A large number of residents turned out last Saturday, and braved the treacherous roads to make a strong statement to the decision makers of the Staffordshire Moorlands.
It is clear from the structure of the application and from earlier evidence provided by Officers of the Applicants that it is intended that this application is not a free- standing application but a part of a future wider scheme that the Applicants intend to make to develop Moneystone Quarry as a tourist leisure park. The representations made below and any decisions or recommendations reached by Planning Officers and/or the Planning Committee of Staffordshire Moorlands District Council should be viewed against that wider context.
In so far as the extant application does not set out the detail of that larger application it is submitted that it will be impossible for application SMD/2014/0682 to demonstrate compliance with the detailed provisions of the Authorities Core Strategy Policies and the contents and principles embodied in the Churnet Valley Master Plan [CVMP]. Neither does it demonstrate compliance with the principles of The Aarhus Convention Treaty so far as it relates to the Environment and/or Health, nor to the NPPF and the principles of the Localism Act 2011.
In the representations made below it should be noted that where appropriate they quote the CVMP and as applicable identify the relevant paragraphing. Emphasis has been added as appropriate.
1. The failures referred to below affects the human rights of those entitled to make representations and protect their rights under the Human Rights Act to a family life. The actions of the SMDC planning officers in entering into a prolonged and secret series of meetings with the applicants from approximately 2009 up to the present day and a refusal to disclose the details of those meetings amount to a denial of essential information that undermines the human rights of residents who would wish to make informed decisions about the present application and the linked application SMD/2014/0432.
It is noted that [quote] ‘A number of meetings with the Local Planning Authority [LPA] at varying levels have already taken place and these representations follow these discussions.’ [ HOW letter 22/01/2010 to Head of Regeneration Services SMDC]. The same letter states ‘We are aware that the Core Strategy for the Staffordshire Moorlands is now in an advanced stage and that a consultation exercise was undertaken on the Submission Version of the Core Strategy in May/June 2009. Whilst the Core Strategy is at an advanced stage, we are very keen for the Core Strategy to provide sufficient flexibility to enable the Moneystone Quarry site to come forward for future redevelopment without having to overcome significant policy boundaries which may be set by the Core Strategy.’ At page 2 of the letter it says ‘ The overall intention of the representations is…to promote Moneystone Quarry as a potential tourism and recreational hub…..‘ It is plain that Planning Officers ‘at varying levels’ have written the SMDC Core Strategy [and it is submitted the subsequent CVMP] in a manner that is both secret and intended to advocate the application[s] now made. As such these actions fall outside of the principle role of planning officers, acting as public servants [see SMDC Constitution] to act in the best interests of the public they serve and not to advocate for the private commercial interests of an applicant in ways that the evidence demonstrates. It is submitted that such actions demonstrate a clear intention to harm the human rights of residents.
2. The application is in breach of the provisions of the SMDC Core Strategy and the Churnet Valley Master Plan as set out more particularly herein.
3. The Application is governed, inter alia, by the provisions of the Aarhus Convention Treaty and its direct applicability in English Law under European Law, specifically in relation to any issues of the environment and/or health and is not so compliant.
4. The development site is part of the ‘rich and varied cultural heritage, the development of which has been greatly influenced by the diverse landscape and geology of the area’ and is part of ‘this unique rural historic character that has been mapped as part of the Staffordshire Historic Landscape Characterisation project 2006’ [see para 2.0.7 CVMP 2014]. As such it should be protected by the principles enshrined in the Core Strategy and the CVMP and not developed in the way proposed by this application. The site is also a ‘Special Landscape Area’ and when restored in accordance with the extant restoration plan will be a green field site. In 1996 the then quarry owners working with SCC Mineral Authority on a restoration scheme in a document entitled ‘The restoration vision’ promised residents that ‘ Our aim was to come up with an exciting plan which allowed progressive restoration of older working areas to blend them with the surrounding landscape and to create a variety of new habitats for plants and wildlife‘. We are looking at the possibility of a bat cave once the tunnel on site has become redundant’. The vision continued to stress that the site should not be ‘left with an alien landscape which would not be in keeping with the surrounding Staffordshire countryside.’ It is submitted that the current proposed development plans would produce just such an alien landscape. Residents are entitled to expect that they will get what they have been promised for very many years.
