Alphin House Press Release
Lack Of Transparency In Local Planning Applications
I wonder how many local residents are aware of the lack of information given in some planning applications listed on the Exeter City Council planning website, as well as the fact that this website is inadequate because many documents do not open in Google Chrome and one is advised to use another browser. Also while writing a comment or objection to a planning application, one is suddenly timed out without any warning and the script is lost.
The particular case that I have brought to the attention of the Deputy Head of Planning, Andy Robbins, is that of the totally unsuitable development of a former residential home called Alphin House, situated in a narrow country lane off Church Road in Alphington. Plans were submitted originally last October in two phases, first for a conversion to include 22 new homes and the second for three further three-bedroom homes in the grounds, as well as a bungalow for a disabled person. It was not clear to the public that there were two different phases, so objectors mainly responded to Phase 1, although their comments refer to the whole development, mainly because of the very dangerous access along Mill Lane.
This narrow lane, a designated cycle route, is used twice daily during term time by children of all ages walking and cycling to and from three different schools – Alphington Pre-primary and Primary, plus West Exe Secondary School. Parents often have smaller children in pushchairs, which can take up most of the road, as there is no pavement at present. There are also of course old people and residents who walk to the local shops and surgery along this road regularly, often with dogs. It is already a dangerous route owing to cars trying to get in and out of private driveways or parents parking where there is nowhere safe to park, and there have been three traffic-related incidents in Mill Lane in the last two years.
The unclear revised plans recently submitted have a pavement added, but only for part of the way, as it is too narrow to have one between the bridge and Chapel Road, so Devon County Council has apparently proposed that pedestrians go into the adjoining playing fields on the other side of a hedge in order to avoid traffic, but what other dangers might there be there on a dark, wet night? This suggestion is outrageous and just proves how little our councils care about the safety of their residents! The Mill Lane access to the Pre-primary and Primary schools is relatively safe at present compared to the main Ide Lane access, where the pavements are narrow and the road busy with two-way traffic, including buses every ten minutes, and few places to park or drop off kids. The school is also full to capacity with over 400 students.
One of the latest deceptions is that the original plans stated that Alphin House would only be available to buyers over age 55, but now this restriction has apparently been lifted without anybody being informed. There is no reference to this change on the planning portal, yet several objectors including myself had requested that the age be increased to 65 or even 70 in order to avoid having working people living there, who would drive through Mill Lane and onto the already congested Church Road in the rush hour just when at least 130 school children and adults are walking or cycling to school. Obviously the councils are assuming the 40 or more new residents are all going to cycle or go by bus despite the fact that their place of work may be miles away in the opposite direction! This must be why 32 bicycle and only 22 car spaces have been included in the plans, thus causing chaos with cars parked goodness knows where, as there is no space for them in Mill Lane or anywhere else in the village. On top of all this chaos, 13 new flats are currently being built in Chapel Road on the corner of Mill Lane and Church Road, with 13 car spaces for 21 potential residents and little on-street parking.
In addition, there is also the South West Exeter development of 2,500 new houses planned for Alphington village and beyond towards Exminster, covering all the large arable fields and attractive landscape, yet Dave Black, Head of DCC Planning, Transportation and Environment, told local residents recently that this will not make the local traffic problem any worse! Hundreds of cars come along Chudleigh and Chapel Road in Alphington’s Conservation Area daily and there are often long tail-backs, especially when there is an accident on the M5 or elsewhere. When Alphin House and the new flats are fully occupied, there could be an extra 50 or more cars trying to exit Mill Lane and join the queues in the morning rush hour!
Despite our requests, there was no Highways Report on the revised planning portal (now on there) or a new Flood Risk Assessment (as the page has an error!). It has been suggested by one of the objectors that “There is potential for a conflict of interest on the part of Devon County Council in this application in that the land/building proposed for redevelopment is understood to be owned by DCC as is the responsibility for Mill Lane (Highways). It could be argued that no highway/access objection would be raised by DCC if there is a vested interest in selling the property. Evidence of an unbiased assessment by DCC of the access via Mill Lane should be required.”
I wrote to Chief Planner, Andy Robbins last October to make a formal complaint about the lack of transparency in the way in which ECC informs the public about planning applications, but have still had no response, despite being promised one. My complaint included the fact that the initial consultation period for the Alphin House development was done during the school holidays, so the parents were unaware of it, and the one and only planning notice disappeared very quickly. Very few of the residents living in the area were informed of the plans nor was the Alphington Village Forum. As far as we know, no official counts of pedestrians and cyclists has yet been undertaken during term time, and one for traffic was done right at the end of the summer term when many students were on field trips or had finished exams.
The original Highways report stated that the traffic on Mill Lane would not be any worse than it was when Alphen House was a residential home (but now strangely the revised Highways report says it will be doubled!). I suspect it will be trebled at least. Is this sort of bluffing by our local councils really considered by them to be fair and democratic practice?
Juliet Meadowcroft (AVF Chairman)