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Red Lodge: Plans for almost 400 homes are rejected - but will the decision stand-up to scrutiny?

08:00 08 August 2014

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Fiercely opposed plans for nearly 400 homes in west Suffolk are on the brink of being rejected - but doubts persist over whether the decision will stand up to scrutiny.

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Forest Heath’s development control committee voted against the proposals for 374 homes in Red Lodge on Wednesday amid outcry from residents in the village and nearby Herringswell.

Their concerns centred on St Christopher’s Primary School in Red Lodge and the local sewage network, but assurances were given from the relevant authorities that the development would have no adverse impact.

This prompted council planning officers to conclude they were “not confident” in the panel’s reasons for refusing the application, while panel member Warwick Hirst said the committee’s decision was “the most remarkable recommendation I’ve heard”.

But councillors stuck to their guns and rejected the application.

Planning officers will now prepare a risk assessment about how the decision would stand-up to any appeal before the refusal is rubber-stamped.

Committee member Simon Cole said: “There are so many things wrong with this application I don’t know where to start - there are holes in this application, all over it.”

Chief among the objections was the impact upon capacity and the attainment of pupils at St Christopher’s.

However, figures from Suffolk County Council say the 420-capacity school will have 448 students on its roll by September 2016 - regardless of whether the development is built or not, making temporary classrooms or another solution inevitable.

The impact of the development would only be felt the following year, by which time the county council says it will have built a new school for Red Lodge.

But there was scepticism about the county council’s forecasts from panel member David Bowman, a former chair of governors at St Christopher’s, given how long St Christopher’s took to build and the management of the transition to the site from Tuddenham Primary School.

He said: “You have built a new school which is totally inadequate for the area it has been built for.

“We kept the staff on board (at Tuddenham) by saying the new school will be the best thing since sliced bread - I wish I’d never said it, because it’s been terrible.

“I don’t see where you’re getting your facts and figures from. You were wrong then, you’re wrong now, and you need to get it sorted out quickly.”

County council education officer Iain Maxwell admitted St Christopher’s had taken “longer than average” to build, but added that all the £67million of work the council had undertaken as part of the school organisation review had been delivered on-time and on-budget.

A report commissioned by developers Crest Nicholson into the local sewage infrastructure found the problems in Herringswell must be in the village, and would not be affected by more housing in Red Lodge.

However, Herringswell Parish Council clerk Gloria Hicks said: “They now claim the issues with Herringswell are caused by standing sewerage in the pipes, and that increasing the flow will resolve the odour.

“However, four years ago they said it was the pumping station. When that didn’t resolve the issues, they said the dosing would.

“Now they say it is standing sewerage in pipes. It is clear they do not know.”

Other concerns included the fact there was only one access road into the site and the development would only provide 14% affordable housing, due to viability.

The committee eventually rejected the application on the grounds of evidence provided about education and sewerage, as well as access to the development, although Forest Heath’s place shaping manager Marie Smith raised concerns about the robustness of each one.

Mr Hirst added: “The reasons that have been given are not material planning reasons.

“What people have to remember is if they’re not material planning reasons, if it goes to appeal we pay our costs and their costs as well.

“Sewage and education have no relevance to this application.”

Crest Nicholson has agreed to release land for temporary classrooms, while the county council is reportedly considering re-opening Tuddenham Primary School to meet additional capacity until the new school is built.

The proposals have been the cause of much controversy, prompting criticism of local MP Matthew Hancock and calls for the resignation of Red Lodge and Herringswell district and parish councillor Andy Drummond, who voted in favour of the plans at Wednesday’s meeting.

The plans were lodged more than a year ago, meaning they are at risk of non-determination and would be taken out of Forest Heath’s hands if Crest Nicholson decide to appeal before the decision is finalised.

Speaking after the meeting, Peter Diffley, managing director of Crest Nicholson Eastern, said: “We are disappointed that the decision has once again been deferred, and continue to work with planning officers to demonstrate the proposed reasons for refusal are not substantiated and are contrary to all the professional advice received.

“We have worked hard to ensure that the application for these much needed homes, on a site already identified by the council as suitable for development, has the full support of all statutory bodies and planning officers, and we remain hopeful that we will receive approval at next month’s committee.”

Red Lodge is earmarked for 840 new homes until 2031 in Forest Heath’s emerging local plan including potentially 400 on this site, although site-specific allocations have yet to be consulted on.

However, Red Lodge has undergone rapid expansion in recent years, with an embargo stopping any new development in the village until 2021 only being lifted earlier this year.

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