From the opening of the M42, in the late 1980s, there have been development pressures around its junctions. The Council has tried to define some junctions for development (e.g. Ashby North) and others (such as J11, the one closest to Appleby) free from development. Local Plan policies to support this have included both countryside policies and those requiring development to be accessible by more than one mode of transport.
This hasn’t stopped attempts at development. In the 1990s, there was an attempt to gain planning permission for a warehousing / out of town shopping site along the Tamworth Road (see our archive page).
During the most recent Local Plan process and inquiry various developers argued that there should be more land designated for employment purposes. This was not endorsed by the Inspector. The amount of land required for development is subject to assessment between neighbouring authorities. However developers continue to argue that there is a need for more distribution sites in the Midlands and those close to motorways and on relatively cheap agricultural land will always be attractive.
Campaign against ‘Mercia Park’ application
There had been rumours for some time about interests in land around J11 but, given that a new Local Plan had recently been adopted where this land was clearly defined as countryside (land not for development except for very limited purposes), it did not seem to be likely to be given permission.
However in Spring 2018, IM Properties launched a pre-application consultation with local communities. This is a required part of the process for large applications where developers are supposed to explain their proposal and take account of the views of local people before putting in their formal application.
The proposal was for a huge (240 acres) development on the section of the motorway junction bounded by the A444 North and the road to Tamworth. The developers held events in Measham and Appleby for what they described as an ‘employment park’. They showed lots of pictures of their intended landscaping via hedges which it was claimed would stop anyone seeing the site and would create recreational opportunities for local people to walk or cycle around the site! They said the site wasn’t ‘special’ countryside and wasn’t defined as ‘green belt’. In fact nowhere in NW Leicestershire is green belt because this designation applies to the edge of large urban settlements. Nor did it need to be special countryside – countryside is a designation for land which should be protected from development.
The developers’ promotional material did not detail the traffic movements they expected but when pressed they said that they were working on the assumption that the site would create 3,000 jobs and this would mean that between 7a.m. and 7p.m. there would be 5,667 car and 1,116 HGV movements. They claimed that this could be managed easily by J11 … perhaps with the addition of some traffic lights.
Full Application and Objections
Shortly after this, the application was formally submitted. The map right shows the huge size of the development – far bigger than the centre of Appleby. Its impact on the countryside is clear. There was a lot of publicity about the application and the scale of opposition, including coverage for our arguments in an article in the Leicester Mercury. The Council asked for objections by late August 2018. We publicised the application around the village and the grounds for objection. Large numbers of objections were received from Appleby and the wider neighbourhood. Our own objection letter can be downloaded here. Appleby Environment objections to 18 01443 FULM.
The main grounds for refusing the application were as follows:
- NW Leicestershire DC had recently adopted a Local plan which defines the land in question as countryside (outside existing settlements) where development is not normally permitted (policy S3). There are some exceptions, but this development did not meet them. Nor did it meet the criteria for a new employment site (policy Ec2).
- There was no evidence of need. All 9 councils in Leicestershire issued a joint statement in March 2018 as part of the strategic joint plan to say that they had met the identified need for employment land. NW Leicestershire contributed significantly to this particular type of development through the allocation of land near E Midlands Airport / Junction 24 M1.
- There are no sustainable transport links. New employment sites and any permitted development in the countryside are required to be accessible by a choice of transport including sustainable transport modes. For employees this normally means bus routes, for freight it would normally mean rail links (as there are at Airport site). Neither exist nor were there proposals for either that would change the situation (as indicated by the application’s proposed 2235 parking spaces.
- If development is permitted in the countryside it is a requirement that it should not degrade the landscape (policy S3(i)). The relevant landscape is defined as Mease / Sense Lowlands by Natural England (the designated Government body). The landscape is defined as remote, rural and tranquil. The proposed development would destroy this through the loss of arable farmland, construction of buildings which are inappropriately large and of unsuitable appearance to their setting, and the creation of a new built area out of scale to nearby settlements.
Instead of rejecting the application outright the Council kept asking the applicants to provide more reports and details of their intentions.
Application coming to a Planning Committee
Nothing more was heard for more than a year. In late Aug 2019 the Council announced that they were going to bring the application to a planning committee with just a couple of weeks’ notice. It was also announced that the applicants had secured Jaguar Land Rover’s interest in occupying a substantial part of the site. Planning Officers published a 90 page document ( Planning Committee, 03_09_2019 17_30 ) – to go with the 120 plus documents already associated with this application – which objectors had to assess with a week’s notice. This recommended Councillors approved the application.
