It is great to see that the government are taking on board al the objections to the proposed changes in the planning laws. Along with many others we have made our views known to our local MP.
As previously reported, ADVEARSE has now moved on to a new phase focusing on ensuring the planning obligations and promises made by Hallam, such as the provision of 35% affordable housing (at around 80% of usual market value) and improvements to the A35 Miles Cross junction, are honoured. We will also be closely examining aspects of the development that do not appear to meet legal requirements, including pedestrian safety. Our supporters can be assured that we will fight any attempt to back track on developer and council commitments
Sarah Carney has left Advearse in view of her role as a Bridport Town Councillor and possible conflicts with also being a member of Advearse. We would like to thank Sarah for all her years of great work with Advearse. David Tett (former Town and District councilor) rejoined and brings a wealth of local government experience that will be invaluable.
We held our AGM on 26 October and will be shortly posting the annual report on our website.
We have been asked by a number of residents for our views on the proposed changes to the plans for Vearse Farm as publicised in last week’s Bridport News… The proposed changes are minor in themselves but we have urged the Council to hold the developers to the agreed plans .There are many examples nationally where developers, having obtained planning permission manipulate, the plans by for example reducing the amount of affordable houses.. The applicants were aware of the 106 conditions when they signed the Legal Agreement in May 2019 and the Council should signal to the developers, they intend to hold them to the commitments made in full.
We would also point out that if the access road nearer town and related footpaths and cycleways are not built until 300 houses are occupied then traffic will increase significantly along West Road and the narrow pavements will present increased dangers to pedestrians.
The request to changes the plans for access should, however, be taken as an opportunity by Dorset Council to address the failure of the previous West Dorset Council when considering the original application. The proposed change is about access ONTO the site. We have always argued that the plans should have also considered access into town. We need a new traffic assessment because the one at the time of the original planning permission has serious errors e.g. in underestimating traffic flows at the North Allington roundabout and overestimating the width of pavements on West Road.,
Local people still have many concerns about the impact of Vearse Farm on the town. We urge our local representatives to take this opportunity to address those related to traffic and access in a more holistic way.
It has been a few months since we posted any updates or sent out any communications to our supporters. Since the Judicial review ruled against us in April 2020 things have been quiet on the Vearse Farm development front. But there are now a few updates to provide you with.
Sale of Vearse Farm development
As we reported in June the development had been put up for sale by Hallam Land with a requirement for bids to be made by 15 July for all or parcels of land on the site.
We have been monitoring Hallam’s website and relevant news sources and we have not seen any updates on how the bidding process went.
Hallam Land’s Interim Business Update for the end June 2020 states that:
“Our house builder customers are at differing stages in returning to the land market. Nonetheless, we are receiving bids for land at prices not noticeably impacted by CV-19, although we do not expect these deals to contribute to this year’s numbers. However, pressure on land pricing and average returns per plot has continued, with the forthcoming changes to building regulations likely to have a growing impact in the medium term.
As we enter H2 Hallam Land is in a strong position, with all its budgeted business for the current year contractually exchanged. Additionally, we are in advanced negotiations on further disposals of plots, which we expect to complete next year.”
It is highly likely that if Hallam had been able to complete any deals with house builders for Vearse Farm this would have been publicised. Hallam’s business model is to facilitate the sale of the approved outline planning development as soon as possible so that they and the land owners can take their cut of the proceeds and leave the house builders to get on with the detailed planning applications and the long term building work.
We suspect that this lack of progress is as a result of the current economic uncertainty and the delay resulting from the judicial review. Most probably bids received didn’t meet Hallam expectations and are subject to ongoing negotiations.
Vearse Farm working group
The working group was formed in a couple of months ago and has representatives from Hallam, Dorset Council, Bridport Town Council and other local organisations with an interest in the Vearse Farm development.
The working group’s draft objective is:
“To facilitate, through the active discussion and participation of the various local stakeholders, public engagement and communication, the next stages in the planning of the Vearse Farm development with particular focus on the design aspects and the delivery of the S106 obligations and benefits it affords for the residents of Bridport and its surrounding parishes.”
See the following link for the report on the group’s latest meeting:
Advearse were not invited to join the working group – which given the legal challenge and our unpopularity with Hallam is not surprising!
However, we fully support the working group activities and their objective mirrors exactly what our focus will be going forward. It is good to see that Bridport Town Council will be making the work of this group public.