5. To grant the present application would be, or would inevitably result in, a breach of the Development and Management Principles set out in the provisions of paragraphs 8.1, 8.2, 8.3 and 8.4 of the CVMP more specifically set out herein.
Under a heading of ‘A Vision for the Churnet Valley’ at paragraph 4.1, SMDC acknowledges the Churnet Valley [of which Moneystone is an integral part] [is] ‘high quality landscape which is treasured by both the communities who live and work in the area and visitors to it. It will sustain its unique qualities of a diverse and varied environment which is rich in wildlife, heritage, landscape and tourist attractions’ and ‘will be [and already is] widely recognised, locally, regionally and nationally for its high quality landscape and its heritage and wildlife interest’. On the basis that what is not broken should not be fixed it is submitted that to grant the current application would be in breach of the Authorities own policies and it’s commitment to protect the Churnet Valley.
8.Para.2.1.1 CVMP [The] Weakness of promoting this development;
- ‘lack of physical linkages’
- ‘reliance on the private motor car due to the rural nature of the area, limited capacity of the highway network which is of poor standard ………. congestion at peak times [especially at nearby Alton Towers] due to visitor traffic.’
- ‘The rural nature of the area limits the opportunities for physical transport improvements and reduces the viability of new services.’
- ‘Limited access by public transport’
- ‘Topography and physical barriers can be [and are] restrictive to movement.’
- Lack of maintenance of heritage assets.’
- ‘Narrowness of [the] lanes.’
- The application site is ‘not an existing coherent visitor destination.’
- ‘Future development at Moneystone Quarry would cause loss of small scale landscape features further affecting the character of the local landscape.‘
- There are ‘biodiversity sites in close proximity which could potentially be vulnerable to future change.’ This is particularly the case as evidence shows that the Applicants have proved poor ‘stewards’ of the site allowing the deterioration of the Whiston Eaves SSSI, neglected the hydrology of the site, failed to provide bat, bird and badger surveys, failed to meet the criteria required by Natural England with regard to the Great Crested Newts and the European sand lizards present on the site.
- Planned and already extant expansion at Alton Towers Resort ‘may have an adverse impact’ on the road net work to and from the site and it is the stated ambition of the Applicants to link in to the Alton Towers Resort market.
- ‘Environmental sensitivity such as the Whiston Eaves SSSI.’ It is noted here that the requirement to maintain the ground water levels at the SSSI [which is a condition attaching to the land restoration applicable to extant planning permissions] is not currently being honoured. [For fuller details see letter dated 3/10/14 from Matthew Griffin SCC Planning, Policy and Enforcement of the many failings and non-compliance.]
- ‘Potential increased pressure on natural resources from [the] development.’
- ‘Sensitivity of [the] heritage asset of the Proposed development.’
Identified Challenges Paragraph 5.1.6 CVMP
- The CVMP notes in the evidence base to its CS and the CVMP that ‘there is little evidence of sustainable tourism being adopted [by the tourism industry].’ That being so the current application is unlikely to be ‘sustainable’ and as that is a requirement of the Localism Act 2011 and the N.P.P.F. there is no proper evidential basis upon which to grant this particular application. It should also be noted that the quoted comments are formally part and parcel of the SMDC’ CS and CVMP and must therefore be complied with.
- The same documentation notes that ‘Selling sustainability to business [such as the Applicant] and consumers purely on environmental grounds has not worked.’
- N.B. It should also be noted that the Aarhus Convention Treaty is binding in English Law on environmental and health issues and that the current application is non-compliant with its provisions.
