A NOBLE effort was given by Launceston residents to voice concerns during the public inquiry into a controversial development in the town.
Hallam Land Management appealed against Cornwall Council’s rejection of a planning application for a mixed use development of up to 100 houses at Upper Chapel, to include up to 40% affordable, as reported last week.
The application met with outstanding public objection, many fearing it would add to regular congestion in the Moorland Road, St Johns and Upper Chapel area of the town. Cornwall Council’s planning committee refused the application on grounds of the development’s impact on traffic congestion in the area, the infrastructure in place not suitable for the increase, and the issues on the amount of affordable and market housing.
The public inquiry into the appeal took place at Launceston Town Hall between Tuesday, March 18 and Friday, March 21; chaired by Chartered Town Planner Geoffrey Hill. Barristers leading the appeal included: Christopher Young for Hallam, Ned Helme for Cornwall Council, and Laurence Osborne for Launceston Town Council.
During the opening proceedings, complaints of hearing problems by the public prompted a five-minute recess to rearrange chairs closer to the Cornwall Council, town council and Hallam panels. Following this, five microphones were procured for subsequent days.
Representing Launceston Town Council was Cllr Graham Facks-Martin, who has worked in public service since 1967, and has a Masters of Science in Housing from the London School of Economics.
He said: “The town council is very positive about the growth of Launceston. We have worked with Cornwall Council and town representatives to form the Launceston Framework Plan, which has to conform to the Cornwall Local Plan, to outline sites suitable for development. During this we looked at all potential sites around the town and have unanimously backed sites to cater for around 1,600 dwellings without the appeal site, and 600 have already been given permission.
“We considered the appeal site, but due to sharp turns on Moorland Road forced by the size of the police station and primary school, which are both now constrained by the dual carriageway which was built later, the nature of the area was never intended for further development.”
The town framework plans were being created as part of Cornwall Council’s core planning strategy and were intended to be made policy. Cllr Facks-Martin confirmed the town council was welcoming development in the town, and was doing so in a constructive way. He finished emphasising the highway access to the appeal site was inadequate for development.
On Wednesday afternoon, members of the public gave evidence. Town mayor Cllr David Gordon said the town and its council were pro-development, but against the particular appeal site for reasons previously stated.
He said: “In my opinion, this proposal is not just about the houses, but that it is on an unsuitable site. If it were to be given planning permission, other developers would want the surrounding land.”
Town councillor Paul O’Brien, who lives near the appeal site, said: “The junction of Carboth Lane and Western Terrace onto Western Road has unsatisfactory visibility, and residents of the appeal site would be forced into a difficult driving route.
“In his evidence, Hallam’s highways consultant Matt Grist gave a survey on cars on Moorland Road passing through St Johns Road during the peak school times between 8am and 9am and 5pm and 6pm, showing 304 and 207 respectively. This was based on a single survey, and had no averaging. Four of us undertook a similar survey on Monday, March 17, counting cars between 8am and 6pm, but on St Johns Road and the junction of Moorland Road to Upper Chapel.
“We counted 320 cars in the morning, and 186 cars later. We also found more cars entered Moorland Road on Upper Chapel and left again on the same route.”
Mr Young pointed out that there had been no police reported accidents on Western Terrace or Carboth Lane in the past five years.
In reply, Cllr O’Brien said: “Did you expect anything else? People who know the area emerge slowly, but even I have come out onto Western Road too quickly and have been met with the sound of screeching tyres as someone brakes on account of my presence there. As an ex-policeman I know the desire to report every minor accident is a low priority.”
Mr Young said: “Yes, but it is the reports we have.”
David Trestrail, who lives on Moorland Road, said: “Hallam has suggested double yellow lines along Moorland Road, which would help with traffic flow. But where would residents and school staff park? Most need to park on the street. You have to make sure you are back before schools times, and lunch breaks are getting just as congested, to make sure you can park. If you have appointments, you could lose your space.
“The proposed 20 spaces for parking on the appeal site is a 200 metre trek from my home. If I had done grocery shopping and had 10 bags, only being able to carry two at a time because of my injured hand, that is five trips. That would be fine in nice, sunny weather, but what about when we have snow and ice like we have had previous years?”
Other residents in the immediate area of the appeal site gave their views, and Terry Jones read a statement from St Thomas Parish Council, highlighting why the development was opposed locally and how its approval would inconvenience residents.
