For those who have hoped to buy an affordable home here in the near future, last Wednesday’s decision by the Development Management (Planning) Committee of the National Park – to approve the application for 35 houses with 14 “affordable” social rented units only – half of which have only one bedroom – was a disaster. There will be no “low cost homes” to buy on this, Newport’s one and only Housing Allocation site in the Local Development Plan (LDP)
The opposition group, BDOG, fought hard to prevent this happening and to get a better deal for local people, better designed social rented housing with the same amenities and the same safe access into town provided to the market houses on the site, more family sized social rented homes, and affordable houses to buy which would meet local needs. In the end, the majority of the National Park Planning Committee (DMC) didn’t listen to us, but to the supporters’ petition and a letter from – what the applicant’s Agent called – all local businesses of quality in the area, stating that this development “would offer significant potential housing to our employees”
The National Park planning officer stressed that these were” material planning considerations” which Members must take into account but he did not point out that few of the signatories were resident in Newport and he wrongly attributed the letter to businesses “in Newport” so that the Committee was unaware that most were in fact from far afield – places such as Clynderwen, Newcastle Emlyn and Abercych! It is very easy to support something, when you live miles away and it will not affect you. It is understandable that the man in the street could be duped by the notion that this application would provide affordable housing for local people, but it is unforgiveable for an Officer whose duty it is to protect the National Park, to present this petition and letter and tell Members they must have regard to them, but without analysing and qualifying their relevance.
The Committee was told by the Chairman of the National Park, Cllr Mike James (St Dogmaels) that the Welsh language Society, Cymdeithas Yr Iaith Gymraeg, had written in support of the application, whereas in fact they had written to object in the strongest terms. He also said he welcomed the 12 open market 4 bedroom houses being available in Newport at the figure just given by the Agent of £300,000, as these would be more affordable than the prices that existing houses have commanded Quite rightly, Cllr Lyn Jenkins (Solva) retorted that even at £300,000, do we want the 12 x 4 bedroom market houses? Does Newport need them?
In truth, there will be no control on prices of the market houses and the Agent has admitted to that. This figure he has given are to make the open market houses sound affordable. Where are the people, local to Newport, for whom this site was supposed to meet needs, who will be able to afford even the Agent’s prices? The market houses are likely to go as second homes in a community which already has 40% of houses so occupied, and that is what worries Cymdeithas, as much as it does BDOG.
Cllr Bob Kilmister hit the nail on the head when he told the Planning Committee meeting that the social rented housing to be provided is a “minimal sop so that the site can be developed to maximum market value” He tried to point out how thoughtlessly these units had been designed when compared to the market houses – furthest away from, and with no safe pedestrian access into, town, tiny gardens, fenced off from the rest of the site with no safe access also to the open spaces provided. BDOG members, having raised the same objections since the application was lodged, in efforts to see the design improved, have simply been labelled nimbys.
Cllr Paul Harries (Newport) queried whether the Local Development Plan Inspector, who set a limit of 20 houses on this site, would have agreed to 35 houses? He had grave concerns about Newport’s fragile infrastructure and traffic problems that this development will cause, and he queried whether the access off Feidr Bentinck should be allowed at all. He emphasised that Newport will cease to be a viable community if present trends of increasing numbers of second homes continue.
Mr David Ellis (Rudbaxton) said his role as a Member (Appointee) is foremost to protect the special qualities of the National Park and he found the increase in numbers on the site insupportable. The Authority had written reams on the significance of Newport’s special environment, and what has been the point of all of that? He would have supported a scheme for 20 houses as stated in the LDP, protecting the view in and out to the Church, and felt strongly that this is simply the wrong plan: it is over-development. He asked why 35 had become the new 20, which is the number the public had been given to expect. Are figures in the LDP simply up for grabs? He predicted that the Authority would be challenged over this.
The only recourse left to BDOG now is to do just that.
For unfortunately, the other Members, having heard a one sided Officer report (with no mention of Newport Town Council objecting to the application, no mention of the loss of 80 metres of surrounding hedge banks, and no mention of letters opposing), having listened to arguments in support only from the floor (because those opposing were not allowed to speak as ridiculously, the National Park only allows you to do so once, no matter how long the application process takes), demonstrating little grasp of Newport’s needs and knowledge of our environment (even reading the plan upside down till towards the end of deliberations), not understanding that social rented tenants do not have the right to buy, and above all not disabused about the significance of the supporters’ petition and letter from businesses, voted to approve.
Watch this space. BDOG will fight on