Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Straitgate downgraded from ‘Specific Site’ to ‘Preferred Area’

Only two months ago, DCC was stubbornly defending the merits of including Straitgate Farm as a 'Specific Site' in its new Minerals Plan - despite numerous objections to the Council on the matter, despite the landowner of part of the site not being supportive, despite being warned at the DMC meeting on 27 January that there were "fundamental issues that cannot be ignored".

Straitgate was the most contentious issue at that DMC meeting; it consumed the bulk of the discussion on the Minerals Plan, despite the Chair not wanting to hear about Straitgate at all: "this is about the strategic document, it is not about site specific". DCC’s Head of Planning argued that Straitgate’s "been through numerous levels of evaluation - it clearly fulfils the criteria for the Plan".

Now it turns out that it was about "site specific" after all:
To address matters raised in response to the Minerals Plan pre-submission consultation, together with the issues and questions recently published by the Inspector, Devon County Council has prepared draft modifications to the Plan.
Straitgate’s designation has been downgraded from 'Specific Site' to 'Preferred Area'. Here are links to the Examination page, the Main Modifications and the second draft Devon Minerals Plan.

Specific Site is "where viable resources are known to exist, landowners are supportive of minerals development and the proposal is likely to be acceptable in planning terms", a Preferred Area is "areas of known resources where planning permission might reasonably be anticipated".

DCC maintains that the reason for the volte-face over Straitgate is:
To reflect information arising since the presubmission consultation
However, DCC was advised of the position of the 3rd party landowner last June - two months before the start of the presubmission consultation. Furthermore, given that AI's revised plans will exclude the use of this 3rd party land, one could assume that a 'Specific Site' designation would now be easier to defend, not harder, which makes the downgrade from where "the proposal is likely to be acceptable in planning terms" to "where planning permission might reasonably be anticipated" more telling.

NPPF planning guidance encourages mineral planning authorities to designate Specific Sites:
Designating Specific Sites in minerals plans provides the necessary certainty on when and where development may take place. The better the quality of data available to mineral planning authorities, the better the prospect of a site being designated as a Specific Site.
So, the move could also be seen as a reflection of the hash AI has made of its Straitgate application.

However, even a 'Preferred Area' designation would appear unsound, given that AI says it can only process Straitgate’s material at Blackhill in the AONB - for which no provision has been made in the new Plan, for which no 'exceptional circumstances' have been demonstrated, and for which planning permission cannot therefore "reasonably be anticipated".