Agenda item

Planning Application No. 20/0538/OUT - Land off Spruce Close and Celia Crescent, Exeter

To consider the report of the Liveable Exeter Programme Director and City Development Strategic Lead.





The Principal Project Manager and Acting Major Projects Team Leader presented the outline application for up to 93 residential dwellings (Approval sought for details of access only, with scale, layout, appearance and landscaping all reserved for future consideration) (Revised Scheme).


The Principal Project Manager set out a detailed description of the site and surrounding area, including site photographs and an aerial view, panoramic views  from the site and adjoining fields and referred to the Zone of Theoretical Visibility as set out in the Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment showing viewpoints from surrounding residential areas and surrounding hills. Photomontages of viewpoints had also been provided by the applicant from Cumberland Way, Tithebarn Way, Birchy Barton and Hillyfield Road. He reported the following main aspects of the proposal:-


·         35% affordable housing in accordance with CS Policy CP7;

·         three fields to the north to be secured as public open space as a ‘New Valley Park’ in perpetuity of approximately 9.13 hectares as provided by the landowner;

·         the developable area of the two fields would be restricted to approximately 2.58 hectares with the remaining site area used as habitat corridor and informal open spaces. The fields were designated as Landscape Setting on the Core Strategy Key Diagram and the Exeter Local Plan First Review 1995-2011 Proposals Map. The public open space accessed from Spruce Close and Juniper Close was designated as Open Space on the latter, but was not designated as Landscape Setting. A Site of Nature Conservation Importance covered the vegetation along the northeast boundary of the lower field and the bottom right corner of the upper field;

·         access would be provided from the short access road leading from Celia Crescent to the site boundary and an access road across the public open space linking to Spruce Close. The access had been designed to facilitate an extension of the F1 bus route along Pinwood Meadow Drive/Spruce Close through the site and back along Celia Crescent/Chancellor’s Way;

·         new bus stops would be provided for the route approximately half way along Pinwood Meadow Drive, at the public open space adjacent to Spruce Close/Juniper Close and at the entrance to the site off Celia Crescent. The bus loop would be anti-clockwise;

·         contributions of £90,000 towards bus services, £1,000 per dwelling towards walking/cycling measures in area, £500 per dwelling towards travel planning, £3,558.74 per dwelling towards secondary education, £584 per dwelling towards patient space at GP surgeries and £13,000 towards upgrading local youth facilities;

·         there was a CIL liability of £118.93 per square metre of floorspace;

·         parameter plans had been provided covering land use, density, scale, access and movement and open space including a Local Area of Play in the middle of the site and a Locally Equipped Area for Play on the green space at the top of the upper field;

·         mood boards had been provided in respect of the higher and lower density area of housing and the new valley park;

·         the receipt of 463 objections and four neutral comments; and

·         objections from the Campaign to Protect Rural England Devon, Devon Wildlife Trust and the Exeter Cycling Campaign and support from Stagecoach.


The Principal Project Manager also referred to the 2007 Fringes Study which detailed the landscape sensitivity of the area and housing use capacity at that time and then detailed the following constraints:-


·         trees protected by Tree Preservation Orders along south west boundary;

·         the inclusion of part of the north east boundary within Flood Zones 2 and 3; and

·         Savoy Hill County Wildlife Site to north west.


The Principal Project Manager also referred to a representation received referencing a petition submitted to Council on 21 July 2021 on “Protect Green Infrastructure in Pinhoe”. The representation asked the Planning Committee to take into account issues of land management modelling, rights of community access and use, and the proposal to connect areas as part of the national nature recovery network scheme (through Natural England). As the petition covered matters of policy, it had been referred by Council to the Strategic Scrutiny Committee which may make recommendations to Executive.


