Report of DMC (Planning Committee) Meeting (11th Nov 2015)

14 Members present, including 2 who had not been at the last DMC when the application was first considered These were Mr Allan Archer (appointee from Skewen) and Mrs Melinda Thomas (appointee from Newport Mon) Apologies from Cllr David Rees, Cllr Stanley Hudson, Cllr Ted Sangster, and Mrs Gwyneth Hayward (Chair of this Committee, from Nevern, but who had declared an interest and took no part last time)

Cllr R M Lewis chaired the meeting (as at the last meeting, when he seconded a motion from Cllr Willcox to approve, which however fell as only one other person – Ted Sangster (appointee Spittall) – put his hand up in support))

Our own Cllr Paul Harries (newport) declared the same interest as for the last meeting in knowing local people involved – and was able to participate

Cllr Mike James (Chair PCNPA and C Cllr Member for St Dogmaels) declared an interest at the last meeting because he was on the board of the local Housing Association Tai Cantref but said nothing at this point. When Cllr Bob Kilmister later in the proceedings asked for an explanation, Mike James said he had recently resigned from Tai Cantref and apologised for not mentioning this earlier, at which point The Monitoring Officer, David Parsons, confirmed it was in order for Cllr James to participate. (Comment : Was this procedurally fair?)

The minutes of the 30/09/15 were swiftly approved as per usual and without any Member querying the appropriateness of the cooling off period having been adopted.

Comment : To understand the circumstances under which this should have happened go to the report on the revised procedure where members take planning decisions counter to officer recommendations, as presented to the meeting of the Authority of for the 5th November 2014 meeting, and the recorded as amended and approved in the confirmed minutes to be found on National Park website

Liam Jones Head of Development Management delivered the Officer Report. He said he would not read the report out as a whole. Comment : The written report already stated that “the main land use considerations for this proposal are considered in last month’s (sic) officer report on this application. These considerations are not repeated in this report” Thus Mr Jones did not explain, as he should have done according to the revised procedure, all relevant matters including any issues raised by the previous resolution. He did not explain why officers considered the Members’ motion “minded to refuse” was a departure from the Local Development Plan.

Instead, he talked about many letters received in support of the application since the last meeting which included emphasis of receipt of a letter signed by 59 businesses “from Newport” including 2 undertakers and 6 garages in support. (Comment : Would that Newport had so many businesses, including any garages yet alone undertakers!) He said a petition signed by 968 people had also been received asking for the development of 14 affordable and 21 open market houses to go ahead. He repeated mention of the fact that a request to call-in the application from BDOG to the Welsh Government had been turned down He informed Members (Comment : incorrectly) that all of these matters comprised of material considerations for Members to take into account. He said that Tegryn Jones, Chief Executive had received a pre-action protocol letter from BDOG threatening judicial review over the cooling off procedure being wrongly invoked.

Comment : He made no mention of any letters of objection received whatsoever, including from the Welsh Language Society, and did not refer to the petition from objectors at all. He made no mention that DC/WW had asked for an important planning condition to be added due to the problems of supplying potable water to the site. Yet again, the Members’ attention was not drawn to the loss of 80m of surrounding hedgebanks due principally to formation of access sight lines and this was therefore never mentioned to them by an Officer

He noted that the site had been allocated for Housing in the Local Development Plan and therefore the principle of development was assured, that the application for 35 houses exceeded the 20 set in Table 7 of LDP Housing Strategy Policy 44 but the application complied with Policy 44 where it states

“The Authority will require a minimum density of 30 dwellings per hectare on housing development in the Centres”

Comment : He, of course , did not complete the sentence “where this is compatible with the character of the Centres.” He stated that the proportion of affordable housing in the LDP -70% is reduced to 40% in the Supplementary Planning Guidance. He said that consultees including Highways and Government Transport raised no objections (Comment :  without mentioning that the so called “assessment” commissioned by the applicant had not been scrutinised by officers to find that the traffic survey data was out of date and the conclusions were based on false assumptions)

Officers concluded that

“the application accords with the LDP when read as a whole, notwithstanding the exceedance of the allocation”

He pointed out that 20 dwellings badly designed could have a greater adverse impact than 35 The Officers thought the application was well designed and befitting Newport and the site. He repeated the officer recommendation to delegate the decision to the Chief Executive etc  to delegate the application to officers for approval.

Comment : No mention was made by the Officer of the Town Council response opposing the proposal and recommending refusal.  Neither was this recorded in the minutes of the previous DMC meeting

Wyn Harries, the Applicant’s Agent, was allowed to speak, despite the fact he had every opportunity to speak at the previous meeting but chose not to do so. There was no opportunity for BDOG to do so, despite 3 Members not having been present at the last meeting to hear arguments against the proposal. This gave a procedural bias towards support for the Officer recommendation to approve.