We will of course be ready to raise with the working group any issues that need their attention to make sure that Bridport gets the absolute maximum benefit from the Vearse Farm development.
Proposed change to planning application
Hallam have submitted an application that seeks to vary two conditions of the previously granted outline permission, relating to the two vehicular access points on West Road (East Access is opposite Lodge Lane and West Access is opposite the entrance to Crepe Farm)
Hallam wants the flexibility to build these two accesses in the order that matches the eventual order in which the development is delivered – previously the conditions required that the eastern access be delivered first.
The decision on this would most likely be made by Dorset Council planning officials and not be required to go to the planning committee and receive comments/objections from the public and interested parties.
Whilst it may seem a small change it is worrying development as it could set a precedent for other changes to be requested to provide “flexibility. Further amendments could be requested that reduce the benefits set out in 106 Agreement (e.g. provision of Affordable Housing, Miles Cross roundabout, cycle/pedestrian routes etc). Given Dorset Council’s inability to stand up to developers we could see a steady erosion of the benefits from the Vearse Farm development and this Advearse will be watching and applying pressure that Hallam sticks rigidly to and complies with all the conditions of the Sectiion 106 Agreement.
The revised application documents will be accessible on the Dorset Council website from 28th October.
We will be pressing for the decision on this change to go to the full planning committee so that it can be discussed in a public forum rather than be a quiet deal passed by unaccountable council officials.
After being delayed for more than a year by a judicial review challenging what’s set to be the biggest ever development on an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB), Vearse Farm land has now gone up for sale to building companies. Builders are invited to submit bids by noon on 15 July for all or parcels of land on the site.
A long delay is, however, anticipated before any of the 760+ houses and industrial units etc are built, as important infrastructure work has to be designed and completed before any properties can be occupied. Hallam Land Management, the company behind the project, were forced to delay this work for 12 months while ADVEARSE’s legal challenge to the planning permission, officially granted in May 2019, was ongoing.
The overwhelming opposition to the development, backed by the Dorset Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), continues, however. Just last week Jeremy Pope, heritage interest representative on the AONB Partnership Board, trustee of the County Museum and of the Jurassic Coast Trust, wrote to local MP Chris Loder to say that ‘the decision to grant planning for the Vearse Farm project is completely at odds with the whole protection which AONB status is meant to confer … and will dramatically and adversely affect Bridport itself.’ While acknowledging ‘the need to increase housing capacity in the county’, he said, ‘to be honest I am more than a little sceptical that the promised affordable housing content will ever be fulfilled if past experience is anything to go by’, and went on to ask the MP if there was anything could be done to see if the scheme could ‘at least be moderated or, better still, scrapped.’
In the meantime, ADVEARSE has now reluctantly moved on to a new phase focusing on ensuring the planning obligations and promises made by Hallam, such as the provision of 35% affordable housing (at around 80% of usual market value) and improvements to the A35 Miles Cross junction, are honoured. The campaign group will also be closely examining aspects of the development that do not appear to meet legal requirements, including pedestrian safety.
ADVEARSE Chair Barry Bates said ‘We will fight any attempt to back track on developer and council commitments and, with our wide-spread support, will not hesitate from taking legal action where appropriate. While the impact of this development will undoubtedly change Bridport beyond recognition, we hope now to be able to work closely with the Town Council and relevant community groups to maximise the benefits to residents and to try to minimise as far as possible the harm the development is able to inflict on the culture and heritage of our town and countryside.’ <ENDS>
For those interested in planning, two interesting case studies have just popped up:
1) A Devon council tried to refuse outline planning permission to a developer for 122 houses but the developer took it to appeal and the council lost because they hadn’t met their housing-land supply. As we know, developers can basically build where they like – permission is just a pretend formality – as is the Local Plan and the Neighbourhood Plan.
But Sevenoaks Council is trying to make a stand, they have failed to meet their supply because they refuse to build on greenbelt land but their LP has been rejected by the inspector:
As much as I really respect Sevenoaks Council for doing this and wish other council’s would do so too, I think statements like this:
‘We believe, whilst this is not the reason the inspector has given, failing to meet the government’s housing figure would potentially impact on subsequent Local Plans across the country.’
