Agenda item

Planning Application No. 21/1676/FUL - Land North East of 371 Topsham Road, Exeter

To consider the report of the Director City Development.



The Assistant Service Lead - Development Management (Major Projects) presented the application for the development comprising change of use to golf driving range including construction of an 8 bay and 2 training bay facility incorporating equipment store and car park.


The Assistant Service Lead - Development Management (Major Projects) set out a detailed description of the site and the proposed development, including an aerial view, site and planting plans, views towards the site from Ludwell Valley Park photos showing the proposed building in the context of the surroundings and facilities within the existing golf driving range in Topsham Road which would be largely replicated in the proposed development. The report presented also set out the following key issues:-


·              the principle of development;

·         design, landscape and heritage;

·         access and impact on local highways and parking;

·         noise;

·         impact on trees and biodiversity;

·         flood risk and surface water management;

·         sustainable construction and energy conservation;

·         development plan, material considerations and presumption in favour of sustainable development


The Assistant Service Lead - Development Management (Major Projects) provided the following additional detail:-


·         the proposed development was to change the use of the site from an agricultural field to a golf driving range, including the development of a single storey building and car park. Like the existing facility, the new facility will be available to use by members of Exeter Golf and Country Club/Topsham Golf Academy and not be open to the general public. A security fence was proposed along the boundary with Rydon Lane;

·         the site was within the designated Ludwell Valley Park and Site of Nature Conservation Importance (SNCI) on the Local Plan First Review Proposals Map. The site was also located within the Landscape Setting area. The adjoining field to the northeast is part of the Ludwell Valley Park County Wildlife Site (CWS);

·         the car park would be surfaced in grasscrete and the building would be sited adjacent to the car park to the east including eight bays and a specialised training bay. It will be constructed from timber and composite cladding similar to the building at the existing facility;

·         the bays will face towards the northeast corner of the field and A379, away from the housing in Tollards Road and InFocus buildings. The ball striking zone will be 250 metres long compared with 180 metres at the existing facility. Unlike the existing facility there would be no flags or other paraphernalia in the ball striking zone. Instead users will be able to see the distance they strike the ball on a monitor in each bay;

·         there would be no floodlighting; the Club having confirmed the facility will be viable to operate in daylight hours only. Due to the much larger size of the site compared to the existing facility, there would be no need for any safety netting. The applicant had confirmed verbally that no chemicals would be sprayed on the grass and none were being used at the existing facility;

·         the applicant had submitted a Landscape and Ecological Mitigation Plan showing new planting on the site as part of the proposals to enhance biodiversity;

·         an additional pre-commencement condition was proposed as requested by the Lead Local Flood Authority relating to drainage issues as shown on the update sheet.


In conclusion, the Assistant Service Lead - Development Management (Major Projects) advised:


·         recreation uses are acceptable in the Valley Parks in accordance with Policy CP16 of the Core Strategy and saved Policy L1 of the Local Plan First Review;

·         the open, rural appearance of the site will remain and the proposed building and car park will not have a significant impact on the character and local distinctiveness of the Valley Park;

·         the building materials are appropriate and their colours can be controlled by condition;

·         the soft landscaping proposed will enhance the biodiversity value of the site by 36.71% for habitats and 8.96% for hedges;

·         the Council’s Environmental Health Officer has not objected on noise grounds, as they consider it to be “not the loudest of uses” and a Noise Impact Assessment is conditioned;

·         the Local Highway Authority had raised no objections on access or highways grounds;

·         the proposal is for a high quality sporting facility for people of all ages who are members of Exeter Golf and Country Club/Topsham Golf Academy;

·         the site is much larger than the existing site negating the need for netting;

·         there will be no flood lighting.


