Local Councils

Letter to Sajid Javid from Hungerford Town Council

This is the text of a letter which is being sent by Hungerford Town Council to the Communities and Local Government Minister Sajid Javid.

Dear Minister

Building on Green Belt land

During your appearance on Andrew Marr’s programme on Sunday 22nd October 2017, we were delighted to hear you say that you ruled out relaxing protections on building on the Green Belt. Your statement confirmed what the Prime Minister had already said at a Downing Street Meeting with developers, local authorities and Housing Association representatives earlier that week.

In the light of those statements, and bearing in mind that it is impossible for any Minister to know everything that has been done within their departments, we are writing to bring to your attention the situation that we face here in Hungerford. West Berkshire Council (WBC), as the planning authority for the area, has designated a large greenfield site to the south of Hungerford (the Salisbury Road site) as suitable for housing development, despite opposition from us and from a substantial body of local opinion within the town. The Salisbury Road site lies within the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). HTC has, from the outset of the process, put forward alternative proposals comprising a mix of brownfield sites within the existing town boundary and some greenfield sites which will have a lesser environmental impact on the AONB than the Salisbury Road site. These proposals provide for an appropriate mix of “affordable” and other housing.

Following the public inquiry in July 2016, the Inspector approved WBC’s proposed designation of the Salisbury Road site, but in our view he failed (as indeed WBC had done) to understand and give effect to the requirements of HMG’s policy and, in particular, the requirements of paragraph 116 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). This paragraph provides that planning permission should be refused for major developments in AONBs except in exceptional circumstances and when it can be demonstrated that they are in the public interest. WBC argued that because a large proportion of West Berkshire is in the AONB, this in itself constitutes “exceptional circumstances”. In the context of paragraph 116, “exceptional circumstances” must relate to the circumstances of each particular case, and not a generalised exception applicable to the AONB. As for the “public interest” element of the criteria, WBC has made no attempt to advance any evidence or argument to meet that requirement in the case of the Salisbury Road site, beyond a general intention of wanting to provide more “affordable” housing. In pursuit of that intention, WBC has granted outline permission for the Salisbury Road site, which includes 40 “affordable” homes as part of the development of 100 houses. A request to your Department to call in the outline planning permission for review was not granted, but for what reasons we are not clear.

What is clear, however, is that if the development of Salisbury Road site is allowed to proceed, it will be contrary to and constitute a direct challenge to HMG policy and it raises the possibility that it will be used in future as a precedent to justify future breaches of that policy.

Our purpose in writing to you is to make sure that you are aware of the situation and to ask what you are able to do about it. Our local MP, Richard Benyon, is generally aware of the situation and, so far, has declined to become involved, on the basis that this is a local planning matter.

However, this goes beyond a local planning matter and has national policy implications, which need to be addressed.

Yours sincerely,

6 Comments
  1. I’m wondering whether Hungerford Town Council ever got a response from Sajid Javid to this letter?

    My further FOI to the Ministry of Housing Communities & Local Government would seem to indicate not.

    • Jan
      I don’t know. If they did I’ve not seen it. I suggest you ask Claire at the office.
      Regards,
      Brian Quinn

  2. Further to my previous post, I think the time period for calling in the application has now expired as West Berkshire Council finally agreed the Planning Permission on 30th November 2017. There is however a possibility for JR of the planning application itself contrary to the impression given in the ‘press release’ by CALA/WATES which Brian helpfully identified as such before reproducing it. However time is running out & my impression of the general feeling at tonight’s Hungerford Town Council meeting was that Councillors didn’t feel there was the appetite within the town to pursue this option which would be very costly ( although how costly they didn’t know)

    They may well be right, there were only 2 members of the public there, myself & a Director of CALA homes (who identified himself as such at the end of the meeting) I pointed out that the lack of public attendance may well have been because people were not aware that the JR route was still open & was being considered at the meeting. It certainly wasn’t publicised in the way previous meetings about the development have been and the Hungerford Town Council web site hasn’t been updated since permission to proceed with JR of the site’s allocation in West Berkshire Council’s HSA DPD was refused. Instead focus seems to have shifted to promoting the meeting about the Neighbourhood Plan, for which money has presumably been set aside ( although how much I don’t know as the budget papers weren’t distributed).

    I am pleased to say however that Councillors decided in the end ( and I stand to be corrected – it was quite difficult to follow) that they should take legal advice to establish the costs and likelihood of success of a JR of the planning application and also establish whether the fact that West Berkshire Council have so far refused to supply the S106 agreement would extend the timeframe for applying for JR thereby giving them more time to consider whether to go down that route.

    A surprising turn of events was that the Director of CALA said he would email Hungerford Town Council the signed 106 agreement. He seemed bemused that West Berkshire Council hadn’t supplied it and said they should have done as its a public document.

    Personally I think there is a very strong chance of success at JR providing the lawyers are briefed properly, and also that West Berkshire Council will concede the case based on the Kintbury ‘Land North of Irish Hill’ appeal decision where the Planning Inspector lays out very clearly the protections afforded against major development in the AONB.

    Through FOI, I have obtained the representations made by CALA/WATES to the National Planning Casework Unit regarding the call-in request to the Secretary of State. They make interesting reading and avoid the whole Para116 ‘Exceptional Circumstances’ issue by saying that they don’t consider 100 houses in the AONB to be major development! Shame they didn’t say that at the Examination in Public as it could have been countered.

    Form your own opinion

    The letter can be found here: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/443752/response/1074895/attach/3/For%20Release2%203543987%20Redacted.pdf?cookie_passthrough=1

    The call-in evaluation form can be found here: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/443752/response/1074895/attach/5/RTI%20Assessment%20Form%20150415%20Redacted.pdf?cookie_passthrough=1

    The full FOI can be found here

    https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/documentation_on_request_to_call#comment-81801

    My own opinion for what it’s worth is that there is a lack of competence and oversight in the ncpu which in this case led to a flawed decision.

    By coincidence Save Britain’s Heritage have recently legally challenged the DCLG on their failure to give reasons for refusing to call-in the Paddington Cube application in London.

    https://www.savebritainsheritage.org/campaigns/article/472/press-release-save-response-to-paddington-cube-legal-challenge

    They express it so much better than me!

  3. It’s a really good letter, highlighting local opinion but unfortunately what it fails to do is to formally request that the application be called in. There is still time to do this as the application remains ‘awaiting decision’.

  4. Martyn Bright

    I completely agree with HTC on this matter. ‘Exceptional circumstances’ have not been satisfactorily demonstrated and as for ‘public interest’ surely the AONB has some meaning that WBC can recognise given that perfectly adequate other locations have been identified and endorsed through the Town Plan which included a wide survey of all local residents. The ‘Eddington’ issue last year showed WBC unable to act ‘in the public interest’ for reasons unclear ( staff/resource/being outflanked? ) and through this entire planning matter have adopted a position along the lines of – ”we have to do this to meet National requirements” – which is not representing local public interest at all.
    We deserve better representation especially as ”affordable” housing is so urgently needed for our younger people and HTC has worked so hard to achieve this. My hope is that even now the AONB will be respected and the Local Government Minister will help bring what Hungerford Town needs.

    • Thanks for your comment. I’m prepared to be corrected but always understood that the Eddington issue was a case of WBC being over-ruled by HM Building Inspectorate. There was then, I believe, a problem with certain alleged breaches by the developers not being dealt with, WBC’s explanation being shortage of staff. I have some sympathy for WBC in both these cases; and both undermine the planning process.
      Brian Quinn

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