Meeting : 3rd July 2014
A meeting of the Stour Valley Action Group was held in Little Horkesley Village Hall on July 3rd 2014. It was attended by approximately 100 people. The minutes are available on the Newsletter page.
The Appeal Decision
SVAG is delighted to confirm that the Inspector has decided to dismiss the appeal against the decision of the Colchester Borough Council to refuse permission for the Horkesley Park development and the Secretary of State has upheld the Inspector’s decision. A copy of the decision can be viewed (pdf 1Mb).
It is to be hoped that after many years of opposition this ill-conceived development has finally been laid to rest.
We have been advised by the Planning Inspectorate that the inquiry is now closed and the Inspector is preparing his report and recommendation for submission to the Secretary of State for his consideration. They further advise that the Secretary of State will issue his decision on or before 6th May 2014.
The Planning Inquiry into the appeal by Buntings against the decision reached by Colchester Borough Council to reject their Planning Application for Horkesley Park was held from October 1st to 4th in the Langham Community Centre and on site.
The latest newsletter gives details
The Appeal is a Recovered Appeal which means that the Inspector will make his recommendation known only to the Secretary of State who will decide the outcome. This decision will be made known early in 2014.
Further to our Newsletter of September 5th 2013, there has been a major change in the Inquiry programme. Buntings have notified the Inspectorate that they will rely on their written ‘Proofs’ only and will not be represented at the Inquiry. Their full statement is shown below.
The Inquiry will start on October 1st and will take place in Langham Community Centre. The times are 10am to 4pm. It will now last only four days. There will also be an extensive site visit. Further details and times in the latest newsletter.
The following statement was filed by the appellant and appears on the CBC web page dated 24 September 2013:
I write to inform you that the Appellant, Bunting & Sons, is unable to have legal representation and witnesses at the Inquiry and that the submitted evidence should be treated as written submissions. These written submissions, together with the Planning Application and all of the associated documents amount to the full extent of the Appellant’s evidence.
This is a regrettable situation that Bunting & Sons finds itself in having spent over 12 years and invested several million pounds on the Planning Application for the Stour Valley Visitor Centre at Horkesley Park. However funds for this pre-development phase have been exhausted and Bunting & Sons regrettably is not in a position to appoint legal representation at the Inquiry. Provided that planning permission is granted additional funds will be released to complete the agreed development and enable delivery of the benefits of the proposals. It is intended that with the permission of the Inspector Collins & Coward, on behalf of Bunting & Sons, will make a short opening statement concerning this matter on the
first day of the inquiry followed by which no further oral statements or evidence will be submitted on behalf of the Appellant. Bunting & Sons understands that the Inspector will fully review the evidence that has been submitted and believes that the
Proposals, the Environmental Impact Assessments, studies and other submissions of expert evidence address all matters fully. The far-reaching professional environmental assessments and other studies undertaken by the independent
specialists confirm that what is proposed will be beneficial across the board, with nosignificant adverse effects.
It is the intention of the parties, the LPA and the Appellant, to seek to mutually agree a set of conditions and planning obligations. The planning obligations will be subject to a Section 106 agreement or in the absence of such an agreement in a Unilateral Undertaking.
The Pre Inquiry Meeting (PIM)
The Pre Inquiry Meeting (PIM) took place on June 27th in Colchester Town Hall. We attended this meeting on behalf of SVAG. The Meeting was conducted by the appointed Inspector, Mr Colin Ball who set out the timetable for the Inquiry. See Newsletters page for more details
The Inspector directed that the Business Plan, which has hitherto been redacted, should be made available in the Public Domain within two weeks of the PIM.
The Inquiry will take place in Langham Community Centre except for the last two or three days which will take place in Colchester Town Hall. There will also be an extensive site visit. Click to view a copy of the Inspector’s notes of this meeting - this shows that a day and a half has been allocated for third party objectors including SVAG.
The Application was rejected by the Colchester Borough Council Planning Committee on Thursday 28 February by 10 votes to 4.
The Charter Hall was packed with 400 or so NO campaigners who stayed until nearly 11pm to see the vote after lengthy deliberations. Click to view photos.
Reasons for rejection were primarily the following: lack of viability and sustainability, harm to the Dedham Vale and the fact that the application goes against the LDF. We await the publication of detailed reasons by the Council. It was clear that several of the councillors on the planning committee were concerned about the viability of the proposal and were not prepared to support it without seeing details of the business plan which had been withheld by the applicant under his confidentiality agreement. They were not prepared to take the officers position ‘on trust’ on this key issue
The applicants immediately stated that they would consider going to appeal. If they do decide to take this course of action, SVAG will do every thing it can to support the Council in its defence of its decision.
Watch this space for further news of the Council’s refusal document.
