The Inquiry opened on 9th November 2021 at Caryford Hall as an ‘in person’ public Inquiry (as a result of strong representations to the Planning Inspectorate by Castle Cary Town Council and Ansford Parish Council) when CCTC, APC and other groups and individuals spoke as third parties against the development. It was adjourned by the Secretary of State’s appointed Inspector Hayley Butcher (because of venue limitations, Covid risks and poor IT) and re-opened online on Tuesday, 29th March. The Planning Inspectorate (PINS) enabled third parties to attend along with SSDC and the Appellant. The Inquiry was also Livestreamed for the public on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday with over 200 viewings each day. Friday’s meeting could not be Livestreamed because of a technical problem but was recorded and is promised by PINS to be available. The Inquiry concluded on Friday, 1st April with final addresses by Mr Robson, counsel for SSDC, and Mr White QC, counsel for the Appellant. The Inquiry saw contributions from expert witnesses on both sides with continual references to a vast quantity of documents, technical discussions about landscape and planning matters, examinations of witnesses by both counsel and questions by the Inspector. Some third parties including CCTC made comments ‘behind the scenes’ to SSDC to inform their case. It is now for the Inspector to review all the evidence, written and oral, including the several contributions made by CCTC, APC and others about, for example, the Neighbourhood Plan, safety on the A371, access to the town’s facilities, drainage pumping, etc., before it was adjourned.
It is not possible to say when the Inspector’s decision will be published but probably it will appear only after some weeks given the quantity of evidence, the time to consider it and the need for the decision to take account not only of the evidence but also planning law, regulations, official guidance, case law, professional standards and so on.
In this short layman’s note it is not possible to do justice to the issues raised, to reflect the technicalities or to be comprehensive. Mr White QC raised concerns about the national housing crisis and the time taken to progress the development application and the appeal. The value of the landscape of the Brue valley and the visual impact of the development were clearly central points but other issues include whether the site is inside or outside the town, the current lack of a 5 year Housing Land Supply (HLS), the prospect of a solution to the phosphate neutrality problem affecting the Levels (which holds up otherwise consented housing delivery), whether the site is within or without the ‘direction of growth’ of the town (a factor related to the significance of the Local and Neighbourhood Plans which in turn depends on the HLS), the heritage associations of the Victorian Railway Station and the Monarch’s Way footpath, and other matters. All these are material to some degree, even factors not yet completed, but their weight depends on the Inspector’s view. In some cases there were fundamental disagreements between the parties – for example, about windfall contributions to the HLS – and questions about the capacity to deliver incomplete factors such as the phosphate solution in good time. It is also fair to say that there were several factors not in dispute between the two parties such as, for example, the Appellant’s scheme to offset increased phosphate discharge from the site using fallowed land within the catchment. If the appeal were to succeed the required obligations and conditions are agreed between the parties subject to the Inspector’s amendments.
It is not of course possible to predict the outcome. Everyone will have their own views as to the weight to be given to various aspects of the appeal but it is the Inspector’s view that counts. It is not permissible to submit further evidence now the Inquiry is concluded.
CCTC would like to thank APC, C4C, the Neighbourhood Plan group and CPRE (who formed a coordinating group), the petition organisers and volunteers, the Bailey Hill Bookshop, our local MP, our District and County Councillors, Cary Moor PC, Ditcheat PC, North Cadbury and Yarlington PC, Caryford Hall, everyone who contributed and the hundreds of local people who attended – or tried to attend – the Inquiry at Caryford Hall last year. We value your support.’