Are somewhat naïve as this has been going on for years under the last and present iterations of the NPPF. They will undoubtedly be brushed off by the Secretary of State, as were ADVEARSE before our JR. They may win any subsequent JR on the technicality that the inspector has rejected the plan because ‘it was not legally compliant in respect of the council’s duty to cooperate’, her main concerns being ‘the lack of constructive engagement with neighbouring authorities to resolve the issue of unmet housing need and the absence of strategic cross-boundary planning to examine how the identified needs could be accommodated’, whereas the council says its ‘Plan submission included more than 800 pages of evidence detailing how it had worked with neighbouring authorities during its production of the Plan’ and ‘that those councils and other organisations involved in its development supported the council’s evidence and approach.’ If the inspector had explicitly rejected the plan on the grounds of it failing to meet housing-land supply – the real reason for the rejection – then the judge would undoubtedly be able to uphold the decision. However, if they win on a technicality, the inspector has only to reject it again citing the real reasons.
The real situation is what the council suggests: ‘If we are not to follow the evidence to make our Plan then the government may just as well dictate how many homes an area should have and then pick sites, we need to put an end to the thinly veiled charade that Local Plans are in any way locally led.’ If I were the leader of the council and the plan still gets rejected further down the line, I would be inclined to publicly rip it up and say, what’s the point, clearly developers can build where they like so we might as well leave it all to the free market and bin the pretence.
Sarah Carney, ADVEARSE
On Wednesday Barry Bates (Chair Advearse) was interviewed on Radio Solent. The link below if the the programme with Barry’s interview being after 28 minutes (at 7.28am).
In the interview Barry notes that the Vearse Farm development is the largest ever incursion into the AONB – and hence is a national issue on so many levels including the protecting the green spaces and the environment and loss of valuable farm land.
We are currently working on our strategy now that the judicial review legal challenge has come to an end. Other options for opposing the Vearse Farm urbanisation of Bridport are under review and we will shortly be sharing this strategy with our supporters to obtain their input on the best way forward.
In the meantime anyone wishing to be added to our list of supporters please email us. You don’t have to be a local resident or live in Dorset to be concerned about the damage of this development
There has been some local and national news coverage of the outcome of the JR. Links/cuttings for this coverage are listed below. Generally the coverage has been sympathetic.
6 April 2020
ADVEARSE has, overall, lost its judicial review of West Dorset Council’s outline planning permission for what is believed to be the biggest ever development on a single area of outstanding natural beauty at Vearse Farm, Bridport.
In a written judgment issued on Monday 6 April, ADVEARSE was found to have won the legal argument on the first ground of their case — that the former West Dorset Council (since subsumed into the new unitary authority) had failed to have regard to statutory provisions and national
planning rules that require the harmful impact of the development on the conservation area and heritage assets to be assessed against the public benefits. The judge, Mr Justice Swift, said that ADVEARSE’s criticisms were ‘well-founded’ as the Council had not properly addressed the application of the relevant section of the National Planning Policy Framework, ‘a matter material to the decision the Council had to take.’ However, the judge said, ‘The role of the court is no more than to ensure that the decision and the decision-making process meet basic legal standards’, and because he believed the Council’s inadequacies may have made no difference to the committee’s ultimate decision, he had to rule against the claimants. The other two grounds of the case were rejected.
In court, ADVEARSE’s barrister, Matthew Henderson from Landmark Chambers, revealed defects and demonstrated that key objections and information from statutory experts, such as the conservation officer, the landscape officer and the AONB team, had been omitted from the officer’s report on which planning committee members had based their decision.
The judge said, ‘Planning issues are often controversial, all those affected by them deserve to be reassured that the officers’ reports that inform councillors’ decisions are sufficient to identify how any particular proposal is affected by specific statutory obligations … and by material policies’.
These reports, he said, ‘must meet some basic standards of good public administration’ and ‘basic level of coherence’. But, in a damning assessment, the judge said the West Dorset planning officer’s report did not meet the ‘bare minimum standard’. He likened it to a ‘jigsaw puzzle’ without a picture ‘on the front of the box.’
Further, the Council officer had made assumptions and speculations about the mitigation of any harmful impact of the Vearse Farm development which the judge regarded to be ‘optimistic’, ‘not realistic’, and which could not possibly be determined until later in the detailed planning process.
This, he stated, was ‘an incorrect approach.’