Colchester Borough Council has announced that the
Planning Committee meeting to decide
the Horkesley Park Application
will be held on 28th February
in the Charter Hall, Colchester
CBC planning officers have published their recommendation on their HP page. As predicted, they recommend in favour of the application. We note immediately that the planning officers make it clear that the application is not in accordance with the Colchester Development Plan but then go on to recommend approval. In many places they say that councillors must be satisfied that the plan is 'deliverable' for them to consider approval. We contend most forcefully that it is not deliverable and we are supported in this contention by the latest Britton McGrath document.
We have studied this 300 page document carefully and have sent a brief and straightforward document to all borough councillors so that they can be informed of our arguments well in advance of the meeting. Click to view the Document to Councillors (pdf 1.3Mb)
North Essex MP Bernard Jenkin has submitted his views on the proposal and CBC planning officers recommendation. In his letter, he states: "he would feel compelled to press the Secretary of State to "call in" the application for a full public enquiry if councillors give it approval". Click to view his letter (pdf 788Kb)
OUR ADDITIONAL RESPONSES ARE GIVEN BELOW, INCLUDING SVAG COUNSEL’S ADVICE ON THE APPLICATION AND ON THE PROCESS BY WHICH IT HAS BEEN CONDUCTED
CBC’S OWN APPRAISALS OF THE APPLICATION
CBC has (belatedly) released into the public domain the following reports on the proposal by independent consultants, commissioned by them at ratepayers’ expense, and also the response of their own Planning Policy team. These reports are highly critical of the proposal and its potential impact.
The Policy Response is easy to access, dated 21 December 2012, on the CBC Horkesley Park page
The three independent consultants’ reports, from Britton McGrath Associates, Vectos, and Nathaniel Lichfield, were not released until after an FOI request had been submitted on 7 January 2013. They were released in a most unhelpful form, dispersed through numerous files, but can be found with determination on the CBC application page filed as Background Papers on 7 Jan 2013 and headed Independent Project Review parts 1-14. Just below, filed on 11 Jan, are the interesting addenda to the BMA Evaluation.
On 15th February, four days after the date for submission of final responses, a further BMA report (dated 12th Feb) appeared on CBC website, secreted among Background Papers. PLEASE TAKE A LOOK AT THIS. It would appear that the council’s independent consultants have been placed under substantial pressure to find reason to give credibility to a flawed application.
SVAG has written in response to the new BMA report, as have others. It is our belief that both the consultants and the planning officers involved have compromised their credibility and their claims to independence and impartiality. Others have written independently:
Stour Valley Action Group (pdf 97Kb)
Nayland and Wissington Conservation Society (pdf 16Kb)
Simon Taylor (pdf 58Kb)
The Stour Valley Visitor Centre at Horkesley Park
Why We Object
The Stour Valley Visitor Centre at Horkesley Park would occupy 117.16 acres on the edge of and spilling into the Dedham Vale AONB. Buildings will have a total covered area of 8950 sq m. It will contain a wide variety of “countryside” and “heritage” attractions, visitor centre, shop, eating and refreshment areas.
The Attraction will be entirely ‘gated’ with entrance fees ranging from £9.45 for children in groups to £14.95 for an individual adult. It is claimed that it will attract 316,250 visitors a year, the large majority of whom will travel by car.
If you want to know more about the extraordinary variety of attractions it promises to have on offer in this currently quiet spot in the open countryside, read for yourself Bunting and Sons’ own presentation on the Horkesley Park website, or see CBC website application no 120965.
SVAG’s objections are given in full in the formal responses to which you can find links above.
We object on grounds of:
- NEED: There is no need for any of the elements of Horkesley Park. All that it promises is already available in East Anglia, often for free. This tourist attraction does not have the regional significance it claims.
- THE AONB: the development would irreparably damage the peace and tranquillity of the Dedham Vale AONB and change its character forever. We owe it to those who had the vision to create the AONB and to future generations not to put it at risk by permitting this commercial exploitation.
- TRAFFIC: The Application fails to deal adequately with the additional load on minor roads and villages such as Nayland which could well become swamped in peak summer months.
- VIABILITY: analysis of Buntings’ documents suggests that visitor numbers are significantly overstated and they have assumed very high entrance fees by comparison with other attractions. We contend that the project is almost certainly not viable. If consent were to be given and the project were to fail, it would be very difficult for the Council to resist future pressure for permission for further retail development and commercial exploitation.
- EMPLOYMENT: because we do not believe that the project can be viable, we do not accept the claim that it will create 106.5 full-time-equivalent jobs. Guarantee of job creation is not embodied in any way in the draft Section 106 Agreement.
- RETAIL: The retail space in the latest proposal has been reduced from the previous proposal and is now said to be entirely ‘ancillary’. However there is nothing to stop Buntings using any of the other covered space for retail activities at some point in the future. And we believe they will need to because the numbers simply don’t add up. We are of the view that this is primarily a ‘for profit’ retail development in spite of the reduction in retail space compared with the previous Application. This is unacceptable in a rural location.
- PLANNING POLICY: we believe that this project goes against national and local planning policy
For the history of this application see the Background page