In January I wrote a post about the fragile nature of the planning situation in Ashbourne. The fantastic response from the town on the Local Plan consultation from Derbyshire Dales District Council had resulted in a clear mandate from Ashbourne – we wanted the 400 new homes to be built on the Airfield site. An application from developers to build 65 new homes on Willow Meadow Farm immediately challenged the decision.
Understandably there was nervousness as to whether the Derbyshire Dales District Council planners would do the right thing. After all, the views of Ashbourne had not been sought or fully represented in a number previous decisions – toilets, library, Coffee Stop, Marks and Spencer, Sainsburys.
There have been some recent planning successes through the consultation. The consultation process resulted in the original report being amended and the greenfield sites being downgraded in priority, and the airfield being raised to the top priority site. At the next stage there were some objections from local landowners and communities challenging the basis for the scoring. The airfield site owners came forward with more information on how work could start earlier than previously thought. In the planning process there are many areas of grey. Ultimately some subjective decisions need to be made on things such as landscape setting and decisions are always going to be unpopular to someone. This area of doubt creates an opportunity – a chance for clever wordsmiths, weasely lawyers and lobbyists to act. The people making the decisions are largely volunteers with limited specialist knowledge relying on some expert advice. They may have no local knowledge or time to investigate in order to refute what is presented to them.
At the end of the consultation we ended up with a “recommendation” for the housing to be placed on the airfield. Derbyshire Dales decided, due to the strength of feeling which resulted in reprioritisation of sites,to recommend the airfield for all new housing development. However this would be enshrined in a new Local Plan – the legislative underpinning. The old Local Plan is very loose and many of its policies have been annulled by central Government legislation. The whole purpose of the consultation was to get input into a new plan which could become effective in February 2014. Until that point, in theory, the old Plan is effective and therefore we still have a risk which was tested by Willow Meadow Farm.
People acting on behalf of Willow Meadow Farm submitted a request for outline planning permission in December 2012. The Planning Statement accompanying the submission was provided for consideration as part of the consultation exercise. It highlighted that the Council had already previously identified that the land was suitable for residential development as part of a previous survey. There was also a submission on behalf of the landowner challenging the basis for allocating the airfield as priority 1 and also challenging the downgrading of ASH2 (which the new Willow Meadow Farm development was part of). This evidence was reviewed and rejected during the consultation process but the request for planning permission remained.
Last week the application came before the Planning Committee who rejected it in a momentous decision. A spokesman said “The district council has refused an application for outline planning permission for residential development at Willow Meadow Farm, Wyaston Road, Ashbourne, because the site lies outside the settlement boundary and the proposed residential development is considered to be unsustainable. This decision follows the Local Plan Advisory Committee’s recommendations that future housing needs in Ashbourne should be met by focussing on previously developed brownfield sites, rather than greenfields, and reflects the significant views of the community as expressed through the recent public consultation exercise on the Local Plan.”
There has been a huge amount of work behind the scenes with this. Of course Peter Fox championed the campaign which drummed up support resulting in 200 people attending the meeting with the Town Council and 700 people commenting on proposals. Jeffrey Phillips was the one who instigated the idea of a Neighbourhood Plan. Councillors Darren Archer, Lucy Green and Sue Bull stepped up to the plate from the Council and organised the inception of the Neighbourhood Plan. A small group of people who are involved in the creation of the Neighbourhood Plan and led by Darren Archer have then built much-needed bridges with the District Council to try to synchronise the emerging Ashbourne Neighbourhood Plan with the draft DDDC Local Plan. We owe them all a debt of thanks for their voluntary efforts on our behalf.
This is a tremendous result but my note of caution is that a town population of over 7000 people generated responses to the consultation of over 700. When the call to action came 200 people attended the Town Hall meeting and around 40 then attended the initial Neighbourhood Plan meeting. Approximately 15 attended the first Neighbourhood Plan session. This is a fantastic example of what a difference structured action makes compared to just moaning and groaning but it takes commitment and effort. If we share the load it is easier for everyone and more powerful in its effect.
Get involved in the Neighbourhood Plan!