The recent planning permission granted at Crantock for a rural exception site to provide “affordable homes to meet local need” against the wishes of the community as expressed through its Neighbourhood Development Plan (NDP) has caused widespread concern: not least in Lanner. Several people have openly questioned the purpose and relevance of an NDP, asking why on earth they should engage with a system that purports to be about localism and community when it appears to fall at the first fence.
The Crantock NDP was formally adopted on 28 June this year to form a part of the overall Cornwall Local Plan. Yet on 22 August, barely 8 weeks later, Cornwall Council allowed a “rural exception site” which went expressly against policies in the NDP. Crantock is trying to crowdfund a possible Judicial Review and it certainly looks as though a serious error was made here: though, as is often the case, it’s not entirely straight forward. I see the Crantock issues as follows:
- The NDP had identified a commitment in existing permissions and allocations to provide 45 affordable homes and the identifiable need (on Cornwall Council’s own evidence) was for 35. How was it possible to justify further development for “local needs”?
- It is unclear as to when the identified sites would deliver their allocations. If there is delay, and these committed sites had outstanding permissions, should that delay affect prompt delivery of needed houses for local people?
- Should there be a minimum time after an NDP is adopted before rural exception sites can be permitted, particularly if adequate allocations have been made? Otherwise the Plan is surely being undermined.
- The developers originally wanted to build all open market houses (part of the site might be construed as infill rather than an exception site) and put in a scheme to be 50% affordable homes only after it was clear that they wouldn’t otherwise have a hope. Can that sort of strategy make the scheme “affordable home led” which is a requirement for an exception site?
- 50% affordable homes on an exception site is the minimum but Cornwall Council and developers now see it as the norm. This is wrong. New rules mean developers’ viability valuations which show the minimum number of open market houses needed to make a scheme work have to be open to public scrutiny. They weren’t for Crantock.
- Cornwall Council has a history of using (and abusing) exception site policy to bump up affordable home provision beyond local needs. This seems to have been the case here.
One bad case doesn’t make the whole process wrong though. Lanner’s NDP will show what the community wants. Without it, Lanner would be very much open to unwanted development founded in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) otherwise known as “The Developers’ Charter”. With the NDP, at the very least, the community has a strong voice in decision making and a sound basis on which the parish council and community groups and individuals can fight unwanted development.
Soon, there will be the opportunity to vote on the Plan at referendum. If you value your community and environment you must take part in that vote: either way, the consequences will be yours.