The Parish of Stokenham, bounded by the black line on the map, covers the whole of the southern half of Start Bay, from Slapton Sands to Start Point and on to Lannacombe Beach. It encompasses the villages of Torcross, Beesands, Hallsands, Kellaton, Kernborough, Dunstone, Beeson and Chillington, as well as Stokenham itself, covers an area of some 20.6 square kilometres, and has a population of approximately 2,000.
The seven larger settlements and many smaller hamlets and farms are connected by miles of narrow country lanes, byways, bridleways and footpaths. The main arterial route in and out of the parish is the A379, which runs north to Dartmouth and west to Kingsbridge. This route is serviced by the First Western National Bus Company, with connections available to Plymouth (change for Derriford Hospital), Salcombe, Dartmouth, Totnes (our nearest main line railway station) and Exeter. The parish also enjoys the service of The Coleridge Bus, a community bus providing weekly runs from outlying areas to Kingsbridge. There are airports at Plymouth and Exeter.
Following extensive local consultation, your parish council yesterday submitted the following response to the JLP:
Housing Demand Forecast
Stokenham Parish Council remains unconvinced by the rationale behind the numbers in the housing demand forecast, in light of the continuing absence of a rebuttal to the authoritative and detailed critique provided by former SHDC Councillor Mark Lawrence.
In particular, we query the applied vacancy rate of 14.8%, which implies that 11% of homes built will be second homes. We do not see why we should be filling our villages with second homes, which have been conclusively demonstrated to lead not to the improvement of communities, but to their impoverishment, breaking the “golden thread” of sustainability.
We dispute the rationale behind the 25% market uplift, the maximum allowable, that has been applied to the numbers to calculate the Overall Assessed Need. The idea that simply building more houses will make them more affordable is wrongheaded: no amount of extra building in the desirable villages and coastal settlements will bring house prices there down to affordable levels. On the contrary, the developers will simply sit on the land until they get the price they want. This classic example of what used to be called “voodoo economics” has the effect of inflating “demand” in the South Hams by a massive 824 dwellings.
We strongly object to the allocation of an extra 900 dwellings to the “Thriving Towns and Villages” of South Hams as a result of a deficit in the supply of TTV homes in West Devon, because forecasts made last year and upon which the proposed JLP allocations were made have turned out to be erroneous.
In the light of the above, we reject the allocations made for the “local centre” of Chillington and Stokenham. We are prepared to accept a much smaller allocation, consisting of a number of small-scale developments in both villages.
Key requirements for development in Stokenham and Chillington
Stokenham and Chillington are prime visitor destinations, and highly dependent on the tourist trade; accordingly, any development must enhance and protect their appeal to visitors and holidaymakers. Any such development must also be contained by and measured against their:
Social capacity – growth in the settlements must be gradual, so as not to lose, damage, or destroy the identity of the villages and their surroundings;
Economic capacity – there must be sufficient local jobs to ensure a stable economy, together with adequate transport facilities, including for pedestrians and cyclists;
Environmental capacity – this includes the provision of adequate surface water drainage that prevents damage to existing properties; sewerage capacity that does not cause overflow problems, and roads that can cope with both current and future requirements;
Checklist for development in the South Hams AONB
1. The presumption in favour of sustainable development does not apply to a site in the AONB, or affecting the setting of the AONB; (NPPF, Paragraph 14, Footnote (9), and see various appeal decision that confirm the above, inter alia R (Mevagissey PC) v Cornwall Council, 2013)
2. There must be a proven residual housing requirement that is specific to meeting local needs within an AONB that cannot be met outside the AONB, or on previously developed land within the AONB.
3. Paragraph 115 of the NPPF states that “great weight” should be given to the conserving landscape and scenic beauty.
4. Paragraph 116 recommends that planning permission should be refused for major developments “except in exceptional circumstances and where it can be demonstrated that they are in the public interest.”
These are extremely onerous tests and they have not been met in the following instances.
The arguments against the proposed development behind Green Park Way have been well rehearsed, and the Parish Council maintains its objection to this as a designated site for reasons stated before, namely:
Drainage Flows from high ground to the north overwhelm the drains on the way down, pooling in the centre of the village, causing misery for residents and contaminating the groundwater with with sewage overflow. Further hard landscaping at the source of these springs and natural watercourses will only exacerbate the existing problems. Footnote 9 to paragraph 14 of the NPPF specifically excludes locations at risk of flooding from the presumption in favour of sustainable development. Paragraph 103 states that planning authorities should only consider development in areas at risk of flooding “where it can be demonstrated that development is appropriately flood resilient and resistant.” The latest iteration of the drainage plan fails to demonstrate this. It contains no provision for the long-term oversight and management of the system, leaving residents of the village at the mercy of any future failure.