The Planning Committee report included a planning assessment of the revised application, taking into account all relevant development plan policies, national polices and material considerations. In summary, the proposal was not considered to harm the character and local distinctiveness of the hills to the north of the city to an extent that would justify refusal in accordance with Policy C16. Furthermore, it would secure the adjoining fields further up the slope as public open space in perpetuity. This will ensure the landscape setting of the city in this location is preserved and protected. In terms of Policy L3, the three adjacent fields will act as compensatory open space. This land will be enhanced in terms of its accessibility, amenity and biodiversity value. It will be available for the local community to enjoy for recreational purposes permanently, benefiting existing and future generations. There will be no risk of it being developed in the future.


The Principal Project Manager responded as follows to Members’ queries:-


·         the mood boards were purely illustrative at outline stage, the final proposed design to be considered at reserved matters stage;

·         the design of the bus shelters would be determined through the County Council’s Traffic Regulation Order at reserved matters at a later stage;

·         the applicant had been asked to ensure that the dwellings would be no higher than those of Celia Crescent and would be below the 115 metre contour line and this would also be determined at reserved matters stage;

·         the commitment to provide compensatory public open space for a new valley park was offered as a mitigation measure in line with Policy L3 and the National Planning Policy Framework;

·         the site was not an allocated site within the Core Strategy;

·         the development area was not included in the A5 tree area on the north east boundary which was a wildlife corridor and would be preserved as a “dark area” as a navigation route for bats; and

·         the photos of the planning officer had been taken during the summer although the timing of those by the applicant was not clear.


Councillor Allcock, having given notice under Standing Order No. 44, spoke on the item. She raised the following points:-


·         speaking on behalf of residents to convey serious concerns about the negative impact of this development with 467 representations of which 463 were against;

·         the proposal for public open space in adjoining fields and a contribution to extend the F1 bus route are insufficient to mitigate the harmful effects of this development

·         the site was part of a Site of Nature Conservation Importance, providing a distinctive backdrop to the local area and was an area of Landscape Setting within the Core Strategy Key Diagram and the Exeter Local Plan First Review. The application was contrary to Policy LS1, which prohibits housing in a landscape setting;

·         the fields are both described as having a high landscape sensitivity and a low to medium-low capacity for housing in the Exeter Fringes study of 2007;

·         imperative to protect green space in line with the Council’s declaration of a climate and ecological crises and commitment to being net zero by 2030;

·         re-routing and creating an access road through existing green space would be visually intrusive and make the green unsafe for children;

·         unclear how the three adjoining fields to the northwest offered to compensate for the loss of open space would be managed;

·         the development would generate additional traffic and parked cars in an area suffering from a serious parking crisis. Adding more cars into the mix and converting Juniper Close from a quiet cul de sac to a busy access road will have serious implications for road safety;

·         the proposed yellow lines to accommodate bus stops would compound parking challenges and potentially push road safety issues downstream. New parking places could be used by residents of the new developments whose parking needs are likely to overspill and create tensions in the neighourhood;

·         the bus service will still not be accessible and reliable and does not stop at the supermarket or go right to the city centre and will not reduce additional car use;

·         it is not  a sustainable development and, although there is provision for health and education services to benefit the city at large, there will be little difference for children who cannot attend local schools or for new residents unable to get a GP appointment. The local Co-Op is a small convenience store with the nearest supermarket a 30 minute walk away. Further investment in infrastructure is necessary;

·         any development should involve:-

·         a prior commitment for ownership of the new valley park to be transferred either to the Council or the Devon Wildlife Trust;

·         the redirecting of the financial contribution to restore a bus service to stop at the Morrison’s supermarket and the city centre;

·         no net loss of parking spaces; and

·         provision of one-way restrictions up Pinwood Meadow Drive; and

·         the Liveable Exeter Vision is a viable, more sustainable solution involving urban renewal and delivering 12,000 homes by 2040 and there is no need to build on green fields any more to deliver the city’s land supply. This application, building new houses on ancient agricultural land, increasing car use and congestion, creating community tensions, pushing infrastructure and amenities to the limit is the antithesis of this vision and should be rejected;


In response to a Member, Councillor Allcock confirmed that it was a car led development and that, although provisions were to be made for cyclists and walkers, access to shops etc. for this cohort was made difficult by the steepness of the hill.


