More houses should be built — but not willy-nilly

Date: Tuesday 11th July 2017

Sir, Stephe Fletcher (Herald, 1st July) rightly says that the recent planning decision for speculative housing on the edge of Lazonby should be seen as a warning to all villages within 10 miles of Penrith. So should the recent planning permissions extending Sockbridge and Tirril into open countryside, and other recent decisions by Eden District Council.

Government policy is that more houses should be built — but not willy-nilly. If a local plan is out of date (like Eden’s), there is a presumption in favour of granting planning permission for housing, unless the benefit of building houses at a particular site is outweighed by the harm which would be caused.

Eden District Council’s new local plan is taking longer than one might expect to complete. In the interim, speculative developers are seeking to build in “sought-after” small villages before the sensible new plan is adopted.

The new plan (in line with Government policy) stipulates that speculative housing development on greenfield sites should not take place in these villages, because there are too few services to provide for new occupants — too many journeys to work, shops, health, entertainment etc,. would be by car. The Government says that is “unsustainable”. What is strange is that Eden District Council seems to be bending over backwards to approve speculative housing which is unsustainable and indeed will clearly be contrary to its own new local plan.

Eden District Council seems to be under the misapprehension that it must approve applications for houses (or perhaps it chooses to take that view). There are several reasons why that is wrong, and why the council could be taking a different line on harmful speculative developments in our villages:

Even where a local plan is out of date, the Government requires a thorough analysis of harm which may be caused by a proposal, to weigh against the potential benefit of a housing proposal. Eden District Council fails to do this, certainly in the case of Sockbridge and Tirril and perhaps elsewhere. Why?

The Government requires an emerging local plan to be taken into account in planning decisions, with increasing weight being given to the plan the further it has progressed towards adoption. In error, the council chooses to give very little weight (grudgingly at that) to its new local plan, even though it has been comprehensively reviewed by an inspector to make sure it’s in line with Government policy, and is in its final, advanced stage of approval. Why does the council virtually ignore it, when it could give it considerable weight?

The central aim of the Government’s national planning framework is the drive towards sustainable development. Planning applications which are clearly not sustainable are being approved by the council and in some cases the word sustainable is barely mentioned in its planning officer reports. Why?

Eden District Council is permitting development which is detrimental to the local community and is undermining the new local plan before it is adopted. An applicant for planning permission has the right to be heard in front of an independent inspector. However, the community has no right of appeal against dubious planning approvals.

We may be well warned that harm is being done to our smaller villages, but we can do nothing about it. Yours etc,


(Chairman, Sockbridge and Tirril Parish Council)