Agenda item

Oakley Farm, Priors Road, Cheltenham 20/01069/OUT


The Senior Planning Officer presented the report relating to the outline application for the development of up to 250 residential dwellings and associated infrastructure at Oakley Farm, Priors Road with approval sought for the proposed means of access to the site from Harp Hill.  The site covers an area of approximately 14.9ha and lies wholly within the Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). 

The application had been referred to Committee for determination following requests from several councillors due to the level of public interest, the scale and significance of the proposals and resultant harm to the AONB.  However an appeal against the Council’s non-determination of the application was lodged by the applicant on 14 April 2021. 

Members were therefore being asked to consider the Officer’s recommendation and putative reasons for refusal had they been determining the application in order to advise the Secretary of State of the Council’s views.  Members were reminded that the Council was not the determining authority for this application.

The Chair invited public speaker, Mrs Gregson, to speak in objection to the application on behalf of the Friends of Oakley Farm Pastures Slopes.  Mrs Gregson pointed out the Oakley Farm site was in the AONB and thus afforded the highest protection in planning terms and was not in the Development Plan.  She said Cheltenham like many other planning authorities, was struggling to meet its 5 year housing land supply and this speculative application was founded on that shortfall.  However new housing developments were in the pipeline and the temporary shortage of housing land should not be recovered by non-strategic speculative proposals such as this.  She suggested that the applicant might claim that because Cheltenham cannot provide a 5 year housing land supply, exceptional circumstances exist to allow development in the AONB.  However she stated that Cheltenham’s situation was not exceptional as some 30% of local planning authorities had a supply shortfall.   She stated that conserving and enhancing landscape and the scenic beauty of the AONB was of major importance when considering development within the AONB and that the overall landscape and visual effects of the proposal would result in significant loss of protected sloping pastures.  There was also the significant impact the development would have on the heritage assets of Hewlett’s reservoir.   She informed members that over 370 objections from local people had been received as well as from professional consultants.  The proposal was not in the public’s interest and she urged members to support the Officer’s recommendation.

The Chair invited Councillor Babbage, ward councillor, to speak in objection to the application.  Cllr Babbage commended the Officer on the very thorough and detailed report.   He stated he could not improve upon the comprehensive set of refusal reasons or better set out the strength of local concern about this scheme from the hundreds of objections from local residents.   He referred to the comments just made by the Friends of Oakley Farm and the strong planning reasons to refuse the scheme.    He highlighted a couple of the reasons for refusal, the first one being the AONB, which should have the highest level of protection under planning law, the same as a national park.  Secondly were the highways issues and the very critical highways report, which cited the danger of the road junction and the severe impact this development would have on surrounding roads, streets and junctions.  For the reasons set out in the Officer’s report and by local residents, he urged members to endorse the refusal reasons for this application in order to protect this sensitive site in the town.

A Member raised concerns about the junction at London Road and Greenway Lane which he considered to be a junction most impacted by this scheme and which was not covered in the report.

The Planning Officer confirmed that this junction had been assessed as part of the Transport Assessment submitted with the application and asked the Highways Development Team Leader from Gloucestershire County Council, who was present at the meeting, to speak further on this.  

The GCC Highways Officer informed members that the junction had been assessed and reported on in the original transport assessment.  That concluded that approximately 14% of vehicle movements from this site would come into this junction and that supporting modelling information suggested that there was still spare capacity within that junction. This was caveated by the fact that the assessment year was a younger year than we would normally expect to see and thus the assessment was probably underplayed.  Also, given that the site was not part of the current development plan, usually a strategic model would be used that would consider wider assigned trips.  Consequently the analysis was not as full as it should be, therefore we have cited in our representation a severe impact on the highway network because the full tools were not proposed.

A Member expressed his concern about the Highways Officer’s comments if they were based on historic numbers and questioned which year the assessment was made.  Given the nature of the Sixways junction with a school and a new development, he felt that this junction was the most seriously impacted by this scheme and with a lack of up to date data, he felt this was a weak response and the junction critical.

The Head of Planning responded to members’ questions on the relevance of the tilted balance in relation to the AONB and the fact the Council had not got a 5 year supply of housing land. He explained that exceptions were areas of AONB and major developments.   Thus it was of relevance and it would have an impact on 5 year housing supply but it was an outline application and consideration was needed of the timeline from now to house build, which would be the latter part of the 5 year period.

The Planning Officer answered a Member question relating to the lack of s106 agreements in place and confirmed that given the refusal status of the application these agreements had not been completed.  The reasons for refusal relating to lack of s106 agreements would likely drop off as the appeal progressed.

A Member commented that if at appeal outline permission is granted, the time limit for implementing the approval would be 3 years.  However, the principle of the proposed development would already be agreed so developers could sit on it for 10 years.  

With regard to questions on flooding, the Planning Officer commented that the Local Lead Flood Authority had no concerns with the submitted drainage strategy there would be no on-site or off site flood risk; the site was located in Flood Risk zone 1, with no water course running through the site.   A detailed drainage scheme would be submitted and considered at reserved matters stage.

In reply to a question about the number of cars being allowed to exit from the Oakley Grange site onto Harp Hill and Greenway Lane, the Highways Officer stated that the Oakley Grange application was considered many years ago now and had gone through many planning regime  changes.  He advised the committee not to place too much weight on this now, but to consider the capacity at the junction in terms of network delay and queuing and the implications of that.  Concerns about the Sixways junction had already been raised by the Highway Authority in that it had been underestimated in the appraisal being put forward.

The Chair moved to debate and reminded members that it was down for refusal so there was no need to argue against that if they were in agreement.

A Member had a couple of concerns about the list of reasons for refusal as outlined in the report.  On the first line of reason No.2, he suggested omitting the word ‘major’ from the line ‘constitute major development within the Cotswold area of AONB’, thus stating that no development within the AONB is acceptable.  Also in the next paragraph ‘proposed construction of 250 houses’, he suggested leaving the number out altogether so as not to give the developer the opportunity to reduce the number and resubmit to committee. 

The Chair introduced Legal Officer Jeremy Paterson, who would be taking the case forward and representing the Council at the Inquiry.   Mr Paterson expressed concern over re-wording the reason for refusal, as suggested, in terms of prohibiting all development within the Cotswold AONB.  He explained that when the Council made these decisions, policy reasons had to be provided and in this case, the relevant policies were SP2 and SD10 as set out in reason for refusal 1.  These had to be stated so the appellant was clear as to why the application had been refused.   

The Member commented that he did not disagree but stressed that in terms of impact on the AONB, the harm to the AONB ought to outweigh the benefits of the proposal.  In this location, because it is in the AONB, the applicant will be unable to show any benefits, regardless of numbers of houses proposed.

The Chair acknowledged the Member’s concerns but told Members that the committee had to trust the views and expertise of its Legal Officers.

A Member proposed moving to the vote.  He said the application was contrary to the local plan, to the JCS and the NPPF.  He added it was a great report that could not be added to and he moved to accept the report and the refusal reasons.

The Chair agreed there was nothing extra to add to the report and that they had excellent officers supporting the committee in the way forward.  There being no further Officer comments, the Chair moved to vote on the Officer’s recommendation and putative reasons for refusal.

FOR : 11

AGREED unanimously for refusal

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