At the same Hart Planning Committee meeting in September which approved 550 houses for North East Hook, another planning application for 300 houses in Church Crookham was also considered. As you probably know, the North East Hook application was approved, supported even by Hook Ward councillors as set out in their letter beforehand to Hook Focus. The thrust of that letter was that approval of the North East Hook application would bolster the “5 year land supply” that would provide protection from further imminent speculative developments in addition to those already forced through even though they had never been in the Local Development Plan.
But the Church Crookham application for 300 houses, a surgery, pharmacy, retail and recreational space at Watery Lane was refused. Because the NE Hook application had now (just) been passed, the committee could consider there to be a proven 5 year land supply and would not be forced to approve further speculative developments. Nevertheless this application seemed rather modest, was adjacent to existing houses and was recommended for approval by Planning Officers. Discussions with Hook Ward councillors prior to the meeting indicated that it was expected to be approved along with the NE Hook application to bolster the 5 year land supply and consequently provide protection for a longer period while the Local Plan is prepared.
Unlike the NE Hook application, the Church Crookham one was very forcefully opposed by the respective Ward Councillors in a carefully choreographed display in conjunction with the relevant Parish Councillors and opposition group. Following the Parish Councillors’ presentation, questions from the Ward planning member to the Parish Councillors were handled by the Parish Councillors reading from prepared answers!
An independent traffic report had been undertaken which cast doubt on the one submitted by the developer. Nevertheless the Hampshire Highways representative present stated that he had full confidence in the original report. In addition, the notorious junction between the A287 and Redlands Lane would be improved with road realignment and a roundabout. The ecology of the site was claimed by objectors to be at risk, but the Hampshire Ecology expert reporting personally to the committee stated that in fact the site was becoming degraded over time and the development plans would safeguard most of the open space and even enhance it through active management.
But the primary argument for rejection appears to be that part of the proposed SANG was prone to flooding. A SANG is a Suitable Area of Natural Greenspace – a means to reduce use of the Thames Basin Special Protection Area, or SPA, by recreational users. Although a boardwalk was planned to traverse this portion of the SANG, it was claimed to be an unacceptable solution because dogs would not keep to the boardwalk and as a result dog walkers would not bring their dogs to this SANG when it flooded. It was argued that if they did not bring their dogs when flooded, then they would probably never bring them and therefore the proposed SANG would fail to draw walkers away from the SPA. The SANG area for the NE Hook development is also partially in a flood zone – developers put houses on a site where they are less likely to flood, leaving SANG portions as more likely to flood.
When the motion to approve the Watery Lane planning application was put to a vote to approve it, there was not one single vote in favour of approval of the application. When an alternative motion to refuse the application was eventually constructed, there was almost unanimous support to refuse it, with some abstentions. It was rather a stark contrast to the NE Hook application which was unanimously approved without material debate.
The decision on the Watery Lane site had to be ratified by a later full council meeting since it was an application outside of the Local Plan. The way the decision is ratified is by Full Council accepting the minutes of the planning committee meeting. Full council can only debate the matters in those minutes if at least 5 councillors make a request in writing to do so, 5 days before the meeting. No request was made to call in the matter for debate so the decisions made at the planning committee would be automatically ratified without discussion and no decision could be challenged.
At the Full Council meeting Councillor Burchfield, who was not the Hook Ward member on the planning committee, asked the planning committee chairman about the chances of this refused application being overturned at appeal and the cost implications to Hart of fighting and losing such an appeal. The planning committee chairman said that the chances of winning an appeal, should one be made, could be 50/50. The cost implications were answered after the meeting by Joint Chief Executive Daryl Phillips as being around £35,000 for a single day hearing to perhaps £80,000 for a 3 day hearing. If costs were awarded against Hart then these figures would approximately double, but Mr Phillips said that costs would only be awarded against Hart if Hart were shown to have acted unreasonably.
Without the Watery Lane development, the land supply position by our calculation is that there is at most 8 months before speculative developments could once again be forced through by developers, anywhere in Hart. With Watery Lane this would have been extended to 16 months. With the Local Plan not expected to be in place until 2016, this protection is of critical importance and was the whole reason that the NE Hook development was pushed through in its premature state.
It should be noted that these calculated protection periods are the most optimistic figures. If a government inspector decided at a planning application appeal that Hart had previously under-delivered on housing supply, then a buffer of up to 20% would need to be used in determining land supply rather than the minimum 5% Hart have used. This would mean that without Watery Lane we are already potentially beyond the protection period provided by the land supply calculation.