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 explained that the application had been deferred at the previous Planning Committee on 6 September 2021 for a site visit by the Planning Committee on 28 September 2021. He reiterated the main elements reported at the September meeting 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 also referred to the receipt of 467 objections.


The Principal Project Manager went on to provide the following update:-


·         Devon Wildlife Trust had withdrawn its objection to the application on 8 September 2021;

·         the applicant had submitted a statement responding to the issues raised by Councillor Allcock at the previous Committee meeting, and a briefing note by their planning consultant addressing Policy LS1 and Policy CP16, as well as relevant appeal decisions;

·         the applicant had also submitted a letter by their planning consultant on 7 October 2021, comments including:-

·         the presence or absence of a five year housing land supply is of marginal relevance and untested;

·         the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) states that there should be a presumption in favour of sustainable development;

·         the independent landscape assessment endorses the findings of the Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment (LVIA) submitted with the application; and

·         the Section 106 Agreement will deliver very significant benefits for the local community, including substantial public open space;

·         an independent chartered landscape architect had reviewed revised plans, her comprehensive report included in the agenda. The report concluded that the effects of the proposed development have been assessed and through a review found to be very localised, having a moderate impact on the valued landscape characteristics and minimal impacts on views from within the landscape and of the setting of the city. The proposed siting within the context of retained traditional hedgebanks will allow the development to be relatively smoothly assimilated into the local landscape.”;

·         other comments of the landscape architect included:-

·         the ability to obtain views of the site from public locations was extremely limited and current site access was at the gift of the landowner;

·         the development as proposed could accord with the objectives of Policy LS1 of the Exeter Local Plan First Review and Policy CP16 of the Exeter Core Strategy;

·         provides unhindered quiet recreation in perpetuity contributing to the public enjoyment and access to the urban fringe;

·         parts of fields 1 and 2 that form this application on the revised Illustrative Masterplan are so well related to the urban fringe that they can be developed without unacceptably impacting on the policy objectives of the Core Strategy;

·         the development will not set a precedent for any other part of the landscape in the LS1 area or the land referenced in paragraph 4.11 of the Core Strategy,

·         should the site be consented for outline planning, the reserved matters application could and should deliver the design and landscape enhancement objectives of both policy DG1 and paragraph 130 of the NPPF; and

·         since the previous Planning Committee, the Council had reviewed and updated its Five Year Housing Land Supply Statement which now stated that the Council could demonstrate, for the period commencing 1 April 2021, a supply of five years and five months. Therefore, the Council could demonstrate the required five year supply of deliverable housing sites with an appropriate buffer.


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


·         now have a housing land supply of at least five years and five months, the Council having assessed this supply in line with the National Planning Policy Framework and with 12,000 homes sought within the Liveable Exeter programme. The tilted balance no longer applies and the core strategy policies are considered up to date.

·         the Core Strategy vision sets out a commitment to sustainable growth though “maximising the use of previously developed land within the city” and sets out that Exeter will “build on its strengths and assets by safeguarding the hills to the north and north west,”

·         it is a car-led development, cut off from community amenities;

·         mitigating climate change and minimising the need to travel is a thread that runs throughout the core strategy and CP11 stipulates that developments should be “located and designed so as to minimise and if necessary mitigate against environmental impacts.”;

·         the proposed site is up steep hills in both directions, which would make walking and cycling for anything other than recreation difficult. The nearest train station is a  22 minute walk away with the bus route limited. This development would therefore increase car dependency and worsen environmental impacts;

·         measures to offset car use include financial contributions to improve walking and cycling infrastructure and a contribution to extend the F1 bus route to the development, but will not realistically reduce car use or dependency;

·         the bus stop five minutes from Celia Crescent is too far for many and is an extremely limited route. Stagecoach is a private company and operates at its own discretion;

·         the steep hills of this part of Exeter mean that, while residents might cycle or walk for exercise or recreation, it would be very difficult to cycle or walk to work, to the shops or into the city centre;

·         maximising the number of parking spots within the site given its low density, is not a sustainable development;

·         whilsta large parcel of open space is offered there are very few other amenities within walking distance. Besides a small local convenience store, and a takeaway, there are no local food shops. The nearest supermarket is a minimum 20 minute walk. The local secondary school does not have any available places, and GP surgeries are already oversubscribed.

·         the offer of financial contributions for infrastructure will do little to address local pressure points or the deficit in community amenities;

·         the definition of sustainability is to meet current needs whilst not sacrificing the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Adding 93 houses in an area that has been subject to so many new housing developments in recent years will not help achieve Exeter’s vision for sustainable, healthy communities;

·         the site falls within an area that has been identified as requiring protection from development in a succession of documents and policies - the Exeter Fringes Study, designation as landscape setting within the Exeter Local Plan First Review, and discounted as being suitable for housing in the 2015 Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment;

·         there might be some parallels between the Home Farm and Clyst Road cases in terms of location and landscape sensitivity but those decisions were made in the context of a significant housing supply shortfall;

·         the proposal conflicts with policy LS1, which prohibits all housing development on landscape setting land. Policy CP16 protects landscape setting land from the harmful impacts of development;

·         whilst never adopted, Exeter’s Development Delivery Development Management plan is also a material consideration;

·         officers determine that, while there would be some moderate impact on the immediate surroundings, the overall impact on the city’s landscape setting would be minimal. However, while not presenting as severe a harm as other recent applications, this application still presents some harm. Locally, some of the hedgerows that currently shield the lower field from the site would be removed for access and, despite the replanting plans, will take decades to grow back;

·         the transfer of three higher fields for perpetual community benefit and improved drainage systems and double yellow lines would be beneficial as would 32 affordable homes and financial contributions for city infrastructure. However, is the provision of the three higher fields worth losing the bottom two fields for? ;

·         safety concerns of parents whose homes would no longer open onto a historic green but a busy two-way road; the loss of open space in Spruce Close that children are currently able to play on; and the concerns about the extremely narrow roads on both sides of the site that would have to accommodate significant additional traffic; and

·         the housing and sustainability benefits offered by this proposal are not sufficient to outweigh the many ways in which it falls short of the core strategy vision, objectives and policies.