Wyn Harries said that when the applicants had realised after the last DMC meeting that the Committee might refuse the application they had organised a petition in support which had gained nearly 1000 signatures He noted that Newport Town Council (who had refused the application) were not present to explain their decision He said the application meets planning policies and has the support of all consultees He claimed the proposal would be providing affordable housing and they had 3 Housing Associations “talking to them”. He said no one had defined a residential unit and he could have provided huge mansions. This application made the best use of the land, that there is not enough housing available for local employees who need modest houses to be available to them. He admitted that the price of the market houses could not be controlled, but these have been designed for local people and anyway the change to double council tax for second homes would deter those buyers He claimed that the application would support a more inclusive community, support the Welsh language and provides a lifeline for future families.

The Chairman agreed with a Member’s comment that PCNPA is not a rating Authority and the powers for Welsh Local Authorities to introduce a doubling of council tax for second homes will not come in till next year.

The Chairman mentioned that all Members had been overwhelmed by a flood of letters to which they were unable to pay sufficient attention.

Cllr Mike James attending his first meeting about this application, then spoke in support He said he supported his officers after their years of work to bring this application forward through the pre-app process He said that the Western Mail had said that Newport is the 6th or 7th “most expensive place” (? Where wasn’t clear) He thought the £300k 4 bedroom houses on this site were welcome as 4 bedroom houses in Newport cost £500 or 600K and employers had written to support these houses for their employees He said that major businesses and important groups supported including NFU and the Welsh Language Society. (Comment : This has since angered the latter who had in fact written a strong letter opposing the proposal and saying that the original decision to refuse should stand )However, Cllr James moved a motion to approve.

The motion was seconded by Cllr Wilcox Comment : The Chairman appeared to accept this despite the fact that under the written procedure for the cooling –off period the previously recorded motion – i.e. “minded to refuse” should have been considered first. Instead this was completely ignored.

Christine Gwyther (who opposed on 30th Sept) queried the 2 different housing densities across the site and Wyn Harries was invited to respond He said the affordable housing met necessary standards and was similar in density to the very successful “Cysgoed Y Dderwen” (Comment : However no one mentioned that the big difference there was, that as a result of Forum members’ campaign, that development had started off at least as meeting 100% local needs (5 mile radius criterion) which won’t apply here and that safe access to town and open areas is better provided along pavements)

Instead, he said the layout was confined by retaining mediaeval hedge banks. Ms Gwyther also wanted to be sure that the affordable housing would be commenced first. Wyn Harries responded that keeping the affordable housing to one area of the site instead of “pepper potting” enabled this to happen Ms Gwyther failed to ask for a planning condition to ensure that it did.

Mr David Ellis (Rudbaxton) spoke next. The LDP Inspector set down a maximum of 20 homes on this site and that is the number the public have expected to be developed there. He asked “why is 35 the new 20 ?” “Are figures in the Plan simply up for grabs ? “He found the increase in numbers insupportable and said he expected that the Authority would be challenged over this if it went ahead. He said his role as a Member is foremost to protect the special qualities of the National Park. The Authority had written reams on the significance of Newport’s special environment in recording this fact, 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 This is simply the wrong plan It is over-development

Cllr Lyn Jenkins (Solva) said even at £300,000, do we want the 12 x 4 bedroom houses? Does Newport need them?

Mr Allan G Archer (Skewen) Comment : who had not attended the last meeting), said it is important to consider the plan “as a whole” and he felt the plan was fairly balanced It is important for the Park to realise housing development and affordable housing in particular.

Cllr Michael Williams (Tenby) spoke to change his position from just last month. It is Members’ role to protect the landscape, but this application is within policy albeit for many more houses than set out. It will be good for young families. Cllr Williams asked himself is the design before us sympathetic enough? On balance he had now decided to change his mind and go along with the officers’ advice.

Cllr Paul Harries (Newport) asked on what basis the officers had advertised the application as a departure from the LDP. Liam Jones said that was done “on a technical basis” because the numbers in the Plan had been exceeded. Paul said that the affordable housing is essential but do we need 21 market houses? We do not need another Cnwce Estate in Newport which was considered to be out of place, scarring the landscape. Would the LDP Inspector have agreed to 35 houses? Paul had concerns about Newport’s fragile infrastructure and traffic problems and queried whether the access off Feidr Bentinck should be allowed .

He reminded Members that Newport Strategy Policy includes to aim e) to ensure developments permitted contribute to the protection and enhancement of the town’s special qualities and f) to permit proposals that assist in delivering improved traffic management in the town. This application does neither Paul pointed out again that the Officers rely on Policy 44 The Authority will require a minimum density of 30 dwellings per hectare on housing development in the Centres – but they have not completed the sentence which says “where this is compatible with the character of the Centres.” This Housing Allocation is for 20 dwellings – not 35 He added that Newport Town Council opposes it. Cllr Harries continued by appealing to the Committee to make more affordable housing available in the National Park. But he didn’t make it clear enough that he meant by means other than this proposal. He emphasised that Newport does not need 21 market houses when we have nearly 40% second homes already It is because of that that Newport will cease to be a viable community if present trends continue.