- ‘An alternative to car based tourism is a challenge.’ It should be noted that the Chief Executive of SMDC signed off on an official report that stated the Staffordshire Moorlands exceeded the national average of CO2 emissions. The current application is bound to add to an increase of such emissions being dependent as it is [and shown on the face of the application and further acknowledged by the Applicants limiting the current outline application to issues of access] on an increased use of the private motor car.
Paragraph 5.1.14 ETC. CVMP
- The CVMP is committed to the ‘Overarching principle of sustaining and enhancing the natural, built and historic environmental quality of the area, its settlements and hinterland.’ If that is truly the case it will reject this application as being non-compliant with that ‘overarching principle’.
- How does the application demonstrate that it ‘ensures that [the] communities of [Moneystone, Whiston and Oakamoor] are at the heart of the future of the CV,’ when those communities have expressed in the clearest possible terms that they reject the applicant’s proposals. It demonstrates that the applicants have no intention of putting the views of those communities before their own narrow, selfish commercial interests.
- How would granting the application demonstrate ‘respect, enhance and protect [this] positive aspect of the CV?’ It does not do so.
- The Special Landscape Area that is the application site once restored in accordance with the statutory restoration scheme is a ‘sustaining and enhancing existing assets of the CV and its ‘qualities help make the area unique.’ On the other hand the application seeks to destroy those assets and is therefore contrary to the policies of the CVMP and the CS.
- The application does not ‘ensure the nature and scale of development it proposes is appropriate to its locality.’ It is not and the policy goes on to state that ‘this means limited OR NO development is appropriate for this part of the CV.’
- Granting this application would destroy and not ‘support existing local enterprises’. On the other hand, if granted this application would ‘cause harm to the essential qualities of landscape, ecology [and] heritage.’
- The CVMP contains the provision that its policy will ‘only permit ‘minimal change……..to protect sensitive areas.’ This application amounts to the planned destruction of a Special Landscape Area and its established sensitive areas. To grant the application would amount to a breach of ‘the KEY REQUIREMENT OF THE [CVMP] POLICY’ and as such it should be rejected.
- The application does not demonstrate ‘a strong emphasis on supporting [the existing] heritage.’ It should be rejected.
- The application shows that it has a ‘significant shortfall in terms of the environmental impact and in particular the impact on the need to travel and [the] potential to increase the use of the private car.’ As a result it does not meet the test of ‘sustainable appraisal of options’ that are part of the underpinning evidential base of the CS and the CVMP.
- To grant this application would not demonstrate that SMDC was acting in accordance with its own expressed policy ‘to resist development which would be [and will be demonstrated to be] harm[ful] to the character of the local landscape.’ Residents are entitled to expect that SMDC will uphold this policy.
Paragraph 6.8.4 TRANSPORT
- ‘There is to be identification of key transport nodes from which to travel by more sustainable modes, with improvements where necessary to car parking.’ [N.B. This is a future requirement and it is noted that the area of Moneystone, Oakamoor, Whiston Frogall and Kingsley is to be the subject of a detailed and separate traffic survey that yet to be commenced but has already been agreed. Until it has been done and the findings are applied to the Transport Policy it would amount to a breach of residents human rights. They have been given an express commitment in the CVMP that this process will be undertaken.
- The CVMP provides that ‘it aims to conserve, enhance and celebrate the heritage of an area of high landscape value’. To grant the current application would be a breach of that policy.
- ‘The sensitivity of the landscape, biodiversity, heritage and access issues are major factors and the key focus should be on conserving and enhancing the landscape and biodiversity of the area’. The current application does not meet the provisions of this policy and should be rejected.
Paragraph 6.5. CONSTRAINTS
- The CVMP policy is to ‘ensure development does not generate unacceptable volumes of traffic on the existing road net work and that major highway works are avoided.’ This application would breach that policy.