The Assistant Service Lead - Development Management (Major Projects), in response to Members’ queries, advised that:-


·         the existing facility is off Exeter Road towards Topsham and is further away from the Exeter Golf and Country Club than the proposed facility which itself will have the same facilities but no netting nor golfing paraphernalia;

·         grasscrete was proposed for the car park and not an artificial permeable surface and the ball strike area will remain as grass;

·         it will be a relatively quiet use compared with sports stadia;

·         the ball strike area is within the building which provides sound proof mitigation and there have been no noise complaints from the existing facility and a noise impact assessment has been added as a condition in case sound proofing measures are deemed necessary in the future; and

·         the Club have provided assurances that netting will not be required for this much larger site and the ball strike area is angled away from the houses. Planning permission will be needed if netting was to be sought, but would be unlikely to be allowed because of the Valley Park.


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


·         speaking on behalf of the residents of the Southbrook estate, the Southbrook Community Association and the campaign group;

·         Since 1962 there have been around 10 attempts to develop this site and applications have failed, the latest in 2018, the Planning Inspector stating that the field was within the Ludwell character zone forming an integral part of the Ludwell Valley Park. It remains within the Valley Park designation in the Statutory Development Plan;

·         residents are concerned that a change of use from agriculture to a golfing facility might in the future change it from a green field to a brown field site and make it more vulnerable to development;

·         should approval of these plans be granted, is it possible to put a caveat preventing future development?

·         the Southbrook Residents Association support the views of the experts, Devon Wildlife Trust (DWT), the managers of the Valley Park, when considering if the plans will affect the Ludwell Valley Park and its wildlife and they sent two letters of objection stating they consider the proposals do not provide sufficient evidence to satisfy the requirements relating to biodiversity. It is a crucial area of wildlife rich greenspace within the city, much of which is publicly accessible and managed for people and wildlife;

·         there have been nearly 350 letters of objection to the plans, many from people who come to the Park for recreation and are not residents;

·         the removal of course lighting so that it will operate in daylight hours only in the winter is welcome but there is no mention as to what lighting is intended around the building and in the car park area and how long it will remain on;

·         Natural England have stated that any lighting that would cause additional illumination of hedgerows, which are important wildlife corridors, should be prevented;

·         thankfully the Planning Assessment deemed a well-lit cycle park unnecessary;

·         whilst the landscaping and planning proposed will have a positive effect, the border with the properties on Tollards Road has become overgrown and residents would require to be consulted as to how the border is managed. Existing mature pine trees at the top North East corner are becoming invasive and should be removed;

·         the building should be left in natural wood and not unsightly materials;

·         the RSPB have commented that herbicides and fertilisers should be excluded in the ball striking zone with management of this area being by cutting. Chemical herbicides and fertilisers could well pose a hazard to the wildlife flora and fauna of the area and the adjacent meadows. The whole of the site to be free from chemicals;

·         the absence of high netting in use in Topsham is welcome as is the absence of Floodlighting, netting, flags or other golfing paraphernalia

·         it is considered that opening at 9:30 am is too early, yet the Planning Assessment concludes with the information that is can open from 6:30am when daylight allows;

·         the campaign group was formed in 2014 to become proactive in protecting the whole of the Ludwell Valley Park with a view to notifying users of any prosed changes. It supports the concerns of DWT, the RSPB and Natural England;

·         there is a failure to mention the BERM lighting which is on the existing site in Topsham half way down the fairway will be relocated. Hopefully, the daylight opening hours will restrict the use of BERM and the need for floodlighting in the car park or in the reception building. There is no mention by the agent that it will be installed. Berm lighting is at ground level and it would be less intrusive for residents. However, moths and other nocturnal insects including badgers would be disturbed as would the protected bats. Internal lighting from the cabin would be unacceptable too;

·         the Ludwell Valley Park supports a butterfly trail that would suffer in the event golf balls are permitted to fly around;

·         should this application go ahead the campaign group suggest the times of operating should coincide with the Government guidance on lighting up times with the starting time no earlier than 10:00am ending at the latest, by 9:00 pm in the summer. These times should be applicable Monday to Saturday throughout the year. Sundays and Bank Holidays should be restricted to a start at 10:30am and close at 4:00pm in order for residents to enjoy their gardens. This would include the use of any machinery for ball collection or grass cutting implements;

