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Tuesday, 19 February 2019

School Lane Development Public Enquiry

Below is an update on the proposed School Lane Development in Milford on Sea. Sit tight and get a cup of tea - this is a long one!

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Public inquiry into the appeal made by Pennyfarthing Homes into the refusal of New Forest District Councillors of planning consent for land north of School Lane. 

The inquiry ran from Tuesday morning February 11th until Friday February 15th. 

Barristers for New Forest District Council and for Pennyfarthing locked horns over mainly one point at issue - that of the viability of the provision of affordable housing on the site. The inquiry into this viability was incredibly detailed, Pennyfarthing insisting that it would not be viable to include the amount of affordable housing demanded by the policy for the land and stating that starter homes should be included as part of their affordable housing allocation. 

New Forest District Council argued that if 42 houses are permitted then the quota of affordable housing could viably be increased - the Council denied that starter homes should be allowed other than as part of the remainder of the development - after the affordable housing has been included. 

Milford Parish Council wished the inspector to consider issues other than the viability question. The Parish Council’s opening and closing statements referred strongly to the original reason for the removal of the site from the Green Belt and to the original inspector’s directives for the site - ie 30 houses only to be built and these all to be affordable or low cost houses. 

The inquiry progressed in a measured and extremely thorough way - the inspector making sure that the community voice was heard: he twice visited the site, at busy school drop off and pick up times and, although we cannot predict his verdict, largely at least we feel that our concerns were heard. 


The Parish Council’s opening and closing statements are below.

First, I must emphasise, Milford on Sea wishes to build affordable houses to help as far as possible the needs of local people who cannot afford to live in the village in which they were born, in which their families may have lived for generations, or in which they work and which they love. 

The PC has tried over many years – to my personal knowledge 16 - to bring forward sites for affordable homes. We are happy that Milford is now acknowledged as a Forest Village with all that that entails : no right to buy for renting families, no staircasing out for part owners - a step in the right direction towards preventing our low cost housing becoming available on the open market which would just feed the demand for second homes in Milford – (the only coastal village for miles either side). Thereby hopefully preserving some measure of diversity in our village residents. 

Milford wishes appropriate housing to be built. 

To that end, after a tortuous process and difficult decision making MOS1 was identified as the only site for the 30 houses which Milford was obliged to provide under the terms of the current local plan. 

These 30 houses the PC was told had to be provided on green belt land - any other sites which came forward would be considered as ‘bonus’ sites and would not be accounted for as part of the 30 obligation. 

So the village entered into, with much heart searching and, at the end of the day, with no option. designation of MOS1 as the preferred site for these 30 houses. 

MOS 1 was a piece of land within the green belt. The village took it on the chin that precious green belt land was to be sacrificed on the altar of local need and it conceded that it could live with these 30 houses because, we understood, these houses were to be affordable - in our opinion built on an ‘exception’ site. It is noteworthy that in its statement of evidence NFDC uses the word ‘exception’ in relation to this site 13 times. MoS1 policy is referred to as being the key policy of this application. 

It is ironic to note that Pennyfarthing was supportive of the Council's allocation of the site through Policy MoS1. They made representations in support of the allocation. They confirmed their view that the policy was both legally compliant and sound, and in supporting the policy they noted that "The site provides an opportunity to deliver much needed affordable housing to the settlement of Milford-on-Sea". 

The inspector ratified and endorsed this policy – but with stipulation: in an almost unprecedented statement the inspector demanded that various conditions must be met before any building took place. Crucial to this judgment is 30 dwellings ONLY - and these 30 must be to address the needs of the local population - ie the need for affordable rented family accommodation and some shared ownership - these tenures to take up at least 2/3 s of the dwellings - the remaining 1/3 to be low cost accommodation. We understood we had to accept this market housing to make the affordable housing viable. But – this third was to be low cost - with no facility to extend the accommodation in order that it should remain as low cost as possible. 

Perhaps we should have realised that in order to justify the building of this market housing the land had to be redesignated and been aware that when it was no longer green belt it would become a sitting target for any planning application. But we trusted in the inspector’s directive. 

We may have been deceived: if an inspector’s ruling can be swept aside by a profit motivated developer’s cynical disregard of that ruling then what is the point of an inspector? And what hope for the point of future public consultation? And what belief can we have in a developer’s assertion as Pennyfarthing gave that it wishes to build houses to meet a community’s needs when those assertions are condensed to a ‘nod and a wink’ to meeting that local need when applications come forward. 

Viability studies! - those provided by opposing sides seem to us to be a ‘he said/she said’ dialogue. The Parish Council contend that while the studies are not irrelevant, they are superfluous to the argument: we do not accept on any level 42 houses on this site – no matter what the proportion of so called affordable housing may be – we stick by the principle that the loss of the green belt site was for 30 houses and no more. This site is and was an EXCEPTION. 

I will mention the car park - a concrete blot on the green belt at the entrance to the village. The PC along with so many residents know that this is a ludicrous and dangerous place to put an entry and exit onto the busy B3508. It is on a bend. 