- The development ‘is unacceptable to the vast majority of locals.’ [It is noted that over a period substantially in excess of one year the applicants have failed to engage with Staffordshire County Council Highways Department about concerns that the Highway Department have expressed about the applicants plans for the site so far as it relates to traffic congestion issues. This unwillingness has contributed to the view of locals that the application is ‘unacceptable’]
- The application does not ‘Promote the use of sustainable modes of transport to reach the site’.
- The development is not ‘in-keeping with the scale and nature of the [existing] landscape character.’ Nor does it ‘ensure that any future development is located in a way that does not impinge on the small scale landscape or the open visible landscape.’
- The application is not as required by the CVMP ‘low key’ and ‘of a nature, character and style that is intrinsic to the character of the area.’ The area is of open farm and meadow land and it is noted that extant planning conditions attaching to adjacent land owned by the applicants require it to be restored to meadow land. The applicants are already substantially in breach of that requirement.
- The application does not contain ‘active conservation of the site to protect the SSSI’ and the applicants duty to meet the water table at the SSSI is not being met.
- The application fails to meet the requirement that ‘the protection and enhancement of the natural beauty of the CV IS THE OVER RIDING REQUIREMENT OF ANY DEVELOPMENT’
- Further the application proposal and associated infrastructure measures are/will be ‘detrimental to the sensitive ecology and geology of the area.’ [ SCC Environmental Officer has already raised concerns about adjacent sensitive areas]
- Cotton College is a ‘designated heritage asset’ and in accordance with SMDC policy it ‘shall be protected and maintained in a good state of repair.’ The current application is very likely to cause harm to parts of this heritage asset. It should be rejected.
- The application fails to meet [any] ‘appropriate degree of evaluation and/or mitigation commensurate to the level of impact and significance of the heritage asset.’ The above referred to letter from SCC date 3/10/14 lists some but not all of the ways in which this application will damage the Special Landscape Area which is a heritage asset.
- The application is antipathetic to the CVMP aim to ‘develop healthy sustainable communities.’
- As the applicants have failed over a prolonged period to engage with SCC Highways officials over their plans the application does not meet the policy requirements that ‘aim to support and increase sustainable travel means.’ Instead the application seeks to exacerbate already difficult traffic conditions. If granted the application would give rise to ‘excessive traffic that will harm the valued characteristics of [this part of] the CV.’ Neither does the application ‘seek to minimise the impact of traffic [in this] environmentally sensitive location.’
- The application fails to fit within the aims and aspirations of the Staffordshire Tourism Study  [STS 2011] that ‘seeks to take a co-ordinated planning and sustainable development approach.’ The STS 2011 is an evidential base for the SMDC Core Strategy and the CVMP and as such forms an integral part of those policy documents. The application has to be viewed in the context of SMDC’ binding obligation given to an Independent Inspector to revisit the CS again by 2016. and against its already adopted policy of seeking AONB status, a process in which it is already actively engaged. The STS 2011 recognises that ‘AONB status would be an ideal way to view matters.’ To ignore that approach and to grant this application in contravention of the principle STS 2011 sets out would, it is submitted, be a breach of human rights and ultra vires of SMDC’ powers.
- At a recent exhibition at Whiston Village Hall related to what was then the forthcoming application now SMD/2014/0682 to build a leisure complex at Moneystone Quarry, Mr. Peter Swallow, Director of the Applicant company, revealed that it is the intention of the Applicants to sell off a significant percentage [40% was mentioned] of the ‘lodges’ to private buyers. This amounts to the development of private dwellings in the Special Landscape Area and is contrary to the SMDC Core Strategy, the Churnet Valley Master Plan and the Strategic Housing Land Allocation [SHLAA] process.
A request for support from members of the public concerned about tourism related traffic congestion in the Staffordshire Moorlands.
Some of our councillors don’t appear to accept that existing levels of tourism generate considerable traffic issues at busy times in the Churnet Valley across a variety of routes and hot spot locations, including, Tittersworth, Rudyard, The Roches, Oakamoor and Alton. For some time now Whiston Action Group has been gathering video and photographic evidence of existing traffic congestion throughout the Churnet Valley, showing that encouragement of further traffic pressure on our fragile road infrastructure is inappropriate.