Transport The requirement to “make the fullest possible use of public transport, walking and cycling” called for in Para 17 of the NPPF has been ignored. Pedestrian and cycle access to the site is very poor: although much is made of it in the plans, the narrow width of Port Lane and Coleridge Lane means that access will be ruled out on safety grounds except through the main vehicular entrance on Green Park Way. The residential travel plan called for by the National Planning Policy Guidance is long on soft measures, including the bus voucher scheme that is the butt of many jokes in the village, but, crucially, lacks the sort of hard measures – the provision of footpaths, cycleways and bus stops – that might have actually made a difference. Here again, the development fails the test of sustainability.
Setting Future generations will struggle to comprehend why this development is located in a pristine Devon field, in a site affecting the setting of the AONB, and viewable from the many footpaths that criss-cross it. As a site it fails every one of the tests set by the NPPF in the Checklist of Development in the AONB above. Shame on SHDC for promoting it.
Local opinion Villagers have rejected this site with unprecedented unanimity every time they have been asked. This was made clear in the pre-plan response to proposed allocated sites consultation of last summer; again in January; again at the OPP meeting in March. Villagers feel betrayed by an LPA that will not listen to their concerns.
Chillington has had 62 new houses in the past 5 years. Many of these are still vacant, for reasons that are not difficult to understand: there is simply no local market for homes costing in excess of £285,000, which – with a 10% mortgage and on a standard multiplier of x 5 times salary – would require a salary of over £50,000 to purchase. So any notion that these houses are being build to satisfy local demand is clearly nonsensical.
As with Chillington above, Parish Council shares villagers’ dismay at the course of events that has led to the allocation of sites in Stokenham. Having (at the request of SHDC) organized several Parish meetings in summer 2016 to discuss the emerging Local Plan; and having diligently collected residents’ opinions on the proposed sites and encouraged them to send their own views to the LPA; and having presented such views to the LPA, we were gobsmacked (really the only applicable expression) to see that the villagers’ preferred site for development behind Holbrook Terrace has been ignored, while that at Carehouse Cross, which local opinion considers is in every respect inferior, has been preferred. This has led the good burghers of Stokenham to conclude that the consultation is a sham. To quote one elderly resident at April’s packed Parish Council meeting: “Why do they keep asking us what we think if they’re just to going to ignore what we tell them?”
It is our conclusion that the Joint Local Plan is a great opportunity gone to waste. It has been starved of time, resources and senior management attention, with the result that:
Far from the unique opportunity for collaborative partnership that was heralded, it has revealed itself as another top-down planning exercise with the usual vested interests at heart, and will leave Council Tax payers feeling jaded and disheartened.
At a rate of £1,500 per house built times 10,000 houses, the New Homes Bonus that will follow from approval of the Joint Local Plan is worth £15 million to South Hams District Council. Parishioners will draw their own conclusions.
Stokenham Parish Council
Dr Sarah Wollaston MP discusses the situation at Torcross with officials from the Environment Agency at a site meeting with residents
After weeks of worry and concern, some clarity was finally achieved at a meeting on Monday 15 February, when Sarah Wollaston, together with Environment Agency staff, officers from Devon County Council, and district and parish councillors, met residents to discuss a proposed way forward after the damage caused by recent storms to the sea defences at Torcross. Apart from the obvious signs of damage, including the collapsed sea wall, which forced the closure of the A379, locals told tales of cracks appearing in their houses, and of sleepless nights broken by terrifying vibrations as huge waves hit the exposed sheet pilings along the water's edge.
Officials from the Environment Agency, who own the sea wall, explained that movement in the wall had caused the construction joints in the concrete to open, leaving gaps of up to 30mm along the full length of the structure. In the short term the EA are proposing to place rock armour in front of the wall and have already secured funding for this, but this would only be a temporary measure – a longer term solution will have to await detailed engineering reports, which will attempt to find out what is going on underneath the wall. This, in turn, is made more complicated by the possible presence of unexploded ordinance in the area, which rules out the usual methods of surveying, most of which rely on drilling – obviously not an option if there's likely to be an unexploded mine in the drill site. In short, it is a complicated and delicate process. When asked for a timeframe for the survey and repairs, the official said that teams were being mobilized as he spoke and that it would be "days, not months" before things started happening.
In the meantime, the A379 would be reopened to light traffic via a diversion through the car park and, in response to complaints that 3,500 people had been left without bus transport, a replacement shuttle bus service has been organized, with seven return journeys a day between Kingsbridge and Torcross (see The Bus is Back! below).
Asked by residents for a longer-term outlook, and in particular whether the Powers that Be had given up on Torcross and the maintenance of the Slapton Line, Dr Wollaston reiterated that the official position was to "hold the line" until at least 2030. Householders concerned that their homes might not be in a safe condition were advised to contact Devon Building Control on 01626 215793 to arrange for a surveyor to advise them. Building owners would need to make their own arrangements with regard to damage that clearly does not pose a risk to safety.