In a decision that offers something for every planorak, Paul G Tucker QC and Constanze Bell, represented Bovis Homes Limited and Robert Hitchins Limited at a recent successful appeal in Gloucestershire which secured planning permission for up to 95 dwellings at Coombe Hill in Gloucestershire.
The main issues before Inspector Clark ranged widely: Whether the appeal site would be an appropriate location; character and appearance of the area; the effects of the proposal on the Coombe Hill Canal SSSI and the Severn Estuary SPA; the supply of market and affordable housing and the demand for, and provision of, Schools.
Inspector Clark found that the site would be an appropriate location for new residential development and that the precise scale of development should be determined pragmatically by a consideration of the relevant policy criteria and that (without prejudice to consideration of detailed reserved matters applications) the effect of the quantity of development proposed on the character and appearance of the area would be acceptable.
In terms of ecology, there were three issues. Firstly, possible adverse effects of the development upon the integrity and conservation objectives of the Severn Estuary Special Protection Area and Ramsar Site (the SPA) through hydrological effects in functionally linked watercourses. Secondly, possible adverse effects of the development on the SPA through recreational effects on birds using Functionally Linked Land (FLL) in the vicinity of Coombe Hill. Thirdly, possible adverse effects upon the Coombe Hill Canal SSSI and on Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust’s Coombe Hill Canal and Meadows Reserve in general. Inspector Clark found that possible adverse hydrological effects would be unlikely to occur if sustainable drainage matters are secured by way of condition. In terms of birds, which was the primary issue between the parties, the Inspector found that there may be a likely significant effect on the SPA from the development proposed and that an appropriate assessment must therefore be made because of use of the FLL by black-tailed godwits fattening themselves up for migration and curlews breeding away from their winter residence. Overall, the Inspector found that the proposed development would have no significant adverse effects upon the integrity and conservation objectives of the Severn Estuary Special Protection Area and Ramsar Site (the SPA) through recreational effects on birds using Functionally Linked Land (FLL) in the vicinity of Coombe Hill. Further, the effects of the proposal on the Coombe Hill Canal SSSI, designated for its nationally rare and scarce invertebrates and nationally scarce plants and locally important for its diverse breeding bird assemblage, would be acceptable having regard to the mitigation proposed.
Inspector Clark found that housing to be provided would make a significant contribution to the supply of housing in Tewkesbury, which cannot demonstrate a 5 year housing supply. Its benefit is enhanced when considerations of both the inadequacy of supply inherent in the local plan and those shortfalls in the current five-year housing land supply were taken into account.
In terms of school contributions, the Inspector concluded that the effects of the proposal on the demand for and provision of schools would be acceptable without the need for any provision of expanded facilities because there was sufficient capacity at existing schools. The Council had overestimated pupil demand and failed to justify its limited examination of capacity (assessing capacity with reference to distance to be travelled).
Ultimately, Inspector Clark considered that “subject to some of the Unilateral Undertakings and with the conditions attached to this permission, the planning balance is almost entirely one-sided”.
Paul and Constanze called: Tim Goodwin (Ecology Solutions, ecology), Neil Tiley (Pegasus, education contributions and housing land supply), Paul Harris (MHP Design Limited, urban design), David Hutchison, (Pegasus, planning). They were instructed by David Hutchison of Pegasus.
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