Overview

Burton on the Wolds is facing an unprecedented volume of planning applications. In total, developers have applied for permission to create 286 new residential properties in and around the village: an increase of 67% in the current housing numbers.

The implications for the village, particularly if several of the applications were to be permitted, cannot be overstated. There are no proposals to improve any of the village facilities, so the Village Hall, playgroup, the playing field and the school - already overstretched - will just have to cope. There will be increased pressure on the doctors' surgeries, the roads (including some of the smaller ones around the village) and the impact of the construction itself will also be severe, with dust and noise and heavy vehicles all around the village for years to come.

We hope you will write to Charnwood Borough Council, the decision makers for development in Charnwood, about these applications to demonstrate the strength of feeling within the village and make them aware of the impact these developments would have on those living in the village and its surrounding area.

We have produced a leaflet about this which has been delivered to every house in the village and this page is intended to provide further information about the situation and provide some tips on writing an effective planning letter.

Note that the comment closing dates in the published leaflet have since been updated on the Borough Council's website.

The Applications - Already Approved

Two proposed development schemes have received approval already and you may have heard about these previously. These are the conversion of the Eaton / Cooper Bussmann offices (now called the Hawker Business Park) to the East of the village into 91 flats and the erection of 70 houses on the field currently used for sheep grazing bordered by Sowters Lane and Melton Road. Details of each of these can be found on Charnwood's Planning Explorer (click on "View planning applications" and then on "Specific Application"):

Application

Application No.

Description

Hawker Business Park

P/20/1171/2

Conversion of office building at Hawker Business Park
into 91 flats

Melton Road

P/20/2322/2

Outline permission for 80 houses on the the field south of Melton Road, alongside Sowters Lane

Hawker Business Park

This application received permission automatically because of Government legislation designed to allow office space to become residential without going through the normal planning process. It seems likely this law was designed with urban areas in mind, but unfortunately, no distinctions are made in the legislation about the location of the buildings.

The legislation responsible can be found here:

Melton Road

This application was new in January 2021 but was an essentially identical copy of a pervious application (P/19/0041/2) first made in January 2019. The new application is likely to have been made because of the change in planning circumstances discussed in the section below on Charnwood's planning status.

The original application was taken to an appeal with the Planning Inspectorate, a Government body charged with making final decisions on planning matters which are in dispute. This appeal was lodged by the developer because it had taken so long to determine the original application.

The status of this site is complicated by the fact that the Inspector has not yet published his decision and even though the subsequent application was approved before the appeal was heard, the Inspector could decide that the site is not a suitable place to build these houses. It is unclear what would happen in these circumstances.

The Applications - Under Consideration

Two applications are currently under consideration and comments can currently be made by searching for the application numbers on the Planning Explorer part of Charnwood Borough Council's website. We strongly encourage you to do this before the deadline for these applications (although if you read this after the deadline, please still write in as comments are often taken into consideration until the decision is made).

Application

Application No.

Description

Closing Date for Comments

Poultry Farm, Sowters Lane

P/21/0615/2

60 houses replacing the Poultry Farm on Sowters Lane

06/08/2021*

Loughborough Road

P/21/1105/2

56 houses on the field cornered by Loughborough Road and Brickwood Place

06/08/2021*

*Note that these dates are updated from the published leaflet.

These are outline applications. This means that several matters are "reserved" for later applications, but the outline application allows the developer to establish the principle of developing an approximate number of houses (often an "up to" figure) on the site and also the road and pedestrian access to and from the site without needing to attend to the detail of the actual houses.

Writing an objection letter is covered in a later section of this page, but for this type of application, letters should only comment on the things that the application seeks to establish. For example: the volume of housing, flood risk to the site or neighbouring dwellings, etc., the effect of that many extra houses on the village and local infrastructure and the impact of developing on that particular site. Although they often include indicative housing schemes, commenting on this for these applications is unlikely to be useful.

Poultry Farm on Sowters Lane

The poultry farm application seeks to remove the farm, clear the land and place up to 60 houses on the site instead. This site is identified in the newly adopted Wolds Villages Neighbourhood Plan as the best place to put housing within the village, should it be necessary to do so, because it removes the nuisance of the chicken farm and is reasonably discreet.

It is not an ideal location, however. The relevant Neighbourhood Plan policy (WV12) puts this site forward as a "reserve" site, for use if further allocation is made to Charnwood's smaller settlements (so-called "other" settlements in the Local Plan, of which Burton on the Wolds is one) which to date has not happened. Currently, the allocation made to "other" settlements has more than been met through development already completed or underway.

The policy suggests "at least 36 dwellings whist achieving an overall density that is appropriate to a site on the edge of a rural settlement".

