Saturday, 24 July 2010

Unopposed development in the 'Green Belt' - a guide to planning idiocy


I try very hard to be positive about the planning system. But this (starts on page 19) makes me want to weep:

A full application for construction of a new livestock building together with retention of part of a general purpose agricultural building. Land at Beckfoot House, Beckfoot Lane, Harden, Bingley.

This application is recommended for refusal despite letters of support from neighbours and there being no local objections at all. Those people who will be affected by the development think its fine – why do planners think they know better?

And what do the planners seem to think? Well it appears to me that despite the weasel words used the main driver for the decision is a belief that the applicant isn’t a proper farmer.

the main issue to consider in determining this application continues to be the impact of the building on the openness of the green belt and the character and appearance of the landscape due to its bulk and scale and its prominent siting - especially given the relatively small size of the land holding and the scale and prominence of the building.

The building is too big and therefore might be used for dreadful, nefarious purposes (in this case the rumour is that the applicant intends to keep his racing cars in the new barn – odd given he has a perfectly good garage for them). The other problem is that the planners want to dictate precisely where on the holding a barn should be cited rather than allowing the landowner to decide according to his needs.

And the planners return to their innuendo again:

The building will have to be significantly adapted to make it suitable to accommodate livestock which casts some doubt on its original intended purpose.

Of course they have no evidence to support this statement – it’s just lobbed in there to cast doubt on the applicants farming credentials despite this:

…an agricultural statement from agents representing the applicant describes the applicant’s intention to establish a pedigree beef herd and sheep flock. It says that the location of the building is justified in terms of practicality for the farming enterprise, topography and access and to avoid potential conflict with neighbouring properties. The size is said to be justified by reference to welfare standards and regulations governing the housing of livestock and by reference to the amount of feed, straw equipment and ancillary items such as medicines required by the intended number of livestock. The applicant anticipates keeping up to 8 cows, each with calves and a maximum of 20 sheep. The cows will have to be housed indoors over winter. The portion of the building that needs to be rebuilt to accommodate livestock seems to have been designed to reflect DEFRA recommendations and welfare guidance.

Despite this the planners are back with their ‘you’re not a proper farmer’ implications:

It has not been explained why a building of the proportions and in the position agreed under the Prior Approval procedure would not suffice given the small scale of the holding.
Er...did you not read the Agent's statement?

None of these issues is material to the planning decision but they provide important background noise for the planners – substantiating their argument that this barn is too big and in a prominent position. The crux of the planning argument relates to whether the development is allowed in the ‘green belt’ – and, ceteris paribus, if it has a clear agricultural justification then planning permission is not required.

What I find most disturbing about this case is the manner in which rumour and innuendo about the applicant’s purposes in building the barn appear to have influenced the decision and, in particular, the assessment of the agricultural case for the development. In the view of neighbours this development is, at worst, of no impact and for some a real advantage. But the treatment of the case by the planners – the questioning of the applicants motives, the dismissal of planting schemes and the constant reference to the scale of the farm – serve to create the context for those planners to propose refusal on the grounds of impact in the green belt.

An impact that has been mitigated:

The impact of the building when viewed from Beckfoot Lane has been heightened by removal of mature trees from along the lane during 2008. These have been replaced by new planting carried out in conjunction with the Forest of Bradford. A previous letter from the Trust confirms that 350 whips and 45 light standard trees have been planted on the applicant’s land as an initial phase of a planting programme which will continue with new tree planting and new hedgerows to be planted on the holding in November 2009. The applicant intends to plant at least 3 acres of the holding as woodland copses.

Pretty good stuff – just what the planning system should support? But in this case the planner isn’t happy:

…it would be some years before such planting provided effective screening to a structure that is 31 metres long and over 7 metres high for 2/3rds of its length.

But - as this statement suggests - it will screen the development in years to come.

But it gets better - the planners even go so far as to criticise the tree planting itself!

…the new planting proposed may, in itself, detract from the open pasture character of the landscape.

I’m laughing now – anyone who know the ‘twines’ and the Harden Beck valley will know it is a mixture of woodland, copse and fenced grazing – there isn;t any ‘open pasture’. The statement appears designed to substantiate the view of the planners rather than to describe the valley in which this development is proposed.

It is likely that a proposed development that improves life for local residents, provides facilities for a local farmer, is supported by several letters and by ward members will be refused.

The planning system really is a joke.


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