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Agenda item

21/00291/OUT - Part Parcel 0025, Hillend, Twyning

PROPOSAL: Outline application for up to 55 dwellings and detailed access from Hill End Road with all other matters reserved.




72.16        This was an outline application for up to 55 dwellings and detailed access from Hill End Road with all other matters reserved.  The Planning Committee had visited the application site on Thursday 14 April 2022.

72.17        The Planning Officer advised that Members would be aware that a non-determination appeal had been submitted in respect of this application, therefore, the Council must advise the Planning Inspectorate as to how it would have determined the application, had it remained the decision-maker.  The site was a 3.15 hectare parcel of land located to the north of Tywning and was situated to the east of Hill End Road and north of the urban edge of the village.  The land status was currently agricultural; however, a large volume of trees had been planted circa 10 years ago which gave the appearance of a developing woodland and a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) had been confirmed by the Planning Committee in February.  In addition, there were numerous public footpaths running through the site, connecting the residential area from the south with the wider countryside to the north.  The site itself was outside of the locally designated Landscape Protection Zone and the Twyning settlement boundary as defined in the emerging Borough Plan and the Twyning Neighbourhood Development Plan.  The application was supported by an indicative layout plan which showed access to be taken into the site from Hill End Road.  It was proposed that building heights would vary between two and 2.5 storeys around key nodes and gateways within the site.  The proposed dwellings would be a mix of open market and affordable tenures, with dwellings comprising a mixture of one, two, three and four bedrooms; the application site proposed an on-site contribution of 40% affordable housing.  An assessment of the main material considerations was set out in the Committee report with the key harms and benefits highlighted.  Members were advised that, with regard to the principle of development, the application site was located outside of the defined settlement boundary and was not allocated for housing development; however, it was not within an isolated rural location and future residents would have access to services in Twyning and Tewkesbury, although there would be some reliance on cars.  As Members would be aware, the Council could not currently demonstrate a five year supply of deliverable housing land and planning permission should be granted unless any adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits when assessed against the policies of the National Planning Policy Framework as a whole.  The development would contribute towards the supply of housing – both market and affordable – to help meet the objectively assessed need of the area and, overall, Officers afforded this significant weight.  There would also be social economic benefits from the construction process.  Nevertheless, there were identified harms arising from the conflict with the development plan policies as well as landscape harm by reason of encroachment into the open countryside and the loss of some TPO trees.  It was considered that this weight was moderate and there was potential to further minimise landscape harm through an appropriate landscaping scheme at the reserved matters stage.  Overall, taking into account all of the material considerations and the weight to be attributed to each one, it was considered that the identified harms would not significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits of the proposal and the Officer recommendation was minded to permit, subject to the appellant submitting to the Planning Inspectorate during the course of the appeal the appropriate Section 106 Agreements to secure the necessary planning obligations identified.

