Paul Miller finds the planning system a real eye-opener.
THERE was a letter in the Ashbourne News Telegraph a couple of weeks back.
A reader had noticed that three mature trees had been felled in Wyaston Road and, as the area is subject to a number of planning applications, there was a suspicion that this was related.
There have been so many planning applications of late I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at one.
What I found was educational, comical and worrying. I really pity the poor district councillors who are expected to read the applications and make a judgment on them.
The truth is that they can't possibly get through it all and understand the significance.
Little wonder that many people think the planning process is a rubber-stamping exercise. And in the process I found out what happened to the trees. The first request for outline planning application has a reputation for not being worth the paper it is written on. It doesn't spell out what is going to be built but rather it seeks permission for a rosy-coloured concept. It paints a vision of the future without being tied to it. All the more ridiculous that they are supported by reams and reams of detailed paperwork, all of which are guaranteeing work for consultants.
The application I looked at was for 145 houses on Leys Farm, Wyaston Road. The three mature trees cut down on Wyaston Road were in the hedgerow bordering the site.
This one directly affects me as it is building on land nearby. Before you label me a NIMBY, I want to pin my colours to the mast. I don't mind houses being built here as long as they are sympathetic to the existing neighbours and that development complies with the will of the Neighbourhood Team.
What I don't like is bullying and misleading developers and this site has already had an advertisement torn to shreds by the Advertising Standards Authority.
We've seen the post-planning arguments about the changed plans for Waterside Park. Willow Meadow Farm has seen the affordable housing – a feature of the outline planning application – replaced with Section 106 money that Ashbourne never seems to receive.
This is the adjustment between an application designed to get approval and an application which maximises commercially for the developer. The Leys Farm application contains some statutory documents – a statement of consultation, for example. This refers to neighbouring properties being invited to raise objections.
There are signs on lampposts and gates. There's one which says where the application is and the third main document, the Design and Access statement, describes the rationale for the application.
It aims to put forward a green space with access to the rest of Ashbourne and low crime through the design of the streets. It includes pictures and plans which show new streets and houses superimposed on existing features – this should allow councillors to visualise what they are potentially saying yes to.
There are then lots of documents where the developer has paid consultants to assess drainage, landscape damage, wildlife impact and transport. Their purpose is to demonstrate through expert opinion that the outline planning permission will have an acceptable impact.
One of the reports is associated with the archaeological significance of the site. I had assumed there would be nothing of interest but apparently the land shows signs of medieval ridge and furrow ploughing and was also possibly part of an ancient deer park.
No remnants are visible and the ploughing is in an incomplete poor condition. There are all sorts of references to the history of Compton and the earliest Roman and Saxon remains.
A second report covers the ecological standing of the site. It assesses the state of the hedgerows, flora and fauna.
The writers visited the site early in the year – not ideal to see the full potential – but enough to assess.
They found generally low risk but did find that the hedgerow to the west, the one running along Wyaston Road, was rich in diversity due to the number of species and variety of trees. Not an ''important'' hedgerow but of interest nonetheless. Of course, there are now three fewer trees to create interest.
The report recommends further visits to establish the extent of the bat population and recommends retention and improvement of the native species in the hedgerows. It notes that there are no plans to significantly remove hedgerows or trees.
The flood and drainage report deems there is little risk of flooding.
The Planning Statement is a grim read. Rather than make a real case for the development and what it will bring, the weight is focused on why the district council would be powerless in a legal case. The approach is to argue that, due to Derbyshire Dales District Council's failure to assess housing need and to have a Local Plan, any development must be approved. I find this a very negative and aggressive stance but perhaps to be expected when money is involved.
The Landscape and Visual impact report states that the plan intends to keep all hedgerows but that the Wyaston Road hedgerow, the most valuable in diversity, will be ''translocated'' to allow room for road widening.
No mention of the small challenge that relocating large trees will present.
The Transport ''survey'' carried out is where the comedy value comes in. There are pages and pages of data but the conclusions are startling. The recreation ground can be accessed with a 12-minute walk and so can the (no longer in existence) Boothby Meadows school and Plough public house.
It's almost as if they looked at an old map and took no consideration of the hills... or the intervening years. It might just as well have an area showing dragons. I would question how someone at the far end of the planned estate could get to Pinecroft Stores in five minutes.
Good luck in getting to Somerfield supermarket – that could be a significantly longer (and fruitless) walk.
The report looks at the junctions likely to be affected and concludes that either there will be no additional flow or that there is enough capacity to deal with it. Amazingly there is no review of the junction between Springfield Road and Derby Road. The residents must already be sick of the regular flow of cars and the chaos outside Springfield Stores.
So the district councillors on the planning committee have a wonderful evening ahead of them this month. They have acres of paperwork to read – full of inaccuracies – painting a joyous picture of the life ahead for people, knowing full well that the development won't have the number or type of houses they are being asked to approve.
All against a backdrop of the developer telling them they don't have a choice in the matter or they will end up in court. Councillors who have no expertise will feel helpless and vulnerable.
The Local Plan produced in their name has been torn to shreds by the inspector and there are elections on the horizon constantly.
As for the trees... they were cut down by Highways to allow access to the development on the opposite side of the road. Traffic is a major problem and the trees had to be chopped down to make the road wide enough.
This was part of the outcome of the appeal which Derbyshire Dales lost in trying to stop the Willow Meadow Farm development. Landowners can cut down a maximum of five cubic metres of timber each quarter without permission from the Forestry Commission – about three trees' worth.