WAG intends to expand and develop the evidence base of what increased tourism is already doing to our roads in the Moorlands, and seeks the support of members of the public. In this day and age of mobile camera technology it is easy to take a photo of any clogged roads you see whilst you are out and about.
WAG asks that you miss no opportunity to take those photos AND IF YOU HAVE THE TECHNOLOGY TO DO SO SEND THE PICTURES DIRECTLY TO COUNCILLOR SYBIL RALPHS AND ANY OTHER COUNCILLORS YOU WANT.
Please keep a note of the date, time and venue of the photos and let WAG know so that the data can be collated. There will be no need to forward the pictures to WAG as long as you preserve your own copy in case it is needed later.
This is an ongoing project and applies throughout the Churnet Valley for the next twelve months. Your contribution can help WAG fight inappropriate council proposals that are likely to exacerbate an already unacceptable situation.
Whiston Action Group is staggered to see the inclusion of a proposed 250 holiday lodges on the former Moneystone Quarry site in the current draft Churnet Valley Masterplan. This has alarmed local residents who feel the small villages of Oakamoor and Whiston will be totally overwhelmed by thousands of visitors in a completely unsuitable location.
Planning officers, not councillors have come up with this number of lodges, which appears totally without evidential base and at odds with Councillor Sybil Ralphs dream of attaining AONB status for the Churnet Valley. Such large scale development is completely at odds with AONB designation, and may explain why Laver Leisure have demanded that SMDC delete its AONB aspirations!
Whiston Action Group’s Communication Officer, Nick Cresswell, said,
“250 lodges is ridiculous and makes a complete mockery of the AONB application. The Peak Park Planning Authority sets a maximum of 30 units per development, but SMDC planning officers consider the beautiful Churnet Valley to be so unimportant that they are prepared to propose a development more than 8 times this size. Officers have not contacted Staffordshire County Council Highways officers about this proposed development, yet there are huge safety risks involved in dealing with the volume of traffic this development would create, and Highways officers have advised us of the dangers of large volumes of traffic exiting Whiston Eaves Lane onto the A52. Entering the site from Oakamoor would be similarly hazardous.
During the consultation on the options for the Churnet Valley, residents gave a clear message that they wanted only minimal development. As is becoming the norm, the views of residents are being completely ignored, and council taxpayers are being treated with contempt. It begs the question “Why do SMDC have consultation at all?” In my view the process is not transparent and is a pro forma and a box ticking exercise that they carry out to meet statutory planning requirements, then if the answers do not suit the officers views and aspirations, are completely ignored”.
“The scale of the Moneystone development beggars belief. Our narrow country lanes can barely cope with the current level of traffic and this development could see as many as an extra 100,000 vehicle movements per year, which is simply not safe.”
“SMDC officers seem to have just plucked a number out of thin air, without any thought or regard for the safety of residents, or the impact it will have on our two villages.”
“Whiston Action Group urges SMDC councillors to seize back the initiative and demand a re-draft of this proposal so that the number of lodges reflects a genuine attempt to gain AONB status, and, for once, to reflect public opinion!”
WAG welcomes the following request from Karen Seaton of the Churnet Valley Conservation Society, seeking your support for a petition aimed at achieving Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty status for the Churnet Valley.
Karen Seaton CVCS Spokesperson says:
“We are not so sure that people are aware that the Staffordshire Moorlands District Council Core Strategy was recently rejected by the Government Inspector, who found more than 70% of the points within it to be unsound. We feel that there is a very serious risk that, with the council floundering to complete their strategy documents, time may slip away and we will miss this important opportunity to protect and recognize the valley. We are asking people to contact Staffordshire Moorlands District Council and support us in two requests we have made to them:
1. During the next public consultation phase for the Churnet Valley Master Plan include a simple question: Would you be in support of designating the area as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty?