72.18        The Chair invited a representative from Twyning Parish Council to address the Committee.  The Parish Council representative indicated that it was the Parish Council’s view that a motion to refuse could not be sustained by virtue of the Council’s abysmal 3.82 year housing land supply, the out of date nature of its extant policies, the discrediting of new policies in the emerging Borough Plan and the engagement of the tilted balance within Paragraph 11 of the National Planning Policy Framework and the presumption in favour of development.  It was pointless to dwell on those matters to the exclusion of other impacts that were now seriously affecting the way of life in communities, the enormous strain on infrastructure and the total reliance on the motor car in isolated locations.  The presumption indicated that a sustainable pattern of development should meet the needs of the local area, align growth and infrastructure, improve the environment and mitigate climate change.  It was impossible to see how exponential growth in one small rural community could possibly achieve the aims and objectives of sustainability and the Parish Council simply did not understand the Borough Council’s position that there was no tangible harm in directing additional housing growth to Twyning.  The Parish Council representative stated that additional housing over and above the recently approved 68 new dwellings was not something the community could reasonably sustain and to hear a leading Barrister say that the Borough Council was in denial and the development plan was either faltering or broken was a terrible indictment of the inertia that had afflicted the Borough Council.  The proposed wilful destruction of a valued woodland was promoting outrage in the local community and condemnation from others such as the CPRE (The Countryside Charity).  The Parish Council representative explained that Twyning was an isolated community, the lowest assessed Service Village, and matters such as transport and accessibility should be given the fullest attention.  Twyning had narrow single track roads, failing infrastructure and no public bus service as well as being farthest from the major conurbations of Cheltenham and Gloucester.  Parishioners in Twyning found themselves overwhelmed with new development and with an infrastructure that was completely unsustainable.  The Parish Council representative pointed out that the Borough Council was aware of the issues with the sewer network and he asked how it was expected to cope with another 164 dwellings particularly given Severn Trent’s response to the consultation on planning application ref: 22/00232/FUL - Land To The South Of Geston Place, Twyning for 21 dwellings which stated that there was currently no capacity available to accommodate foul flows from the development.  The Parish Council felt that Twyning should no longer be the borough/county dumping ground for quarries, distribution centres and unlimited housing development and the sustainability factor must now play a significant role in the determination of these applications.

72.19        The Chair invited an objector to address the Committee.  The objector indicated that she was representing hundreds of constituents as she had been contacted more regarding this application than on any other subject since becoming a Councillor.  She pointed out that, in addition to the school already being full, horrendous ongoing sewage issues, lack of public transport and the narrow, busy access lane, the application was within the Twyning Neighbourhood Development Plan boundary and Twyning, as a Service Village, had already exceeded its quota of new homes.  Despite those reasons, which she felt should be enough to satisfy planning rules and regulations, there was an urgent biodiversity and climate emergency which the destruction of this habitat would further fuel.  Additionally, there was a more emotional response – the fear of the loss of this precious oasis at the heart of the village.  She indicated that over 300 people had objected to the proposal, around 70 residents had shown their presence at the Planning Committee Site Visit the previous week, nearly 700 ribbons had been tied to the unsightly, oppressive fences, there had been mass support for the TPOs and the Community Right to Bid and there were people in the public gallery today – she asked what more the public had to do before the Council took into account their views.  She had full confidence in the Committee and felt it would be ridiculous to vote minded to permit following the unanimous decision to agree permanent TPOs on the whole site just nine weeks ago.  Planning Committee Members who went on the Planning Committee Site Visit would be fully aware of the insanity of felling this ten year old woodland in the centre of the village.  She had recently attended the first meeting of Gloucestershire County Council’s tree planting network group, which would see Councils and residents working together with the aim of planting a million trees.  The meeting had been well-attended and energising, yet she questioned the point of a group like that if, whilst planting new trees in one location, 2,000 trees could be felled elsewhere in the county.  It was her opinion that the application was just plain wrong as the destruction of this biodiverse habitat, valued by those before, during and since lockdown, would be an injustice and an insult to everyone who used it and a severe blow to wildlife and the mental and physical health of residents.  She implored Members to make the humane choice and conclude with a minded to refuse decision.

