Battle of Inglewood - de we only have ourselves to blame?

Torbay Weekly

Campaigners and councillors are still in a state of shock after a government inspector gave the go-ahead for a new 'village'  at Churston off the Torbay Ring Road.

The Inglewood scheme includes 370 homes, new pub and school. One of the main reasons for the green light was Torbay Council's failure to come up with the government required three-year land supply for new homes.

Torbay councillor and former mayor Nick Bye, whose family lived close to the green fields now under threat, gives his verdict.

Returning from family trips away, my late father would always start the same speech as the car came over the brow of the hill at Whiterock: “How lucky we are to live in such a beautiful placeand wouldn’t it be a tragedy if these fields were ever built on!”

These fields, known as Inglewood, are now likely to be built on over the next few years following the recent public inquiry. Perhaps we only have ourselves to blame.

The extraordinary feature of the Inspector’s report is the strong arguments he acknowledges against development on this site. I read through the report a couple of times just to make sure his decision was to allow the appeal, as the first couple of pages set out the case against with considerable force, acknowledging this land is not allocated for housing in the Brixham Neighbourhood Plan; it is not even suggested as a Future Growth Area in the Torbay Local Plan; it will have an impact on the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (there is an exhaustive list of places from where it will be visible)and it will erode the gap of undeveloped land between Paignton and Galmpton. All this goes against numerous planning policies and guidance.

But the need for new housing development trumps all this especially as we could not show either a three or five year land supply. So where have we gone wrong?

First, this appeal came about due to delays in our planning system and Torbay Council’s failure to determine the application in a reasonable time. The application was submitted in 2017 when our Local Plan was relatively new and would have carried more weight, whereas now it is judged “out of date”.

2017/18 & 2018/19 were reasonable years for new housing completions so quite easy to demonstrate activity and land supply. 2019/20 & 2020/21 have been absolutely dire with very low numbers, so January this year was about the worst time to defend our position.

Secondly, the slow pace of processing other applications for development further undermined our position. I served on the Planning Committee last summer when we approved two substantial schemes in the Future Growth Area at Collaton St Mary and 90 new homes on the former Stoodley Knowle Convent site. I know this last scheme was not signed off by January and might not be signed off now. If it is the case as Cllr Jackie Stockman suggests we were just short of 75 units to show a three year land supply then this one scheme would have got us over the line.

Thirdly, I really question the wisdom of putting this land at Inglewood within the area covered by the Brixham Peninsular Neighbourhood Plan when the reality is it is a part of Paignton. Most of the planned housing development in the Bay over the next few years is likely to take place on the outskirts of Paignton. By putting this land within the remit of Brixham, where there are very few other opportunities for development due to highwaysand other constraints, you are creating temptation to say the least.

Finally, it all comes down to numbers. The Council’s latest Housing Strategy includes a target of circa 590 new homes each year. In the first decade of this millennium we achieved in excess of 500 with a couple of bumper years of 743 and 809 new homes. But this decade we have fallen to circa 350.

Everyone acknowledges the need for more housing to accommodate a growing population and as our population ages then you need more homes to make up for smaller household sizes as more and more people inevitably live alone.

But where do we build these homes? Wherever and whenever somewhere is suggested then you hear the cry “not here!”

In our attempts to save everywhere from development then we save nowhere and as I have forecast for a long time: these decisions are then made for us.

A tragedy indeed.