On Thursday morning, Mr Grist gave his evidence in favour of the development. He said the figures mentioned in the application were based on the site’s ability for up to 120 dwellings; by Hallam only applying for 100 dwellings, it allowed a 20% buffer in the event traffic was more than anticipated.
Mr Helme said the topography of the appeal site was unfavourable for less abled residents, wheelchair users and people pushing prams, as each route to the town centre included a considerable slope; thus, he believed, a private car would be predominant. Mr Helme continued that the appeal site was a considerable distance from all of the town’s services.
The day before, Mr Young had suggested the most direct route from the Link Road; which last year received planning permission for a mixed use development of 275 dwellings, a supermarket, hotel and other services, would be to walk on Windmill Hill, equally unfavourable to the less abled. Cornwall Council countered, saying local knowledge would know an almost entirely flat route was available over the footbridge from the medical centre to Dunheved Road, straight into the town centre. Mr Young and Hallam’s witnesses challenged Landlake Road, by the medical centre leading to the footbridge was “dangerous” and not the type of road someone, particular women on their own, would feel safe walking along.
Agreeing that private cars would be predominately used, Mr Grist argued this was the norm for many Cornish developments.
He said: “Launceston is a hilly place, I have myself walked between the appeal site and the town centre, and the hill does not impede on the time it takes. I do not think these hills would deter walking, cycling or those pushing prams. Many of the roads around the town are not up to modern standards, like a lot of roads and junctions in Cornwall.
“In the traffic distribution, as agreed with the council, it was shown most cars would travel along Meadowside to get to the town centre. Going through St Johns Road leads to a signal junction, which is the safest route, and Western Terrace’s junction to Western Road is poor, but we believe the development would not substantially increase the peak traffic.
“The evidence given at the appeal shows many concerns are centered on the situation around the school. We feel our proposed traffic calming measures would improve the free flow of traffic, and would make the local bus service better.”
Mr Nicholas Freer, from Hallam, accepted the town council had ‘consistently supported development and over delivered on creating news jobs in the town’ and said the substantial growth in the town proved a need for housing.
He continued: “Considering Launceston’s growth, its infrastructure and location as gateway to Cornwall, it is expected to have an increase in need for housing. The appellant owns more land than the appeal site, but permission must be based on an application’s own merits, and not others.
“Cornwall Council and Launceston Town Council have both said the appeal site is suitable for development, the objection is for transport. Cornwall Council has a history of under delivering, and so are subject to a 20 per cent buffer on figures to give the opportunity to permit extra build for housing supply.”
When asked if he thought more developers would come forward if planning permission was given, Mr Freer said “he didn’t know”.
Planning Inspector Mr Hill asked if the figures in the emerging local plan were a ceiling or a floor. Mr Helme had said that there was an ‘oversupply’ of housing set out in the plans. Mr Hill felt that planning permission was not a show of homes available, only built homes could count; thus surplus permission for more than the five year projected need for housing was acceptable as only homes needed would be built.
Mr Hill said: “An excess of permissions does not affect other sites, nor does it undermine the Launceston Framework Plan.”
In Hallam’s concluding statement, Mr Young said: “There is no up-to-date local plan. Cornwall Council has blamed the 2009 reorganisation into a unitary council, but there should have been a core strategy in place ahead the North Cornwall Local Plan exiring in 2006. The emerging Cornwall Local Plan and Launceston Framework Plan that has been mentioned is still in consultation, and is in the very early stages. It is open to change and so has little role to play in this decision.
“Last year, the planning minister Nick Boles was reported saying ‘we need houses more than boring fields’. If the development had been harming landscapes this would not be acceptable, but it is not the case for the appeal site, which is just an extension of the town. The development of surrounding land is part of the ecological surveys undertaken for planning application, but it is not applied to this appeal.”
After the appeal, Terry Jones told the Post: “I am pleased how the local case was put. It was noticeable that while the developer’s barrister knew all the theory, he had a massive gap in local knowledge. To begin with I was quite despondent, but now I think that there is still hope. Maybe the representations by local people was a major turning point. We all did our best. Even if we win this one though, the developer can still take it further I am afraid, and it will become even more difficult.”
The appeal decision will be uploaded to the Cornwall Council planning portal when it is available.
Part of this report was published in the Cornish and Devon Post March 27, 2014.