Decision Maker: Strategy and Resources Committee
Decision status: Recommendations Approved
Is Key decision?: No
Is subject to call in?: No
The Chair advised that Mr Horrell who was in attendance had requested to record the meeting and asked whether any members of public present did not wish to be recorded. No members of the public indicated that they did not wish to be recorded.
The Chair advised that three members of the public had requested to address the Committee and that following the presentation of the report, he would invite them to speak followed by the Ward Members and Devon County Councillor who were present.
The Committee considered a report by the Head of Resources (circulated previously) regarding land at Westacott – public consultation response and decision on land disposal.
The Head of Resources highlighted the following:
· The Committee had a statutory duty to consider the public consultation responses that had been submitted to the Council as set out in paragraph 419, weigh these against the developers offer and the planning need as set out in BAR1 allocation of the Local Plan.
· The commercially sensitive elements had been considered under Part B of the report.
· North Devon Council owned the freehold of the land at Westacott, Westacott Road, Barnstaple (Appendix A). The land was public open space and used as a park.
· The adjacent land currently had Outline Planning Consent for the development of up to 149 residential units including vehicular access across the same public open space at Westacott. The owner of the adjacent land had approached the Council for permission to access their site over the Council’s land at Westacott in accordance with the Outline Planning Consent.
· Further to the Strategy and Resources Committee meeting on 17 May, the Council had the power to dispose of land held by them under section 123 of the Local Government Act 1972 but that this was limited by subsection 2A. The Council was required to undertake public consultation for the disposal of the land and advertise the intention in a newspaper for two consecutive weeks. The public consultation process commenced on 18 May and closed on 14 June and the results were contained within paragraph 4.19 and Appendix E of the report.
· The land owned by the developer, along with further land to the east, formed part of a strategic housing site allocated within the council’s adopted Local Plan under BAR01. The adopted allocation policy seeks to secure a comprehensive, sustainable, high quality, mixed use development that includes: 950 dwellings, 5 hectares of land for economic development; a neighbourhood hub to include an additional 420 place primary school, open space and recreation and sports facilities; a new park and change facility.
· The developer had submitted a reserved matters planning application on 9 June 2021.
· In March 2020 the Council had obtained an independent valuation from Alder King. Alder King have confirmed in April 2021 that the valuation of the site remained the same.
· The Council’s freehold title had a Restrictive Covenant in favour of Devon County Council which restricted development other than residential of not more than 22 dwellings and play area. Negotiations on the release of the restricted covenant have taken place with Devon County Council based on the valuation from Alder King.
· The developers have looked to see if they could secure an alternative access to their site by utilising the adjacent industrial estate at Castle Park Road however this had proved to be unsuccessful to date.
· This alternative access involved private land owners and was therefore outside of the control of NDC’s land ownership and also had other constraints, not least the fact that it would pass through a flood zone.
· Paragraph 4.6.4 of the report detailed the summary of the size of the existing park and open space with the proposed park and open space. The size of the open space would increase from 11,994 SQ M to 26,645 SQ M (122% increase). Appendix D detailed the proposed layout of the open space.
· The Council adopted the Torridge and North Devon Local Plan relatively recently in October 2018 following extension consultation and engagement with the public and partners. He outlined paragraphs 4.17.2, 4.17.3 and 4.17.4 in the report.
· In order to ensure that this strategic extension was integrated with Whiddon Valley as required by the adopted policy, a road connection was required to ensure that a bus facility can be planned as well as comprehensive footpath and cycleways. This was proposed to be via the secondary access through the existing park. Without this access the development would become a cul-de-sac served by a single point of access.
· At the time of the adoption of the Local Plan the Council was able to show that the allocated sites and other sites coming forward provided the required 5 year housing land supply. The Council was not currently in that position and was therefore vulnerable to what might be called “hostile” planning applications as the Council could not show a 5 year housing land supply.
· If a secondary access was not provided, the outline planning consent 62187 would not be implementable until such time as the wider allocation was developed, because there would be no access. That would have an impact on the Council’s ability to re-establish a 5 year housing land supply.
· The Council had been successful in securing Housing Infrastructure Fund monies to help deliver the ‘Landkey’ roundabout, which formed the primary access to BAR 1.
· A survey had been created for the community by the local Devon County Councillor. The Committee was advised of corrections to the results as detailed in paragraph 4.19.5 of the report. 466 respondees had stated “No” and “No” to both questions, 5 responses were blank and 10 respondees stated “No” to the first question and “yes” to the second question.