2. Should it be apparent that the electorate of the area do wish to obtain this important designation for their area, that the District Council fully embraces the potential and opportunities AONB designation offers.
We are undertaking a four week long petition and contacting a range of people and organizations across the county asking that they support our call, and we are asking as many people as possible to contact their County, District, Town and Parish Councillors and ask them to pressurise Staffordshire Moorland District Council into action. “
The Churnet Valley Conservation Society would be happy to discuss this further and I would be pleased if you could support or campaign for the designation of the Valley as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The petition is available across the area in shops, libraries, pubs etc. An on-line petition may also be found at https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/staffordshire-moorlands-district-council-support-area-of-outstanding-natural-beauty-status-for-the-churnet-valley
Or follow the link from http://www.churnet-valley-conservation.org/
Councillor Elsie Fallows,
15 Sep 2012
Dear Councillor Fallows,
Churnet Valley – AONB Status
As you are aware Whiston Action Group (WAG) and the community at large as demonstrated by responses to the Options Report has concerns over the proposals to develop the Churnet Valley under the Core Strategy and Churnet Valley Master Plan.
One of the key factors in protecting the peace and tranquillity of the Churnet Valley is the issue of Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty status (AONB). SMDC’s current failure to actively support an application for AONB status is contrary to the widespread community support and conflicts with the view of other official organisations ready to initiate an application. SMDC is currently isolated, but has recently agreed to re-consider its position in the light of the concerns expressed by the public during the Options Report consultation. WAG trusts that you recognise AONB status as a key issue requiring your personal attention as a district councillor representing residents at the heart of the most beautiful part of the valley. You have a duty to protect our heritage from the excessive development that has been proposed in the Churnet Valley Options Report and we look to you to demonstrate to the community who elected you that you are at one with the overwhelming public response that is resistant to anything other than minimal development.
We understand that you have family land ownership declarations to make, but those matters do not preclude your active engagement in the debate to press home the views of the people you were elected to represent. We are encouraged by your recently reported view in opposition to the proposed erection of a massive wind turbine at Moneystone and trust that you will be equally enthusiastic in supporting AONB. Now is the time for you to act and to be seen to act. WAG and the vast majority of your Churnet Ward residents need re-assurance of your personal aims and goals on this important matter. We look forward to hearing from you.
Chairman of Whiston Action Group
Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
- WAG supports the significant public interest in declaring the Churnet Valley an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
- At present the District Council fails to recognise the public’s obvious enthusiasm.
- WAG supports Councillor Linda Malyon of Ipstones bidding for AONB status.
There is substantial pressure in the Staffordshire Moorlands for it to be declared an area of outstanding natural beauty. That pressure is often manifest in news stories and letters in the press and wider media. It has also been raised by residents at public and other meetings [e.g. meeting of SMDC Cabinet 15/11/2011] and is also to be found in written representations to SMDC e.g. submissions by Churnet Valley Conservation Society regarding the Core Strategy and Masterplan documentation and those of various residents including those of Mr Paul Denning with his comments on the Core Strategy Revision ref CSR/23 of 30 Jan 12 and CSR/62 of 2 Feb 12 who gives a lucid and well argued submission in support of the adoption of AONB status, which WAG endorses.
A careful analysis of the documentation in the public domain and the structure and language of that documentation, linked to personal testimony, gives a clear impression that SMDC planners have set their face against supporting a proposal that AONB status should be sought.
