I feel I need to respond to the letter from Paul Corbett (letters to the Editor 14 August 2015) to correct some inaccuracies in his assertions.
In order to give the true picture of what has occurred, 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. If, as suggested by Mr Corbett, the Town Council was trying to leave the public in the dark we didn’t make a very good job of it!
Mr Corbett says that he was told by councillors that there had been “several prior applications by the same owner dating back a half dozen years”. This is simply not true and this is proven by perusal of the District Council’s planning portal. Prior to the current application there have been no planning applications submitted for this site for 20 years.
Mr Corbett’s letter indicates a lack of understanding of the planning process. Your 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.
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.
Mayor of Chudleigh