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.