bridport to have their views heard at the committee meeting.

It is a long email response and the process described is complicated. The bottom line is that there is still no guarantee that we will get the detailed plans presented to the planning committee.

“I refer to your undated letter to Cllr. David Walsh and I, which you forwarded to the Chief Executive on 29 September 2021. You also mentioned that you had sent this to us in August, but in all honesty I did not receive it or I would have replied.

You refer to my reply to a different question on 1 August 2021 which I have included below for clarity for the other recipients of this. Thank you for acknowledging the position of the Local Planning Authority (LPA), although I would maintain that the LPA does take a robust approach to these matters if breaches occur. However, in this instance no breach of planning permission has occurred and there is no action I could take.

There is currently no planning application for reserved matters before me, so I cannot say what path such an application would take to reach a decision until such time if and when I receive it. However, I can explain the typical process that the LPA would follow on receipt of, say, an application for reserved matters for a development somewhere in the Dorset Council area. It would be improper for me to comment specifically on someone’s land and what they might want to do on it where there is nothing before me

An application for reserved matters would be advertised with notices in the usual way on and around the site. Consultations would take place with statutory consultees and non-statutory consultees including both a Parish Council and a Town Council (if it lay in both). The ward members would be notified. During the ensuing period there is an opportunity for consultees to make consultation responses and members of the public to make representations. This period would normally end after 21 days.

Once the consultation period has expired, if there are minor issues which have been raised by the consultee comments, representations or the LPA which can be resolved, the LPA may seek to resolve these. Once the LPA has sufficient information on which to reach a decision, an Officer of the LPA would normally prepare a report which would include a recommendation. In most cases a decision to grant or refuse planning permission is delegated. For example, if there is a planning application for a development which the parish council, ward member and LPA support, the decision is normally delegated. It is when the contrary happens that the Scheme of Delegation is triggered.

If an application needs to be referred to the Scheme of Delegation, the way in which the decision is taken, whether it be delegated to a nominated officer of the LPA or referred to a committee of elected members, would need to pass through the Scheme of Delegation process which is set out in the Dorset Council Constitution. In simple terms, this is a cascade system where consultee comments received from parish and town Councillors are referred to the Chair of the planning committee, Vice chair and Ward Members, whom can comment accordingly whether they consider the application should be delegated or referred to committee. Any responses received would be referred to the Head of Planning who would have regard to the planning application, consultee comments, representations and the recommendation. The Head of Planning would then reach a view whether or not to delegate a decision or refer it to a committee.

It is important to note that the Scheme of Delegation is seen as a fair way in which to decide the course of an application for planning permission. It has to be fair to the public as well as the applicant. So, for example, if there were an application which received some support from some, but for which despite some support, there was overwhelming objection by consultees and the public, it did not comply with Local Plan policy, etc and the LPA recommended refusal of it, it would not normally be necessary to refer it to the Scheme of Delegation. And vice versa.

I cannot comment further than this as at this point in time where there is no application before me. I have explained the process through which all applications made to the LPA need to pass through. The LPA could not single out specific applications for special scrutiny for the reasons I have set out above.

I hope this helps explain the process to you and let me know if I can explain further. I have copied this reply to Cllr. David Walsh and the Chief Executive as you sent your original letter to them.”

UPDATE ON MILES CROSS ROUNDABOUT

A lot of concerns have been raised with us about the traffic management plan for the Miles Cross roundabout. Particularly the impact on Bridport and the potential for work during Summer 2022. We have raised these concerns many times with Dorset Council and Highways England.

The most recent update was in October from Highways England. Their comment is shown below in quotation marks. We already know that the building of the roundabout will take at least 6 months and given the official responses it seems that there is not a rush to get on with building the roundabout. Our view is that no work should be carried out during the Summer holiday period because of the chaos it would cause on the A35 and surrounding roads!

“One of the planning conditions for the Vearse Farm development is that a ‘Construction Traffic Management Plan (CTMP) must be submitted to and approved in writing by the local planning authority’ (see condition 20 in the attached decision notice).It is the planning authority (now Dorset Council) who will approve the CTMP (not National Highways), although we willexpect them to consult with us.

Traffic management will also need to be agreed as part of the legal agreement they will be required to enter into with us for the design and delivery of the roundabout scheme, as well as to satisfy the requirements of condition 24.

I can assure you that we will consider the proposals in the CTMP very carefully and will be actively working to mitigate the impacts as far as possible (ie we would expect HGVs to only operate outside peak hours with measures to avoid right turning manoeuvres if possible). We will also check traffic flows on the A35 and advise the developer the periods traffic levels are at their lowest.”

Statement on the Employment Land at Vearse Farm

We have had a lot of questions about whether the employment land on Vearse Farm will actually be used for employment/business purposes or ultimately end up being used to build yet more houses. The owner of the land has issued the following statement. Please let us have your thougts on this statement. In particular do you feel it gives you any more confidence in what will happen to the “employment land”?

Statement on the Employment Land at Vearse Farm
The Symondsbury Estate continues to own all the land allocated for
Employment (including care home and local centre) and is now
considering the future of that land as part of their wider vision for the
village of Symondsbury and the Estate of which this land has long been an integral part.
Symondsbury already runs two small business parks and takes seriously
the future of Symondsbury village, Bridport and the surrounding area, the need for employment, and to support the local way of life and the obvious attractive character of the area.
Symondsbury consider it important properly to consult the next
generation on the development appropriate to meet the future vitality of
the village and town and this will take time to be completed. The Estate
also recognise that until the roundabout on the A35 and access is formed, due to the obligations of the neighbouring housing development, that nothing can be delivered or promised, and it would be unwise to raise expectations to do so too early.
Hallam Land have no residual interest in the Employment land; and so, it
is BDW/Vistry as the major landowner, and any other relevant parties,
who should engage with Symondsbury on matters of design, landscape
and planning as these topics are brought to bear on the employment area of the scheme in the context of the much more extensive profile of the residential development and over which Symondsbury have no control.
Please engage with Symondsbury Estate via their agent Chesters
Harcourt.
Dated 21 July 2021
Chesters Harcourt contact is Philip Kerr 01823 444097 or [email protected]