In 2013 – 14 Appleby faced an unprecedented number of applications for new housing sites. This came at a time when the Local Plan was considered to be out of date and a new planning regime had been brought in nationally. A campaign was undertaken to try to get these applications seen in terms of their overall likely impact on the village character and to encourage local opposition. While many permissions were granted, the most historically sensitive site (behind the Church Hall) was turned down.
In the 2010s there was national pressure on local authorities to identify sites that could be appropriate for housing and to identify housing needs according to a new methodology based on rolling 5 year plans. This was said to be the way to address the national lack of housing. However CPRE, in a 2016 research paper called Set up to Fail: Why housing targets based on flawed numbers threaten our countryside, concluded that the policy “puts setting ambitious housing targets above providing the right housing and making better places”.
For Appleby, as with many other parts of the country, this situation coincided with a Local Plan which was considered out of date (see our Local Plan page). The Local Plan should determine where development of different types is appropriate. However when it is not considered valid, Councils are bound to approve planning applications if they meet the National Planning Policy Framework criteria of Sustainable Development.
For North West Leicestershire, this meant that the Council’s stated intention to direct housing to the major settlements was difficult to implement. Developers preferred villages, particularly with quick access to the main road network for commuters, and countryside or agricultural land which was low cost in comparison to that already scheduled for development. It is also important to understand that the planning system allows developers to appeal a refusal, but not objectors to appeal a permission. Appeals are heard by a national inspectorate.
Significant applications approved in this period by NWLDC were 39 houses (reduced by the developers from the 73 originally applied for) on the left hand side of Measham Rd as you leave the village, 8 on the other side of Measham Rd (and more subsequently); 29 houses on land at Top St & Botts Lane. 25 houses (down from over 40 originally applied for) on the land bordered by Church St and Bowley’s Lane was turned down and not appealed; 12 houses bordered by Top St and Snarestone Rd was turned down locally, but approved on appeal. An application for 60 houses in land bordered by Top St and Didcott Way was withdrawn by the developer. Along with other smaller permissions this brings the total to close to 100, a growth rate of around 25% in this short period.
Campaign against large scale housing growth
In Spring / early Summer 2013 it became clear that Appleby was going to face multiple applications for housing on sites around the village. In framing our opposition to this scale of development we wanted to emphasise its cumulative impact on the character of Appleby (as expressed in the community produced Village Design Statement) and to remind people of other development threats, past and present, and the potential of collective opposition. Within this we wanted to inform residents and support them in making objections to those applications they felt most strongly about.
We created a series of posters which explained the main issues and used these as the centre piece for an open day held in the Church Hall. Additionally we had information on each application, the valid grounds on which they could be objected to, and the practical details of how to lodge such an objection. We followed this up with summary points under each application notice to inform those who were most concerned about a particular site.
As part of the pre-application process some of the developers distributed questionnaires and tried to get support for their application and gather anecdotal information about housing needs. There was a strong feeling that this should be countered with a proper survey of residents’ views about an acceptable level of development and the concerns they had about its impact. It was also felt useful to check residents’ endorsement with the statements about village character and how it should be protected as expressed in the Village Design Statement which had been produced over 10 years earlier. Such data may not constitute relevant grounds to refuse planning decisions but it was felt to be an important expression of local views. However it was felt that Appleby Environment should not conduct the survey as it might not to be seen as independent or trusted by all. Instead the Parish Council supported an independent survey created and analysed by a Market Research Society accredited agency located outside the village. Surveys were distributed to every household and collected in sealed envelopes either by door to door collectors or from the post office.
The questionnaire achieved a 57% return rate. 87% said that they opposed all or most of the current applications. Around three-quarters of respondents thought that it would be reasonable for no more than 25 houses to be built in the village in the next 5 years. No one thought a 100 houses (what was actually approved) was reasonable. Statements from the Village Design Statement achieved very high levels of support. A full report of the survey methodology and results can be downloaded here. The Parish Council submitted the result to the Planning Committee – who apparently took no notice.
Appleby Environment submitted a number of detailed objection letters (which can be found below). The planning officers summarise such objections to planning committees but never engage with the specific points made. In February 2014 the 8 houses to the East of Measham Rd were approved. We argued that this would be a precedent for further applications, and this indeed turn out to be the case.
At the planning committee meeting of the 8th April 2014 three large applications were considered. The officers recommended approval of 29 houses between Top St and Botts Lane; and 39 houses to the West of Measham Rd. The 25 houses for the Bowley’s Lane / Church St site were recommended for refusal. We argued that there should be discussion of the cumulative impact of these applications (rather than considering them one by one), but this was not allowed. Because the Local Plan was not valid the applications were considered against the sustainability criteria in the National Policy Planning Framework. We provided a handout to councillors on the Planning Committee to try to convince them that there were valid grounds for refusal. In summary the arguments were:
- Environmental Sustainability – this means growth is required to focus on places where there is public transport (to reduce car use) and decisions contribute to protecting and enhancing the natural, built and historic environment
– Appleby has a very limited bus service which does not support travel to work or main shopping;
– the open areas in the village have been assessed as important to its character and history.
- Social Sustainability – this means development should be in places with accessible local services which meet community needs and local housing needs
– Appleby has limited shops & a GP surgery about to close, very limited cultural or recreation events without travel
– affordable accommodation of various types available.
- Economic Sustainability – this means permissions should support sustainable economic development
– no significant employment opportunities in the village and none created by the developments after construction.
Despite these arguments the Councillors voted to support the officers’ recommendations. It was argued that this gave Appleby a scale of development in line with the rest of the District. This in itself was directly in conflict with conclusions of Council’s own Sustainability Assessment report commissioned as part of the Local Plan process. The report called this option the dispersal option and argued that it would “have an adverse impact on the landscape and built environment. It is also the least attractive in terms of accessibility, and would increase reliance on car travel to access jobs and services” (para 7.4.4). Instead, it recommended that most development be directed to larger places (known in the Local Plan as the Settlement Hierarchy). Under this plan Appleby was classified as a sustainable village, and as such as able to absorb only small scale development. This was based on the level of services available.
The Planning Committee did turn down the Top St / Snarestone Rd application for 12 houses at a subsequent meeting. However this was improved on appeal – despite objections from Historic England.
Building the approved houses was disruptive in terms of traffic, deliveries and linking up to services. All sites had approved traffic plans which were supposed to ensure that all vehicles entered the site from the nearest point outside the village (rather than travelling through it), all contractor vehicles were supposed to be parked on site and wheel washing was supposed to prevent mud on the roads. Of course these restrictions weren’t always observed.
The current Local Plan has defined the limits to development for Appleby. This does not show any major sites where development is expected to be approved. As long as this Plan remains valid this should provide some protection. We remain defined as a sustainable village but, with the closure of the village shop and Post Office, we no longer meet the criteria defined.
On the other hand there are at least 3 sites that have been subject to housing applications in the past. Appleby remains an attractive location for developers because it is close to main roads but not on them. Its settlement pattern – with green areas coming into the centre and undeveloped areas close to the historic core – are seen by residents as part of its appeal and character. However for developers they are seen as opportunities for ‘infill’ applications. We are also expecting changes to national planning law in September 2020 that are intended to increase development and reduce controls.