The site access proposed in the application would allow traffic from 60 houses along St Leonards Close (currently a cul-de-sac with only a handful of residences) and Sowters Lane, a private road with no footpath. Previous designs have split the road traffic, limiting the numbers of houses accessing the road network through the Saints development. It is also the case that the additional numbers of residents this scheme would create are very likely to be on top of the number already likely from the applications that already have approval.

Loughborough Road

The Loughborough Road application seeks to build outside the limits to development, on a greenfield site, along a very well used public footpath into the countryside and would necessitate the removal of hedges and mature trees for an access onto a busy, often fast road and with a difficult pedestrian route.

It is particularly difficult to envisage a safe entry and exit for this scheme for cars because of the road layout and poor visibility. For pedestrians, especially families venturing to school during rush hour, the B676 with cars speeding into the village could prove very dangerous on the narrow footway and with the common need to cross into Springfield Close to reach the school, Plantation or playing field.

The Applications - Upcoming

There is currently another pre-application which is likely to come forward to be a full application in the near future. It is not currently possible to make comments on this application.

The proposal is to clear the entire Hawker Business Park, offices, factories, etc. and replace the site with 100 houses. This is being positioned as an "improvement" on the existing plan, detailed above, to convert the office building into 91 flats, which was automatically approved. As the office building would be demolished for this scheme, it obviously replaces it. A very large housing estate is considered by the applicant to be a better thing to place in the countryside, away from jobs and other services than a collection of flats.

It is possible that this has been the intention all along, since 91 flats, quarter of a mile from a small village, with little to no employment opportunities might be hard to sell when the necessary demographic are people who would like a very small flat with no windows but who also need a car to shop, have a job, go to the doctors, etc.

The documents associated with this pre-application can be found on CBC's document explorer (not the planning explorer linked to above) by using the application code P/21/0165/2:

Despite the proximity to Burton on the Wolds and the fact that the road access is at the edge of our village, parish borders actually put this site in the parish of Wymeswold. This means that any financial contributions for infrastructure or school places (termed "Section 106" agreements in documentation, or more usually just "S106") could be made to Wymeswold Parish who are unlikely to see much impact from this development.

It will be important to make it clear to planning officers that Burton on the Wolds will be the deserving recipient of any investment that is requested from the developer.

Planning - The Current Status in Charnwood

Context

As you will be aware from news items over the last few years, the Government is keen to tackle, ultimately, the unaffordability of homes for young people trying to get on the "Property Ladder". This is being treated as an issue of supply and demand: demand for housing is higher than supply and so those with homes to sell have buyers competing with one another to offer the most money and consequently prices increase.

The obvious remedy to undersupply is to build more homes, more quickly and this is what the Government would like to do. Unfortunately, there are a number of reasons why simply building homes at a faster rate is difficult. More labour and more materials are necessary to build faster, which are both subject to shortages themselves (and potentially cost increases as a result).

Another potential block to increased house supply is the house builders themselves. It might seem surprising that a company trying to make money selling houses might be interested in not doing so, but plenty has been written in the last few years about so-called "land banking", which is the practice of investing in building land in the expectation that it will increase in value over time (sometimes if split into smaller parcels), at which point it can be sold on instead of the owner having to spend time and effort developing it themsevles.

The article above discusses the gap between granted planning permission and completed houses. Whilst it draws no firm conclusions about the reasons, several ideas are put forward, including land banking as defined above and so called "pipelining" of plots - the idea being that developers are keen to provide a regular supply of land into the future to even out the natural ebb and flow of land availability. This has an additional bonus, theoretically, that not too many houses are completed on any one site too quickly, which helps to keep supply low and prices high.

Five-year Supply

In order to bolster the supply of houses, the Government sets targets for planning authorities to meet. Our planning authority is Charnwood Borough Council (CBC) and they make the decisions on planning applications in this area.

CBC maintain a document called the "Local Plan" (previously the "Core Strategy") in which they set out plans for meeting the housing need over the coming years. The current version of this was published in 2015 and is currently in the process of being updated. A new version will be published in the coming months.

Put simply, CBC are expected to deliver 1,111 homes a year for the next few years. However, rather than just delivering that number, they are expected to know at any given time which sites can reasonably be expected to deliver the coming five years' worth of housing, calculated from granted permissions and reasonable build rates on those sites. The Local Plan is the publication of the sites where this will happen, together with the associated reasoning and calculations. Policies contained in this document form the structure of CBC's approach to planning decisions, in normal times.

Unfortunately, as of 19th May 2021, Charnwood's published figure is 3.34 years' housing supply. In other words, they are confident only of completed housing covering the next three years' worth of their target numbers, rather than the required five. This is down from the previously published figure (Nov 2020) of 4.1 years.