72.20        The Chair invited the applicant’s agent, speaking in support of the application, to address the Committee.  The applicant’s agent indicated that Twyning was a designated Service Village in the Joint Core Strategy, one of 12 such Service Villages the Council had designated to meet the housing needs of the borough over the plan period.  With that in mind, it was fully expected that applications like this would be made for development within and around the edge of Twyning to meet that need.  The applicant’s agent advised that the site was located on the northern urban edge of the village and was well connected to it and the site was not affected by any land use designations or listed buildings.  Therefore, it represented an obvious location for development and the expectation of the Joint Core Strategy and National Planning Policy Framework was that it would be delivered.  The delivery of sites such as this was even more critical now given the fragility of the Council’s housing supply situation – as Members were aware, the Council was currently unable to demonstrate a five year supply and appeal Inspectors had recently poured doubt on the Council’s ability to demonstrate a supply even at the point of adoption of the Borough Plan – it would certainly not be able to demonstrate a supply in December when the Standard Methodology kicked in.  These factors were dictating the way in which decisions were being made by Inspectors at appeal and Members would be mindful of the recently allowed appeal at Fleet Lane, Twyning where costs were awarded against the Council due to an undefendable approach; similar appeals had been allowed at Fiddington and Coombe Hill.  The applicant’s agent recognised that making decisions on applications such as this, particularly where there was a large amount of public opposition, was very difficult; however, in his view Officers had got it absolutely right as there were no defendable planning grounds upon which to base a refusal in this case, particularly in the context of the tilted balance.  The applicant’s agent went on to indicate that the site’s only notable constraint was the TPO made recently; however, as Officers had correctly identified, granting permission here would actually create an enhancement in that the loss of some of the trees would facilitate the long-term management of the majority to be retained, it would allow public access to the wider site and substantial areas of public open space to be created.  The applicant’s agent was aware of the local suggestion that it was public land but it was not, it was privately owned land so the proposal to give over substantial areas for community use was a public benefit.  The responses of technical consultees confirmed that the development was acceptable in all other respects with County Highways, the Lead Local Flood Authority, Severn Trent Water, the Council’s Ecological Adviser, Urban Design Officer and the County Archaeologist all confirming their acceptance of the proposal.  Furthermore, the scheme provided a policy compliant contribution of 40% affordable housing as well as education and community contributions.  The applicant’s agent appreciated the difficult position Members were in with being asked to approve these applications, particularly when there was strong local opposition; however, the recent decision to award costs against the Council on the Fleet Lane appeal really did appear to be an indication of what was in store if policy compliant proposals such as this were not approved.  He believed he spoke for the majority of Tewkesbury Borough residents when he suggested that the best defence for developments that were truly unpalatable was to allow those which were clearly acceptable, such as this one; that was the view that appeared to have been taken by Officers and he urged Members to support their recommendation.

72.21        The Chair invited a local Ward Member to address the Committee.  The local Ward Member indicated that he always read Planning Committee reports focusing on the harms and benefits sections; planning decisions were made by Members and not Officers and he believed this application made it clear as to why.  Balancing benefits against harms was both objective and subjective and the Government had vested that decision in elected representatives of the local borough in acknowledgement that they knew their area, the things they wanted to see within them and how they wished to see them developed.  This application for 55 houses was outside of the residential development boundary and Twyning had already exceeded its housing allocation as a Service Village.  The site was a maturing wood that was widely used by the local community and was criss-crossed and accessed by numerous footpaths.  The woodland also hosted a range of wildlife and plant habitats which would be destroyed by the development – building and construction would at best leave a tree-lined avenue, the wood would be gone.  He felt that the number of people who had turned out to support and preserve the wood at the Planning Committee Site Visit was testimony to the value they attached to it and, amongst many banners, one had caught his eye saying the wood had saved that person’s life when they suffered from mental health problems – these were the hidden human benefits from a woodland to which only Members could attach a benefit.  Two months ago the Committee had recognised this wood was so precious that Members had placed a TPO on it and he knew of no other site in the borough where a wood was so close and accessible to the local community.  The wood was unique and, if it were of national significance, the likes of Swampy would be camped out there; it was not, but there were over 100 ordinary men, women and children at the site during the Planning Committee Site Visit and over 300 letters of objection had been received in its defence. The local Ward Member indicated that the support of those people was needed, both nationally and locally, if the policy of planting millions of trees to combat climate change was to be achieved and that support would be totally undermined if the wood was allowed to be destroyed.  He recognised it was a big ask but he would like to see the Planning Committee unanimously refuse the application because Members recognised the value that the woodland brought and he hoped that would give Officers the confidence to defend this at appeal as it would say a lot about the Council, and the borough, in terms of what they valued and what they wanted to be.