· One email had been received of approval stating existing park was tired and limited, gaining an improved area, MUGA and large space overall was a major positive.
· Although 84% of the responses were responses to the standardised community survey, there was clearly significant opposition to a disposal. The Committee should however consider the reasons for opposition put forward and not simply consider the overall numbers.
· Many of the issues raised by the responses were issues that were taken into account both as part of the process for allocating the site and identifying this route as a potential secondary access, and also dealt with as part of the decision to grant outline consent with a secondary route through the open space.
· Members had a statutory duty to consider the responses that resulted from the public consultation and weigh these against the developers offer and the planning need as set out in BAR 01 of the Local Plan.
Mr Brook, Marcella Priest and Mr Mathews addressed the Committee.
The Chair confirmed receipt of two letters that had been passed to him by Mr Brook from the former MP for North Devon and Devon County Council.
Councillors Hunt, Topham and Phillips (Ward Members) addressed the Committee.
Councillor Leaver, Devon County Councillor for the Division addressed the Committee.
In response to questions and the points raised by the members of public, Ward Members, Devon County Councillor and the Committee, the Chief Executive advised the following:
· The consideration of the disposal of land was in response to an offer made by the developer to purchase the land and had not been promoted by the Council. It was not about Council finances.
· He reminded Members of their strategic role in setting the vision and delivering the Local Plan. The Council had a duty to consider the public consultation responses but also had a responsibility for the District.
· The Council had adopted the Joint Local Plan in 2018 following extensive consultation. Approximately 130-140 objections had been made in relation to the allocation of this site in the Local Plan. Most of these objections were in relation to the potential access being provided through the park. The Local Plan set out the long term vision for Barnstaple, provided levels of housing and allocated suitable sites for development following the SHLAA process. The land owned by the developer, along with further land to the east, formed part of a strategic housing site allocated within the Council’s adopted Local Plan under BAR1. The adopted allocation policy sought to secure a comprehensive and sustainable development and provide transport links to the A361, a second access to Westacott, highway and pedestrian links and a new bus route to the town.
· There were three options to provide a vehicular access to the site at Westacott. One of which was to provide the access across the open space at Westacott.
· The outline planning application had already been approved which included the access across the open space.
· The Council had not budgeted for the potential capital receipt for the disposal of the land. The Council had a strategic role in place shaping and delivery of the Local Plan and had to consider the impact on the delivery of the 5 year housing land supply.
· If a decision was taken by the Committee not to agree to disposal of the land, the current planning application could not be implemented and would therefore have an immediate impact on the 5 year land supply.
· The current wider planning application that had been submitted recently was based on the vehicular access being provided through Westacott. If the second access was not provided through Westacott then it would be questioned as to whether the wider allocation was sustainable.
· The references made to correspondence with previous Leaders and Chief Executive of the Council regarding promises not to sell the land were not binding as neither would have the power to take that decision.
· This Committee had delegated power to take this decision and it was not appropriate for the decision to be taken by full Council. The decision taken by the Committee could not be overturned by full Council.
· References had been made that residents were not aware of this land being included within the Local Plan. Approximately 130-140 objections had been received for this site as part of the consultation on the Local Plan and the outline planning consent had received approximately 300 objections.
· Air quality and other outstanding reports would be considered as part of the outline planning application process. The application would not be granted until the outstanding issues had been completed.
· The Devon County Council Highways Officer had confirmed in an email that their consultation responses were limited to technical aspects of the road network and did not include sustainability.
RESOLVED that the Council Procedure Rules of the Constitution be suspended to allow Mr Mathews to address the Committee to provide information on a meeting he had held with Planning Policy Officers during his time as a North Devon Councillor.
Mr Mathews addressed the Committee.
RESOLVED that the Council Procedure Rules of the Constitution be re-instated.
In response the Chief Executive advised that:
· Devon County Council had been a consultee during the preparation of the Local Plan. The option of the access being provided through Castle Park Road had been considered as part of this process, however the boundary to the highway was not clear, was owned by third parties, passed through a flood zone and the access would not be appropriate as it was an estate road. All options had been explored over the past 10 years, however further information could be obtained on the options.
In response to a question, the Regeneration Manager advised that the provision of a roundabout at Landkey was subject to the Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF). The Council had not yet signed the funding agreement with Devon County Council and the current HIF timetable for the delivery of the roundabout was March 2022
RESOLVED that the Council do not proceed with the proposed disposal of land at Westacott.
Publication date: 13/07/2021
Date of decision: 05/07/2021
Decided at meeting: 05/07/2021 - Strategy and Resources Committee