Tension at tribunal over ‘soured’ La Pointe case

A ‘SOURED’ planning case went before a tribunal yesterday in an environment where the tension was palpable.

La Pointes Field, Vale. (28907088)
La Pointes Field, Vale. (28907088)

An appeal against a Tree Protection Order that is standing in the way of six houses being built at La Pointe in the Vale heard from a number of representatives from the Development & Planning Authority and the appellant, Hillstone Guernsey Ltd, who bought the land in 2018 for £420,000.

Lots of whispering, head shaking, heads in hands and ‘with respect’ comments were repeated throughout the five-hour appeal against the order that protects 46 trees in the ‘triangle field’.

Planning conceded that the lack of reference to the significance of the trees in the pre-application information provided to the appellant was an ‘omission’ that was ‘later rectified’.

Stuart Fell, a retired planning inspector from Jersey, who arrived using a business tunnel to be video streamed from a separate room, presided over the appeal.

He questioned a number of ‘shortcomings’, including the advice for TPOs, approved by the DPA in 2009, not being followed, as well as an incomplete and incorrect method of assessing the trees for a TPO in Guernsey.

‘The committee weren’t in a good position to make a sound decision,’ he said. ‘We understand how committees work but there is information missing and the debate that was had on the proposals was not helpful.

‘There is strong encouragement that both parties should be in discussion with each other and in this instance there has been no sense of dialogue between either.’

While Planning said they had been affected by staff changes, they agreed that their report had inaccuracies and failed to use the correct guidance. However, they defended the TPO and insisted it still applied.

‘We don’t believe that what has occurred has been fatal to the TPO, which correctly focuses on the amenity value of the trees in accordance to the provisions of the law,’ said planning director Jim Rowles.

‘Overall, the DPA believes that although there are things that could have been done better, the TPO should be upheld.’

The appellant’s team said they had bought the land and progressed with a scheme they thought had been acceptable.

Simon Holland, director of Hillstone Guernsey Ltd, said on top of the purchase of the land, they had now incurred costs in excess of £20,000.

‘Fundamentally, my issue with this have been about transparency,’ he said.

‘The process seems to have been kicked off by a fairly flippant comment about us getting the chainsaws out [to cut down the trees], effectively a two-minute email and a 30-minute site visit [from the principal environment services officer at Agriculture, Countryside and Land Management Services who conducted the site report] that spiralled into 16 months of time for both the DPA and myself.

‘In my career spanning three countries over 24 years I have never had an application go this sour and I am appalled by how we’ve been treated as applicants and appellants.’

He questioned why this site had been treated differently and why it had taken so long to process the applications and decisions.

A further planning appeal is due on the triangular field, just off Braye Road, opposite the entrance to Alliance.

The site was included in The Bridge Main Centre Outer Area, one of the areas where new housing is being allowed under the Island Development Plan of 2016. However, proposals have been repeatedly rejected, most recently for two houses last month.

A further two proposals for eight dwellings on the 0.2 hectare site was rejected in June 2019 due to poor design and supplying the wrong-sized properties to meet demand, with a scaled-back six-house scheme, submitted in June 2019, rejected in March, after a TPO was imposed in October 2019.

A report on yesterday’s appeal and decision is likely to be completed in three weeks’ time.

It is understood a second appeal against the rejection of the six-house scheme will be looked at later in the month.

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