CEG Appeal Allowed

We are very sad to report that the appeal, APP/D3125/W/16/3148400, by the Commercial Estates Group against WODC’s rejection of their application 15/03797/OUT has been allowed. This means that the 120 house development near Hanborough Station will go ahead. The planning inspector’s decision can be viewed here.

Notes on Public Inquiry into CEG Application for 120 Houses Near Station

This Public Enquiry took place from 13 to 21 December 2016 and these notes have been provided by Colin James.

13-16 December

The enquiry has been running for 4 days and the main participants including the Inspector will be making site visits from 11.00pm Monday. The inquiry may continue into Tuesday and Wednesday.

The village should be grateful to Neils Chapman (for HPC) and Penelope Marcus (for HAG) who ploughed through complex issues to produce considered objections. Also to Eileen Armitage who gave an effective presentation on the current problems facing working mums whose children needed to be schooled outside of Hanborough and the problems that would face the elderly and disabled reaching the proposed new surgery in the approved Pye development at the other end of the village.

These houses are not needed in the area, as demonstrated in the emerging District Plan which proposes adequate numbers elsewhere on more appropriate sites. The Inspector asked early on that this matter not be given too much time, since the District Plan issue would be dealt with by another inspector at another time. Unfortunately, that decision will be too late for this Inquiry.

I have written to Robert Courts our new MP pointing this out and asking him to use whatever political influence he has to delay the CEG decision until the new District Plan is approved. Mr Courts carries some responsibility here as he was deputy Chairman of WODC which has failed to produce the required District Plan since 2010. No approved plan means a presumption in favour of approval on greenfield sites such as CEG’s at Hanborough.

WODC’s landscape consultant considered the site as ‘wholly rural’ and the proposed development was intrusive and illogical. The ‘green gap’ between the last village houses and the railway bridge provided important intervisibility between the Evenlode Valley to the North and Eynsham Vale to the South. CEG’s consultant considered the site to be ‘urban fringe’ and did not recognise the green gap between the last houses and the railway bridge.

A lot of time was spent demonstrating that the site did not impinge on the historic setting of Blenheim. WODC conservation consultant (a former English Heritage Inspector) pursued a lengthy thesis based on a 1709 plan which may or may not have been approved by Vanbrugh. It didn’t help. Historic England had previously agreed that the Appeal site would not have an impact.

The WODC Planner reiterated the reasons for refusal – essentially the harm to the landscape outweighs possible housing benefits. There were no firm proposals for the station, no programme and no budget. The proposed carpark would be useful to rail users, but of no benefit to new residents on the CEG site. The green gap was significant – filling the gap would create an urbanising feature.

CEG’s QC pursued the issue of historic character- Hanborough wasn’t simply a linear development – there were other limbs like Park Lane, Millwood End and a number of fairly recent Estate developments. The QC pressed the issue of prevailing ‘suburban’ character.

NR and PM then presented their Proofs of Evidence, points including: adequate supply of housing in emerging local plan. Approval would prejudice garden village development. Reference to CEG’s website which advertised to their clients an 800 house development between Pinsley Wood and the village – this included 2 fields belonging to Blenheim alongside Lower Road in addition to the 50 acres of Margetts land over which they had bought an option to purchase in addition to the current proposal for 120 houses.

CEG’s traffic studies contradicted those of Pye. Algorithms don’t work on roads which are overcapacity (Co-op roundabout for example). Timings for walking distances not realistic.
Actuals were 25 mins to school and 45 mins to surgery. That involved an uncontrolled crossing.
12 buses had been reduced to 5 so people would use cars causing conflict at the school where there was no drop-off.

Current carpark was now 25% empty since commuters were moving to the Chiltern Line.

CEG’s landscape expert from Tyler-Grange (Mrs Brockhurst) was cross examined. She insisted they were ‘not expanding into the valley sides’. I challenged this overnight with a photo-extract from my original objection (copy to inspector) but she stuck to her opinion. Witness seemed obsessed with ‘tick-box’ approach rather than an intellectually convincing assessment and spent much time aggressively criticising her opponent for ‘layer upon layer of error on photomontage’ which would not be of any significance in reality.

However, her own studies had used an unrealistic building height which she said was ‘a basis for taking photos only’ which is meaningless. Apparently, the level of traffic and traffic noise can be claimed as an indication of ‘urbanisation’ of the site.

It was agreed that the specific piece of land was ‘ordinary and unremarkable’. However that does not recognise its value in the mosaic of historic landscape and settlement . Witness claimed the deleterious effect of the business park. Not evident from the photo, or from local observation. She claimed ‘site is not predominantly rural, it is an urban edge’. Also, ‘the effect on the footpath is neutral’ which is demonstrably untrue as the lower part abuts directly onto the housing development. She claims a ‘sudden change’ of character at the bridge. In fact as the photo shows, both types of characteristic landscape appear – to the East, the last ripple of the Cotswolds and to the South-West, the flatter landscape of the Vale. Lets hope the Inspector recognises this during his visit on Monday

Dr Chris Neeley was CEG’s specialist heritage consultant. He was challenged about conflict of interest as he also works directly for Blenheim. He satisfied the inspector on this point, but not mentioned were the two Blenheim fields which were critical to the commercial development of the 800 houses. Needs following up. Blenheim’s Management Plan document was now in the public domain, but they wouldn’t release a copy to WODC’s consultant. Neeley’s view was that Blenheim was ‘inward looking’ had narrow views out (Bladon Church) and very few views in (the column). It needed no buffer zone. Considerable harm would be done to the SSSi if the 1709 design for the rides were implemented. In summary CEG’s housing site produced no harm to the historic setting.

