Crime writer leads fight in hamlet homes row

Monday 30th August 2021 5:15 am
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Matthew Hall

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RESIDENTS in an off-the-beaten-track hamlet are considering legal action after planners accepted revised plans for three "executive style" homes.

Crime writer, BAFTA-award winner and former lawyer Matthew Hall says he and fellow neighbours are now considering calling for a judicial review into the approval of the new homes, in Welsh Newtown Common near Monmouth.

Applicant Hilary Boughton submitted revised plans addressing design and scale issues and compatibility with the neighbourhood plan for the parish, after earlier bids to develop the two sites at Woodside Stables and next to Steepways had been rejected, first by council planners then by a government planning inspector.

She said she had been surprised at the opposition to her proposals in the isolated hamlet, which has no through road, with nearly 40 letters of objection.

"Some of the objectors have already built houses on their own greenfield sites," she claimed.

Mr Hall, the author of The Coroner crime novel series and award-winning scriptwriter for the likes of Keeping Faith, Kavanagh QC and Dalziel and Pascoe, said lead planning officer Kevin Bishop had misled Herefordshire Council planning councillors after they gave the go ahead.

He claimed Mr Bishop had been wrong in telling them only to consider the outstanding issues identified by the inspector, rather than assessing the applications against all possible criteria.

"This has opened the way for us to now consider a judicial review," he said. "But we will first ask Herefordshire Council to reconsider the application properly."

Residents say it will be "a test case for the sustainable future of Herefordshire’s small communities".

Council officers had recommended approval when the original plans for four-bedroom homes were put forward in 2019, but councillors threw them out after villagers complained that there had never been three large houses built on the common all at once.

Opponents claimed it would case "irreparable harm" to the community.

But planning councillors agreed this month that the revised scaled-down proposals met the neighbourhood plan’s requirement that house sizes should be limited to two or three bedrooms, and that ridge heights should not exceed 6m.

Welsh Newton parish councillor Debbie Clarke told the Herefordshire Council meeting that the demands on the roads, drainage and damage to the habitat of protected species still counted against them.

And summarising objectors’ views, ward county councillor Elissa Swinglehurst (Con) said the proposals were "not in the spirit" of the neighbourhood plan.

"Welsh Newton Common has no services, broadband speed is glacial, the water is on a pump supply, there is no mains drainage and there is no realistic alternative to car travel," she said.

Committee chair Cllr Terry James warned councillors however: "Some of these issues were not raised by the planning inspector as grounds for refusal and are not sufficient grounds to refuse."

Planning service lead development manager Mr Bishop added: "Issues of ecology, drainage and traffic are not sustainable reasons for refusing the application.

"Welsh Newton Common is an area identified for development, and the neighbourhood development plan supports new market housing."

Councillors passed both proposals with large majorities.

Green councillor Toni Fagan, who voted against them, wrote on Facebook afterwards: "Am so gutted to not be able to help protect Welsh Newton Common from over-development."

A Herefordshire Council spokesperson said the two applications "had been amended from previous planning submissions to fit with the neighbourhood plan", and ecological concerns had also been addressed.

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