The PC also emphasises that it will not accept that starter homes can be acknowledged as part of the developer’s affordable housing obligation - NFDC’s strategic housing officer has underlined that a family wishing to purchase such a starter home on this site must earn around £42,000 a year in order to be able to fund such a purchase. Milford on Sea’s parish councillors are local people. We KNOW people - they are our children – our children’s children - they do not earn £42,000 a year and they are doing their best: often they provide services to the more wealthy population of Milford - they are our carers, our gardeners - actually even the district’s teachers, nurses and paramedics - I KNOW - they love Milford - some of them won’t even employ a plumber unless he lives in Milford because they care about the local economy. Many of them are in receipt of housing benefit to live in private renting accommodation so that they can live here, use our shops, and, yes, enjoy our school, walk our walks and maintain our village. What false economy is that? 

Please do not allow starter homes to be considered as affordable housing. 

The NFDC’s proof of affordability acknowledges that the village need identified (about 57 families) who would qualify for some form of affordable home in the village is probably an understatement. I can guarantee that this is the case. I know families living in private rented accommodation and who are in receipt of housing benefit to enable them to do so have more or less given up - it has taken at least 8 years to come to the top of Milford’s list if you’re lucky. 

We do not need more executive type homes - we will not function as a dormitory for Southampton or Bournemouth, housing people who do not use the village. Milford is a great place to live - it’s a community which looks after its own - it’s a community which works - it’s not all born and bred here but if you live there the full on community care takes the pressure off those in need - the village must meet the housing needs of the people who live and use the village – and who give so much back. 

Please re-endorse the original inspector’s directive for this site and dismiss this appeal.

Closing statement of Milford on Sea Parish Council to the enquiry into Pennyfarthing’s appeal against NFDC’s decision to refuse planning consent on the land north of School Lane.

The Parish Council represents the whole of the village  - as its elected members.

The rationale for the redesignation of this green belt site has been lost in the mire of viability:

The site is intended for 30 houses providing 2/3 affordable dwellings and the remainder low cost homes crucially to meet local need.

The village, as I have said earlier, ‘took it on the chin’ that it would lose a precious and beautiful site to help 30 families from its less privileged population to remain in the village.

Now we are faced with 42 dwellings - it's components hardly touching the locality's housing needs.

Public satisfaction with the planning process is at an all time low locally -  we feel deceived and conned -  a developer and landowner who profess to care about the housing needs of the locality apparently ‘needs’ to put 23 executive houses on a site especially designated for low cost housing -  unbelievable and tragic as far as the residents are concerned.  We find it extraordinary that our Local Planning Authority gave no regard to the planning inspector’s directives for this site  - if only it had then this unhappy situation would not have arisen.

We are warned that if the 30 limit was to be reimposed or if more affordable housing was imposed on the site Pennyfarthing may walk away - the landowner would get nothing and the village would not get any affordable housing at this time. It's tempting to say so what?  Pennyfarthing is not offering to build the sort of affordable units the village needs and the Parish Council firmly believes the village would prefer to wait than to accept yet more executive houses on a development which would enable so few of the people on its Homesearch register having a chance of a home here.

If the Inspector is minded to allow this appeal the Parish council will be vigorous in its pursuit of 70% truly affordable dwellings on the development and will push for those to be family rented accommodation -  not just ‘a unit’  which could be a one bedroom flat  - together with some shared ownership and truly low cost market houses.  The provision on a site of 42 houses of 70% truly affordable dwellings which meets the local housing need would help to ameliorate the sense of betrayal that the village feels  - having let this green belt site go in good faith.

We encourage the inspector to consider other issues within policy MoS1, as suggested by Mr Brown,  in coming to his decision. -  NFDC councillors obviously considered issues other than viability when coming to their decision to unanimously refuse the planning application. Please consider the whole of policy MoS1 –  for example:

The Parish Council opposes the location of the car park.  We acknowledge that Pennyfarthing can win the argument that they are providing parking for recreational amenity - but let’s not kid ourselves -  it’s no good as a ‘drop off’.  First,  few children are ‘dropped off’:  our younger children are handed to teachers and handed back to a parent at the end of the day   -  that means parking for those not able to walk to school. The older ones who may be dropped off will find the proposed ‘drop off’ point too far away and  too difficult to get into and out of.  So - not really of any help to Manor Road, Knowland Drive, School Lane or the Lymington Road.  This is not just a local problem and I think the majority of schools, certainly in this area and I am sure further afield,  have similar problems.  We do not have a solution – but we cannot pretend that this car park in this location with its entrance on a bend will do very much to help the school parking.

The expectation was that the car park/drop off point would be located at the southern end of the site but of course where it has been located does help to fit in 42 houses rather than 30 as does the relocation of the play park from the housing development onto the land to be ‘given’ to the Parish Council. We have been informed by the school that it is not happy with the proximity of the houses or the distance of the ‘drop off’ point from the school. 

The eastern exit from the site will take cars logically into Lymore Valley and thence to the Everton junction via narrow rural lanes rather than driving through the estate and then having to turn right onto the B3058. Lymore Valley residents are very concerned about this since many of these lanes are very narrow.

This is not a case of the Parish Council being against development per se - on the contrary we would welcome an application that addresses the needs of our local people. This application does not address those needs and we therefore request that the decision to refuse permission be upheld. No compromise should be considered on this site until other options have been explored.

2 comments:

  1. Well done to all you Parish Coucillors for the manner in which you've opposed this application. Any lingering faith in the planning process will disappear if this proposed development is permitted.

    ReplyDelete