Mr Stacey was expert witness on Transport for CEG. He reiterated that in respect of the Application, OCC did not object and WODC did not raise any problems. There was a wide range of travelling mode – walking, cycling, bus, train, an ideal site to avoid the use of a car – in fact, ’ the best site in the District! ‘ The ‘T’ junction is entirely appropriate as in Pye homes. There would be no serious impact on current traffic, no material impact on local junctions. The bridge is OK with 1.1metre clearance for a wheelchair and footpath is 1in 20. The uncontrolled ‘T’ Junction will accommodate a large bus, refuse lorry, tractor and trailer.

NC raised a number of issues:

  • NPPF expects buses at 15 minute intervals for a commuter hub.
    Wheelchairs were 0. 9wide with a gap of 1.1 on the bridge. So one way movement only.
    Letters between Hudspeth and MP mentioned, casting doubt on OCC involvement in transport assessment. What was the cumulative effect of several developments? Junctions were already overcapacity.
  • Too expensive to mitigate traffic problems, so put money into bus services? (£1000 per dwelling). Bus company complains that congestion impedes any improvement.
    Relationship between new ‘T’ junction and bridge a compromise between safety and visual amenity.
  • Drivers had to simultaneously cope with oncoming vehicles and ‘T’ junction movements
    Why not widen carriageway and provide separate footbridge?
    OCC’s 2015 design guide puts pedestrians before traffic.
    Question: pedestrian route from site to station involves an uncontrolled road crossing, a narrow bridge, a second controlled crossing and a station access with no footpath. Is that in accordance with OCC 2015? Answer: Yes.My own experience of travelling between Hanborough and Portland Place London 2 or 3 times a week before the controlled crossing was introduced, is that the Hanborough crossing was the most dangerous I encountered. That danger is now to be replicated when traffic is much denser.

21 December

The Inspector, David Prentice, had made a further site visit that morning, in particular to look at the railway bridge and primary school. He was unhappy that the amendments to 106 Agreements had not been signed and emphasised that he did not want to see further ‘tweaks’ being inserted. He was promised by the applicant that the landowners, Mr and Mrs Margetts and daughter would sign tomorrow. He pointed out that the enlarged school would require Planning Permission, and asked for assurances that there were ‘no significant impediments’ since several parties were involved including the Regional Schools Commissioner. A standard multiplier was used to determine cost of school building but ‘abnormal costs’ were likely which CEG’s QC challenged. Oxfordshire CC were confident that the pooled costs for transport improvements (£400k over 10 years) were well in hand.

NC made his final submission highlighting the already minimal offer to the school. Whether the condition ‘no occupation should take place until all the school requirements are met’ was enforceable was questioned. An earlier suggestion that a ‘Free School could be set up at short notice’ was dismissed as unrealistic. In general the harms were not outweighed by benefits.
WODC’s QC challenged a number of CEG’s Landscape consultant’s assertions, (Mrs Brockhurst) particularly on winter views, the site was NOT ‘urban edge’ and the country footpath would run alongside a housing estate. WODC’s landscape consultant Mr Radwell had a more balanced analysis. As to the World Heritage site, the management plan does not specifically identify the site, but refers to surrounding agricultural land which contributes to the historic site, and harm to this land should be given considerable weight.

CEG’s QC began his lengthy summing up by claiming an Appeal was not necessary, that WODC had taken an unjustified and unnecessary approach. He alleged that relevant evidence was withheld and that government policy was to boost housing supply. WODC was ‘depriving the needy of new homes’. WODC had a current deficit of 1,000 homes and a 3.35 year supply of sites in place of the 5 years required. He regarded the proposed garden village as fanciful, and the Myrtle Farm proposals were within Blenheim’s visibility cone. CEG were promoting a scheme of outstanding merit with 50% affordable housing, within a rural service centre near a main line station.

[Comment from CJ :  The alleged housing shortfall can be accommodated by spreading the numbers over the period of the district plan, to 2030. This site has never been included in the emerging District Plan, which also proposes removal of Service Centre status. Hanborough has an excellent record for supplying genuinely affordable housing to genuinely local people. CEG’s proposal requires massive public subsidy to ‘buy to rent’ landlords. Compare the space standards on our ‘exception site’ housing with those in the recent developer led ‘affordable housing’. Exception sites were acquired for £tens of thousands per acre from local farmers. Pye and CEG are paying full commercial value of about £1million an acre so there’s proportionately less money to cover the building costs. Large Developers are currently making unheard of profits, though CEG are more in the category of Land Speculators who can afford the most expensive QC’s and consultants to exploit loopholes in government legislation.]

