Agenda item

Implications of Decision not to sell Land at Westacott Park

Report by Chief Executive (attached).

Minutes:

The Committee considered a report by the Chief Executive (circulated previously) regarding the implications of the decision not to sell land at Westacott Park.

 

The Chief Executive outlined the following to the Committee:

 

·       The implications of the decision taken by the Committee on 5 July 2021 and the options for delivering BAR01 in the future.

·       Policy BAR01 set out the policy context for the urban extension of Barnstaple at Westacott. The smallest area of land was owned by Progress Land who had approached the Council to request a sale which was considered by the Committee on 5 July 2021. 

·       Although Progress were arguing differently, it was not likely that the outline consent for the Progress land could be implemented as the secondary access was no longer capable of being constructed.

·       At present discussions were taking place with Progress Land and Devon County Council as to where the alternative access could be constructed.  The options were via Castle Park Road or via Westacott Lane. Both options had very real difficulties.

·       The remainder of the land allocation in BAR01 was within the control of Barwood. An outline application for the development was currently being dealt with by the planning team. However consideration of that application and the design work to date in terms of Masterplanning had been based on there being a secondary access. If no secondary access was provided, then the development would not be in compliance with the Council’s Local Plan and would naturally be deemed to be unsustainable. In those circumstances, the application could be refused, albeit that is of course a decision for the Planning Committee.

·       If permission for the wider allocation was refused, this may have implications in relation to the Housing Infrastructure Fund that had been secured to deliver the roundabout on the A361.  The purpose of the funding was to unlock land for the development of housing by providing the infrastructure necessary to enable it to go ahead. To secure the funding, the Council was required to enter into an agreement with Homes England whereby the Council agree that in exchange for the funding, it will use reasonable endeavours to ensure that the housing comes forward. It was questionable whether the Council would be able to show reasonable endeavours if it was refused planning permission. The remedy available to Homes England should the Council not use its reasonable endeavours was to require repayment from the Council. That would need to come from the Council’s own funds as the funding will have already been passed to DCC to deliver the roundabout. A further meeting would be held with Homes England on 3 August 2021.

·       The loss of an allocation of this size from the Local Plan would have significant impacts on the delivery of housing and on the Council’s ability to regain a 5 year housing land supply during the lifetime of the Local Plan. The lack of a 5 year housing land supply means that key Local Plan policies were considered to be out of date and applications were then judged against national tests of sustainability. In the past, this had resulted in significant applications being submitted for housing on land outside of the Local Plan.

·       The Council was at risk of losing credibility with developers who may not be inclined to invest time, effort and funds into bringing allocated sites forward if there was a tendency on the Council to either refuse permission or resist those sites. If that happened, it would make it much less attractive to develop and invest in North Devon.

·       If the Council were to approve the application with just the single access off the A361, the effect would be a very large cul de sac with limited vehicle and public transport links to the town. Pedestrian and cycleway links would be possible through the park, subject to member approval, but they could not be delivered by Barwood as it was Progress that owned the land adjoining the Park. The indications were that a bus route, joining up with the town, would not be possible and the lack of a secondary access may also have an impact on major employers in the area who have been requiring a second access/exit from Whiddon Valley to enable their businesses to function properly.

·       Loss of opportunity to invest in public open space.

·       Officers would continue to look to see how the BAR01 allocation could still be delivered but the challenges as outlined were considerable. 

·       Regular update reports would be provided to the Committee.

 

The Committee noted the report.

Supporting documents: