Detailed overview of Development Control Planning Meeting 3rd November
(please note these are not the official AVDC minutes of the meeting, but the notes taken by the attending SDLT committee members)
The session opened with Bill Nicholson, AVDC planning officer, providing some updates to his report. In particular he explained an objection had been received from Cranfield airport. He had however subsequently discussed this with Cranfield and the Civil Aviation Authority. Whilst there is a safeguarding zone for the airport which includes the Dorcas Lane site, Cranfield had accepted this was not specifically an issue for the met mast and withdrew their objection. They have indicated however they do not see this to be the case for the wind turbines and remain minded to object to any application for them.
He also reported on the site visit, explaining councillors had walked across open fields from Hollingdon to the met mast site, driven from Hollingdon along the road to Newton Longville, and through Stoke Hammond to Soulbury. They had also driven down the Stewkley road from Soulbury. The councillor’s visit was completed by visiting an existing met mast at Wingrave.
He finished by explaining the applicants, Force 9, had accepted the proposition of reducing the timeframe for the met mast from 5 years to 2, following which he confirmed his recommendation that the councillors should allow the application.
We were again represented very ably by our local councillor, Neil Blake. He said the site visit had been very useful in demonstrating the openness of the site and the detriment that would be caused to views, specifically from the Area of Attractive landscape behind Stoke Hammond and up to Great Brickhill. He said the visit left little doubt that a 230 foot mast would be imposing and intrusive. This was his major concern and those of the 2000 people who had objected via the petition and individual letters. He said the council had a responsibility to protect the rural areas of Buckinghamshire and quoted the following existing local planning directives:
GP.35 The design of new development proposals should respect and
a) the physical characteristics of the site and the surroundings;
b) the building tradition, ordering, form and materials of
c) the historic scale and context of the setting;
d) the natural qualities and features of the area; and
e) the effect on important public views and skylines.
RA 1 In dealing with proposals for development in Rural Areas the Council will give priority to the need to protect the countryside for its own sake.
RA 8 The Proposals Map defines Areas of Attractive Landscape, identified in the County Structure Plan, and Local Landscape Areas, defined by the District Council, which have particular landscape features and qualities that are considered appropriate for particular protection.
Development proposals in these areas should respect their landscape character. Development that adversely affects this character will not be permitted, unless appropriate mitigation measures can be secured.
Development will not be permitted in the countryside unless it is necessary for the purposes of agriculture or forestry, or for enterprise, diversification or recreation that benefits the rural economy without harming countryside interests.
He called upon the council to meet their obligations and refuse the application.
Councillor Rand said this was the third met mast application the council had heard and asked Mr Blake what made this one different. Councillor Blake responded with’ the nature of the landscape which he had already referred to'.
Councillor Cashman commented that the visit to site and to Wingrave had been most useful. He said however, along with the previous planning applications, he felt ill equipped to make good planning decisions. They were fundamentally being asked to make decisions based purely on national guidelines because of the total lack of any policies within Aylesbury Vale, relating to wind turbine applications. He had carried out some personal research and found in Lincolnshire, for example, the planning authority had an 11 page document that provided a local position on wind turbine development. He said the fact that Aylesbury Vale had nothing was a complete nonsense. He was therefore left to make a decision purely on national guidelines which would mean having to vote in support of the application. In the circumstances as he felt the lack of local policy was a nonsense he would therefore be abstaining.
Councillor Isham said whilst he noted the development would actually be on a raised part of the plot he nevertheless felt he had no option but to propose accepting the planning officers recommendation. This was seconded by councillor Phipps. Following Councillor Rands intervention it was confirmed the proposal was for the temporary mast to be in situ for only 2 years.
Councillor Foster asked Mr Nicholson to confirm that the councillors were in a bind, and had no option but to support the development because no local policies existed and therefore national guidelines were pre eminent. Mr Nicholson said that was a difficult question to respond to, that local policy GP 35 was applicable, however AVDC are dependent on the National Policy statement PPS 22 which states councils should not produce areas that restricted national policies. He confirmed that the council’s scrutiny committee would be discussing a paper next Thursday on wind turbines and renewable energy.
The chairperson, Councillor Janet Blake, said this decision must be kept in context. It was for a temporary met mast and not a wind turbine. She felt the site visit had been very useful and provided a good shot at demonstrating why the development should be refused. She accepted Councillor Neil Blake had made a strong case that because a previous application for a house had been refused on the grounds that it blocked views from the Area of Attractive landscape, then this application should also fall. She felt however that as this was a temporary development as opposed to a permanent house, and as the aerial was thin rather than wide, the precedent did not stand up. As a consequence because of the lack of any planning reasons to refuse the application, she would be voting for it.
Councillor Phipps attempted to make a case, largely for the benefit of residents attending, that allowing this development did not mean the subsequent likely planning application for wind turbines would be successful. There was a 2 year window to lobby against the wind farm. This of course failed to recognise Force 9 has stated their intentions to put in the turbine application this month, and that the objection process is a statutory period of 16 weeks.
Finally Councillor Adams spoke. He started by requesting Mr Nicholson provide an update on the numbers of people opposing the application. He followed with an impassioned statement of his intent to vote against the application. He said 'by voting for we are not listening to the obvious will of the local people'. He was astounded that no local policy existed to protect the residents of Aylesbury Vale in these circumstances.
At this stage the chairperson asked for the vote to be taken and the application was accepted with 9 votes for, 1 against and 3 abstentions.
It was edifying that at least one councillor was willing to take into account the feelings of the local residents. The reality is that there is a void in AVDC local policy, with respect to wind turbines and associated applications, and the planning policies that exist are very general. This situation however, rather than constraining councillors actually provides an opportunity for them to be quite liberal with policy interpretations and the decisions they make. We know of at least 2 applications elsewhere in the country, which have been turned down by their local councils, in similar circumstances, and where the council decision was upheld by the planning inspectorate. We hope that when the actual wind turbine application is under consideration the AVDC councillors - who hold our fate in their hands - embrace this opportunity to oppose and not begrudgingly accept the proposal.
Whilst we should rightly be disappointed with the outcome, all is not lost. This was a skirmish. The war is over the turbine application itself. We have learnt much during this initial application about the process, the opposition and the council, which will help us as we move forward. We must now stiffen our resolve and stick together as we fight the turbine application when it arrives.
We are confident that Councillors will eventually become aware that they are at one of those moments in time, when they have the chance to make a real stand for good or bad on something that is of great significance to a significant part of the community that they have decided to represent. A community which has placed its trust in them to fight on its behalf when their health, happiness, financial security and indeed, basic human rights, are threatened. It’s not about supporting or opposing wind energy. It’s much more personal than that.