The language and reasoning arguing against seeking such a status is both illuminating and at the same time ‘unreasonable’ in the sense of the legal test of ‘reasonableness’. At a workshop meeting at the Nicholson Institute on 15th March 2011, following on from a ‘formatted school-like exercise’, a brief question and answer session was permitted. Mr John Higgins, a resident of Old Furnace/Oakamoor and a longstanding and ardent supporter of the desire to protect the special qualities of the Churnet Valley asked the panel of officers from SMDC why the Authority was not in support of an application for ANOB status. Two of those Officers where Mr Perry Wardle and Mr Gavin Clarke. Mr Clarke chose to answer Mr Higgins question. He is reliably reported as saying that ‘such a designation would be inappropriate because it would not be in the interest of the commercial enterprises that SMDC had been in discussion with and might restrict the plans SMDC had for the Churnet Valley’. Witnesses were startled at Mr Clarkes’ response and more so by the sharp kick delivered by Mr Wardle to the legs of Mr Clarke as he displayed such candour. So strong was the impression caused by this happening that at least one Councillor made a contemporaneous note of the happening. Other persons present testified to the facts of the incident shortly afterwards.
It should be noted that there are outstanding FOIA applications seeking to uncover the dates, times, details and written records of meetings between SMDC and representatives and commercial ‘Key Stakeholders’ spoken to or consulted with during the preparation of the Core Strategy Document or the CV Masterplan. It is noted in passing that the typed notes of the meeting of the 15/3/11 at the Nicholson Institute do not record the details or content of the question and answer session about AONB status. Before analysing further the commitment or otherwise of SMDC planners to supporting an application for AONB status it would be instructive to review the history of the documentation on this topic to avoid coming to a premature or erroneous conclusion.
- Para 6.12.6 of the report of the L.D.F. Working Party dated 9/2/2009 states ‘There is a suggestion that the Churnet Valley be designated as an AONB however this would clearly have significant implications for its future management and development. It is considered that it would be inappropriate at this stage for Council to give any commitment to such a move.’[ our emphasis]
- In a report to the Service Delivery Overview and Scrutiny Panel dated 9th.November 2011, SMDC Regeneration Services under the Regeneration Manager Mr Perry Wardle commenting upon the option to seek AONB status for the Churnet Valley opined, inter alia, that,
- The methodology used for assessing areas being considered for designation is complex.
- There are lengthy procedural requirements necessary to achieve AONB status.
- Resources are needed to manage AONB status and could be significant.
- Designation as an AONB would place an additional duty on the Local Authority to have regard to the purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the AONB when exercising or performing any function.
- AONB designation does not prevent development but gives the local authority greater scope to resist inappropriate development.
- Other options are available.
- If the above are considered together with the remarks made by Mr Gavin Clarke at the Nicholson Institute on 15th March 2011 and the evidence revealed by the letter of 22/1/2010 sent by HOW Planning LLP to the Head of Regeneration Services on behalf of Laver Leisure [Oakamoor] Ltd, evidence begins to emerge that the opposition demonstrated by the above documents may be motivated more by a level of commitment to those agencies and ‘Key Stakeholders’ whom, through their agents, began shaping the Core Strategy and the Churnet Valley Masterplan Options Report long before there was any public knowledge that the process was already underway.
If such is a reasonable interpretation of events, it sets in context the requests made by HOW Planning on behalf of its clients Laver Leisure [Oakamoor] Ltd. as long ago as 22/1/2010. It may be helpful in this factual analysis to remind ourselves of some of the salient points made in it, namely,
- ‘We are very keen for the Core Strategy to provide sufficient flexibility to enable the Moneystone Quarry site to come forward for future development without having to overcome significant policy boundaries which may be set in the Core Strategy’ [our additional emphasis].
- By 22/1/2010 there had taken place ‘A number of meetings with the Local Planning Authority at varying levels’.
- ‘It is therefore requested that the Core Strategy vision and objectives reflect the important* contribution to the wider area that can be gained from developing the Moneystone Quarry. Furthermore the emerging policies should incorporate sufficient flexibility to allow the site to come forward for development.’[our additional emphasis]
*Note ‘important’ to their client but not residents of Whiston or Moneystone who did not and could not have known about it.
A serious question is raised by the above factual recital.
