In a contentious decision on 9th May, I understand that just three Members of the Dorset County Council Planning Committee made the decision to approve an application for an inert material landfill site on the Lyme Regis Golf Club driving range. This hilltop site dominates the neighbouring East Devon AONB and beautiful Harcombe Valley.
The decision to approve was contrary to the professional report and recommendation of Dorset County Planning Officers who consistently recommended the application be refused.
Sadly, visitors approaching the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site town of Lyme Regis through the surrounding East Devon and West Dorset Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, will mingle with large articulated vehicles, bring inert waste to a landfill site. Harcombe residents in East Devon are bracing themselves for inconvenience and disruption – for the next five years.
Dorset County Council Officers recommend ‘refusal’…
The Executive Summary presented by officers to the Dorset County Council Planning Meeting in March 2014 was quite clear:
“The site is located within the Dorset AONB which has the highest status of protection in relation to landscape and scenic beauty. The NPPF is clear that great weight should be given to conserving landscape and scenic beauty in AONBs and that planning permission should be refused for major developments in these areas except in exceptional circumstances.
Policy 3 of the Waste Local Plan provides that proposals for waste developments in AONB will be subject to the most rigorous examination and will only be permitted in exceptional circumstances and when it can be demonstrated that the development would be in the public interest.
The application submission does not establish that exceptional circumstances exist to justify a grant of planning permission in the public interest.
No overriding need for the facility has been established nor has it been satisfactorily
demonstrated that any such need cannot be met at a reasonable cost by an alternative acceptable site or in some other way. During its operation, the proposed development would also detract from the landscape character and scenic beauty of the Dorset and East Devon Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The proposal is therefore contrary to
development plan policy and refusal is recommended.”
The minutes of this meeting record that Officers noted:
- The site would be operated by Hansford Ltd, and as it would be unmanned it was not clear how third party deliveries would be accommodated.
- It had not been clearly established that the works proposed would necessarily achieve the improvements sought for the golf club; that the desired improvements could be achieved with considerably less materials. Indeed officers disagreed that the proposal would result in a greater visible area of the driving range.
- Restoration including planting of trees and wild flower edging which the AONB Team considered important. However, officers explained that the key issues were not so much related to landscape impact per se but rather whether the proposal satisfied policy requirements.
- Officers’ questioned the real need for a waste facility of this kind to be located in the area and whether it should be located in another area, further that the applicant had failed to provide satisfactory information about alternative site available particularly outside the AONB.
- Sam Harper from Smiths Gore, on behalf of the applicant, suggested a need for an inert waste site in the area as the nearest site was situated over 30 miles away. He suggested a need for an inert waste site in Dorset as there were many new homes (500+) being built in Lyme and Axminster.
(*personal note – the Axminster developments are in Devon. I asked Devon County Council waste Officers about this, the view was expressed that no need from Devon had been identified.
No development of the scale or nature indicated to require a site of this scale is proposed for Lyme Regis in either the East Devon, or West Dorset Local Plans. This would imply the waste will be hauled significant distances, from outside the immediate area to the fill site)
Members resolved to visit the proposed site, after which the committee met again on 9th May.
But Members decide to approve…
Just three Members (Cllr Steve Butler – Con Cranborne Chase, Cllr David Mannings – Libdem Lodmoor and Cllr Mark Tewkesbury – Lab Broadway) determined to approve the application, under the chairmanship of Cllr Mike Lovell (Con, of Purbeck Hills).
The three Members concluded that “the scheme had no real environmental impact” and approved the application, despite reaffirmation by the Dorset County Council Planning Officers, of their recommendation the application be refused (Minute 47.7).
Elected Members can decide an application contrary to an Officer recommendation. However if Members choose to take that approach, it is reasonable to believe they will do so with due reference and weight to adopted policies, local and national, together with evidence presented in the application. This is essential if the planning system is to remain objective, defensible and credible.
I have no reason to suggest that the three Members did anything other than that here. However, my personal reading of the papers presented in this case, (now in the public domain) would not have lead me to conclude there was ‘a compelling case to share their conclusion’.
A further meeting of Dorset County Planners has since taken place which I understand has confirmed the operating conditions and per draft minutes at: http://www1.dorsetforyou.com/COUNCIL/commis2013.nsf/4A9398492FF192C780257CE5002FA3BA/$file/03%20PLC%20090514%20Minutes.pdf
Understandably, neighbouring Harcombe and Uplyme Parish residents in East Devon are extremely shocked and disturbed.
An action group “StopLymeLandfill has been formed to work, even at this late stage, to seek every opportunity to fight the siting of a landfill site, in such a prominent and environmentally sensitive location. That status so clearly demonstrated by its national environmental and landscape designation, as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
If you want to add your support or learn more, the campaign contacts are;
The campaign website is at; www.stoplymelandfill.co.uk
What do you think?
Has this application compelling demonstrated the ‘exceptional circumstances’ required to override national policies, essential to conserve the landscape and scenic beauty of AONB’s?