Thursday, 19 December 2013

"It has not been demonstrated that development in the highly protected AONB landscape is essential."

Last week the planning committee of the District Council (the Development Management Committee or DMC) rejected an application to install a solar farm on AONB land near Sidbury:
Futures Forum: Solar Plan for Sidmouth fails

There had been considerable alarm expressed about this development - primarily because of its impact on the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty - from many quarters:
Large solar farm planned in AONB, overlooking Sidbury. | Save Our Sidmouth
Large solar farm proposed at East Hill, overlooking Sidbury - East Devon Alliance 

The main reason the Town Council in rejecting the application was due to the impact on the AONB:

- Contrary to Policy EN1 - Developments affecting Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty: It was considered that the proposed development would create a significant and detrimental visual impact in the countryside within this important Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This in turn would be likely to impact the vital tourist industry in the area.

And the main reason from other objectors was the impact on the AONB:

Other Representations 
A total of 6 objections, 3 letters of support and 2 representations have been received, raising the following issues: 
• There is no need for such development in the AONB 
• It would use valuable agricultural land 
• There would be no community benefit 
• It would increase traffic 
• There would be an adverse archaeological impact 
• It would increase flooding 
• It would have a harmful visual impact and would be out of keeping with the unspoilt character of the area 

The East Devon AONB authority itself was not happy about the impact on the AONB:

The development has a number of challenging aspects: It is located in the AONB - England's highest landscape designation for scenic quality and will significantly alter the landscape character of this location The site is not located on previously developed land nor is it immediately adjacent to existing development, with development nearby or with nearby non-natural land cover. As a result it erodes the intrinsically rural nature of the countryside in this sparsely developed area

NPPF calls for valued landscapes to be protected and enhanced (NPPF 109) with the greatest weight being given to conserving landscape and scenic beauty in National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) (NPPF 115). There is a presumption against major development in protected landscapes (NPPF 116). This is a major development for renewable energy that will have a significant impact on the landscape character and scenic beauty of the AONB at this location. 


Has this 'set a precedent'? 

The DMC in its refusal to grant this application stated:

In the absence of information regarding the availability of land elsewhere which could be used to meet the national renewable energy targets, it has not been demonstrated that development in the highly protected AONB landscape is essential. With no imperative need for the development in this location and an unacceptable impact on the character and appearance of the area, the benefits of the scheme do not outweigh the harm. [page 229 of above]

In other words, this application would have been accepted if it had not been on AONB land.

Observers have noted parallels with other proposals for development on AONB around Sidmouth:

Employment land, at Sidford:
Sidford fields, AONB or Business Park? | Save Our Sidmouth
Last minute attempt to remove Sidford from Local Plan - Features - Sidmouth Herald


All policy documents on the status of AONB land not only confer it equivalent standing to National Parks, but specify that no major developments should be permitted ‘except in exceptional circumstances’; furthermore, if applications to build on AONB are considered, a series of assessments should be carried out:

The District Council has failed to provide a clear assessment of why AONB land should be breached in Sidmouth; but is nevertheless fully aware of these guidelines and is willing to see them implemented elsewhere in the District:
The Countryside and Rights of Way Act (2000), Section 85, means that AONB's are now afforded the same importance in terms of landscape as National Parks." Any new development ... that both Yarcombe and Marsh are part of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. ... Details of any exceptional circumstances relating to the guidelines ...

At the Sidmouth Town Assembly of 19th April 2012 there was almost unanimous opposition from approximately 200 members of the public to any new Employment Land provision beyond the Built-up Area Boundaries.

Nevertheless, and despite the application to extend the Sidmouth Garden Centre into AONB having been rejected by both the District Council and the Planning Inspectorate, the resolution to site Employment Land on the A3052 was carried by Sidmouth Town Council on 21st May 2012:
Any future development should be restricted to B1 and B2 and consideration given to the area north of the A3052 (above Waitrose) and not the proposed site at Sidford.

It appears, then, that the Town Council anticipates that the District Council would reverse its policy approach to this site and that a ‘new or different’ Planning Inspector would reject the conclusion of his or her predecessor, which seems very unlikely.
AN APPEAL to resurrect rejected proposals for a veterinary practice at Sidmouth Garden Centre has been dismissed by the Planning Inspectorate. EDDC had argued the proposed veterinary practice, which would be utilised by an independent business, would be detrimental to the surrounding Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). 
Planning inspector Rupert Grantham said in a report detailing the appeal decision: “The main issue raised by both appeals is whether the proposed development would result in harm to the character and appearance of the area and, if so, whether that harm would be outweighed by the need for development.” He said that, despite nearby housing developments taking place in the AONB over the road from the garden centre, land to the north of the A3052 remained “unspoilt”. Mr Grantham added the mooted timber clad practice, set partially into the hillside, would “aggravate” the garden centre’s impact on the AONB. “Neither scheme would succeed in conserving or enhancing the landscape character of the area,” he said. Mr Grantham concluded the need for the proposed development wasn’t sufficient to outweigh the “significant harm” that either scheme would cause to the area’s character and appearance.

The District Council has made this clear in its own report:
Officer recommendation to refuse. Committee refusal. Landscape policy reasons upheld. (DSP Policies CO1, CO3 & CO6 and EDLP Policies S5, EN1 & D1).


There is also the issue of more housing above Woolbrook on AONB land. 
To be considered in a later posting, from 2009:
www.eastdevon.gov.uk/issues___options_responses_dec09.pdf (page 52)
www.eastdevon.gov.uk/ldfp_agenda_130809.pdf (page 69)
Vision for Sidmouth housing debate - News - Sidmouth Herald
Housing questions raised at Sidmouth Vision meeting - News - Sidmouth Herald
View From Online - News from West Dorset, East Devon & South Somerset
Vision Group for Sidmouth - Woolbrook Meeting

To be considered at the Examination of the New East Devon Local Plan on 25th February 2014:
East Devon Proposed Local Plan Consultation 2012

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