Grainger's appeal against the unanimous refusal of their application by SODC takes place on January 10th to 13th at the Pavilion, East Hagbourne. Please let us know when you plan to attend here.
This page provides some guidance to proceedings.
Talk at the Appeal – you are an expert
The appeal hearing is a public event. At the Inspector's discretion members of the public can present their views. This is welcome as in many ways each of you are more expert than the professionals and barristers that will lead proceedings. You live here!
Our case will be best served by residents simply and reasonably explaining how much they value the Green Gap and how its loss will be harmful. You can give the Inspector the benefit of your local ‘expert’ knowledge.
If you plan to talk we suggest you keep your submission short and concise. Write down what you plan to say. Don’t be scared of acknowledging that Didcot is growing and that new housing is required (indeed it’s reasonable to do so). Talk slowly and with passion but not anger.
Please remember that the Inspector will have heard much of what we have to say before. While the issue is very much local to us, it’s core is not unique. Speculative developers are ‘gaming the system’ throughout the UK. Our task is to explain how we are not against development. We are against development on this specific site for specific tangible reasons.
There are many reasons that this site is not suitable for development. There are two that are most pertinent to this appeal. Development will cause coalescence of town and village. The Green Gap is a ‘valued landscape’ that should be protected.
The other experts
Barristers from all sides will attempt to undermine and diminish the opposing parties arguments. They’ll spend a lot of time poring over the detail. It is not expected that residents will be similarly versed in the minutiae. However, some of you may want to read the formal documents. These notes below are intended to help you do that.
The appellant, SODC and Mind the Green Gap have supplied written ‘Proof of Evidence’ documents in advance of the Appeal hearing that starts on January 10th.
You can see what SODC and Grainger has sent to the Inspectorate on SODC’s website. For convenience we have also published these and Mind the Green Gap's documents on dropbox. There’s a lot of documents. We explain what each are below.
What is an Appeal?
The Planning Inspector will make a decision based on planning balance. He will judge the benefit of the scheme against the harm it may cause. If he considers that the benefit outweighs the harm, then Grainger will win their appeal. If he finds on balance that the harm is greater than the benefit, then Grainger’s appeal will be rejected.
Technically, the harm has to significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefit. That’s the NPPF presumption in favour with no 5 year supply of housing.
All parties therefore provide the Inspector with information to inform this review of planning balance. They provide context (such as which national and local policies are relevant). They describe the site and its issues. They suggest the weight of harm and the weight of benefit. They set out specific planning based reasons for approval or refusal.
What are the issues?
SODC’s planning committee issued a ‘Planning Decision’ document after it unanimously rejected Grainger’s application. Their ‘reasons for refusal’ are at the core of the Appeal. Grainger argue that the reasons are unfounded. SODC and Mind the Green Gap will defend these reasons.
There are three reasons for refusal. Reasons 2 and 3 are more technical than substantive. They are there to put pressure on the Appellant to conclude an s106 agreement with the council. An s106 agreement defines what funds for infrastructure Grainger will provide to the council if the scheme goes ahead. It is expected that this agreement will be made before the end of the appeal process. In this event reasons 2 and 3 will fall away.
Reason 1 is more substantive. SODC’s position is that the scheme causes coalescence of town and village and harms the landscape setting of the adjacent Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is therefore counter to national and local policy.
In order to defend and attack this reasoning both SODC and Grainger have commissioned Landscape experts to provide a review of the site.
Then both SODC and Grainger have supplied documents that talk to planning context and planning balance.
Grainger’s Planning document is here.
SODC’s Planning document is here.
Mind the Green Gap have not commissioned a landscape expert as we did not want to duplicate SODC’s efforts. Our position is set out in one document that talks to both landscape and planning.
Mind the Green Gap’s document is here.
In a way the battle lines are drawn quite clearly. Grainger says that the area needs housing and this application delivers them. We - SODC and MtGG - say that we agree the area needs housing. However, given the volume of new housing coming our way, it imperative that it is all part of the plan. And that it does not create collateral damage.
From a planning perspective we think the damage or ‘harm’ here is coalescence, and the impact on the valued landscape, We’re sure that there are others - traffic, lack of infrastructure. However, the Inspector may feel that these are not harmful enough or that they might be mitigated by developer contributions.
The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is the bed rock of UK Planning and will be referred to throughout the appeal. It states that where a local authority is behind schedule in its promised provision of housing that its local policies should be weighted less than they otherwise would. SODC have not brought forward sufficient housing to fulfil its requirement – it can only demonstrate 3.9 years of supply instead of 5 years. Therefore, decision makers should make a ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’.
In the documentation and at the appeal, therefore, you will see much discussion around this issue. The shortfall is not contested. That housing is a ‘benefit’ is not contested. What is contested is which local policies should be down weighted and by how much and the level of sustainability in the proposed development.
While this is not exactly Rumpole of the Bailey it does have a number of principal players who will present, dissect, and consider evidence.
The Planning Inspector is Ms. Katie Child
Grainger’s landscape expert is Martin Kelly.
Grainger’s planning expert is Chris Rees. (Mr Rees is from Grainger’s principal advisors Savills. Those of you who attended the Planning Committee meeting in May will have heard Mr Rees talk before).
Grainger’s Barrister is James Maurici QC
SODC’s landscape expert is Peter Radmall.
SODC’s planning expert is Mark Flood.
SODC’s barrister is Tom Cosgrove
Mind the Green Gap’s evidence will be presented by Crispin Topping and Nick Wright
Mind the Green Gap’s barrister is Hashi Mohamed.
The chorus … is you!
As you read through the documents you may come up with more questions than answers. Please do not hesitate to get in touch and we will do our best to guide you though things. If you are planning to talk at the appeal and want someone to sanity check your input please do not be afraid to ask.
Let’s remember we have one huge advantage over all of the learned professionals. We are local. We know the issues instinctively. We are expert. And we are right to Save the Green Gap.