Friends of Pendower Beach annual report 2013
2013 was a busy year. Our key purpose, to protect Pendower, took us in many different directions. We had to get to grips with planning policy and legislation, engage with the politics of planning, make the case for landscape protection both at local and national government level and develop contacts with other individuals and organisations who might help us. It was a year of highs and lows but also some significant milestones.
Our activities to limit the development of the Nare Hotel kept us busy throughout the year. Our first task was to study the application in detail and submit comments to Cornwall Council. This required a detailed knowledge of planning regulations set out in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and other documents. We are indebted to our planning and legal consultants, whose invaluable expertise enabled us to produce a professional and well argued response to the Council.
One of our key arguments was that the NPPF makes clear that ‘major’ developments are not permitted within the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) other than in exceptional circumstances, for applications of strategic importance which are in the public interest. We were also concerned that Cornwall Council had not required that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) be carried out for the site, in spite of the sensitivity of the location. This point was reiterated on several occasions by Natural England, one of the statutory consultees.
Our objections were echoed by the National Trust and the Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty unit. In total there were nearly 100 objections to the original plans and subsequent revised version, many from our own supporters.
In spite of this we could not obtain assurance that the planning officer Martin Woodley, our local councillor Julian German or Veryan Parish Council, the three key decision makers in the process, were inclined to take on board the carefully argued reasons behind all the objections put forward. In September I went to see Julian and Martin with Peter Mansfield, Chairman of the Cornwall AONB Partnership and Paul Walton of the National Trust. We failed to obtain any assurance that the application would at least be referred to the Planning Committee for wider discussion, rather than approval being granted by the planning officer and the local councillor under ‘delegated powers’.
At this point we were pessimistic about our chances of influencing the decision on the Nare application. I then discovered that any member of the public can ask the Secretary of State for an Environmental Impact Assessment ‘screening direction’ (this determines whether an EIA is required). I duly wrote to the Department of Communities and Local Government. I received a reply saying the issue would be investigated, which meant that Cornwall Council had to put the application on hold pending completion of the screening process. In December DCLG wrote to confirm that the nature and sensitivity of the site made it clear that an EIA was required, a vindication of the arguments we and others had put forward all along.
If the Nare Hotel decides to go ahead with the application, the Secretary of State’s verdict means that the developers will now have to carry out a much more thoroughgoing assessment of the site and the possible consequences of building on it. We’ll be monitoring what happens closely, with the help of one of our planning consultants who is an EIA specialist. If the developers proceed with an EIA we need to be sure that it’s carried out with sufficient thoroughness and rigour.
Links with other organisations
A significant part of our work in 2013 has been to forge strong relationships with other organisations working in the field of landscape protection.
In March I was asked to speak at the Cornwall AONB Partnership forum on neighbourhood planning. This provided a useful opportunity to stress the importance of the Roseland Neighbourhood Plan as a means of protecting Pendower Beach at policy level. I also put forward the idea of a ‘Friends of the Cornwall AONB’ organisation, which would work to ensure that landscape protection in the AONB becomes a reality rather than an aspiration, fully supported by planning policy and Cornwall Council’s decision making process.
Arising from discussions during and after the forum, the AONB unit is currently working on getting funding for a pilot scheme on the Roseland from the heritage lottery fund. The aim is to bring together a local group of volunteers with a range of interests and skills who will work as a team to protect and enhance the local AONB. We would aim to play a key role in this project and hope the pilot will lead to a bigger scheme to support and protect the AONB throughout Cornwall.
The forum was also an opportunity to make informal links with other participants. I met David Hughes, Vice-chairman of Cornwall Council’s Planning Committee and have had a number of conversations with him since then. His support for us is encouraging.
Harold Tinworth, now chairman of the Cornwall branch of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) was also at the forum. With his appointment CPRE Cornwall has taken on a new lease of life. We hope this may mean that CPRE Cornwall is able to provide an umbrella for organisations such as Friends of Pendower, so that individual groups can pool their expertise and together become a force to be reckoned with. I’ve had an initial conversation with Harold and hope we can develop ways of working together in the coming year.
We continue to maintain contact with the National Trust and have appreciated Paul Walton’s support during the year. Several of our supporters who are also National Trust members wrote to the South West regional director Mark Harold to engage his support for our opposition to the Nare Hotel application.
