Wed, 24 Jul 2013
In a decision published on 11th July 2013, Ian Dove QC successfully appealed the Vale of White Horse District Council’s decision to refuse planning permission under section 78 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.
The appeal was allowed and planning permission was granted for 159 residential dwellings, open space, a new access off Drayton Road, engineering (including ground modeling) works, infrastructure works (including drainage works, utilities provision and site reclamation), car parking and lighting; at land east of Drayton Road, Abingdon Oxfordshire.
In light of the development plan, the National Planning Policy Framework and all other relevant consideration, the balance of the benefits associated with the appeal scheme compared with the harm associated with it is such that the Inspector decided that the appeal should be allowed and gave particular consideration to;
a) The need for new housing in the area;
b) The site’s location outside any established settlement;
c) The traffic implications of the scheme
d) The scheme’s landscape and visual effects;
e) The arrangements that would be made for water supply and drainage; and,
f) The provision that would be made for affordable housing and off – site infrastructure.
a) The need for housing in the area
It was common ground between the Local Planning Authority and the appellant that in the Vale of White Horse District there was less than 5 years’ supply.
Abingdon is closely related to the Science Vale UK employment site and has (amongst others) Its own employment site at Abingdon Business Park and Abingdon Science Park. It is the largest town in the District and more people are employed at Abingdon than any other centre in the Vale. Although only about 26% of the Districts population live at Abingdon, the 2008 Housing Needs Assessment found over half of those requiring market housing prefer locating in Abingdon; and 58% of existing households seeking affordable housing favored Abingdon. At that time the Housing Needs Assessment reported requirements for some 1285 market dwellings and some 369 affordable homes in Abingdon over a three-year period.
The Inspector found that there was in the District a housing land supply of at most 2.8 years. He found a keenly felt need for market and affordable housing in Abingdon, to which he attributed considerable weight
b) The sites location outside any established settlement
The appeal site was outside the development boundary for Abingdon therefore the location of the development would not be compliant with the LP policies. However, there was no dispute that, in view of the absence of a five-year housing land supply, are not up to date and therefore the Inspector concluded that the fact the appeal site was outside the development boundary of any settlement as shown in the LP was not of itself a consideration that weighs heavily against the appeal proposal. The Inspector decided that the framework for paragraph 34 would be satisfied given the use of sustainable transport modes and that they would be maximised within the constraints of the area.
c) The traffic implications of the scheme
Paragraph 32 of the Framework set out transport – related considerations of which development control decisions such as this should take account. The third of those is whether “improvements can be undertaken within the transport network that cost effectively limit the significant impacts of the development. Development should only be prevented or refused on transport grounds where the residual cumulative impacts of development are severe.”
Drayton Road/Marcham Road Junction
This junction takes the form of a double mini roundabout, and there is a signal-controlled pelican crossing on Marcham Road. Long traffic queues currently form on the Drayton Road approach, particularly but not necessarily exclusively during the morning peak hour. The County Council’s position was that the measure of severity in the scheme’s traffic effects should be principally the delay to northbound traffic on Drayton Road in the morning peak hour. The Council had gained access to the “Strat-e-gis” travel time database, which reported the average travel time however, the Appellant argued that its traffic survey carried out on the 15th January 2013 was to be preferred to the “Strat-g-gis” date for validation of microsimulation modeling.
The Appellant proposed that the traffic effect of the appeal scheme on Drayton Road should be addressed principally by measures to increase the capacity of the Drayton Road/Marcham Road junction, an overall approach that the Inspector considered sound.
