• Mary Breakell

11 May 2018 Newsbrief 25 Ward Field Farm Approval

Report on Ward Field Farm Planning Application.

Stephen Constantine

On 9 May 2018 Lancaster City Council’s Planning and Highways Regulatory Committee approved the application by Hollins Strategic Land LLP to build an estate of 70 houses on Ward Field Farm west of the A6 on the northern side of Galgate.

For those not aware of how planning applications are examined in these public hearings (as I was not), this is how matters proceeded, at least on this occasion.  Hearings began in Lancaster Town Hall at 10.30. Fifteen councillors, plus two officers and the Democratic Services Officer, were seated at the far end of the chamber, at a top table and along two side tables.  There was one seat at a table for a member of the public to speak, facing the top table. There was a separate table for the Press, but none attended. Members of the public were seated in rows at the lower end of the room.  Screens were set up so that plans and if appropriate photographs of a development site could be displayed from a Planning Officer's laptop.

The procedure was for the Planning Officer to introduce each case, briefly.  A representative of the developer then spoke in favour. Those members of the public who had signed up to speak then had precisely three minutes in which to support or oppose the application.  The Planning Officer then presented the case to councillors in more detail. There was no opportunity for members of the public to respond to what officers or councillors said or did thereafter.

Three minutes is not enough time in which to provide a full critique of a development plan.  Accordingly in my presentation, as a Galgate resident, chair of CLOUD and opponent of the Ward Field Farm development, I concentrated on traffic, air pollution and flooding.  Mr Andrew Poulter, who also lives in Galgate, provided an informed and detailed criticisms of the Planning Department's out-of-date rainfall data in the area.

In her detailed support for the proposal, the Planning Officer did in passing refer implicitly to what Mr Poulter and I had said, but I cannot recall in her remarks any explicit reference to what had been contained in written objections, though the Planning document drafted by the Planning Office summarised under the heading ‘Neighbourhood Representations’ the 90 written objections that had been received in response to the initial and subsequent consultations. (The one from CLOUD only is explicitly mentioned.)  One letter supported the application, commenting that ‘there are no flooding problems’ - author not named. It must be assumed that councillors had read and just possibly taken note of that summary.

My deduction is that if the opportunity again arises one would need to line up several persons to speak in more detail on each discrete topic – thereby multiplying the number of 3-minute critiques.

The Planning Officer stressed that following a revised version of the application provided by the developers there remained only one official objection, from the Air Quality Officer.  It seems that even the Environment Agency had been satisfied that the houses, all now to be built uphill on Zone 1 land, would not exacerbate flood risk lower down in Zones 2 and 3. The assumption seems to be that water run-off will be 'contained'.  The Planning Officer also simply accepted as correct the Highways Authority claim that the increase of traffic generated by the estate would amount to no more than 14-18 vehicles per hour at peak times. This was presumably the result of a desk exercise based on some arcane traffic modelling app.

As noted, the only official objection remaining was from the Air Quality Officer who did not accept that the 'mitigation' proposals were adequate (like a bus layby and electric car plugs at houses).  This was admitted by the Planning Officer, but since his was the only objection, and what Mr Poulter and I had said having been set aside, the Planning Officer argued that 'on balance' the application should now be accepted.  She also said that (by law or possibly just by practice) the as yet not finalised plans for BGV could not be used to obstruct this quite separate planning application. She also warned councillors that the Council might face legal costs if applications were turned down on grounds not sufficient according to planning laws.

Then it was time for the councillors to ask questions and comment.   I did not pick up the names of all those councillors who criticised the plan, but there were some, concerned about traffic, air quality, flooding, access and an obtrusive and unacceptable extension of Galgate’s frontiers.

Steered by the Chair, it was then up to those opposed to giving approval to the plan to formulate a resolution, with guidance by the Planning Officer about the acceptable wording needed to explain the grounds for objection.  This was then put to the vote. It was easily rejected – only 3 or 4 councillors supporting that motion. The next step inevitably followed - a motion from the chair to approve the application. The debate, such as it was, divided the committee, but what seemed to sway opinion - and noticeably councillors representing wards not adjacent to south Lancaster - were the reassurances given by the Planning Officer, the assertion by the developers that ‘up to 40%’ of the houses would be affordable, and that 70 houses would be a helpful contribution to the number of new houses apparently needed in Lancaster. And yet, in spite of all this fervour to approve, the vote was 6 in favour and 6 against, with a couple of abstentions.  Whether it was expected in such circumstances, or whether it was her personal opinion, the chair then cast her deciding vote in favour. By then it was 1.00 pm.

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