Here's an update from my friend S J Beecham about the public inquiry taking place in Ashford right now. All I can say is, if you CAN make it there, even for an hour, please do try. The planning Inspectors will note that.
The public inquiry started today and will run until Thursday, possibly Friday. The inspector has made one visit to the site and may make another.
I was disappointed in the turn-out - I know a lot of people are against this, and I know it's a workday, it's in Ashford etc. etc. but a public presence does matter, and the inspector will note it. You don't have to be there at 9:30, or stay for the whole day, but it would be helpful to put in an appearance.
The Inspector, Paul Clark, wants information on five main issues:
- Can acceptable access be provided
- Character and appearance of site
- Significance of heritage
- Housing supply
- Affect on local social infrastructure
The appellant has requested that access be a "reserved matter" (i.e. no decision made until outline planning stage) but the inspector has pointed out that he will read all documentation and take everything into account - he will decide whether it will be reserved or not later.
The inspector also said that, when it comes to housing supply, he does not want arguments based on exact numbers (as these can and do change, often frequently) but is more interested in understanding the robustness of the housing supply situation in the borough.
The appellant's case so far seems to be:
- Insufficient 5-year housing supply in Ashford borough;
- TENT1 was allocated and the proposed site is similar land, so that should pass too;
- Other access can be provided (no details given so far);
- Council's refusal was "confused and incoherent";
- Wants to rely on other cases on other sites as the core documents provided in this case are "untested";
- No borough local plan;
- Ashford not delivering social housing;
- NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework) doesn't put a cap on maximum housing - so even if Ashford does have enough housing, and is delivering it, it doesn't mean developers can't build more;
- Enough mitigation can be made such that the development won't harm the surrounding area, including the AONB
- Proposed site currently so degraded that it's of no value for agriculture, amenity, or as a setting for Belgar farmstead.
Council's rebuttal so far:
- Lack of access renders whole project undeliverable;
- 5-year plan more than sufficient - appellant is basing argument on old figures;
- Proposed development is contrary to planning policies already in place, and is unsustainable;
- Proposed level of growth for Ashford is significantly different from the rural areas of the borough (hence cannot be used to support that level of growth in Tenterden);
- Council on TENT1 allocation warned that it should not be used to justify further piecemeal development;
- Site is neither urban, nor urban fringe, so development would adversely affect listed buildings and AONB;
- Re: "incoherency", lack of clarity had not been raised before today (and subsequent evidence suggested there was no misunderstanding)
So far, landscape architect Helen Neve and environmental/conservation architect Allan Cox (representing the Council) have been called to give evidence. Ms Neve was also subject to a cross-examination of well over 2 hours. I'm not going to to precis that, but feel free to message me if you want more details. The gist is the appellant sees the land as having no value other than to build on - some of the claims they've made so far have been beyond ridiculous all the way into outrageous. We've only heard some of those in passing, more info will be supplied tomorrow. "Clutching at straws" springs to mind, but that's perhaps not surprising as there's apparently more than I realised riding on this. This is apparently being viewed by developers in the region as a test case. If they can get this passed - on good farmland, with no access, with listed buildings on site, adjacent to an AONB and ancient woodland, and nobody but the landowner wants it - they can get anything passed, and it opens the door for unrestricted building in sensitive rural areas.
It's a 9:30am start tomorrow at the Civic Centre in Ashford, and is expected to run late. Anyone can attend. Parking is in the Stour Centre carpark (£10 for the day) or in Ashford Station B across the road (which I think is £6.90). A lawyer will speak tomorrow for the residents' association. Once all evidence is given and cross-examinations done, you may be able to speak if you want to so long as you ok this with the inspector beforehand (it looks like time will run very tight).