The Officers’ report showed an unprecedented level of opposition to this proposal including from 16 parish councils, 3 local MPs (but not Appleby’s Andrew Bridgen), North Warwickshire Borough Council, and 431 ‘individuals’ (which includes Appleby Environment and a community group based in No Man’s Heath, both representing local residents).
Officers reported the applicants’ assessment that there would be major adverse effects on the character of the area. This is planning grounds for refusing the application but officers concluded that this would be ‘acceptable‘. Applicants said that screening would reduce visual impact but this in itself changes the landscape character. Officers completely ignored their own policy which says that the open undeveloped character between settlements must not be undermined through “development on isolated sites on land divorced from settlement boundaries”.
The report claimed that demand is demonstrated by Jaguar Land Rover signing a contract to occupy part of the site – but officers made no independent assessment of the claim that this is the only possible location. JLR’s stated intention was to consolidate aspects of their Midlands distribution operation (i.e. moving jobs from one site to another). This operation involves sending parts all over the UK and abroad – activities something which can only be achieved by road from this site. Yet the officers said this would not cause traffic problems or impact on the District’s climate change commitments or conflict with their policy which says there must be sustainable transport options for such a development. The applicants claim new bus routes from 2 locations will reduce employees’ need to access the site by car, but it is clear they will come from a wide range of locations which cannot be addressed by such a limited intervention.
One of the difficulties with fighting this application had been that the community most directly affected, No Man’s Heath, was in a neighbouring district council without direct representation on the planning committee taking the decision. The village had been pursuing its own action group, Residents Against Project Mercia (RAPM) and their objections can be downloaded here RAPM Objection submission Final.
At short notice, an open meeting for objectors was held on 28th August and 70 people attended. The group agreed on the importance of contacting Councillors on Planning Committee to explain their concerns and objections. Everyone was encouraged to also join a protest from 5 pm on 3rd September outside the Council Offices in Coalville where the press and TV would be in attendance, before joining those observing the planning meeting. Very few objectors would be allowed to speak, and then only for 3 minutes each, so we also tried to ensure that we covered the main issues between us.
Appleby Environment also wrote to all members of the Planning Committee explaining why we felt that there was ample planning grounds for refusing the application. This can be downloaded here.
Application Approved on 3rd September 2019
Those speaking at and observing the Planning Committee had a very depressing experience. Officers told the meeting that the application had to be judged against the Local Plan policies as a whole – but all they talked about was that Jaguar Land Rover wanted the site. Those speaking from JLR at the meeting claimed that this was the only appropriate site they had found in the whole of Europe. No basis was given for this improbable claim, nor did councillors challenge it.
In contrast objectors – using the 3 minutes allowed to them – made valid planning arguments based on the lack of sustainable transport to the site – and hence its impact on local and national climate change commitments; impact on high grade agricultural land; development in the countryside and impact on landscape and sense of place between the villages. Here are the speeches made by Appleby Environment and RAPM. Councillors trivialised these concerns – asking how many people used the footpaths rather than acknowledging the issues raised about countryside and landscape; asking whether there were any unique species on the site rather than recognising the biodiversity found there. Officers did not acknowledge that these were areas where there was legitimate debate. Objectors were not helped by the formal bodies who can lodge objectors not doing so – for example the Ministry of Agriculture and Food not objecting to the loss of high grade agricultural land. Councillors – and many objectors – were concerned about traffic problems. However officers advised that as the Department of Transport had not objected this was not a valid basis for rejection.
Rushing this application through, with only a few days notice to the very large numbers of Parish Councils and individual objectors, also added to the impression that this was a foregone conclusion and no one was listening to what we had to say. Objectors have no right of appeal so there was little more to be done.
Planning permission goes with the land, not the applicants who achieved it, so even if there are changes in those developing or occupying the site, this will not be a basis for revoking the permission.
We can also expect that this huge and inappropriate development will lead to further speculative applications on local countryside. Other portions of land around Junction 11 have been sold recently under the label of ‘Strategic Land’ even though they are not scheduled for development currently. The current route of HS2 also creates a strip of land between it and the M42 and will also change the character of the area. HS2 may also lead to more industrial applications on the outskirts of Measham, where developers have shown interest in in the past. This could further erode the separation of settlements.