Slades Hill Templecombe – a murky tale

The Blog looks in detail at the planning  process for this controversial development, which is murky, to say the least. The Planning Inspector’s decision is awaited in a few weeks.

“Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made” – so said the American poet  John Godfrey Saxe (and not the frequently mis-attributed Count Otto von Bismark). The same applies to the planning process, especially as we begin to learn more about the Mead planning application to build 100 houses on a field in Templecombe.

Templecombe is not Horsington, so why is the Blog bothered? Well, Templecombe is perilously close to Horsington, we intermarry, drink in each others pubs, and use the station frequently.  What happens in Templecombe could happen in Horsington. There is a new planning regime, and we need to come to terms with it.

The Developer
Mead Realisations describes itself as a land development and “property enabling company”, which buys ‘problem’ land i.e. land that does not have planning permission, has access problems and possibly contaminated soil. MRL uses a team of  consultants to work through the problems, before it either develops land with other major developers, or alternatively, sells it to them.

They are no strangers to planning controversy, and employ a very slick and professional planning consultant. You may have seen Derek Mead on the local news as he is a key player in the long running attempts at redevelopment of the Tropicana in Western Super Mare. He is also a North Somerset Councillor!

The South Somerset District Council
Your local authority. Lib Dem. Band D Council Tax £1447.25, the most expensive in Somerset.

Local planning authorities were given a 12 month transition period to ensure their plans were compliant with the new NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework). This expired at the end of March 2013

SSDC produced a local plan setting out a detailed picture of projected land use until 2028. The plan was submitted to the Secretary of State on 21 January 2013. So far so good.

If you search the SSDC website (and you have to know where to look), it tells you the Secretary of State’s Inspector expressed concern over several areas of the SSDC’s plan, and in effect rejected it. The Council spun this as a positive, saying they were “pleased that the Inspector has agreed in principle to the suspension or pause so the Council can address his concerns”

But the fact remains is that currently South Somerset has no local plan. Many of the planning assumptions which the SSDC relies on to approve or reject planning applications are out of date, or inaccurate, as the Mead planning appeal revealed.

It will be several months, and several hundred thousand pounds of council taxpayers’ money before a new plan is in place, assuming the inspector accepts it next time round.

This puts South Somerset residents at the mercy of opportunistic developers like Mead, because, in the absence of policy, there is a presumption in favour of development.

The law states “where the development plan is absent, silent or relevant policies are out of date,  the authority should consider granting permission unless there are significant and demonstrable adverse impacts.

History of the Slades Hill site
The site was put forward for 70 houses in the 2006 Local Plan, but the Inspector found that the site was unsustainable, so the allocation was deleted. Mead unsuccessfully challenged this in the High Court.

In August 2012 Mead submitted an outline application for a development of up to 100 dwellings, retail unit, employment area, community building, area for potential school expansion, public open space, and allotments, together with new road access.

Mead say they went to considerable lengths to consult with the planning department and local residents. There was an exhibition in the village hall, and Mead published an 84-page document summarising the reactions to the development.

However, according to local resident Sarah Webb, who gave evidence at the appeal, the consultation process was badly flawed.

  •  Initially only the very local residents were invited to the village hall consultation in late 2011.
  • A number of invitations to the exhibition arrived on the day of the consultation, and some the day after
  • The development went to appeal on non determination. The developer then requested a revised application for 70 houses be considered at the Planning Inquiry although this application was still in consultation.
  • There was no consultation of a number of people in the village who will be directly affected by the development, including those people who stand to lose the amenity of parking outside their house if the plan goes ahead.

A well-attended Templecombe Parish Council extraordinary meeting in September 2012 objected strongly to the development.

However, the SSDC – Area East did not reject the application. It simply did not decide because it didn’t have the information from SSDC Planning Department to be able to make an informed decision within the required timescale. Mead therefore appealed against “non-determination”, and a date was set for a hearing. Only after the appeal was made did the application come to Area East and it was then unanimously voted for refusal but by then it was too late.

What was clear from the outset was that the residents of Templecombe were against it for various logical reasons – size, scale, access, need, pressure on local services, effect on property prices, traffic increase etc. The Parish Council was against it. The SSDC was against it. The Planning Department recommended refusal.

But then in August 2013 Mead issued a second application, this time for 75 homes, and no retail element but an increased allocation of employment land to replace the retail element and 25 houses -so there was no change to the size of the development.

This was discussed at a poorly attended ordinary Parish Council meeting in September 2013, and was item 5.6 on the agenda. Only 2 parish councillors and the chairman voted for it, and the rest of the village was not consulted. Yet at the hearing, Mead’s consultant Ian Jewson plainly stated that local people, led by the parish council, supported the revised application. No-one contradicted this.

We also understand, but this is not confirmed, that the owner of the land, a parish councillor, attended the Parish Council meeting in September 2013,  including during the voting.  He didn’t vote but was allowed to stay.

SSDC Area East have still not had this revised application to consider so the developers have undermined the democratic process of considering planning applications in this area.

The Appeal hearing, held in Wincanton at the end of September, was not publicised on either the SSDC’s or the Planning Inspectorate’s websites. The Blog only found out about it when the editor rang the council wondering if a hearing had been fixed, only to be told he had just 4 minutes to get there!

The Planning Inspectorate website still indicates no hearing date, and is still inviting comments. So much for open public administration.

Local people, and our Councillors Willam Wallace and Tim Inglefield gave evidence to the appeal. They commented “We are certain that the planners have done a diligent job in reviewing all the objections raised.  However, they must interpret such objections within the law and precedent of planning regulations.  Often local objections are made on grounds outside the planning regime for reasons which cannot be used as formal objections within the legislation.  Knowledge of some of the detail often defeats even your ward councillors!

“Our prime duty is to ensure that the concerns of our parishioners are heard in the right court and are sensibly and responsibly considered.  We separately may have our own views which may differ from the Parish Council or even perhaps with some of the parishioners themselves, but our aim in such circumstances is to work for the good of the ward and in the best general interest.”

The Inspector is now considering the matter.

It will be a travesty of justice and democracy if this development goes ahead against the strong objections of local people and the opposition of the local authority.

We shall see.

Apologies for such a long story, but it’s complicated and important -Ed
Sarah Webb’s evidence to the appeal
Response from local councillors
Slades Hill Development appeal
SSDC Planning details
Slades Hill development protest site
South Somerset’s planning nightmare
Wincanton planning problems

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