The Planning Inspectorate
Temple Quay House
2 The Square
BS1 6PN 1 December 2019
Dear Sir or Madam
Thorley Street Paddock, Bishop’s Stortford
Your ref: APP/J1915/W/19/3236746
- I am writing on behalf of the Bishop’s Stortford Civic Federation in respect of the appeal against the refusal of planning permission of the above application, to ask that the Inspector confirm the decision of East Herts Council as planning authority that planning permission should not be granted.
- The site in question is an open field within the Green Belt. Thorley Street, on which the road access to the site is located, is a ribbon development on the edge of Bishop’s Stortford with residential properties facing the road, many of them listed. One small site is occupied by a car repair workshop which is classed as a B1 use under the Use Classes Order – ie an industrial process which can be carried out in any residential area without detriment to the amenity of the area. There is no other commercial or industrial activity along the road, and apart from houses fronting the road, the area consists of undeveloped fields or residential gardens.
- The East Herts District Plan was adopted as recently as last year and one of the most controversial elements of it relating to Bishop’s Stortford was the removal from the Green Belt of a large site to the west of Thorley Street and its reallocation for mixed use development. Thorley Street itself, however, remains within the Green Belt boundary for this part of Bishop’s Stortford and, having lost the site mentioned above, it is all the more important that the new boundary is respected and, if possible, its amenity enhanced. As part of the process leading to the adoption of the plan a Green Belt review was carried out, and the opportunity would have existed then to argue for different boundaries or patterns of development from those incorporated in the adopted plan.
- The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) makes it clear that Green Belt boundaries should be permanent and that they should only be revised in exceptional circumstances through the preparation or updating of plans (paras 133-136). In the case of the Green Belt around this part of Bishop’s Stortford, that process was completed only in 2018. As para 143 of the NPPF makes clear, inappropriate development is, by definition, harmful to the Green Belt and should not be approved except in very special circumstances. The NPPF does, however, make an exception against the presumption of no development in the case of limited infilling of villages.
- The appellant therefore seeks to argue firstly that the proposal falls within the ambit of ‘limited infilling’ and, if that argument is not persuasive, that very special circumstances exist to justify development in this case. We do not believe there is merit in either argument.
- As mentioned above, with the exception of the car repair workshop, there is no industrial or commercial activity within the village surroundings. If any limited infilling were to be permitted within this Green Belt site, the legitimate expectation would be that its character would enhance the amenity of the area. By no stretch of the imagination could an industrial premises with stone masonry working and storage, and frequent truck movements be considered an enhancement to the amenity of the area or an appropriate form of infilling. Indeed it would be classed as a B2 use which would enable a wide variety of industrial processes to be undertaken on the site. Each planning application should be considered on its merits but, in any event, the precedents about infilling cited by the appellant relate to proposed residential developments and are irrelevant to this case.
- The appellant therefore seeks to justify the application by arguing that very special circumstances exist which outweigh the harm this development would cause, but their arguments on this point also appear to be without substance.
- Firstly, we would argue that the site does protect the countryside from encroachment – the great majority of it is not surrounded by development of any kind, and allowing this application to proceed could open up other parts of this or adjoining sites to more extensive applications for industrial use in the future.
- Secondly, it is implied that one of the reasons for the business seeking to relocate is that the site it occupies at present has been zoned for redevelopment in the District Plan. But it was the expressed desire of the business to move that led to the redesignation of its present site, rather than the redesignation being a spur to its removal.
- Thirdly, it is claimed that deliveries to its present site cause traffic problems in the town centre. This overlooks the fact that moving to the proposed development site would cause greater problems because
The site is on the main access route into the town from the south where congestion is serious now and will become an even more challenging issue as a result of the large mixed use development on which work has now started to the west of Thorley Street.
Access from the site to the M11 motorway requires traffic either to negotiate Hockerill junction, one of the most polluted in the county and the subject of an AQMA; or to use the informal bypass of Pig Lane, Hallingbury Road and Beldams Lane all of which are heavily used at the moment because there is no south eastern quadrant to the Bishop’s Stortford bypass and which would be quite unsuited to HGV traffic, because of width and weight restrictions in Pig Lane
The alternative of using the other three quadrants of the bypass adds five miles to the journey to the M11, is widely ignored and is not the route recommended by vehicle SatNav systems.
- Finally, it is claimed that there are no alternative sites to which the business could locate, but the mixed use development to the west of Thorley Street will include a significant area of land reserved for employment uses. Moreover, should Bishop’s Stortford Football Club relocate, they too have a site which would otherwise be zoned for employment use and is adjacent to the M11. The appellant’s agents should try looking a bit harder.
- We can therefore see no very special circumstances that would outweigh the undoubted harm that this development would cause to this Green Belt site.
- I would be grateful if you could draw our objections to the attention of the Inspector considering this case. Please acknowledge receipt of this letter.