·         there is concern about the lack of any archaeological assessment. In 2014 and 2017 prehistoric remains were unearthed with evidence of Bronze age pottery;

·         the campaign group have expressed concerns regarding the Golf Club's plans for 371 Topsham Road which, if demolished, could provide access and egress to a potential housing development The house remains unoccupied, but frequently is used as a car park and its use in this application remains unspecified. It could be  converted into a club house;

·         the campaign group are concerned over the lack of a risk assessment on the lane adjacent to the "In Focus" building. It is used by the disabled students, many in wheelchairs and is also a pedestrian entrance and exit for the Nursing Students of Plymouth University. The safety of all these students is paramount;

·         no mention is made of the possible trajectory of these special light weight balls. Research has shown that many land far from off fairways and could land in  the land of 'In Focus 'and residents’ homes;

·         the "grasscrete” leaves too much undecided for the surface of the car park and far too much leeway for the introduction of other surfaces. The concrete may be at some depth and involve the removal of large amounts of soil;

·         the campaign group suggest that the club’s statement that the site is closer to their existing driving range on Exeter Road is incorrect;

·         there is therefore strong opposition to the driving range being relocated to an agricultural field within the Ludwell Valley and the Golf Club should return to its facilities to its own land on Topsham Road.


She responded as follows to Members’ queries:-


·         there are wildflowers on the field adjacent to the site;

·         the campaign group are concerned regarding the safety of the lane although there are parking bays that do not impact on the width of the road


Mark Colgan, speaking against the application, raised the following points:-


·         opponents exceed supporters by a factor of five and most are residents and/or users of Ludwell Valley Park;

·         it is a beautiful Devon Valley unique in Exeter and was a haven during lockdown;

·         although it does not have a right of way it is part of the Valley Park providing better biodiversity than a mowed field; and

·         the change from agricultural land is one step closer to a residential development at a later date which has been attempted nine times previously especially if the Golf Club decides to move again;


Responding to a Member’s query, he advised that the site offered considerable public amenity value despite the lack of public access. In particular, if constructed the facility would impact on views of Exmouth etc. from the rest of the Valley Park. The land should remain part of the Park.


Will Gannon, speaking in support of the application, raised the following points:-


·         the Club has occupied its current site in Topsham Road for over 100 years and is fully owned by its 4,500 members who mainly live and work in Exeter and does not receive any external funding. It employs over 100 staff and provide sporting and leisure facilities for all our members specifically supporting families with 1000 junior members who have free access to golf, tennis, squash, racketlball, fitness training in our gym and swimming;

·         the Directors and Committee members are all unpaid and the sporting sections also raise and donate substantial funds to charities each year. There is no interest in property development;

·         using my experience in the construction sector, I examined improvements to the ageing infrastructure and the creation of a proper golf practice facility to improve the open field we owned at Newcourt. By selling the field at Newcourt for residential development, it was possible to create a new golf practice facility in Topsham and using the surplus funds to improve the infrastructure at the Club. This came to fruition about three years ago when the Topsham Golf Academy was opened and the planned improvements at the main golf club site commenced. It became evident that the onset of residential development in the Topsham gap was accelerating and it seemed that a further relocation may be necessary. Land at Countess Wear is an alternative site following a failed planning application for residential development and is close to the existing site in Topsham Road, large enough to meet all the safety requirements and completely away from any conflict with housing; and

·         if granted, the Topsham site will become available for much needed housing in the City and the Golf Club will have found a permanent home for its golf practice facility, that is a win/win situation for the Club, the local residents and the city.