The most important reason that this figure has dropped to just over three is that the number of homes in the government targets has gone up. Previously, CBC were asked to provide 820 houses per year (taken from the current Local Plan document, p.19):

It has been known for the last few years that the yearly housing target would rise to something around 1,100: the "Draft Charnwood Local Plan (2019-36)", published in October 2019 used a figure of 1,082 houses per year.

There is plenty of information about the forthcoming updated version of the Local Plan on (from CBC's point of view) on their website and the FAQ page has some information on where the targets come from:

In a statement made by Richard Bennett, CBC's Head of Planning, to councillors, he indicated that COVID has also had an effect on completion rates and noted that he had made a request to central Government to suspend the five-year target because of this, but also admits that the five-year target would still not have been met, even if the targets had remained at the previous figure.

Another interesting piece of information from this statement is that enough planning permission has been granted to meet the new five-year target twice over: Mr Bennett is very clear that once permission is granted, he has no power to make developers build.

If you feel it might be useful to write to our MP about planning matters, which we would encourage you to do (jane.hunt.mp@parliament.uk), it might be worth reflecting on the fact that none of the things government has done so far appear to have increased the rates at which planning permissions granted translate to completed properties.

Five-Year Supply: Consequences

The main piece of Government legislation governing the planning process is the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). This document and its associated notes (planning practice guidance) lay out a great deal of the legal framework around planning in this country.

Once a planning authority falls below the five-year supply, the NPPF makes it clear that any policies the authority has (those in Charnwood's Local Plan, for example, upon which decisions are normally based) are considered to be out-of-date. This means that they hold much less weight when planning applications come to be considered and the NPPF, which, broadly speaking, favours development which can in any way be considered reasonable, is used instead. It has no regard for plans made for particular areas.

In addition, the planning authority which finds itself in this position is also in the position of needing to increase it's supply of building land to chase down the 5-year supply whereby it can regain control of its planning policy.

Objecting

The most important thing is to make your voice heard. If you feel you would like to let CBC know that you do not wish a development to go ahead, you can write and simply say that and many objection letters are only a few sentences. However, it does help if you can give reasons and they should be the kinds of reasons that planners are able to take into consideration.

For example, it is permissible to object on the grounds of loss of light or privacy. If a neighbour's extension would make your dining room dark or create a window looking into your conservatory, you can object on these grounds. Conversely, planning authorities cannot take into account objections because the applicant once objected to a project of yours or because your Auntie Sue once owned the house and wouldn't have liked what the new owners want to do to it.

Please see the following page for more details of this. In particular, the section on considerations: material (permissible) and non-material (things that cannot be considered) explains how letters can be constructed that planners are more likely to pay attention to.

It is sometimes possible to object to an application because you believe the applicant is trying to do something that actually breaks planning rules in a way that may not immediately be obvious, even to the planning authority. Determining whether this is the case often involves a lot of time and research and even then can be open to interpretation.

An example might be that the application's road safety plans hinge on a new footpath, but the land to create that footpath is not under the control of the applicant or the highways agency, or is narrower than that which would be required. This route is not for the faint-hearted.

Sometimes more straightforward local knowledge is also helpful. For example, a traffic survey has been conducted, but it was done at a time time when you know roadworks were in place that diverted 80% of the traffic onto another route.

It is a principle of planning that each application must be considered individually and on its own merits. It is therefore important to write individually with each application in mind. Points about the cumulative effects of one application made on top of another are likely to be disregarded by the planning officers, regardless of how compelling they seem!

The Bottom Line

Burton on the Wolds cannot cope with this level of development, particularly all happening at once. The quality of life for residents (including future residents of these developments) will be severely impacted by even some of these proposals going ahead. All of them together would be catastrophic and talking to people around the village, we know that many people share this concern.

Please write in to Charnwood's planning department. Be creative. Make the planning officers feel the consequences these decisions will have on you and on your neighbours. You will live with the construction traffic rumbling past your door at 7am for two years straight, not a developer. You will struggle for the umpteenth time to get a doctor's appointment this week for your elderly mother, not a planning officer. They don't amble past Field House into the countryside on a summer's evening with their dog or let their children play football in the cul-de-sac's on the Saints, but we all know people who do do those things. They won't have to walk down Sowters Lane, unlit and with no footpath or cross Loughborough Road to get to school with a pushchair on a dark winter's morning in the rain, as car after car tear past them into the village.

It is vitally important that as many residents as possible make their voices heard. Please, make the impact felt. The planning officers are human and they do listen. This is your village and this is your opportunity to fight for it.