Cllr Bob Kilmister (Dinas) said it was no secret that he was not a supporter of the LDP but it was Members’ role to uphold it. He wanted to emphasise he was not against affordable housing and it was unfortunate that any objector to this application is so easily painted as a “Nimby”. The LDP Inspector made a decision about density on this site. This application is a 70% increase There have been no changes to warrant this, and Members have no right to vary the density to such an extent. The affordable housing here is in a ghetto and is a minimal sop so that the site can be developed to maximum market value Cllr Kilmister could not support it. He added, “Don’t accuse me of not supporting affordable housing because of this: we need quality affordable housing.”

Mrs Melinda Thomas (appointee from Newport Mon) who had not attended the last meeting) said Members have to consider planning policies as a whole. (Comment : Strange that the other appointee attending for the first time used the same terminology) This is an immense opportunity to develop affordable housing The problem is that the developer has to cover the cost If this proposal was for only 20 units we would get fewer affordable homes out of it (Comment : Yes and if it was for 150 we’d get even more!) There have been no objections from statutory consultees. (Comment : Do we have to forgive an appointee who had not attended the first DMC for not acknowledging Newport Town Council’s opposition at this point?) Mrs Thomas looked to the advice of the Authority’s own Buildings Conservation Officer in particular and said it is not unusual to see affordable housing designed like this.

 Comment : There was some confusion about of what the affordable housing would consist. Members didn’t know whether it was for rent or to buy! It took a while for Liam Jones to answer whether or not there would be any low cost homes to buy, to confirm that they would be social rented only and to give figures for numbers and bedrooms Several Members were reading the plan upside down and were under the impression that the affordable housing was on the side of the site closest into town

Cllr Reg Owens (St Ishmaels) accused Cllr Kilmister of being insulting for using the term “ghetto” to describe the affordable housing (Comment : More insulting to be provided with a ghetto to live in than to be told you live in one!) He saw nothing wrong with the design and thought plenty of people would be pleased to live there. (Comment : Unaware therefore of TAN 2 which states Affordable housing should also be indistinguishable from market housing provided on the same site) He assured Members that it didn’t make any difference whether the affordable houses were social rented housing or not – because there was a right of tenants to buy their homes from a Housing Association. (Comment : This is not true. The Assembly has made an order restricting the right to acquire in rural communities with a population of less than 3,000 or with a population density below two persons per hectare. According to Tai Cantref, whilst the legislation in Wales is “up in the air” at the moment, a decision on right to buy would depend on the type of stock (newer less likely); demand for social rented housing in the area (high in Newport); whether the tenant has rented for a long period, currently since 1984)

Cllr James said he also objected to the use of the term ghetto. He welcomed 4 bedroomed houses to be sold for £300k rather than £600k which he claimed (Comment : wrongly) was the more usual price in Newport

Cllr Kilmister explained his use of “ghetto” to describe the affordable housing in that there was a 2-class housing system clearly displayed here not just by the size of units, but by the lack of amenity and gardens for the social rented units compared to the market houses.

Liam Jones said the gardens were sufficient and a similar size to other new social rented accommodation in Newport but said nothing concerning the lack of amenity.

Cllr Michael Evans was concerned about safe access into town from the affordable housing if that was to be built first whilst the rest of the site was under construction and requested a condition be added requiring a footpath from here across the rest of the site. Wyn Harries said it would be possible to put a path through the site to Goat St. Cllr Evans ask for and had it incorprated in the motion to adde such a path.

Cllr Tony Wilcox said that emotions were running high in the village but there is nothing wrong with this application which ticks all the boxes. Affordable housing is needed and it would be silly not to pass this.

The Monitoring Officer, Mr Parsons declared that a recorded vote must be taken as this was a cooled-off vote He did not say that the motion of “Minded to refuse” should be considered again first as laid down in the correct procedure, and it wasn’t.

Instead, the motion to approve by Cllr James “to delegate for approval”was seconded by Cllr Wilcox

For the motion:
Cllr James:    last time absented himself from the room because of a declared interest
Cllr Wilcox:    voted in favour last time as well
Ms. Christine Gwyther:  changed her position
Cllr Williams: changed his position
Cllr Morgan: previously abstained
Cllr Owens: changed his position
Cllr Evans : previously abstained
Cllr Lewis: Chair: previously abstained
Mrs Melinda Thomas: not present last time
Mr Alan Archer: not present last time
Against:
Cllr Kilmister: held fast
Mr David Ellis: held fast
Cllr Harries: held fast
Cllr Lyn Jenkins : held fast

 

Stop the largest development in Newport for decades