Campaigners herald ‘triumph for local democracy’ after victory in Framlingham housing fight

Council committee meeting and public hearing over planning applications in Framlingham.

Council committee meeting and public hearing over planning applications in Framlingham. - Credit: Sarah Lucy brown

Campaigners have heralded a “triumph for local democracy” after community leaders yesterday rejected controversial housing proposals in east Suffolk, despite expert warnings about the costly appeals they may face.

The packed public gallery at Suffolk Coastal District Council’s Chambers in Melton Hill cheered in support as the planning committee voted against two applications for a combined total of 263 new homes in Framlingham.

Case officers had recommended the approval of Taylor Wimpey’s Fairfield Road application and Persimmon Homes’ Mount Pleasant proposals, citing the district’s failure to meet housing targets as their overriding argument.

Philip Ridley, the head of planning, warned the council’s failure to demonstrate a five-year housing supply meant “there was a presumption in favour of sustainable development”. He said that “trumped” almost all other policies and would be very difficult to defend against under appeal.

Although the “significant” volume of community objections was acknowledged, officers said the developers’ financial contributions had adequately addressed these issues.

More than a million pounds had been offered towards education and around £60,000 would have been paid to NHS England to mitigate the increased strain on health services, alongside other contributions to sport and highways.

The affordable homes contributions – totalling more than 80 – were also raised in favour of approval.

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But despite the guidance, committee members challenged what they described as a planning “loophole” and the permanent implications of their temporary shortfall.

Michael Gower said it was wrong for the future of a “proud and ancient town” to be changed forever because the council had let itself fall into a “planning vacuum”.

Committee members challenged the “unsustainable” social, environmental and economic aspects of the applications, which they said gave them legitimate grounds to refuse.

A lack of employment opportunities in the town gave rise to concerns the new inhabitants would be commuters, adding strain to the road network, or retired, exacerbating the town’s older demographic shift.

Committee member Stephen Burroughes highlighted a report which stated the town’s GP surgery was already 2,500 over capacity, and said the developers’ contributions would not solve the problem.

Christopher Hudson, who represents Framlingham on the district council, but had been suspended from the planning committee following allegations of predetermination, said the town’s roads and sewers could not cope with more housing.

He said many in the town felt it was at “crisis point” and had already contributed more than its fair share of new homes.

Public speakers raised more grounds for rejection.

David Beal said the “urban” designs of Mount Pleasant’s 100-home application were out of keeping with Framlingham’s rural character and criticised the “segregated” affordable housing element.

Framlingham Town Council repeated its calls for a deferment until the neighbourhood plan was completed so the community could have its say. Mr Ridley, however, said the plan carried no weight until it was approved.

Concerns about the B1116 were raised by Parham Parish Council, which said the road was already congested and an “accident black spot” that would only worsen with added commuter traffic.

Christopher Sharpe, chairman of the Framlingham Residents’ Association (FRAm) highlighted multiple planning policies he said the 163-home Fairfield Road application had failed to satisfy.

Speaking after the meeting, he welcomed the decision as a “triumph for local democracy”.

“The committee recognised the importance of the sustainability argument and recognised that the sites are both important parts of the landscape that makes up the historic town of Framlingham,” he added.

“If it had gone the other way we would be looking down the barrel of 263 new homes in the next three years - we are absolutely delighted that we are not faced with that.”

Both applicants can appeal the decisions.