He responded as follows to Members’ queries:-


·         it is not possible and impractical to provide this proposed facility on the existing site. It was developed in 2016 but the constriction of the Persimmon homes resulted in a reconfiguration of the course and, as a result, there is no spare land for practice;

·         the grasscrete will only require the removal of the top soil and grass will grow through the concrete on the surface, the concrete being necessary to support the cars in the car park;

·         the Club only ever wanted a practice facility to attract new members and the move to Topsham had been in the belief that it would be 10 to 15 years before any development took place. However, the loss of the Topsham Gap within two years has necessitated this application on a site three times larger than existing;

·         the club owns the freehold of the site and has no intention of building on the site other than for golf practice. No insecticides are to used, there will be limited grass cutting and a large part of the site will effectively remain in a re-wilding state;

·         the golf club only wants to use a practice facility and not for any other purpose;

·         the club has a proactive approach to their plans which were discussed with the Southbrook Residents Committee had it has offered to contribute to the maintenance of the joint access road also used by InFocus;

·         the new site is three times bigger but the facilities are the same;

·         there will be no fixed lighting in the car park;

·         the club has no need to use pesticides; and

·         because of the potential for freak shots to impact on the surrounding houses next to the existing site with balls occasionally going astray despite the netting the club feels that it has a duty to find a more suitable location.


The Director City Development provided the following concluding points:-


·         the key issues are the principle of the development, impact of traffic and highway safety, impact on residential amenity and ecology;

·         it is a proposal for recreational use for all ages and accords with policies in the Local Plan;

·         there was no significant impact on the local distinctiveness of the character of the Valley Park. Whilst the site is within the designation of the Valley Park, it is in private ownership and there is no right of public access and it is not included in that part of the Park managed by the Devon Wildlife Trust;

·         there will be significant new landscaping and planting and the ecologist has confirmed that there will be no loss of biodiversity but a significant gain of up to 35% - this exceed the 10% target of biodiversity gain in new developments to be set by the Government in new regulations;

·         there would be no floodlighting, netting, flags or other golfing paraphernalia, all of which would require planning permission if sought; and

·         issues around any future use of the current site are not relevant.


The Director of City Development and Service Lead provided the following clarification:-


·         issues at the current site causing the desire to move are irrelevant;

·         Brownfield refers to previously used land, often industrial, and Greenfield refers to land that has not had any development; and

·         Members must consider the application in front of them and what is happening at the existing site is not relevant to judging the proposal.


Members expressed the following views in the debate:-


·         in the event of approval the following should be added:-


·   colour and noise impact which are already in there;

·   border management;

·   opening times;

·   lighting, which is linked to opening times;

·   can we put no future development except golf coursing?


·         it is a difficult decision and there is concern by local residents the proposal could lead to residential development; and

·         the site has amenity value as it stands and will have great amenity value if developed, however there is an element of safety for the access in the field adjacent which doesn’t seem to have been addressed.


Responding, the Director City Development indicated that future development, unless covered by the current application, would require planning permission and the Assistant Service Lead - Development Management (Major Projects) advised that there were already conditions for opening times and security lighting.


The Chair moved the recommendation for approval with the conditions in the report which was seconded, voted upon and LOST.


The Chair moved the deferral of the application in order for the applicant to be requested to make changes to the application in response to the issues raised by Members. The motion was seconded, voted upon and CARRIED.


Members expressed the following views on the changes:-


·         there should be clear border management proposals;

·         there should be no use of herbicides, pesticides or fertilisers on the site;

·         there should be clarity on opening times;

·         there should be clarity on colour;

·         6:30am opening time in condition is too early and there should be a later opening time;

·         potential alternative opening hours could be 7:30 am or 9:30 am on weekdays and 10:00am on Sundays;

·         loss of amenity is a concern of residents and can improved amenity be provided for the community;

·         can the golf club work with the community to build some amenity in for the community;

·         noise management and sound proofing should be included; and

·         a condition for biodiversity monitoring.


RESOLVED that planning permission for the development comprising change of use to golf driving range including construction of an eight bay and two training bay facility incorporating equipment store and car park be DEFERRED, for the applicant to put forward changes to the application.


The meeting adjourned at 19:10 and re-convened at 19:15.



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