Honourable Sajid Javid, MP,
Planning application decision Ref : PF/16/0825 North Norfolk District Council
I suspect -indeed hope- that you will have found several emails relating to this planning miscarriage in your inbox recently, I also suspect that you might, quite justifiably, think it a small bowl of potatoes way off in the depths of north Norfolk and not important enough to merit too much of your obviously valuable time. But please do pause and take a look at it, this small planning decision throws up an important issue of principle. North Norfolk District Council’s development committee were poised to refuse this application, which would have been the correct decision, and inline with a planning inspectors earlier dismissal of the developer’s appeal, when an officer intervened and advised them thus; “We have to think about the next step, and how we could enforce this.” Those words of expediency changed the chairman’s mind and his vote granted approval.
North Norfolk District Council recently produced a document with the title ‘ LOCAL PLANNING ENFORCEMENET PLAN ’ Its mission statement read “ Effective enforcement is important as a means of maintaining public confidence in the planning system” This decision obviously does exactly the opposite, and is unequivocally wrong. Should you decide to act in respect of it you could without a doubt make that wrong a right. I am assuming that you have already had sight of the details regarding this matter.
Should that not be the case they are set out below.
Chairman Friends of North Norfolk.
For reference, the below comments from the acting local member were read out at the meeting
The historic area of open land in the heart of Blakeney, the Pastures, is a crucial element in the landscape of the village and makes an immense contribution to the unique character of the settlement.
But in recent years, many residents in Blakeney have become increasingly concerned that the Pastures seem to be threatened on all sides from development.
When North Norfolk District Council last produced its Core Strategy, planners and councillors felt sufficiently strongly that the Pastures should be protected that the site was specially designated in Policy CT1 as Open Land, with the policy that “development will not be permitted except where it enhances the open character or recreational use of the land”.
The application in question seeks retrospective consent for a series of earth banks ranging in height from just under 0.5m to slightly under 20cm. The earth banks span the southern edge of the site, as well as intersecting it from North to South – in effect subdividing the previously open area. A hedge has been planted on top of the bank.
In the Officer’s report, the argument is made that “the earth bank would have a negligible impact on the character and appearance of this section of the designated Open Land Space”. On this basis, the officer argues that policy CT1 would not be sufficient reason to reject this application.
However, in doing so the officer has fundamentally misunderstood the legal significance of policy CT1. The policy DOES NOT mean that development is acceptable unless it has a detrimental impact on the open space. Rather, the policy means that ALL DEVELOPMENT IS UNACCEPTABLE unless it ENHANCES the open space.
On this site, clearly the effect of the earth banks is to subdivide the open area – effectively compartmentalising it. The development obviously therefore does not enhance the open character of the land. Unless the applicant can show that the development DOES enhance the open character of the land, the basic argument made in the report on this application must be rejected as legally flawed by this committee.
As well as breaching policy CT1, the development in question is also in breach of policies EN1 and EN2.
Policy EN1 is intended to protect the AONB, and states: “Proposals that have an adverse effect will not be permitted unless […] the benefits of the development clearly outweigh any adverse impacts.” There are clearly no planning benefits to this application, so the test in EN1 is not met and EN1 therefore supports refusal.
Policy EN2 is intended to protect the landscape and settlement area. It states: “development proposals should demonstrate that [they] will protect, conserve and, where possible, enhance […] the special qualities and local distinctiveness of the area”. The distinctiveness of this area lies in its open character, as stated in our core strategy, and no evidence has been put forward to suggest that these changes protect or enhance the open character of the area. EN2 therefore supports refusal.
In short, there are strong planning policy reasons in our core strategy to refuse this application.
And, unusually, there do not appear to be any material planning considerations to weigh in favour of the application. It will not benefit the community. It will not deliver jobs, growth or housing. Nor will it in any way enhance the open space or the conservation area.
The applicant has argued that the bank is necessary to allow a new hedge to be planted, claiming that a previously-planted hedge did not take because of poor soil. But photos submitted by local residents make clear that in fact the hedge in question has taken perfectly well. In any case, allowing a more substantial hedge to become established is contrary to the aim of policy CT1 (enhancing the open character of the land) and therefore clearly not something we should seek to support.
And while the applicant has argued that creating the earth bank and planting a new hedge will allow the existing hedge to be removed, in planning terms the new earthworks development is not necessary in order for the existing hedge and fence to be removed and cannot therefore be justified on this basis. Moreover the extent of the new earthworks is vastly more substantial than the limited existing perimeter fence and hedge, and the scale of the harm from the development far outweighs any theoretical benefit.
The balancing judgement that we must make on the committee therefore seems straightforward – all of the material considerations weigh against the application.
And, as Mr Wells has set out, we should also be mindful of the planning history in respect of the Pastures.
Previous applications on this site have been refused on the explicit basis of CT1. And contrary to the argument made by the officer, there is no reason to suggest that this policy is any less important on private land than on public land. A few weeks ago, the Planning Inspector in decision reference 3146342 stated in respect of this very site:
I consider that Policy CT1 of the Core Strategy is both relevant and consistent in terms of the requirements relating to the impact on the open character and recreational use of the land.
[T]he land is clearly identified as an Open Land Area in the Core Strategy Proposals Map and, as such, will be judged against Policy CT1 which states that “development will not be permitted except where it enhances the open character or recreational use of the land”.
And only a few months ago on a neighbouring (and again, privately-owned) section of the Pastures this committee refused an application to construct a similar earth bank (together with increased parking) on the explicit basis of CT1.
As a committee we should ensure that planning principles are applied consistently, so that landowners can be confident about the way that planning decisions will be determined on their land.
Based on the evidence I have seen so far it would be inexcusable, and quite contrary both to the principles of the core strategy and to the planning history of this area of Blakeney, for this application to be approved.