It would be a perfectly legitimate conclusion to reach on the basis of the above that SMDC planners…
- Have indeed shaped the Core Strategy document and the CV Masterplan Options Report to give effect to the request made by HOW Planning LLP on behalf of their clients Laver Leisure [Oakamoor] Ltd., ‘to provide sufficient flexibility to enable Moneystone Quarry site to come forward for future development without having to overcome significant policy boundaries’ [ e.g. AONB status ]
- It would set in context and give added emphasis to the remarks made by Mr Clarke at the Nicholson Institute on 15/3/2011.
- It would explain to some extent why commercial ‘Key Stakeholders’ were identified early and given preferential treatment over the residents of the Churnet valley in the process of consultation.
- It may explain why SMDC did not, at an early stage consult with WAG as a residents group.
- It may explain the apparent opposition to AONB status displayed in the documents referred to above
NB – If any of the above conclusions are incorrect it is always open to the SMDC to comply with the FOIA applications that have been made in requests to disclose the notes and details of those ‘numbers of meetings with the Local Planning Authority at varying levels that [by 22/1/2010] had already taken place’.
Antecedent Factual Issues.
1. The Churnet Valley Masterplan Options Report was put before the SMDC Cabinet by Councillor Hart.
2 Upon specific invitation by the Chair Councillor Ralphs, residents in the public gallery, who otherwise had no right to contribute to the debate, were invited to comment. They did so. They pointed out, inter alia, that there was a direct contradiction between the contents of the Options Report and remarks made by Councillor Hart as to the purpose and usage of ‘Village Conversations’ to inform the shaping of the Options in the Report and the statements of Mr Gavin Clarke of the SMDC Planning Department at Village Conversations that they ‘had nothing to do with the Core Strategy or the Churnet Valley Masterplan’.
3 Cabinet also acknowledged that the SMDC had received a request under the Freedom of Information Act in relation to the ‘evidence’ base that purportedly supported the findings of the Options Report that remain [then and now] unanswered.
4 Despite the concerns expressed by Residents at the meeting of Cabinet on 15th November 2011 about the process, contents, ‘evidence’ and conclusions of the Masterplan, Cabinet determined to approve the document for public consultation. It is submitted that the decision was defective and unreasonable.
5 Cabinet gave assurances that the outstanding requests for disclosure would be met. At the time of the preparation of this document those assurances have not been met.
6 The Churnet Valley Masterplan Options Report was released to the public on 16th January 2012. On the same date some 800 pages of what is purported to be ‘evidence’ was posted on the SMDC website. The first public consultation was at Ipstones the next day, 17th January 2012, and other consultations are ongoing. Residents without access to a computer are disadvantaged by such a process.
7 The Options Report puts five options to the public for consideration. It does not justify why only five are chosen, although it concedes that a further option could be a combination of the five selected.
- The Churnet Valley has an inadequate road infrastructure caused partly by challenging topography but also by lack of investment over many years.
- Narrow country lanes in the Churnet Valley struggle to cope with recent increases in traffic volumes, particularly the traffic attracted to Alton Towers.
- The introduction of Sat-nav has already exacerbated the tendency for Alton Towers visitors to use some lanes as short cuts, increasing the risk of accidents.
- Plans to develop Moneystone Quarry as a tourist site can only make the situation worse.
WAG’s Quiet Lanes Initiative
- Staffordshire County Council, the Highways Authority, can designate certain narrow country lanes as “Quiet Lanes”, a policy that has already been adopted in neighbouring Cheshire and Derbyshire.
- “Quiet Lanes” are intended to encourage low numbers of vehicles travelling at slow speeds to better mix with walkers, cyclists and horse riders so that all road users are safe.
- The Churnet Valley is considered to be an ideal area in which to designate a network of quiet lanes.
- An approach has already been made to Staffordshire County Council, the Highway Authority, with a request that the possibilities be explored.
- WAG is also conducting a survey of road users to measure the level of public support .
For more information on quiet lanes please follow the following links:
Department for Transport
East Cheshire Council’s Quiet Lanes Scheme