There are three people with top-level roles in this Inquiry: The Planning Inspectorate's Inspector, the legal counsel for the appellant (the developers who submitted the planning application), and the legal counsel for Torbay Council.
At the start, the Inspector outlined the way the inquiry was going to operate; basically following the same rules and procedures as if the meeting had been physical rather than online.
There were two sections of the proceedings today. Three were scheduled but the number of "interested parties" that wished to speak curtailed that plan; even then, the day's proceedings ran over time.
Firstly, the appellant's counsel read his opening statement, then the counsel for Torbay Council did the same (All documents are available on Torbay Council's website at https://www.torbay.gov.uk/Inglewood).
Actually, they probably didn't read all their statements verbatim. The purpose of the Inquiry is not to educate the other attendees (including us) but rather to provide the Inspector with all the evidence needed to come to a decision on the appeal). Additionally, he will make a site visit after the Inquiry ends, and before he makes a decision.
In order to expedite matters, there are Statements of Common Ground covering issues that the parties do not contest. Therefore the tactical approach taken by both parties is to focus on the issues that separate them from each other.
From the Forums' viewpoint, the main antagonist is the counsel for the developers, Peter Goatley QC. By the end of his statement, he had outlined the two major issues (from his point of view): The South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) adjacent to the site; and Torbay Council's inability to show a 3-year (let alone 5-year) supply of land for house building. On the AONB, evidence (from his expert) will show that there will be negligible impact, and that any effects on the AONB were not a reason for refusal.
On the housing land supply he stated: Torbay's land supply position is 'dire'. Torbay Council was "woefully underperforming", so it was necessary to consider sites outside the Local Plan process. He asked the Inspector to give "little weight" to the Local Plan policies given that the "Local Plan is failing".
That last point set the scene: The local democracy behind both the Local Plan and the Neighbourhood Plan (for Brixham Peninsula) should be overridden. Most subsequent speakers took this as a serious affront. Indeed, this set the foundation for the rest of the day's proceedings. And is precisely why this Brixham planning application is of immense interest to the Paignton (and Torquay) Neighbourhood Forums also.
For Torbay Council, advocate Nina Pindham focused on why the AONB was too important to be easily dismissed. She quoted the Housing Secretary of State who, in 1997, said that development on this site was "unacceptable", given the high-quality of the affected landscape. This opinion is echoed by the Council's own advisors on this matter.
A fundamental argument revolves around the so-called "settlement gap" between Paignton and the village of Galmpton. That is, urban spawl where residents, and tourists don't know where one town/village ends, and the next one begins.
On the issue of housing supply, she acknowledged that Torbay Council does not have a 3-year land supply but that the Council has not been "sitting on its laurels" and has been looking for funding and thus taking a positive proactive approach.
The housing supply question is a highly-contentious one. If Torbay had a demonstrable 3-year supply, then the wind would be taken out of the appellant's sails. There's a lot more to this than meets the eye. It will be interesting to see how this issue develops over the next few days.
Hearing evidence (or 'contributions') from so-called interested parties took up the rest of the day. The level of passion and knowledge shown by the speakers was impressive, and heart-warming; showing that when our communities come together and organise we can stand our ground very well. (The extent to which this is taken into account by the Inspector remains to be seen).
Notes on the speakers' contributions (not doing them justice in this daily report):
Jackie Stockman, Brian Payne, Councillor Karen Kennedy, Adam Billings, Councillor Judith Mills, Roger Richards, Tony Box, Diana Swindell, Jennifer Walter, Susan Aykin, Pieter Dijkshoorn, Helen Boyles, and Siv White all took turns to make it very clear that:
The Forum allocated sites in a spirit of support to meeting Brixham's housing needs. This site was not included because it was so important to maintain the panoramic vistas towards the AONB. This affects both residents and tourism. If tourism is to recover after Covid-19, the last thing we need to do is remove one of the beautiful vistas enhancing Torbay.
If this development was allowed it would nullify a decade of community involvement. Clear and consise policies were developed with the involvement of heavily-resourced expert consulting engineers, 45 public meetings, press articles, workshops, hunderds of members of the public, and 24 organisations.
The Neighbourhood Plan meets, and exceeds, Brixham's target of 660 houses; indeed for the past three years it has been 162% over-target.
Torbay Council's planning department is risk averse. Housing targets have been published and then withdrawn. There is no clarity on what's going on. Torbay Council have many questions to answer on the housing supply calculations.
The Local Plan and the Neighbourhood Plans dictate that housing numbers must be based on jobs. Employment has been going down, but housing requirements are going up!
The effects of Covid-19 will be that many commercial operations will cease thereby causing a surge in brownfield sites for housing development; that, in turn, will help to rejuvenate town centres.
Torbay land is 67% built-out already. We have: 45km of coastline, a major Special Area of Conservation, two Marine areas, substantial AONB, 12 areas of Special Scientific Interest, five nature reserves, and 82 wildlife sites.
During the eight-year development of the Neighbourhood Plan all potential developers worked with the Forum, except this developer. It is hard to understand how the developer would have chosen this site if it had understood the importance of this site landscape. It never attended a single Forum meeting during the development of the Plan.
The proposal includes major changes to the road and junction at Windy Corner in order to provide access to the proposed housing. Road safety for pedestrians and cyclists is already a major concern, and it will only get worse. The proposal is defective.
There is no consideration being given to the declared (nationally and locally) Climate Emergency.
Two other types of contribution are noteworthy: Both Paignton Neighbourhood Forum and Torquay Neighbourhood Forum stood in solidarity with Brixham Penisula Neighbourhood Forum, with excellent contributions from Catherine Fritz and Rodney Horder respectively.
In addition to all the above, Brixham's MP, Anthony Mangnall (who stated that he does not normally get involved with local planning affairs but this case was an exception), focused on: the Brixham & Peninusla Neighbourhood Plan had already allocated more land for housing than it was obliged to do. For him the most important aspects were landscape protection and the need to support Neighbourhood Forums. This proposal has a detrimental impact. He added that Torbay was one of the few places in the country that had full coverage of Neighbourhood Plans. If this development was allowed, what message would it send to all Neighbourhood Forums?
The Localism Act 2011 gives a legal framework for community involvement. This development "flies in its face".
If this appeal is allowed it will be a "betrayal of community wishes, the democratic process, and a death knell for Neighbourhood Plans."
The above contributions are best summed-up by one speaker who said she was "alarmed at this assault on local democracy. It is not the realm of a private company to determine land use [for the community]."
She concluded with "The appellant's QC has alarmed me enormously".
For his part, the appellent's QC asked no questions of the evidence given by any of the interested parties except to ask most of them: Are you qualified to speak on this matter? Do you have any professional qualifications?
This writer is speechless.