72.22        The Chair indicated that the Officer recommendation was minded to permit, subject to the appellant submitting to the Planning Inspectorate in the course of the appeal the appropriate Section 106 Legal Agreements to secure the necessary planning obligations identified, and he sought a motion from the floor.  It was proposed and seconded that the Committee be minded to refuse the application on the basis that the proposal conflicted with Policies SD6 and SD10 of the Joint Core Strategy, Policies GD1, GD3, H1 and LF1 of The Twyning Neighbourhood Development Plan, RES2 of the emerging Borough Plan and the recent TPO and the harm associated with building on the site would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits. The proposer of the motion felt that the number of objections received in relation to the application, as well as the attendance at the Planning Committee Site Visit, demonstrated the strength of feeling amongst the local community regarding the potential loss of the woodland and highlighted its importance as a village amenity which needed to be protected for generations to come.  The Planning Committee had unanimously voted to apply a TPO to the whole site and trees were currently valued more highly than ever for tackling climate change with the Queen’s Green Canopy tree planting initiative which would see numerous organisations, including Gloucestershire County Council, committing to planting trees - this site was an example of 2,000 trees maturing well.  Furthermore, Twyning still suffered from raw sewage spilling over manholes when it rained, the village school was full, there was no bus service and the proposed exit to Hillend Lane was dangerous.  He was disappointed the Committee did not have the option to refuse the application outright; nevertheless, he hoped that a minded to refuse decision would demonstrate to the Inspector Members’ strong views that the application should not be allowed for the reasons given.  The seconder of the motion expressed the view that the potential cost of losing an appeal, as had been referenced by the applicant’s agent, was not a consideration for the Committee.  At the Planning Committee Site Visit, he had asked for the trajectory for delivering the site if this application was to go ahead and whether it would actually help meet the Council’s five year housing land supply.  The Planning Officer explained that it was not possible to predict exactly when it would come forward; however, an appeal had been lodged so it would be necessary to go through that process and, if allowed, an approval of reserved matters application would be required so he anticipated it was unlikely it would be delivered within a five year period.  The seconder of the motion noted that the supply position had been set back due to the Borough Plan not coming forward for adoption and he asked if there was a date for that.  The Legal Adviser indicated that the Inspector’s report had been received last week and Officers were doing their best to bring it to Council as soon as possible but no date had been confirmed as yet.

72.23        During the debate which ensued, a Member indicated that she found it incredible that the Committee had agreed a TPO for the whole woodland less than two months ago and was now being asked to consider its removal so there was no way she could support the application.  Another Member echoed the views of the proposer of the motion; he felt the woodland was a wonderful amenity for Twyning and the surrounding area but, over and above that, the site was outside of the development boundary and was not included in the Twyning Neighbourhood Development Plan.  He recognised that certain villages, such as Twyning, had been identified as Service Villages but when that work had been carried out Members had also looked at the growth that was envisaged to be sustainable – in this case he felt the developer was taking advantage of the fact it was a Service Village and Twyning would suffer as a result; being a Service Village did not give a licence to build houses here, there and everywhere.  He did not consider the access to the site to be safe due to its location on a bend on the side of a hill and he raised concern that the plans which had been submitted by the applicant showed the road as being straight when it was not.  In his view it would be an accident waiting to happen with the amount of traffic that would be going in and out of the estate and he was happy to support the minded to refuse motion.  In response, the Planning Officer clarified that the plans submitted were accurate and pointed out the curve on the plans which had been displayed to the Committee.  The County Highways representative explained that the issue of safety was difficult to substantiate and, in this instance, there were no accident statistics to demonstrate the site access would be unsafe.  The road safety audit had not identified any issues and there was no evidence to refuse the application on highway safety grounds.  County Highways was satisfied with the Officer recommendation and that the access was suitable for the size of the development proposed.  A Member questioned how accident statistics were obtained as not all accidents would be reported to the Police.  The County Highways representative confirmed that County Highways did rely on Police reports as they were suitably qualified with appropriate survey equipment to assess incidents and provide an objective view, therefore, this was a sound, trusted source of data – minor bumps and shunts were not subject to thorough appraisal and could not carry substantial weight.  Another Member noted that the application site appeared to take in all of Hillend Road and the Planning Officer advised that, although it was highways land, it was within the red line as it formed part of the planning application and needed to be included for works to the footpath at the side.  A Member sought clarification as to whether the County Highways representative had visited the application site when assessing the proposal or if that had been a desk-based exercise and the County Highways representative clarified he was not the lead officer in this instance but confirmed that his colleague had been to the site.  The applicant had provided a transport statement and that had been appraised based on first-hand observations.

