Paignton
Neighbourhood Forum

Series

Inglewood

Title

Inglewood Inquiry Day 3

Date

Thursday 14 January 2021

Description

Today saw the examination of the second of the Council’s “expert witnesses”.

Steve Knott’s testimony relates to the landscape issues. (The issues relating to the AONB were covered by Roger English yesterday).

The advocate for the Council, Nina Pindham, introduced Steve Knott: an expert on Landscape Architecture with a BA and Post Graduate Diploma. He is employed by Jacobs.

After that, Peter Goatley QC cross-examined Steve Knott.

The day jumped round a bit, so the order of exchanges has been tidied somewhat. (Dramatic effect was a by-product, not an intention).

There’s an important document: the Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment (LVIA). This formed the basis for today’s questioning of Steve Knott’s “proof of evidence”.

All documents (there're a lot) are available on Torbay Council's website at https://www.torbay.gov.uk/Inglewood.

Significant Effects

There are some aspects of a development that most would agree are a big deal, whilst other aspects are not really that crucial. The issue, of course, is where the line is drawn. So, the designation of ‘significance’ is used to categorise aspects. In this appeal, the developer wants a low number of not-so-significant aspects.

Steve Knott first stated that he thought that the “bar was set too high” in terms of what should be considered “significant”, in relation to the visual effects of the proposed development.

There are various methods that can be used to determine significance.

Steve Knott considered that some effects that could be classified as ‘moderate’ have not been included as significant.

“Do you have a problem with the methodology adopted?” asked Peter Goatley. To which, Steve Knott replied: “Yes, only major effects have been considered significant. The Landscape Institute guidelines are not prescriptive on the point but, that moderate effects should also be considered as significant, is a generally held view across the profession that they should.”

Peter Goatley, responded with “There are no hard and fast rules; so there’s nothing left to criticise, would you agree?”. “Not really”, replied Steve Knott.

Settlement Gap

The Brixham & Peninsula Neighbourhood Plan specifically refers to the settlement gap between Paignton and Galmpton,

Steve Knott acknowledged to questioning: “A gap would still exist but it would be 500m shorter than at present, and in a location most apparent driving down the Brixham Road; specifically where there are currently hedgerows.”

Peter Goatley wanted to know if Steve Knott concurred with the statement: “On the important point of the Brixham & Peninsula Neighbourhood Plan Policy 5.23, if purposes are substantially met then the harm is notional?”.

“Yes, if the policy is substantially met”, replied Steve Knott.

I’m not sure if it’s acceptable that a policy is only substantially met. That implies that there are conditions that are not met.

Peter Goatley wanted Steve Knott to confirm that a settlement gap would still exist: “There is still a desirable separation?”, he asked. Steve Knott had to respond: “Yes but substantially reduced, limited”.

Visual Views

Considerable time was spent going through dozens of photographs (that are appendices to the LVIA report). These serve to show what the look of the development would be from numerous viewpoints of the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), and in the opposite direction, towards the AONB.

For example, on trails such as Beacon Hill to Dittisham.

Steve Knott emphasised the point that it is important to walk the entire length of such trails, in order to experience the continuous nature of views looking towards the development site.

He illustrated how there would be the cumulative effect of White Rock once built out: “prongs of urban development extending into the rural landscape.”

This proposed development would contribute towards urban sprawl. Significant adverse effects on the landscape character would harm the special qualities of the AONB, and erode landscape character of the AONB setting.

He concluded that the LVIA document “downplays" the prominence of the development.

Even after 15 years of landscape growth, the edge will have softened but the main body of housing would still be seen, creating an urban encroachment leading to a substantial deterioration of the views across the AONB setting.

Landscape Character

Peter Goatley went to considerable trouble to consider a “suite of landscape character types”; specifically from the Devon Character Assessment and the Torbay Character Assessment.

He asked Steve Knott if “there is a material change in the topography [between the site and the AONB]?”

Steve Knott confirmed that there was: “Yes, there is a sloping valley topography that gradually transitions to the development site. There is no physical boundary - no obvious distinction between the estuary valley side and Brixham side.”

The point of this was to, in the Inspector’s mind (everything is done to guide the Inspector in his analysis and decision-making), separate the site from the AONB, in order to lessen the value of the setting. Steve Knott knew this.

Monoglots

The developers are suggesting that they could use a “palette of materials”, including local stone, for 25%-ish of the housing. “Is this desirable?”, asked Peter Goatley.

Steve Knott’s response was: “Looking at the photos, it slightly softens house colouration but doesn’t substantially alter the effect on the landscape”.

Steve Knott agreed that it was desirable to use a wider pallet of materials “rather than a monoglot”.

I think we all agree that housing developers would prefer to create monoglot (such as ugly word, and yet, appropriate) houses rather than spend a bit of money time and money. This suggestion would appear to have been added during initial negotiations, and ‘feedback’ concerning the views from the AONB of the western edge of the development. This says a lot that need not be emphasised here. We all know all monoglot.

North Galmpton Receptors

It turns out that receptors are you and me, or rather in this case, the residents of north Galmpton.