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


·         the developer has tried to divert attention to the development being below the ridge line but visual impact is not the only matter;

·         community impact is severe and development will ruin the character especially of the historic green as would any access road;

·         the access road is needed as it is a car driven development and every new home will have at least one car parking space. As such it cannot be a green and sustainable development;

·         it is unsafe for children on that historic green;

·         it is unsafe to reverse up or down the hill which won’t be helped by yellow-lines or an additional 90 cars;

·         the continuation of any bus service is not in the Council’s control and it cannot be presented as sustainable when cars are still needed and local schools are over-subscribed;

·         there is now a 100%, five -year housing supply; and

·         the up-to-date policies should be tested to protect the heritage.


Ed Tremlett spoke in support of the application. He raised the following points:-


·         the land had been in family ownership for over 100 years, forming part of a larger farm with a tenant increasing his farming activity generally including a pedigree herd of cattle;

·         to help sustain this herd he has been trying to use the land at Pinhoe more productively, mainly to produce silage for winter feed. The grass was contamination due to dog mess etc. and the tenant has asked for a solution;

·         it was hard to restrict access as chains and padlocks on the gates have been removed;

·         options examined had been a new stock proof fence around the entire area to deter access, ploughing to enable crop for the cattle which would produce more feed per acre or selling the land to a neighbouring landowner. All were negative options and would stop the public access;

·         the application was a positive compromise. The development amounted to about 14 acres of the lowest level land, with 22 acres of the more attractive higher fields being gifted to the residents in perpetuity. It would ring fence the whole zone, giving total certainty to the green belt that surrounds the local area;

·         there would be a lot of extra planting and landscaping to make the gifted land even more attractive and diverse. The situation was not sustainable as it is, and none of the other options would be of any benefit to the residents;

·         the application would leave a positive and lasting legacy for the residents, securing them a large tract of countryside that can never be taken away.   


Responding to a Member’s query he advised that, as a landowner and not the developer, he could not provide information on design and relationship of housing to the ridgeline. The Principal Project Manager Development stated that the application was outline and scale was a reserved matter - the parameters plans would allow housing up to two storeys, but this would be determined at the reserved matters stage.


Members expressed the following views:-


·         the Council now has a five year housing land supply;

·         the site is an integral part of the hills around and in the north of the city and is of major landscape importance containing the urban extent of Exeter and providing a setting for the city. The development would undermine the Council’s desire to protect the city’s hills;

·         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;

·         proposal does not accord with the Council’s future development plans as set out in the Liveable Exeter strategy and its place making ambitions where priority is given to developing brown field sites with development of green space the lowest consideration;

·         the site location necessitates a car driven development as residents, particularly the elderly, disabled and those with younger children would be unlikely to walk/cycle to reach the site and, as such, it would be an unsustainable development;

·         the bus service in this area has been historically poor exacerbated by the current Stagecoach driver shortage;

·         contributions to secondary education and GP services may not reflect local and wider city wide requirements;

·         a car led development does not reflect the ambitions for a sustainable transport hierarchy in the  city;

·         unless bungalows are envisaged, the height of the houses will have an impact on the character of the hillside;

·         potential disruption to bat navigation network and feeding corridor;

·         whilst affordable housing remains a city priority with some 3,200 on the housing waiting list a car led development is not sustainable.


The Principal Project Manager stated that the proposal was considered to be a sustainable development when balancing the development plan policies, National Planning Policy Framework 2021 policies, including the presumption in favour of sustainable development in paragraph 11, National Planning Practice Guidance (NPPG), and the constraints and opportunities of the site. A Section 106 legal agreement and conditions were necessary to secure public open space, affordable housing, infrastructure contributions and other aspects of the development to make it acceptable in planning terms.


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


Councillor Bialyk moved and Councillor Hannaford seconded the refusal of the application which was voted upon and agreed unanimously. There followed a short adjournment for officers to agree the wording of the refusal reasons.


Councillor Bialyk moved and Councillor Branston seconded the substantive motion to refuse the application for the reason set out below which was voted upon and agreed unanimously.


RESOLVED that the application for 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) be REFUSED as the adopted Core Strategy sets out an approach which steers development away from the hills that are strategically important to the setting of the city. The Local Plan sets out a sequential approach to development with greenfield sites being at the bottom of that hierarchy. As the Council can demonstrate a five year housing land supply greater weight is afforded to its adopted policies. It is considered that the development of this site would undermine the spatial approach set out in the development plan by allowing development on a site which lies in an area identified for protection, and as such the proposal is contrary to policy H1 of the Exeter Local Plan First Review 1995-2011 and Policy CP16 of the Core Strategy adopted February 2012.



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