CEG’s QC dismissed the ‘borrowing’ of surrounding land quality to Blenheim as misconceived and WODC’s heritage consultant’s views as ‘pure fiction….. with a complete lack of intellectual integrity’. In contrast, CEG’s consultant Dr Neely was commended to the Inspector, and if there was harm, it would be outweighed by the benefits. On access he said there was no evidence that it was unsafe, and the bridge problems existed already. A feasibility study for school expansion was underway. Adequate provision can be made for healthcare (but no mention was made of distance and the hill).

CEG’s QC would be making an application for a partial award of costs, on the basis of WODC’s unreasonable behaviour. This was challenged by WODC’s QC. who pointed out that Mrs Brockhurst’s Statement of common ground had only been amended by one word – ‘broadly’.
The Inspector expects the result to be available in February 2017.

As a footnote, Private Eye 1433 (9-22 Dec 2016) reports that : ‘Philip Hammond unveiled 13 projects to open up investment opportunities in the Northern Powerhouse alongside Chinese vice-premier Ma Kai in London last month. Half the ‘investment ready’ projects being opened up to Chinese investors are owned by businesses based in tax havens from Gibraltar to the Isle of Man.’

The first listed is ‘the £300million ‘mixed use’ regeneration of the Kirkstall Forge Area in Leeds by Commercial Estates Group, headed up by tax-dodging Swedish property tycoon Gerard Versteegh (see Eye 1422). The development plot is owned via GMV Twelve Ltd via more tax haven companies in Gibraltar, Malta and Cyprus – by a mysterious trust called the ‘’Dooba Settlement’’ ‘.

For anyone interested in looking at a better planned, more community friendly approach to building much needed housing, I’d refer you to Sir Michael Lyon’s independent report of 2015 which stands little chance of being implemented by the current government. However its principles are similar to those in the UK’s world renowned ‘New Towns Act’. The significant first action is to take public control of land and land values before the speculators get involved. WODC has some thoughts in this direction.

Commercial Estates Group Appeal Starts 13 Dec 2016

The CEG Appeal against the WestOxon refusal of the erection of 120 houses on land SE of Pinsley Farm on the Main Road, adjacent to the railway line, and provision of building for Class D1 use, is being held from Tuesday 13 to Friday 16, and again on 20 December, starting at 10am, at the WODC offices in WoodGreen, Witney.

It is very important that as many residents from the village as possible attend the Appeal, particularly on the first and last days, if only for a few hours. When the Appeal timetable is established on the 13 December, we can tell residents whether there are other times when the presence of Hanborough residents at the Appeal would be beneficial.

The Appeal reference is APP/D3125/W/16/3148400, but all the documents are available on the WestOxon Planning site as 15/03797/OUT.

Please look at them, and please, please attend the Appeal if you possibly can.

CEG’s ambitions for the ‘regeneration, redevelopment and re-imagination’ of communities such as Hanborough are huge and should not be under-estimated.

Original Message Posted 7 July 2016

Commercial Estates Group (CEG), who submitted planning application 15/03797/OUT  for a development of 120 houses south of the Witney Road and west of the railway bridge, have lodged an appeal against the decision of West Oxfordshire District Council’s Uplands Planning Committee to refuse their planning application. We believe that CEG are flying in the face of the overwhelming opinion of our Elected Councillors and local residents in not choosing to respect this decision (see the decision notice).  Along with the planning appeal officers of WODC and our Parish Council, HAG will continue to resist unsustainable development in Hanborough and will be working alongside both parties to ensure that this appeal is dismissed by the Planning Inspector.

The appeal process is handled by the government Planning Inspectorate, based in Bristol. This particular appeal has been allocated the reference number 3148400 and this link takes you to the Inspectorate’s web site where details of the appeal are published. The timetable for the appeal process has not yet been determined.

We will publish links to the relevant places on the Inspectorate’s web site when available.

For those who are interested, information about the planning appeals procedure is available on the government planning portal website.

Interested parties can request to be involved with the appeal process (known as ‘Rule 6 status’) and the Hanborough Action Group will be requesting this status, along with the Parish Council. Rule 6 status permits the submission of a ‘Statement of Case’ allowing the submission of evidence for or against the appeal. In the case of this appeal, WODC, Hanborough Parish Council and the Hanborough Action Group will each submitted a Statement of Case against the appeal. The agent for CEG, Nexus Planning, has submitted their Statement of Case in defence of their appeal; it’s a substantial set of documents consisting of the Statement plus 28 Appendices so it is not for the feint hearted to read. We will provide links to the Statements of Case for all parties when they have been published.

After there submission  of Statements of Case, the next step will be for all parties to submit Proofs of Evidence to substantiate the arguments made in their Statements of Case. We will publish these when available.

Our aim is to respond and object, with coherent and rational arguments and evidence, to the housing developments that have been proposed for our village, should they be progressed on the scale and in the locations currently suggested. It should be noted that we are not against development per se, but only against developments that would be overwhelming and deleterious to our community and its environs. Participation with Rule 6 Status will enable us to ensure the perspective of residents is heard, and to seek the best possible outcome for the community rather than for the developers and land owners.