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GREENLIGHT REDLIGHT

We have another developer keen to build in East Hagbourne. Leaflets were delivered today by Greenlight Developments concerning a Public Consultation into a 74 unit development on the field surrounding Hagbourne Village Hall. 

Greenlight have asked SODC for an opinion regarding a Environmental Impact Assessment. This is an uncontentious technical exercise but a precursor to a formal outline planning application.

We have carefully considered how the Campaign should react to Greenlight. There’s is a clue in the name: Mind the Green Gap. We are a “single issue” group. We took our remit from the local community when it came together in the Village Hall on that fateful evening in 2015. A remit to save the green gap that protects Didcot and East Hagbourne from coalescence. 

Our single issue campaign was also a time buying exercise. We needed to fight off this attack whilst the community achieved more control over development in the parish through a Neighbourhood Plan. MtGG’s view is that we should focus all efforts on getting the Neighbourhood Plan ‘made’ as quickly as possible. Most of the MtGG committee are part of the Plan team. Our efforts, and those of all Plan team members, are focussed on completing a plan that has teeth. 

We know that there are other Developers about to break cover. We are still fighting a battle (vs. Grainger), but concentrating on winning the war (via the NP). It is only by winning the war that we can hope to be successful in winning individual battles. 

Meanwhile ... East Hagbourne Parish Council are carefully monitoring the Greenlight situation and they’ll most likely respond to the consultation. You may want to do the same. Remember that developers are obliged to take note of the results of community engagement. Have your say. 

So, while MtGG will not be the leading the charge we're here to help. We're keen to share our experience and insight if we're called upon to do so. 

Greenlight’s consultation website is here: http://www.gld-public-consultations.co.uk/east-hagbourne/ 

(Credit goes to Andrew Oldfield for the title of this post!)

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GRAINGER’S LAST ROLL OF THE DICE

Grainger has made its move. One day before the deadline is up it has launched a legal challenge against the appeal verdict. 

Grainger’s options are limited. It cannot ask for a ’second opinion’ on the substance of the decision – it can only challenge the lawfulness of the process. It has sent an initial ‘Statement of Facts and Common Grounds’ to the High Court of Justice (you can see it here). In due course there is likely to be a court hearing where a judge will perform a Judicial Review and rule on the matters of law. 

Grainger site three 'grounds' – three areas in which it contends that Katie Child, the Inspector, erred in law. They contend that she: 

  • Misinterpreted development plan policy in relation to gaps
  • Gave too much weight to 'out of date' policy        
  • Misinterpreted the definition of ‘valued landscape’

None of these are a silver bullet for Grainger. The Inspector’s decision was sound and rational and Grainger faces an uphill battle in persuading a judge that the nuanced legal technicalities it sites undermine this fact. 

Why have Grainger done this? 

You may agree that Grainger’s move is cynical in the extreme. It is happy to ignore the view of our local politicians; the view of our Parish, Town and District councils; the view of the Planning Committee; the view of the Inspector; and the view of hundreds of concerned residents. 

This cynicism is born of the huge profit it seeks to make. It has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds so far – but what’s a couple of hundred more when there are millions to make. And to add insult to injury should they win the judicial review it’s us residents, as tax payers, that will foot the bill and pay Grainger’s costs. 

Grainger are motivated too by the prevailing winds of changing policy. SODC’s new Local Plan is reaching maturity; Didcot Garden Town’s plan’s are evolving; and The East Hagbourne Neighbourhood Plan is drafted. None of this is good news for Grainger. They’re making a bolt for the door before it shuts. 

How long will this take? 

Assuming that the Secretary of State decides to defend their inspector (we presume they will) the case should get to an initial hearing in the next 1-2 months (the forthcoming General Election may lengthen this time). If the Court thinks it is a worthless claim it will be kicked out immediately. If the initial hearing indicates that there are proper grounds to the challenge then it should get a full hearing 3-4 months after the initial hearing. The decision emerges 1-2 months after that. 

What can we do as a campaign? 

Mind the Green Gap have not been cited as a defendant (which is probably good news). So, our input will be in the background rather than centre stage. We have sought legal advice and will provide help and support wherever it is needed. 

What can we do as a community? 

