Alan Beadle of Stripes Hill Farm has supplied this commentary on the progress of the enquiry to date. Although The Knowle Society is itself opposing the appeal against refusal of the Planning Application, the views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Society.
This commentary has been edited and reduced, with permission, from that kindly supplied by Mr Beadle. Anyone wishing to comment is welcome to respond directly in the Forum on the right of this page.
The enquiry into the proposed marina at Stripes Hill Farm started on Tuesday 12 July. On the first day the general public/local residents submitted hard copies of a number of papers to the inspector summarising what we wished to speak about. Over the four days several more people expressed an interest in speaking and added their notes to the files of papers to be considered by the inspector.
Towards the end of the enquiry the inspector said that residents will have the opportunity to make a closing statement, preferably a joint statement so that it is coherent and does not repeat too much; however, it is not an opportunity to bring in new evidence or new questions.
There has been so much evidence provided that time ran out and the enquiry has been adjourned. It restarts on 7 September for three days till 9 September.
During this time there will be two more expert witnesses for the appellant: Mr Cobb on planning matters and Mr Duckenfield on need. Lawrence Osborne for the Council also has to complete his evidence. Others will be speaking on Need and other matters. Ms Sharif the barrister for SMBC will also have some time for cross examination of the appellant’s witnesses. There may be a chance for anyone who has not yet spoken to do so if they wish. There will be “summing up” statements from all parties. There will also a session on “conditions” which may be attached to planning approval if the inspector decides to allow it. These cover the details of the way the scheme would be implemented as well as controls on what is allowed to happen after it opens.
The Enquiry Part 1
Proceedings started with the inspector explaining the rules (who can speak, when and how, etc.). She then set out what she understood where the key issues to be addressed by the enquiry. The council and the appellant had submitted a paper describing what they call “common ground” – issues and facts which both sides accept and therefore do not need to be addressed further; that is not to say that the public cannot question these topics but, with the two main parties having agreed them, any new evidence from the public would need to be very compelling.
Opening statements where then made by the barristers for the Somerville Homes (the developer/appellant), Mr Cahill, and for Solihull MBC Ms Sharif.
Mr Eastwood, who was appearing as an expert witness for SMBC then started his evidence on impact on the green belt, the landscape and “openness”. He gave a good account of the council’s position on these aspects making particular reference to the urbanising effect, the size and height of the development and how it will impact on properties around the site and the public views from Knowle Locks and elsewhere.
After lunch, Mike Beach, who lives on Kenilworth Road presented the slides of the before and after views of what will be seen by whom and from where. These were very impressive being put up on a large screen for the inspector to see. There was also a 2.4 m long panorama mounted on a board strategically positioned in the room for the whole 4 days. At the end of his presentation Mike was questioned by the appellant’s barrister, Mr Cahill. He tried to diminish the images, suggesting they did not show true views. It was however, agreed that the inspector would visit “receptors” (those places which can see the marina site) and decide for herself what the true impact will be.
The first day finished with Lawrence Osborne, SMBC’s second expert witness who would talk on planning issues, and the “very special circumstances” put forward by the appellant. He brought in the decision and evidence used at the unsuccessful Grove Farm enquiry, described how the marina fails to meet various planning policies and guidelines, he questioned a number of points made by the expert witnesses for the appellant, particularly the need case being put forward in his written evidence by Mr Duckenfield (he has not yet appeared). Lawrence also mentioned that a 199 berth marina has recently been approved on the Worcester & Staffs canal, thus reducing the need for a marina in Solihull. A distinction was drawn between need and generating demand – a bit like building a new road – if you build a new road people will use it.
At the start of day 2 Mr Cahill raised a request for an adjournment complaining that the appellant had not been given time to consider the evidence on “need” submitted by Alan Beadle. He had produced a 60 page report on the case put forward for “need”. In particular, he had undertaken a survey of nearly 100 marinas around the West Midlands and asked how many mooring vacancies they had. The results of this survey in March 2011 showed that there are more than 1300 empty berths around the area and this could completely undermine the case of the appellant on an important point of their case. The inspector agreed to an adjournment – hence, all evidence on “need” will now be heard in September (07/09 to 09/09).
