Campaigners have been left devastated after the Planning Inspectorate gave the go-ahead to plans for homes off Kettering Road in Stamford in a third-time lucky bid by a developer.
Kier Homes put in an appeal in August to the Planning Inspectorate against South Kesteven District Council’s unanimous decision last February to refuse their plans for 29 homes on the site.
It is the second time the developer had appealed against a refusal and their third application for the same site in as many years - each time lowering the number of homes proposed.
This week, Kier Homes said it was “pleased” with the decision to build these “much-needed homes in Stamford”.
A spokesman for the developer said: “We have worked hard with South Kesteven District Council to design a scheme suited to the area and following feedback significantly reduced the number of homes from 48 to 29 dwellings.
“Undeveloped parts of the site will be landscaped and a number of new trees will also be planted, to soften its impact from surrounding viewpoints.”
Angry residents formed the Stamford! Protect Our Green Space campaign group in 2014 when Kier’s initial application for 49 homes went in, arguing that the location was a “historic greenfield site”.
They had also argued that “more than enough housing” had been allocated by the district council in other locations and put forward a 40-page submission to the Planning Inspectorate, outlining their concerns.
And this week, Ian Campbell, who founded the group, said the group which has about 30 members was “disappointed” at the outcome.
“We were optimistic rather than pessimistic challenging the appeal but when the decision came through, we were absolutely devastated,” Ian and his wife Jan said. “And we maintain that it is the wrong decision.”
In June 2015, the Planning Inspectorate refused Kier’s appeal for a previous application for 49-homes in which the inspector on that occasion said the “benefits of the proposal did not outweigh the harm” she found to the surrounding heritage assets”.
The Planning Inspector acting on the 29-homes application Zoe Raygen said she had “seen no substantive evidence to suggest that the principal of housing is not acceptable on this site”. But she did acknowledge the “character” of the area would change as a result of development.
Ms Raygen went onto say in her decision that because the site was within the setting of heritage assets, including Fryers’ Callis, Bottle Lodges, Burghley House and Wothorpe - a special character area, that the development should “preserve and enhance the setting of Stamford”.
She believed Kier had made enough changes to the application, compared to the previous Planning Inspectorate decision, to warrant this - including trees to protect the “surrounding cultural and historic assets”.
She said the number of houses had also been “significantly reduced”. She said “established planting if in the correct location and of an appropriate density” would give a rural appearance and “soften” views of buildings.
Ms Raygen’s judgement also said she concluded the proposal would cause “some harm” to the area but it would be “less than substantial” and that it would “deliver social and economic benefits by providing 29 new homes in an accessible location”. She also identifies that it would provide “much-needed affordable housing” even though the majority of this would be in Bourne.
Ian Campbell said there was frustration at the outcome.
In the decision in refusing the appeal for 48 homes, the inspector at the time said the “benefits of the proposal would not be sufficient to outweigh the harm”.
Ian pointed to the fact that the inspector in the most recent decision identifies that the application does cause a harm but believes the benefits in this instance outweigh them - even though there are fewer homes and most of the affordable ones are provided in Bourne.
He also pointed out that a despite a reduction in the number of houses in each application, there had only been a slight reduction in the footprint on the land.
Another resident Deborah Hewson called into question the Planning Inspector’s decision in an open letter, saying it was “wrong on so many levels”.
She said that residents had put forward arguments that were “not ill-thought out, nor ... trivial but the result of considerable effort by individuals whose only motivation is trying to preserve the best of Stamford”.
The district council is currently putting together its new Local Plan in which the Kettering Road site - previously allocated for about 50 homes - is suggested to be de-allocated, as a result of the controversy surrounding the Kier plans.
However, in her 15-page judgement Ms Raygen says that as the new Local Plan is at such an early stage she gave its contents “very limited weight” when making her decision.
As a result of this, Ian said he was concerned for the future of the site and whether Ms Raygen’s judgement could mean more applications coming forward for the same site.
Gwyneth Gibbs, chairman of Stamford Civic Society, called the decision a “travesty”.
She said: “Everyone in Stamford- the civic society, the town council, the residents themselves - were against this development and this decision by the Planning Inspectorate is a travesty for local democracy.”
Gwyneth was also concerned what the decision meant for future applications, saying: “Once you build there you cannot go back.”
The leader of South Kesteven District Council Matthew Lee (Con), said: “I am personally very disappointed that the district council’s decision to reject the planning application on this site has been overturned, despite our vigorous defence and the efforts of a number of very committed and well-informed local residents. We are keen that Stamford continues to grow to meet the needs of local people and maintains its vibrancy, but we are always conscious of the importance of preserving and protecting its historic core, which is why we are bringing forward further protections within the conservation area.”
Coun Lee did not say whether the district council would be considering a judicial review - the only option now left to stop the development going forward.
n Turn to page 86 to see open letter from Deborah Hewson to Planning Inspectorate.