We are not yet sure how individuals can participate in proceedings (as soon as we know so will you). We do know for sure that whatever the outcome of this process it is vital that a strong and well supported East Hagbourne Neighbourhood Plan is in place as soon as possible. The Steering Group have been working hard on drafting the plan. You can hear how its progressed and show your support at a meeting at 7.30pm on 18th May at the Pavilion. 

What if Grainger win? 

Even if a judge rules in Grainger's favour they cannot then order in the bulldozers. Instead the whole process will re-set – perhaps to the beginning where a fresh development application will be made. This is our understanding to date. If we get advice that is contrary to this we’ll let you know.

What if Grainger lose? 

Grainger has appealed to the High Court so any further legal action should it lose the case is very unlikely. Grainger’s last chance will be up. Its last role of the dice will be zero. The Green Gap will be saved! 

 

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GOOD NEWS

mind the green gap celebration-134-Edit-small

Residents celebrate at the Fleur de Lys, Sunday 26th March.

It's great to read some good news in the paper. The Didcot Herald ran the story, and we were front page in the Oxfordshire Guardian (it's on their website too). 

In the Guardian we hear from Grainger's John Beresford. He reminds us that "The pressures of delivering housing to meet both demand and housing need were not disputed by any party at the appeal". That's quite right John. We're not against housing, we're against unwanted opportunistic development in unsustainable locations.

We also hear that Grainger will "review and reflect on the decision before discussing with our advisors.” Our advice is to give up with this scheme. It's simply in the wrong place. 

Whatever happens we'd like to raise a toast of thanks to Mr Beresford and his colleagues. We've learnt a lot as a group and community over these last months. We've learnt that if we pull together, hard work and keep focused we can make a difference. 

Cheers!

 

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CONGRATULATIONS!

The democratic decision of SODC’s planning committee has been upheld. The informed view of town and village residents has been endorsed. Grainger’s machine has been halted in it’s tracks. The inspector has made her decision: ‘The Appeal is dismissed’. 

Ms Katie Child’s Appeal Decision is a great read (you can see it here). She has taken a sensible pragmatic view; informed not just by argument presented at the appeal but by going to see the place for herself. She “consider[s] that the appeal site possesses notable perceptual, scenic and representative qualities, which elevate it above mere countryside.” She thinks it “is a valued landscape” and notes the critical importance of it as “the last remaining notable countryside break between Didcot and East Hagbourne adjoining New Road”.

In summary she says: “Overall the substantial environmental harm arising from increased coalescence and to the character and setting of Didcot and East Hagbourne leads me to conclude that the adverse effects of the proposal would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits found.”

Well said Ms Child! We could not agree more.

What next? 

Sadly Grainger is not likely to walk away. It could submit a revised proposal – perhaps of a smaller scale (although that scale would need to be significantly different to not fall round of the fundamental reasons for the appeal refusal). Or more likely it may throw more of its money at a legal challenge to the decision. To be successful they would need to persuaded a judge that the decision falls foul of law. This is not an easy task but a route it may well take. A ‘Judicial Review’ of this kind must be lodged within six weeks of the appeal decision. 

The bigger picture

This is a significant victory for common sense. And most importantly it is bad news for other developers planning similar speculative schemes on the environs of Didcot – most notably Nurton’s aspirations to build out on the land to the south of the Green Gap. To Nurton Grainger’s ‘Trojan Horse’ must look more like a lame duck right now! 

With East Hagbourne’s Neighbourhood Plan gaining serious momentum, and the positive precedent of this decision, we can hope our power as a community to deliver housing that’s fit for need, not just fit for developer's profit, is much enhanced. 

The Rule Six Party

Did we do the right thing in spending our hard earned money becoming a rule six party to the appeal? Given Ms Child agreed with out core argument we think we did. And we think it’s given us a great name for knee’s up. We’re planning a celebration in the very near future – The Rule Six Party should be quite a hoot. Watch this space. 

Finally

Well done everybody. In her notice Ms Child is careful to point out that she’s not been swayed by the crowd. But she does go out of her way to note “the significant level of objections to the appeal scheme and the high level of attendance at the inquiry”. You had your say. And you were heard.

Congratulations. You saved the Green Gap. 

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GREEN GAP APPEAL DAY 5

Monday 23rd January

Today was the last day of the Green Gap Appeal Hearing. 

