At the full council meeting on 7 September the Mayor, Councillor Richard Keeling, provided an update on this development. His address is reproduced below:-
“I’m aware that most of you are here because of your concerns regarding the development of The Square.
It is evident from the planning committee meeting of 5 August that this has engendered strong feelings. Unfortunately, this has also led to some incorrect assumptions, many of them due to a lack of understanding of the planning process.
In order to give the true picture of what has occurred and what the next steps are, it might be helpful to provide a chronological account of the progress of the application to develop The Square in Chudleigh.
At the start it is worth pointing out that the land in question is currently a commercial unit with garden space around it. This garden space is not, and never has been, open to public access. This land is privately owned and is a brownfield site. This is reflected in the Chudleigh Community Masterplan and the Town Centre Enhancement Plan.
The landowner’s architect first approached Chudleigh Town Council in June 2014 asking to talk to councillors about their plans for the development of the site. The first draft plans that we were shown are rather different in design than what is currently proposed. We asked the architect whether the information imparted could be made public and were told that he wished it to remain confidential until he had received feedback from the District Council’s planning officer and also the conservation officer. This is not unusual or unreasonable. Councils at all levels are encouraged to enter pre-application discussions with applicants. However, we also accepted that the architect needed to be confident that he had a design that would be supported by the District Planning Authority as, without that support, the application process could not progress. We did point out to the architect that the prominence of the site meant that there was likely to be significant public interest and advised that some sort of public exhibition would be advisable when the plans were better developed.
After that the Town Council heard no more until June 2015 when the architect again asked to meet with councillors. The design he showed us at that meeting was the result, we were told, of a year of discussions with the Planning Authority and formed the plan for the site that the landowner was imminently submitting as a formal planning application. Whilst the Town Council would have preferred the architect to organise a public exhibition of the plans prior to submitting the planning application this is not something that is required of applicants. All planning applications are required to be the subject of public consultation. In this case the application was received by the Planning Authority on 19 June with the consultation period due to end on 24 July. However, the Town Council was successful in getting this period extended to allow us more time to ensure that the community was aware of what was being proposed. The plans for the site have been on display in the Town Hall since 19 June. The proposals for the site and the date of the Town Council’s planning committee were also advertised around the town on Council noticeboards, on our website and on Facebook.
The MDA editorial on 7 August quite correctly stated that until a planning application is submitted the matter is essentially a private one between the landowner and officials. We may or may not like the system as it exists but it is the one in which both the Town Council and District Council are required to operate. We would often like applicants submitting significant applications to reveal their proposals to the public prior to planning application but it is not something that we can insist upon.
So, what happens next?
I should point out that it will not be the Town Council who decide the fate of the application. We are statutory consultees and have made clear that we oppose the application in its current form. The role of decision-maker rests, as it does with all planning applications, with the District Planning Authority. Most decisions are made, under delegated authority, by the planning officer responsible for the application. In this case, however, the application will be judged by the District Councillors who constitute the Development Control Committee. The fact that they are involved reflects the significance of the application as less than 10% of planning applications reach the committee. We must now await their decision on 22 September.
We have spoken to the representatives of the landowner to ascertain whether there is a possibility of the Town Council purchasing the site. Their response has been that they would wish to see the planning application process run its course before answering that question. The Council has also sought advice from the National Association of Local Councils about the feasibility of land purchase. This is far from straightforward. However, until the planning process has run its course, and we see how the landowner reacts to that decision, we can go no further at this point in time.”
We have also been asked whether the land in question could be registered as a community asset under the Community Right To Bid scheme. If land or a building is registered as a community asset, and the owner wishes to sell it, then the community has to be given up to six months to bid to purchase. However, the owner does not have to accept the bid so the community would need to pay the market price for the asset. The Council has researched this option. A condition for registering an asset is that its main use has recently been or is presently being used to further the social wellbeing or social interests of the community. As there has never been public access to the land it is hard to see how this condition can be met. The advice the Council received was that an application was unlikely to be successful.