It had been observed by the appellant and the Inspector that traffic seeking to enter the Drayton Road/Marcham Road junction was sometime prevented from doing so by traffic held up by a red traffic signal at the pelican crossing. This is indicative of a level of pedestrian demand such that a signaled crossing facility should continue to be provided at or close to the road junction. Accordingly, the junction has been modeled to test the hypothesis that alternations of the pedestrian facilities would provide sufficient relief to traffic entering the junction from Drayton Road so as to avoid a severe traffic effect arising from the appeal development. Three options were tested:
Option 2 – Introduction of an additional crossing of Ock Street to the east of Drayton Road and retention of the existing crossing on Marcham Road
Option 3 – Introduction of an additional crossing of Ock Street to the east of Drayton Road and relocation of the existing crossing further west on Marcham Road
Option 4 – Relocation of the existing crossing further west on Marcham Road
The options were tested with the VISSIM microsimulation software and the inspector decided that option 3 should be provided. The Inspector was satisfied that the Appellants modeling gave adequately reliable predictions of the effects that the various options, with the stated pedestrian crossing assumptions, would be likely to have on traffic conditions at the Drayton Road/Marcham Road Junction with the development in place. The Inspector stated that option 3 would make proper provisions for pedestrians and reliably accommodate the development traffic. Subject to the carrying out of various specific off site works, the traffic implications of the scheme would not be severe.
d) Landscape and Visual Effects
The site is a single field of semi-improved grassland. The landscape in this are is identified by the Oxfordshire Wildlife and Landscape study as being of the Lowland Village Farmlands type, and the appeal site is typical of the land in the area.
The Council’s reasons for refusal of planning permission included (among other things):
“1 (iii) The site lies within an edge of settlement countryside area having regard to the unsatisfactory nature of the proposal would lead to a progressive detraction in the rural character of the areas and be detrimental to the visual amenity of the area, the rural landscape and to amenities of the locality”; and,
“3 The site lies within rural fringe countryside area that clearly defines the built up area settlement boundary of Abingdon. The development would lead to a progressive detraction in the rural character of the area and be detrimental to the visual amenity, the rural landscape and to amenities of the locality and wildlife through the unsatisfactory nature of the proposals identified removal of mature boundary frontage trees along Drayton Road and from pressure and proximity of development on other boundary landscaping to the site.”
The Inspector considered these matter one at a time.
Clearly, the appeal proposal would change the rural field that is the appeal site into part of the urban settlement of Abingdon however, the Inspector was satisfied that the new development would not have any unacceptable overbearing or other visual effects on surrounding properties. The harm to the rural character of the area would be limited in extent and, it would be experienced, slight in degree.
In regards to the wildlife, It was common ground between the Council and the Appellant that the site was of low biodiversity value and that there were no significant ecological issues that would prevent the development of the site. Badgers are said to visit the gardens of properties that back directly onto the site and grass snakes have been found. Bat surveys were conducted but no bat roost was identified to be lost as a result of the scheme. Overall the Inspector concluded that satisfactory provisions would be made for wildlife on the site.
The Council was concerned that the scheme might cause harm to the trees on the site boundary, either through disturbance of tree roots or through design details that would lead to pruning of the trees. After hearing evidence the Inspector concluded that it maybe possible that there might be a need for limited pruning of some of the lime and other trees on the site from time to time, but was not persuaded that this would cause serious harm to protect trees if properly regulated. The Inspector found that the scheme would be consistent with Framework paragraph 58’s requirement that development should respond to local character and reflect the identity of local surroundings.
e) Water supply and drainage
The Council’s statement of case confirmed in respect of the fourth reason for refusal that the main issue in respect of drainage is the capacity of the foul water system. Thames Water had been consulted and confirmed that there was sufficient capacity without any upgrade to the works its self and they also confirmed that there were adequate clean water supplies. The fourth reason for refusal was not pursued at the inquiry. The Inspector concluded that it was common ground between the Council and the Appellant that this matter can properly dealt with by a planning condition, and the Inspector found no reason to differ.
f) Affordable housing and off-site infrastructure.
LP policy H17 requires 40% of dwellings provided at the appeal site to be affordable to local people who are unable to rent or buy a house appropriate to their needs on the open market. The planning obligations between the site owners, the Appellant and the Vale of White Horse District Council made provision for affordable housing at the site in accordance with LP policy H17. The Inspector was satisfied that the planning obligations meet the three tests in the Framework and therefore attributed full weight in that respect. Full weight was also given to the on-site element including a work of art, street nameplates, waste and recycling bins as well as off site sports facilities and equipment for the police.
The Inspector concluded that the adverse impacts of granting permission for the appeal scheme would not significantly or demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in the Framework. The Inspector considered all other matters raised, but nothing lead away from the conclusion that the appeal should be allowed and planning permission granted, subject to conditions.
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