The report was, however, found to be ‘sufficient’ in terms of the remaining two grounds of the case which referred to failure to take into account other relevant aspects of the National Planning Policy Framework.
Stephanie Hill from ADVEARSE’s legal team said, ‘It is frustrating for our clients to have demonstrated that the Council’s decision-making was legally flawed, but still to have lost the challenge. The impact of the development will have to be given more detailed consideration as the planning application progresses, and this judgment emphasises the importance of good quality, reasoned decision-making throughout that process.’
ADVEARSE Chairman Barry Bates said, ‘After fighting tooth and nail we have been let down at every stage of the planning process. The JR was a last-ditch attempt to stop, or at best delay, this development. We are bitterly disappointed but accept that the courts are limited to looking at the legality of the process rather than the political or moral rights or wrongs of the case.’ ‘However,’ he said, ‘the old West Dorset planning authority came out of the affair badly and we hope that lessons have been learned, particularly now that we have a different council and are living in a different global and economic context.’
Bridport town councillor and ADVEARSE member Sarah Carney said, ‘There needs to be a review of national planning policy which forces rural councils to meet metro-centric housing targets which fail to deliver for local people and deliberately encourage private developers to build thousands of
unsuitable, unsustainable and unaffordable houses all over our countryside.’
ADVEARSE member and former district councillor David Tett, said ‘Vearse Farm houses will not be affordable to local families or keyworkers. They will, however, attract retirees from the big cities and second-home owners, resulting in more traffic and unbearable pressure on our already desperately over-stretched health and social care services.’
ADVEARSE spokesman Lewis Gerolemou said, however, that ‘Vearse Farm is far from done and dusted. It remains our view and that of our supporters that there are serious problems with the plans which will need to be addressed before any houses are built. The developers can rest assured that they will face intense scrutiny and challenge at the detailed planning stages and at any point should they fail to deliver what has been promised in the S106 agreement.’
The Chairman of Dorset CPRE Peter Bowyer said, ‘This outcome is very disappointing. It is clear that the planning authority in Dorset has little respect for the designation of the AONB. Dorset deserves to have a better planning service for the area. The fundamental questions of the right
numbers of houses, the right places and the right tenures are not being addressed within the current planning system. Alternative community-driven approaches are necessary in order to ensure that the incremental urbanisation of Dorset is not allowed to proceed.’
‘We now need the Dorset AONB to be upgraded to a National park. This would have the responsibility and resources to conserve and embrace our wonderful landscapes while also having the duty to respond proactively to local housing needs and so develop the local housing that local people need.’
ADVEARSE Treasurer, Phil Summerton, said, ‘We would like to thank our wonderful lawyers, Leigh Day, Landmark Chambers and our barrister Matthew Henderson for all their help and support. A big thanks also to the Dorset Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) who donated £10,000 to the cause, and tremendous thanks to the hundreds of people who have supported us over the past six years and who contributed towards the £34,000 that made it possible for the judicial review to go ahead’.
The full written judgment can be found here:
Information about ADVEARSE can be found at: http://www.advearse.org.uk/about-advearse/
Email: [email protected]
Vearse Farm development planning application: WD/D/17/000986
The vote on the Neighbourhood plan is on 27 February and is an opportunity to have a say on the future of Bridport. Below is the text of an email from the Bridport Town Clerk giving some information that will be helpful. Please feel free to share this information.
Early feedback from coverage of the Neighbourhood Plan referendum suggests that a lot of people are engaged (which is great!) but may not be able for a number of reasons to absorb the entire 106-page document.
In response, David has produced a summary guide to the Plan, and a narrated video summary. Both are available from the main NP page at https://www.bridport-tc.gov.uk/projects/neighbourhood-plan/.
Hard copies of the summary guide are available from the Town Council on request, although naturally we’d encourage people not to ask unless they are unable to access the website version.
Many thanks to David for reacting so quickly to the significant number of requests for these summaries.
Please share this information via your own networks. I have shared the summaries on the ‘Bridport Banter’ and ‘Bridport Notice’ Facebook pages, with a combined following of almost 24,000 people.
I’m sure also you’ll be aware by now that both poll cards and the NP leaflet are dropping through letter boxes this week. The Bridport News also produced a helpful two-page spread last week, which is reproduced online at https://www.bridportnews.co.uk/news/18216834.important-points-know-neighbourhood-plan-ahead-referendum/.