A resident of a village in east Cornwall told a planning meeting that she no longer feels comfortable living there after plans to build a housing development have led to ill-feeling among other residents.
Plans for six houses at Harrowbarrow, near Callington – three of which were classed as “affordable” – split opinion among councillors at a meeting of Cornwall Council’s east sub-area planning meeting today (Monday, November 27).
Applicant Keith Rowe and M Scoble Construction Ltd had submitted a second planning application after similar proposals were previously refused by the committee due to concerns relating to the visual impact, design of the scheme and the impact on the neighbouring World Heritage Site.
A subsequent appeal was dismissed by the Planning Inspectorate. The new application is broadly similar to the previous plans but proposed retaining the majority of a Cornish hedge, which would have been removed previously. The applicant also agreed to a planning agreement to provide payment towards the Plymouth Sound & Estuaries Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and Tamar Estuaries Complex Special Conservation Area (SPA) European Sites, which addressed the inspector’s sole reason for dismissing the appeal.
The plan for two three-bed and one two-bed affordable houses and two four-bed and one -three-bed open market homes was recommended for approval. The proposal is on land south west of Valley View, Callington Road, which is a rural exception site – land deemed acceptable by the government for building affordable homes which would not normally be used for housing.
The application is a contentious one, attracting over 90 public comments on Cornwall Council’s planning register, the majority of which are opposed to the proposals. Philip Brown, representing other residents, said that the application didn’t reflect the housing need of one-bed homes for Calstock parish.
Cllr Ken Trapp, of Calstock Parish Council, said: “This application does not meet the criteria laid out in the local plan, Cornwall’s housing policy or Calstock’s neighbourhood plan for a rural exception site. I believe we are being arm-twisted into using the housing crisis to accept schemes that are not affordable-led, merely 50 per cent.
“It is widely believed that this development only has the affordables to meet the policies and thus secure the open market sales on this wholly inappropriate site.”
He said the scheme was not credible as the shared ownership element was “well beyond affordable for the lowest 25 per cent of wage earners in our parish and it would be a struggle for 49% of them. Those are the people most in need.”
Cllr Trapp added: “The village is in a remote location and this will encourage further use of private vehicles. This is not a sustainable development. There is no support locally and in the parish council and I urge you to reject this application.”
The meeting heard that in the last decade the parish has had seven new housing developments, with 70 affordable homes provided in the last six years; a total of 278 social or affordable houses in the parish.
Julie Slade, of the applicants, told members: “I know that some people feel that we should have given up on our application some time ago, but we don’t agree. The Planning Inspectorate said in his appeal decision that this proposal would provide a small boost to the supply of housing and would contribute towards an identified need for affordable housing.
“We have three affordable homes that would offer three sustainable developments for young local families, and we firmly believe our proposal will not only enhance the approach to the village, it will also improve the safety for both pedestrians and vehicles entering and exiting.”
As a local person who suffered with finding a house of her own, Mrs Slade added: “We have friends and relatives that have had to move away from the parish of Calstock. If there were sufficient houses to buy or rent, moving would not have been necessary. After growing up in Harrowbarrow and living in one of the miners’ cottages, I was lucky to have an idyllic childhood – I come from generations of a family who lived in the village from the 1800s and we were all blessed to feel safe and supported growing up there.
“However, when I married and started my family, my husband, myself and young daughter had to share the cottage with my parents as there were no council houses or places to rent in the village and nor did we have the means to buy. This led to us having to move to another local village but we would have preferred to stay in Harrowbarrow.
“We are all aware there is a housing crisis in Cornwall. Someone wrote on the planning portal, ‘the housing crisis is not Calstock parish’s responsibility’. I beg to differ – it is the parish’s responsibility. Indeed it is all of our responsibility. We are able to offer three affordable homes due to the Government’s introduction of rural exception sites criteria, which our application fully meets.”
She was asked how much community engagement she’d undertaken as the meeting heard from the parish council representative that there hadn’t been any. She said: “We had wanted to come and join you at the parish council meetings but, to be honest, when I read the planning portal it’s been so emotive, it’s been very personal – we’ve had to have personal comments removed from the portal – and we didn’t think there’d be anything to gain to try and reach out to have a public consultation; it would probably turn into a bunfight really.”
She said the comments had been “very upsetting, there’s been an awful lot of misinformation, there’s been a lot said that frankly we don’t recognise and we don’t want to fall out with the village people. In fact, we don’t feel comfortable in the village anymore”.
Divisional member Cllr Dorothy Kirk said the proposed development site is on a road which is a notorious blackspot and is unsuitable for wide or high vehicles. “All the roads in Harrowbarrow are challenging and can only be made worse by increasing numbers of private cars.” She said the only amenity in the village is a post office and the primary school is oversubscribed. “It’s a medieval village, essentially.”
Cllr Kirk added there were problems with the sewage system and at times of heavy rain human faeces surfaces near houses, so felt the current infrastructure was already inadequate without adding further properties to the area. “I passionately want to see Cornish homes for Cornish people but I don’t want to see them on unsuitable roads without adequate access to public transport, subject to possible contamination from ancient mines or deprived of adequate basic infrastructure, such as a working sewage system. They deserve better than that so I can’t support this application.”
Cllr Barry Jordan said: “I think we’re between a rock and a hard place. If we go against the officer recommendation and it goes to appeal we could lose and it could cost us a packet.”
“The community, the local member and the parish council have put forward some very powerful arguments. I think if we strip it all back, we’re down to that appeal decision which has been addressed and I think we’d leave ourselves wide open for appeal and costs,” added Cllr Dominic Fairman.
Cllr Andrew Long responded: “I fall on the other side of the line to them. I think we need to be following policy and I don’t think this follows policy.” He argued that the local need was for one-bed accommodation, which this development didn’t provide.
“We’re not solving the affordable housing issue when we don’t address one-bed housing need. We are guilty as Cornwall Council, under central government diktat, of kicking people out of two-bedroom properties continuously because they no longer meet the requirement as a single person – 25% of our population is single people and they need housing. We need one-bed properties. How long are we going to build properties that don’t meet the need of local people?”
A vote to approve the housing scheme was lost by three votes to eight. A second motion to refuse the development on the grounds of it failing to reflect the housing need for one-bedroom dwellings in the parish was won by eight votes to three.