As there have been so many planning applications of late I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at one. What I found was educational but also comical and worrying. I really pity the poor District Councillors who are expected to read the applications and take a judgement on them. The truth is that they can’t possibly get through it all and understand the significance. Little wonder that many people think the planning process is a rubber stamping exercise.
The first request for outline planning application in particular has a reputation for not being worth the paper it is written on. It doesn’t spell out what is going to be built but rather it seeks permission for a rosy-coloured concept. It paints a vision of the future without being tied to it. All the more ridiculous that they are supported by reams and reams of detailed paperwork all of which are guaranteeing work for consultants. The planning application I looked at was for the 145 houses on Leys Farm, Wyaston Road. I look at most of the applications in Ashbourne these days because you never know what is going to pop up. Around the same time three mature trees were cut down on Wyaston Road – 2 ashes and an oak – and they were replaced with some fencing and the stumps.
This one directly affects me though as it is building on land nearby. Before you label me a NIMBY I would suggest that you read my objection to the development. I don’t mind houses being built here as long as they are sympathetic to the existing neighbours and that any development in the town complies with the will of the Neighbourhood Team. What I don’t like is bullying and misleading developers and this site has already had an advertisement torn to shreds by the Advertising Standards Authority. We’ve seen the arguments about the changed plans for Waterside Park and the promised footpath. The nearby Willow Meadow Farm has seen the affordable housing which was a feature of their outline planning application, and which Ashbourne needs, replaced with Section 106 money that Ashbourne never seems to receive. This is the adjustment between an application designed to get approval and an application which maximises commercially for the developer.
The Leys Farm application contains some statutory documents – a statement of consultation for example. This refers to the neighbouring properties being invited to raise objections after a notice is published by the District Council. There are signs tied to lampposts and gates around the area. There’s another which describes exactly where the application is and then the third main document, the Design and Access statement describes the rationale for the application. In this case it aims to put forward a green space with access to the rest of Ashbourne and low crime through the design of the streets. It includes some example pictures and lots of plans which show the new streets and houses superimposed on existing features – this should allow Councillors to visualise what they are potentially saying yes to.
There are then lots of documents where the developer has paid consultants to assess drainage, landscape damage, wildlife impact, and transport. Their purpose is to say that the outline planning permission will have an acceptable impact on all of these categories.
One of the reports is associated with the archaeological significance of the site. To be honest I had assumed there would be nothing but apparently the land shows signs of Mediaeval ridge and furrow ploughing and was also possibly part of an ancient deer park. No remnants are visible and the ploughing is in an incomplete poor condition. There are all sorts of references to the history of Compton and the earliest Roman and Saxon remains in the area. An accompanying document lists all the listed buildings and their locations on a map.
A second report covers the ecological standing of the site. It assesses the state of the hedgerows, flora and fauna. The writers visited the site early in the year – not ideal to see the full potential – but enough to assess. They found generally low risk but did find that the hedgerow to the West, running along Wyaston Road was rich in diversity due to the number of species and variety of trees. Not an “important” hedgerow but of interest nonetheless. Of course there are now three fewer trees to create interest. Those of us who see the bats hawking along the gardens on a summer’s night will be interested that there are three bat species in the area as well as a badger sett. The report recommends further visits to establish the extent of the bat population and recommends retention and improvement of the native species in the hedgerows. It notes that there are no plans to significantly remove hedgerows or trees.
The flood and drainage report deems there is little risk of flooding on the site which seem reasonable.
The Planning Statement is one of the worst documents I have seen. Rather than make any real case for the development of the site and what it will bring to Ashbourne the real weight of it is focused on why the District Council would be powerless in a legal case. I find this arrogant and offensive to the town.
The Landscape and Visual impact report states that the plan intends to keep all hedgerows but that the Wyaston Road hedgerow, remember – the most valuable in diversity, will be “translocated” backwards to allow room for the necessary road widening. No mention of the small challenge that relocating large trees will present.
The Transport “survey” carried out is where the comedy value comes in. There are pages and pages of data but the conclusions are startling. The Recreation Ground can be accessed with a 12 minute walk and so can the (no longer in existence) Boothby Meadows school and Plough public house. It’s almost as if they looked at an old map and took no consideration of the hills…or the intervening years. It might just as well have an area showing dragons. I would also really question how someone at the far end of the planned estate could get to Pinecroft Stores in five minutes. Good luck too in getting to Somerfield supermarket. The report looks at all of the road junctions likely to be affected by the development and concludes that either there will be no additional flow or that there is enough capacity in place to deal with it. Amazingly there is no review of the junction between Springfield Road and Derby. The residents must already be sick of the regular flow of cars and the chaos outside Springfield Stores. There is a standstill when any lorry makes its way through.
So the District Councillors on the planning committee have a wonderful evening ahead of them later this month. They have acres of paperwork to read – full of inaccuracies – all painting a joyous picture of the life ahead for people living in Ashbourne knowing full well that the development which will actually be built won’t have the number or type of houses they are being asked to approve. All against a backdrop of the developer telling them they don’t have a choice in the matter or they will end up in court. They’re Local Plan has been torn to shreds by the Inspector and there are elections on the horizon constantly.
As for the trees…they were cut down by Highways to allow access to another development on the opposite side of the road. The traffic in this part of town is a major problem and the trees had to be chopped down to make the road wide enough. This was part of the outcome of the appeal which Derbyshire Dales lost in trying to stop the Willow Meadow Farm development. For what it’s worth landowners can cut down a maximum of 5 cubic metres of timber each quarter without permission from the Forestry Commission – approximately three trees worth.