Steven Hanna spoke against the application. He raised the following points:-


·         through all the different versions, none of the 450 objections have been withdrawn, the proposal having resulted in a demonstration outside the Guildhall;

·         the proposal brings pain for little gain with 450 opposing 90 houses and much is being sacrificed for so little and community cohesion will be adversely affected;

·         given the approval of the Liveable Exeter Strategy the proposal is unnecessary;

·         it is an historic green space and LS1 land. The northern hills are the lungs of the city and building will suffocate the city. It is not worthy of a garden city;

·         the development will have traffic, parking and access problems. Because of the steepness of the hill, cars will be needed and the proposed yellow lines will not alleviate traffic problems with conflict between cars and buses likely. There is insufficient car parking or replacement car parking;

·         whilst some regard has been made to visual impact there has been no consideration of the impact on the community. Many are opposed to extending the bus service to serve the development because of extra pollution and traffic, which similarly applies to school buses for the children of the new homes who will need to access schools some distance from the area; and

·         it is an unsustainable development and should be rejected;


Peter Salter spoke in support of the application. He raised the following points:-


·         the application delivers much needed housing towards Exeter’s five year land supply and, along with being fully policy compliant, it secured significant additional ecological and wider community benefit;

·         the landowner offers to give 22 acres of his remaining land to the Council as a new valley park, to connect into the adjacent Mincinglake Valley Park securing access for the wider community. This offer guarantees future public access, which addresses local concerns about a loss of recreational land;

·         the development land is private and the current public use unauthorised. Farming the land with public access had become difficult;

·         the application would remove the conflict and secure long term public access;

·         a further community benefit is the opening of a new bus route. Instead of the current situation where the bus goes up Chancellors Way does a three point turn and then straight back down, it would loop through the site and Pinwood Meadow Drive, taking in two large areas not currently serviced by a bus;

·         to deliver the new bus route in Pinwood Meadow Drive, there is a need to improve its functionality by placing parking restrictions in some of the tighter areas;

·         to address residents' concerns about the loss of on street parking, the latest access plan provides for additional parking bays; and

·         have worked constructively to secure the land for a new valley park, and, to produce a sustainable housing site.


He responded as follows to Members’ queries:-


·         the bus route through the site was requested by the County Council in order to extend the F1 route; and

·         provision has been made for walkers and cyclists with connection to the footpath in Mincinglake Valley Park and there would be a two way cycle/car flow route incorporated through the site.


Members expressed the following views:-


·         the proposal does not accord with the Council’s future ambitions for development as set out in the Liveable Exeter strategy;

·         the site is an integral part of the hills north of the city and is of major landscape importance containing the urban extent of Exeter providing a setting for the city as well as a rural backdrop to the existing residential areas to the south west and the south east;

·         the proposal would result in extending residential development beyond the built up area, potentially resulting in a harmful effect on the character and appearance of this part of the city;

·         the Exeter Landscape Sensitivity Capacity Study of 2007 and the 2015 strategic housing land availability assessment states that this site is unsuitable for housing;

·         given that the views set out in the report from some consultees relate only to the original proposal and not the current one, further comments should be obtained to be fed into the report back to Committee after a site visit;

·         concern that it is a car led development;

·         concerns regarding both the principle of development and issues within the development;

·         this site plays a significant part in the wider landscape beyond, as set out in the Devon Wetlands Study;

·         welcome a bus route through the site but oppose a car led development and it should be noted that car sharing is not, technically, best practice;

·         improvements are required to off-site junctions to improve cycle safety and, although car parking laybys are provided, further improvements for cyclist are required as there remain conflict zones between cars, cyclists and walkers;

·         there is no reference to achieving air quality objectives; and

·         overall, the proposal fails to meet the policies of the Local Transport Plan.


The recommendation was for approval, subject to the completion of a Section 106 Agreement and the conditions as set out in the report.


Councillor Sutton moved and Councillor Hannaford seconded an amendment to defer the application for a site inspection party by the Committee. The amendment was moved, seconded and carried.


RESOLVED that the application be deferred for a site visit by the Planning Committee for report back to a future meeting.



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