Proceedings began with a bewildering presentation by Grainger’s representatives about ‘conditions’ that would be applied in the event that the scheme goes ahead. There’s nothing substantive to report other than the Council, OCC and Grainger have reached an agreement. 

The rest of the afternoon was taken up with three lengthy closing statements by each of the three barristers. There were no major surprises or killer blows. Tom Cosgrove QC for the council cited loss of a valued landscape and coalescence – in the context of an emerging Garden Town – as reason for refusal. Mind the Green Gap’s Hashi Mohamed memorably paraphrased Grainger’s position on the (non) existence of the Gap as “I see no ships”. He went on to concur with SODC’s core argument and added the added element of loss of ‘Best and Most Versatile’ land to the pot. James Maurici QC for Grainger repeated their well worn case. There is no gap. There is negligible harm. There is a housing need that they will fulfil. 

Tomorrow (Tuesday 24th) the Inspector will visit the site. She’ll be chaperoned by two representatives from each of the parties. The tour will start at 10am at Fleet Meadow Community Hall, then walk south to the Gap. After enjoying the view (which presumably Grainger’s team will not see) the group will walk east down the Public Right of Way on the north of the site, then turn South over the open field to reach Great Mead. From here they will loop around the Village centre before walking up New Road to the Gap. 

After that we wait. The Inspector has been armed with strong reasons for refusal. If she minded to side with the campaign and the community she can do so with confidence that any legal challenge by Grainger would fail. 

The Inspector will take at least two months to reach her decision. Let’s hope sanity reigns. Let’s hope she makes the only right decision – to Save the Green Gap. 

Andy 

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EXTRA TIME

The Green Gap Appeal continues at 1pm on Monday 23rd January. 

We can expect closing statements from each party's barristers then technical discussions about fiscal agreements and ‘conditions’. 

Grainger will repeat their deeply flawed case. They assert that there is no Gap at present and that, therefore, it’s loss is of no consequence. We’re told by them that the development is not in East Hagbourne village but instead ‘sits … comfortably within the existing built form of Didcot’. Then to add insult to injury they conjure a new 25m gap of swales and ditches and present this as a community asset rather than the drainage system it really is. 

Mind the Green Gap and SODC will present a very different view (a view we believe is as tangible as that of the AONB from New Road). In the planning balance we accept that the new proposed housing is a benefit. But we contend that such benefit is significantly outweighed by the harm of coalescence, the harmful loss of valued landscape and the harmful loss of grade 2 agricultural land. 

Attendance from residents last week was impressive. The room was full throughout. Monday is another chance to show we care. Let’s again remind the Inspector that this is not just any other field, but one that’s hugely valued. Let’s remind her that we care deeply about our environment. Let’s remind her that the local community want to save this precious gap for generations to come. 

The hearing may run into the morning of Tuesday 20th January. More likely this time will be used for the Inspector’s accompanied site visit where she will see for herself how important it is to Save the Green Gap. 

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GREEN GAP APPEAL DAY 4

Experts and barristers. Friday 13th January. 

Today was day 4 of the Green Gap Appeal. 

The morning saw Grainger’s Landscape expert Mr Kelly get a grilling from both SODC’s and Mind the Green Gap’s Barristers. Mr Kelly was challenged on a number of his more curious assertions. He proposed that if you drive south down New Road and look to the right that there is no gap (this is one heck of a slight of hand trick, and also quite dangerous). Also, amongst other things Mr Kelly was taken to task on his punctuation! Don’t worry, rather than a flippant gibe this was a critique of Grainger’s core case that the (in parentheses) ‘gap’ is not really a gap at all.

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GREEN GAP APPEAL DAY 3

Thursday 12th January 2017

Today was day 3 of the Green Gap Appeal. And what a great day it was too. 

Crispin Topping took the stand as Mind the Green Gap’s landscape witness and was cross examined by Grainger’s barrister. In the most part this was a calculated attempt to undermine Crispin’s integrity. With nothing to hide Crispin held his ground brilliantly and with much restraint did not rise to the bait. One would hope that the Inspector, like the rest of us, saw all this as a needless distraction and wholly irrelevant. Are Grainger getting a bit desperate? 

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