We had help from Matthew (Lord) Taylor and our MP Sarah Newton in making sure our request to the Secretary of State for an EIA screening direction reached the right person. It’s good to know that we have political contacts we can call upon when the need arises.
7th November AGM and open meeting.
Our 2013 annual meeting focussed on architecture in the AONB. It was designed to fit in with Roseland Neighbourhood Plan discussions and the questionnaires being distributed to all local residents. Our aim was to stimulate ideas about what kind of buildings were right for the Roseland. Our speakers were Kath Statham of Cornwall Council's public space team and a specialist in landscape character assessment, Paul Holden, Chair of the Cornish Buildings group and Tim Hancock, Chair of the Royal Institute of British Architects South West Region.
We were delighted with the turnout of about 80 people and the energy and enthusiasm of all those who came. There was a lively question and answer session and a high level of awareness of the importance of neighbourhood planning.
Planning policy, legislation and rulings
The last year has seen significant developments which have helped to define and strengthen landscape protection policies in the AONB. Our attempts to protect Pendower Beach are much more likely to be successful if we can refer to a body of planning policies enforced by government or judicial review, rather than having to fight every application on a case by case basis.
The Department of Communities and Local Government decision that an Environmental Impact Assessment was required for the Nare is a case in point. We now know that we can follow the same procedure for future applications by developers for the Nare Hotel, the Pink Hotel or indeed any other application that might have a negative impact on Pendower Beach.
Of even greater significance was the ruling of the judge in the case of Mevagissey Parish Council, who took Cornwall Council and the developers Westcountry Land to court over the decision to give planning approval to an application for a major development of market and social housing right on the coast at Mevagissey and in the heart of the AONB. The judge determined that planning permission should not have been granted, because Cornwall Council’s Planning Committee had not put forward any reasons for considering the application of strategic importance and in the public interest (NPPF paragraph 115 -116). He considered that the Committee had not adequately demonstrated that they understood the NPPF and ruled that approval of the application should be quashed.
While this ruling is separate from our own activities, it’s worth mentioning for its potential to strengthen our own position going forward. (It may also be of interest that Westcountry Land is run by the managing director of CSA, architects for the Nare Hotel development.)
The Roseland Neighbourhood plan is also significant in this context. Results from the questionnaires sent in November to every resident in the five parishes indicate that protection of the landscape is a key priority for local people. There are still a number of stages to be completed but the signs are that, subject to a referendum, landscape protection will become a key aspect of planning regulations on the Roseland and as such a ‘material consideration’ which Cornwall Council is required by law to respect.
Plans and hopes for 2014
I believe we need to develop on two fronts to stand the best chance of protecting Pendower Beach in the longer term. Both of these take us beyond Pendower itself. The first front is at policy level. I think it’s important to understand that we’re not taking issue with individual hoteliers or developers. Instead we need to raise the following questions: what policies, legislation and case law can we call upon to protect landscape within Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty? Do the decisions of authorities such as Cornwall Council properly enact these protections? Do individual development applications conform to the regulations? If not how do we ensure that the rules are followed? Importantly, we need to demonstrate that any objections we make are based on sound principles, rather than objecting for the sake of it.
It’s been quite a struggle during the last year to bring ourselves up to speed with planning legislation. What continues to surprise me is how often, out of the blue, someone with just the right kind of specialist knowledge appears and offers their services for free. This is the pulling power of Pendower Beach itself. All sorts of people know it, love it and want to do what they can to help us.
The second front is collective action. To make the best use of the information and experience we’ve acquired we need to pool our resources. Individual objectors and small pressure groups struggle to amass sufficient technical expertise and political clout to make any impact on planning policy and decision making. All too often volunteers inevitably run out of steam. This leaves developers secure that in the long run they will get what they want. The financial outlay required in resubmitting applications is more than covered by the lucrative returns of the final development.
While it might be easy to get downhearted there are also reasons to be hopeful. We are not just a group of individuals fighting to protect one beautiful unspoilt beach. I’ve come to realise we’re part of a groundswell of opposition across Cornwall to inadequate planning policy and decision making at Council level. We are not alone.
2013 has shown that landscape protection legislation is available and can be effective, if we can tap into the expertise of those who can access and apply it. If in addition we pool this experience and knowledge I think we have sufficient strength to hold Cornwall Council, our politicians and the developers to account.
Friends of Pendower Beach
8th January 2014.