Rock Nursery update
Earlier this week we received an open letter from Dainton Services regarding their application to create a garden centre, farm shop, café and play area on the now derelict Rock Nursery site. Since this open letter was already doing the rounds on social media I took the decision to also publish it on our website and Facebook page. I think it fair to say that anyone reading the letter would have assumed that Dainton Services had taken the decision to withdraw their application.
However, yesterday I received a call advising me that Dainton were not withdrawing the application. Instead, they wanted the application determined so that they could consider whether they had grounds to appeal the application. In the open letter Dainton made clear that they considered that the District Council planning team were wholly to blame for the delay in determining the application. As with most issues the reality is rather more complicated than it seems. The current state of play with the application is that it is waiting determination. I am reliably informed that this is because the Planning team are awaiting information and documentation from the applicant and have been waiting for this since mid-summer. There are also outstanding concerns relating to highway safety and maintaining the integrity of the SSSI site adjacent to the proposed development. Without all the required documentation from the applicant it is rather hard for TDC to determine the application.
I am more than aware that this issue has created considerable activity on social media. This has included the starting of a petition which, frankly, is not helpful. Planning applications are not a popularity contest, they are not determined by the level of support or opposition. They are determined by reference to planning law and, for the greater part, our planning officers can be wholly relied upon to reach well-founded decisions. Any petitions will have no impact whatsoever on the outcome of the application.
It would, perhaps be helpful to summarise the planning process:-
The first step is for the application to be published. This opens a consultation period for the public and other consultees. In the case of this application this solicited expressions of support from the Town Council, our district councillors and several members of the public which will have left the planning officers in no doubt that the application has community support. At this point the opportunity for either the Town Council or the public to be actively involved in the application ceases.
During the consultation process for major applications like this there will also have been contributions from various statutory consultees. They will either advise that they have no objections or they will state objections to particular parts of the application. More often, they will raise queries and seek further information from the applicant. In the case of a major application like this one this will take many months. I note that Dainton complained that the application should have been determined within 12 weeks. I have enough experience of the planning system to tell you that an application of this scale and complexity was never, ever going to be determined within this timescale. To give an example the Town Council’s application to renew the skate park at Millstream Meadow took a year to the day to determine. I have noted above that there are a number of outstanding concerns and information requests that are outstanding. This is the stage that we are now at on this application. It is important that the planning process is allowed to play out without interference from either the Town Council or the public. It is worth adding that our two district councillors have been in support of this application in principle since it was submitted. However, now it has reached consideration stage that can have no further influence on the outcome. To try to do so would be utterly inappropriate.
At some point the planning officer will decide that they have sufficient information to determine the application. This may be because they have all the information they need to satisfy themselves and the statutory consultees that the application can be approved. Alternatively, they may decide that they have all the information (albeit insufficient) they are going to get. Whatever, they will either refuse or approve the application solely on the evidence that they have before them.
In the case of a refusal then the applicant has the opportunity to lodge an appeal. If this happens then, once again, the Town Council and the public have the opportunity to submit comments. However, as earlier in the process the ultimate decision by the Planning Inspectorate will be based on planning law rather than weight of public opinion.
As I said earlier this application is still in the consideration stage. Frankly, none of us know with certainty what the final decision will be. What is certain is that now is not the time for social media or petition campaigns. Our role now is to give the planning officers the time and space to do their jobs.
Chudleigh Town Council