72.24        A Member raised concern that the Officer recommendation was minded to permit and, whilst he recognised the concerns, apart from the point about the site being outside of the development boundary he was yet to hear any substantive reason to be minded to refuse the proposal.  The proposer of the motion had put forward a list of policies but had not stated how they would apply and in what way they could be used.  He asked what substantive reasons for refusal could be raised and if the TPO issue would feature effectively within that. The Legal Adviser confirmed that the tilted balance was engaged as the Council’s housing land supply was 3.83 years at the present time.  Officers had come to a judgement in relation to the proposal and it may be reasonable, depending on the grounds, for Members to come to a different judgement.  In terms of sewage issues which had been referenced by the proposer of the motion, at the previous appeal in relation to Fleet Lane, the Inspector had taken the position that this could be dealt with by condition, therefore it was unlikely a refusal reason could be substantiated on that basis in this case.  The Planning Officer advised that the TPO was a material consideration in the planning balance.  The Development Manager explained there was no guarantee that the land would be developed at the time the TPO had been brought to the Committee and the Inspector may dismiss the appeal so there was still no guarantee what would happen with the land going forward. 

72.25        The Chair indicated that he was reluctant to disagree with the expert advice but Members attending the Planning Committee Site Visit had all been concerned about the bend of the road and he did not see how the impact of traffic could be modelled when there was no traffic currently going into, or out of, what would be the entrance to the site.  The resultant removal of the hedgerow to make it safe would have a detrimental impact on the landscape locally and, in his view, that was a reason to refuse the proposal.  A Member shared this view - he felt it was acceptable for the Committee to have concerns about highway safety despite County Highways raising no objection to the proposal.  The County Highways representative indicated that he would not comment on the hedgerow itself as landscaping was outside of his remit – he looked at the safety elements and not any landscape around that.  He acknowledged the Committee was entitled to take a different view, but his advice was that Members should be satisfied they had sufficient evidence to justify a refusal reason and, if they did go against consultee advice, they must be confident it was robust enough to be defendable.  The seconder of the motion felt the majority of Members would be supportive of a refusal reason based on the detrimental impact on the landscape and habitats from removal of the hedgerow required to provide safe access and egress.  The proposer of the motion noted as regards sewage that an Inspector was unlikely to take that into account.  On the Planning Officer seeking clarification as to whether concerns regarding access were in respect of highway safety or the impact the removal of the hedge would have, the proposer of the motion confirmed it was both.  The Planning Officer indicated that from the discussion that had taken place, he had noted the following minded to refuse reasons: conflict with policies in respect of housing strategy, impacts on landscape character and green infrastructure, highway safety and the absence of a Section 106 Agreement.  The proposer and seconder of the motion confirmed they were happy with the reasons outlined and, upon being put to the vote, it was

RESOLVED           That Member be MINDED TO REFUSE the application as it would conflict with policies in respect of housing strategy, impacts on landscape character and green infrastructure, highway safety and the absence of a Section 106 Agreement. 

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