Re: Planning Application 0615/18 – Land at Barn Park, Buckfastleigh
On 3rd March 2022, myself, a group of Town Councillors and the Town Clerk attended the headquarters of Dartmoor National Park (DNP) for a meeting with the Chief Executive and his planning staff regarding the Barn Park development. DNP had asked us to submit our questions to them in advance of the meeting and after thinking about this, we decided that we had no objection.
We recognise that DNP are important partners for Buckfastleigh and having a productive and respectful relationship with them is absolutely in the interest of our town.
What is also in your interest is our commitment to absolute transparency and as such I have written up (from my notes at the meeting) the responses from DNP that day.
If you have any questions or comments, please consider attending our next Town Council meeting on Wednesday 20th April at 7.00pm.
- The Town Council wonders why there was a breakdown in communications as previously our Town Clerk has received an agenda enabling her to search any planning applications pertinent to Buckfastleigh and Buckfast. Why, on this occasion was there such poor communication by Dartmoor National Park with the residents of the town and with us as their elected representatives about the progress and negotiations around this major development? Do you think a review is needed of how the National Park manages its relationships with those affected by such planning applications?
DNP responded by apologising for the fact that the Town Clerk had not received an email about the meeting. They put this down to a simple oversight due to human error. They did also say that it is beholden on Councillors and residents to check the DNP website for information about all planning matters and that they wouldn’t normally correspond about progress of applications or update about any ongoing negotiations.
- We are completely nonplussed about the calculations regarding the Section 106 offset cash. If there were discussions about what might be needed in town and how the developer could contribute to the community, what information was used to inform these discussions? Why was the Town Council not approached for their input?
DNP told us that the time to suggest projects for Section 106 offset monies was at the time when the original application was made (in this case in 2018). DNP said that there is a standard way in which these calculations can be made and will involve money for infrastructure transport, education and leisure facilities.
- Please note that the Town Council did respond to the application at that time, setting out very carefully what our concerns were about the site and also suggesting some use of offset cash. However, we would have had no idea at that stage about the number of affordable units that would result, which has an impact on the s106 calculations and how much would be available.
- We would also ask if the planning application form was completed correctly? Are you able to comment whether the tenant of the land in question should have been notified of the planning application/approval?
DNP responded that as far as they were concerned this part of the process was carried out correctly as it hinges upon on what basis any tenancy is held.
- We are aware that a DNP member who sits on your development management committee is also a trustee of the land in question and that her business premises is owned by the charity that also own the land. This person sits on a neighbouring Parish Council and while there is a declaration of connection to this charity as a Trustee to the Parish Council, there is no record of it on the DNP register of interests. Can you satisfy us that there is no conflict of interest, and that this person took no part at all in the process of approving this land for development?
We were told by DNP that this person had no input into this planning decision or the decision to allocate the land and has now resigned from the board of the Charity that had owned the land in question.
- We understand that the Holne Road site was de-allocated as it did not meet the affordable housing criteria. The inspector then tasked DNP with finding another site in Buckfastleigh. We note that the number of houses for Barn Park is for only 7 affordable with 21 open market but the original application was for 10 affordable. Did the Planning inspector state that there would be no housing development in the Park without the 45% affordable criteria being met? Therefore, what is it about this site or these developers that has persuaded DNP to reduce this percentage so significantly?
DNP said that the inspector would not have made that statement as each site would be subject to viability assessments which will affect the calculations about how many affordable homes a site will offer. They showed us a standard calculation model which is used to determine how affordable housing numbers are calculated with developers.
- Whilst having the opportunity to ask questions, we would like to clarify an issue in relation to the process if we may. We were informed by Cllr Nutley that he was asked to leave the planning meeting when other matters were discussed and voted on relating to his Town Council seat in Ashburton. We wondered why this policy is seen to be necessary by DNP?
DNP told us that this is standard practice when it comes to voting on sites that are within any town or parish on which a member of the committee is an elected official as this is seen as ‘having an interest’ in any eventual decision.
Councillor Sue Clarke, Town Council Chair