The running order then turned to Residents:
Mitch Withey from Heronfield Animal Rescue Centre on Warwick Road then spoke about the fauna on the site which will be displaced by the proposed development, in particular the Badgers who live there.
Steve Verrall, the owner of Batts Hall gave a personal statement about the considerable impact the view from his new home will suffer.
Stella Jarman was next to talk on the flora on the site a harm on the historic landscape and hedgerows which the landscaping and planting proposals will have.
Leighton Jones representing the Knowle Society gave a very reasoned argument explaining why they and the greater residents of Knowle thought the marina was a bad idea and would be of little benefit to our local community. Leighton was able to draw in facts gained from a survey of local businesses, a survey of boat owners at the Black Boy Cruising Club and a survey of boats using the locks. One of the tests which this development must pass is that the benefits outweigh the harm.
Ian West who lives at Bottom Lock Cottage gave a short presentation – he is a boater himself and but appeared to be ambivalent about a marina at this location – yes he felt moorings were needed but he was concerned about the noise this development might generate and the impact this would have on his home. His intervention may well be key in gaining a concession on the use of power tools at the site.
In the afternoon Mr Greenway, the appellant’s expert witness on landscape and visual impact, started his evidence. He struggled during the cross-examination by Ms Sharif to justify some of the proposals and suggested that some of the plans would need amending, perhaps after permission was granted.
Day three and Mr Greenway was back for “re-direct” questioning by Mr Cahill. This didn’t take long
Public witnesses then continued – Mr Johnson from Heronfield hire spoke passionately about his concerns for flooding, dismissing the EA statements of reassurance on the subject as people who didn’t know what actually happens on the ground.
Gill Akehurst who lives near the site, spoke of her strong concerns for safety and security, particularly for her two young children who currently are able to use the yard and access track to the farm as a play ground – it is currently a cul-de-sac leading to three houses, but with the development it will have 50 – 70 vehicles an hour going up and down it at a weekend.
Gill Griggs a resident of Knowle gave a detailed and in some places technical argument about how the proposed development would be harmful to the green belt and how the evidence submitted by the appellant did not meet the various planning policy statements and guidelines.
Anne Wilson Ramsey who lives on the Warwick Road spoke next. She gave a very reasoned argument about how the appellant’s case did not meet planning guidelines; she mentioned the need for inclusive access, which the developer has failed to show; she argued how, living at the end of the village and immediately adjacent to the start of the green belt, horses are part of the pleasant agricultural scene (the developer had been trying to argue that the gallops in the field adjacent to the marina site were urbanising and hence, would set a precedent for development in the area. She drew the inspector’s attention to the 160 signature petition which she organised and which demonstrates the strength of local opinion. Other points raised by her included the locally listed Knowle Locks as well as the other Nationally listed buildings, The Manor House, the cottages on Kenilworth Road, etc.
Roger Buxton was the last person to speak. He presented a paper on local need within Solihull for moorings and compared this with findings from walking all the canals in Solihull to see precisely how many berths are currently available. This showed that there are more moorings than boat owners in Solihull. Roger then went on to describe that the real need was for residential moorings in urban locations for people who wish to live full time on their boats – this is something the proposed marina does not and cannot offer. His evidence as a former boater was very helpful.
In addition to all the above presentations the inspector spent some time (two full afternoons) visiting the site and numerous “receptor” locations including:
Stripes Hill Farm where five houses front onto the access road;
1724 Warwick Road to see the limit of the green belt and the currently unspoilt rural outlook – with a plea not to allow creeping expansion of the urban area;
170 Kenilworth Road to see how much of the marina can be seen from a typical view point affecting all the residents along the south side of the road;
Top Lock View and a walk down the tow path to just beyond the marina, including climbing over the locks and down the western side on the grass picnic area;
Home Farm – they see the site clearly from their yard and their upstairs rooms;
Watery Lane & Cuttle Pool Lane & footpath;
Heronfield, Herons Nest and the Kings Arms Bridge;
The footpath up to Lansdowne Farm;
The new Batts Hall.
The inspector has also independently visited the village to judge the need for “regeneration” and the benefits which the marina might bring to local business.