Playing blame game is lame
Gilly Holt, of Hope Cove, writes: I write with reference to the article 'Councillors' ire at AONB's failure to object to plan', Gazette, March 20, and the comments contained therein from Cllrs Paul Coulson and Judy Pearce during a meeting of Salcombe Town Council. Both appear to be criticising the South Hams Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty unit for its failure to make a formal objection to plans to rebuild and enlarge the Tides Reach Hotel and they also comment on the failure of the other statutory consultees to object to the plans. They 'imply' that the lack of any objections made it harder for the committee to refuse the application. I have to challenge their comments and criticism. While the support of the AONB unit and other statutory bodies may have been helpful, I don't believe it would have made any difference. My reasons for this statement? The damage had already been done by the disastrous decision by the South Hams development management committee to approve the Cottage Hotel application in January this year, when it took it upon itself to set the dangerous precedent of deciding that economics outweighed the protection of the AONB. The committee blatantly chose to ignore the recommendations of the planning officer Malcolm Elliott, the AONB unit, Natural England, English Heritage and the South Hams Society, which all strongly recommended refusal of the Cottage Hotel application. The reason for refusal was that the proposed development was contrary to the National Planning Policy Framework by way of its detrimental impact on Hope Cove and the AONB for several reasons, including its overall size, height and massing and the resultant adverse impact on the wider landscape. What is so extraordinary is that the committee approved the application on the tenuous grounds of economic viability. Tenuous I say because no financial or viability statements were provided by the applicant to justify the scale of the expansion – this has been confirmed by the council to myself and my lawyer – and alarmingly this does not appear to have been insisted upon by the council. An economic argument without economic data? I spoke on behalf of all objectors at the committee meeting in respect of the Cottage Hotel and thus am fully versed in the dialogue of that meeting. Cllr Pearce and Cllr Coulson supported approval on economic grounds, Cllr Pearce by way of voting to approve and Cllr Coulson by his speech, as ward councillor, which carried great weight. Both clearly chose to disregard the recommendations of the AONB unit and consultees, and so I find it a bitter pill to swallow that they are now criticising the very consultees over the Tides Reach application when they had previously chosen to ignore them anyway. For Cllr Coulson to say at least the AONB unit 'got off its backside and raised an objection' in respect of the Cottage Hotel in his criticism of the unit for not doing so for the Tides Reach is simply laughable. Surely if the development committee was going to remain consistent in its approach then whatever the AONB unit said would carry very little weight as the committee had already made its position clear: economics rather than the AONB. I also noted that Cllr Coulson commented that, with judicial reviews coming up and the secretary of state being called in, it was understandable that planning officers were 'ultra-cautious'. Precisely. Planning officers are the experts and as such surely their recommendations should be followed. I believe around 95 per cent of officer recommendations are supported in this country – it is only in exceptional circumstances that they are not followed. In the case of the Cottage Hotel no exceptional circumstances were demonstrated. If the committee had actually followed its planning officer's recommendations and his adherence to the National Planning Policy Framework the secretary of state would not have been called in. Devolution of power to local authorities has been fought long and hard for, but with it comes a requirement to act 'responsibly', and when there is any doubt the secretary of state will intervene. I also question if the officer's approach and that of the AONB unit and other consultees would have been different with the Tides Reach if they had been listened to previously and the Cottage Hotel outcome had been different. Once the Cottage Hotel had been approved and the precedent set it made the Tides Reach application invincible. Cllrs Coulson and Pearce should not be playing the blame game as I believe a large part of the blame for the two grotesque, modernist constructions that future generations will have thrust at their feet lies firmly at Cllr Coulson and Cllr Pearce's feet and the feet of those members of the committee who chose to approve these applications.
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