Steve Knott highlighted the fact that the assessment doesn’t take account of north Galmpton character - receptors have not been included - thereby not assessing the effects on that area (as required by Local Plan Policy SS8).

Peter Goatley tried to show that it did. It all got very confusing (certainly for me). He moved on…

Masterplan

A masterplan is an ‘indicative’ idea of what a development could look like. It serves to indicate only. It’s not a plan as you or I might assume it to be.

Peter Goatley wanted to get Steve Knott’s approval of the plan, or at least acknowledge that a lot of thought had gone into it:

“Do you have any reservations or any deficiencies of the masterplan that would be the subject of improvement?”, he asked.

Knott saw this coming. He responded: “I don’t have much to say because the development is in the wrong place no matter how you design it.

Peter Goatley rebounded with: “An extensive process has given rise to the masterplan, do you agree?”

“Well”, said Steve Knott, “it has a lot of supporting documents. There’s not a lot of substantive evidence that landscape has been a major consideration. Screen planting is only going to be limited given that views from the AONB are downhill.”

Peter Goatley then segued into what turned out to be an important angle (for him):

He built upon Steve Knott’s comment with: “Screen planting is not just used to hide but also to integrate with the existing environment.”

Integration

Peter Goatley asked Steve Knott about the components of integration. Steve Knott: “Urban development is a component of the views. It’s a mix of land, sea, and air and how they relate to each other.”

Peter Goatley had a well-laid out series of questions:

“So, that development is able to be integrated into the setting is the question?”

“Yes”, replied Steve Knott.

“Urban is a component of the setting?”

“Yes”, replied Steve Knott.

“That would have a bearing on the impact?”

“Yes”, replied Steve Knott.

“That would have a bearing on the sensitivity of the AONB, agreed?”

“Yes, generally, but it depends on circumstances”, said Steve Knott.

“But there’s no principle; so there must be an attenuation [lessening] of the sensitivity?”

“It depends”, replied Steve Knott.

“An approach on matter of principle?”.

“That’s too much of a simplistic response”, replied Steve Knott.

 

What was all that about?

Put simply, Peter Goatley is trying to establish the idea that since there were already houses in the views from the AONB, urban was already a characteristic of the setting. Therefore the character of the setting wasn’t being changed with the addition of the new development (of 373 houses).

He continued: “It’s 3.5 km distant, after ten years (of development) a walker would be hard pressed to see a difference in views?”

Steve Knott politely countered with “That’s an observation I don’t agree with.”

Interesting words next from Peter Goatley: “To say it’s invisible would be fanciful but in this case it’s integrated with Torbay, is it not?”

Steve Knott would not comply: “The overall character of the ridge-line is undeveloped mostly. The development would urbanise the predominately rural skyline and reduce the rural setting of the AONB views.”

Peter Goatley pressed: “Built form is already discernible from this viewpoint?”

Steve Knott, still composed, responded: “Yes, from the south of Galmpton it is.”

Peter Goatley, persisting, asked: “Also of Goodrington and Hookhills?”

Steve Knott, slightly tiring: “Yes there are glimpses, if you look through the trees.”

(That response reminded me of estate agent’s blurb describing “sea glimpses” from the windows of a house nowhere near the sea.)

Still persisting, Peter Goatley asked: “There is a varied development which is consistent with the character [of the area]?”

Super response from Steve Knott: "I wouldn’t put it like that. Galmpton detracts from the view as does White Rock after year 10. That’s not a reason to include yet more development”.

Not giving up, Peter Goatley tried again: “After ten years the development presents in an integrated and assimilated way?”

Steve Knott, attempting to summarise: “From this viewpoint, there is cumulative adding-up to a large incursion into the landscape.”

Still, trying to make the point that the character of the area already includes urban, Peter Goatley: “It depends if it’s consistent with the existing character…”.

Steve Knott, put ever so slightly firmly: “Yes, but the existing character is rural”.

In a final attempt, Peter Goatley: “The existing [urban] is ‘just there’…”

The final words went to Steve Knott: “Yes it is but that’s not a justification for adding more. In fact, it’s an argument for not adding more. Over time the landscape has less and less capacity to absorb that change”.

Benefits

Peter Goatley then went to the Brixham Road, making the point that from there, there is no public access to the development site fields at the present time. The scheme would enable public access to obtain views of the AONB. Views that they cannot get at the moment because there is no footpath at that stage of the Brixham Road.

Steve Knott noted that people don’t have to be on foot to get the views from the road.

 

This writer notes that maybe walking, or otherwise, through a housing estate in order to see the views at the other side of the estate is not necessarily a selling point.

 

A lot of the proceedings remind me of an attorney trying to get evidence thrown out as ‘inadmissible’.

It is clear visually, whether a development is making a significant impact, or not. It is, of course, normal for opinions to vary. It is often a subjective matter. What strikes this writer as, dare I say, nonsense, is determining whether a building on the landscape is significantly visually negative based upon (an interpretation of) the rules in an obscure planning guidance document.

But hey, maybe that’s just me.

Last Updated: Saturday 18 December 2021