A Government-appointed planning inspector has started hearing arguments for and against a new village in the Devon countryside which one objector said would be a “travesty” in a “priceless” landscape.
Developers want to build up to 373 homes, with a pub and primary school, on fields between Paignton and Brixham. They submitted an appeal after Torbay Council took too long to make a decision on the planning application for the scheme known as Inglewood, between White Rock and Galmpton.
The council is defending the appeal, after its planning committee decided it would have refused the plans because of conflict with local planning policies and unacceptable harm to the local landscape and the setting of the nearby South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The remote hearing held over the internet in front of planning inspector Andrew Dawe started on Tuesday morning, and was expected to last eight days.
Jackie Stockman, a Torbay councillor and chair of the Brixham Peninsula Neighbourhood Forum, said allowing the development would undermine the efforts of the community which set out in its neighbourhood plan that the site should be kept as open land.
She said: “To allow this development would be a travesty. You cannot put a value on open green space like this, it is simply priceless because it is not being created any more.”
The proposals from developers Abacus Projects and Deeley Freed Estates for 70 acres of open land south of White Rock, alongside Brixham Road, were first put forward in 2017, and amended in March 2018. The appeal was submitted after the council failed to make a decision by a deadline at the end of July 2019 as set out under planning rules.
The council, and other objectors, say the development would be outside the built-up area on land not designated for housing, on a site identified as a “Settlement Gap” of open countryside in the Brixham Peninsula Neighbourhood Plan. They say the scheme, on the slopes of the Dart Valley around 550metres from the AONB boundary, would cause significant harm to the setting and landscape of the protected area, and should be refused.
But the developers argue that it should be allowed because the benefits, including measures to protect the habitat of protected birds and bats and the provision of much-needed new homes, outweigh any harm to the landscape, which would be minimised by careful design.
They say the council has failed to show it has enough housing sites to meet Government targets, which means the balance for decision-making should be tipped in favour of approval.
Barrister Peter Goatley QC, on behalf of the developers, said bringing forward the housing scheme was essential to make up for the shortage of future housing sites in Torbay. He said the site had been considered during the local plan process for new homes in the past, and there was agreement between the council and developer on many aspects of the proposals.
Barrister Nina Pindham, on behalf of the council, said a business park had been refused in 1997 by the Secretary of State, when the Dart Valley was described as “one of the finest riverine environments in the country”. She said evidence would show the current development proposals would cause unacceptable harm to the landscape and the setting of the AONB, conflicted with local planning policies, and should be refused.
The scheme is for outline permission for up to 373 homes, with 112 designated as “affordable”, and includes a pub, a 420-pupil primary school and public open spaces with play areas and allotments. There would be improvements to local habitats for the protected rare cirl bunting birds and greater horseshoe bats, with extra hedgerows planted, 54 acres of fields managed for grazing cattle, and better public access to the countryside through the development.
The inquiry heard from Mr Goatley that the scheme would see £68million spent on construction supporting up to 140 jobs. Spending from the new households would amount to an estimated £8.6milion a year, with between £1.3million and £1.7million spent locally. The pub would offer between 30 and 40 jobs, and the school between 35 and 40 full-time equivalent positions.
Churston and Galmpton councillor Karen Kennedy told the inquiry she considered the council was behaving in an excessively “risk-averse” way in calculating its housing land supply, and had decided not to defend its statement in July 2020 that it had a three-year supply of housing sites to meet Government building targets.
Under national planning rules, having a three-year supply means the policies in the neighbourhood plan are given more weight in decision-making. The inquiry heard that the council and developers had agreed that the land supply was below the three-year level.