Joint response from Cambridgeshire County Council and Huntingdonshire District Council
Alison Twyford, Planning Enforcement Team Leader (PETL), Huntingdonshire District Council (HDC) and Deborah Jeakins, Principal Enforcement and Monitoring Officer (PEMO), Cambridgeshire County Council (CCC) met with Councillor Ian Gardener on 9 June 2021 to discuss the planning issues at both sites.
The County Council deals with waste planning and the District Council is the Local Planning Authority for all other planning matters. Officers from CCC and HDC are working closely together to ensure that both authorities have all of the relevant planning information about the sites and we will involve other Council departments (e.g. Environmental Health, Highways) and agencies (i.e. the Environment Agency) as necessary.
At CCC, the Assistant Director of Planning, Growth and Development has been made aware of the issues and concerns at the site and will be kept updated on progress with the investigations and at HDC, the Planning Service Manager has similarly been made aware of all the activity in the local area.
Officers have reviewed the questions and issues that were raised in the documents sent through in advance of the meeting and are grateful to the local residents that took the time to send these through. We are aware of the high level of local concern regarding activities at the sites and so agreed to provide this written update that can be sent to local residents, the Parish Council and any interested parties. Officers are also grateful to Cllr Gardener for his agreement to pass on this update and we will continue to update Cllr Gardener on a monthly basis, and, additionally, at key points in the CCC and HDC planning enforcement investigations, we will also update complainants who have made direct contact with officers when there is new information. However, as Councils need to ensure that their resources are allocated appropriately, we are unlikely to be able to respond to regular or repeat requests for additional information from individual complainants.
Regarding Five Acres:
Officers at CCC are dealing with a request for pre application advice for new, additional waste uses at the site. The PEMO has met with the Specialist and Strategic Development Management Officer who is considering the pre app advice request to discuss how the polices in the emerging Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Mineral and Waste Plan (M&W Plan) apply to the proposed new waste uses at the site. The PEMO has also sought input from another Specialist and Strategic Development Management Officer who is familiar with the policy drivers in the emerging plan, which we hope will be formally adopted by CCC on 21 July 2021. Once formally adopted, the M&W Plan will contain the policies against which County planning applications are determined, alongside planning guidance within the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and relevant HDC policies. Whilst the NPPF contains a presumption in favour of sustainable development, in order for the proposed new waste uses to be acceptable they will need to accord with local and national planning policies and other material planning considerations will need to be taken into account.
Officers would like to stress that the seeking of pre application advice on the proposed development at the site, whilst encouraged due to the complex nature of waste applications, does not mean that planning permission will automatically be granted. The pre application advice service merely provides information on whether the proposed development is in accordance with, or conflicts with, the local and national policies that applications must be judged against. Furthermore, even if the pre application advice is that the new proposed uses could be supported in policy terms in this location, with appropriate conditions and mitigation, this does not mean that planning permission will be granted. A formal planning application would need to be submitted, and this would be subject to the usual procedures for determination, including publicity, consultation with statutory consultees and neighbours and an assessment of all of the material planning considerations, (which can include highway matters, impact on amenity etc.) would need to be taken into account.
It is important to note the national planning legislation allows for retrospective planning applications to be submitted and if the principle of the development undertaken is acceptable and can be regularised with such an application, it must be treated the same way as a prospective application and there are no penalties for undertaking the work before seeking permission. However, CCC will be contacting the landowner and advising that any development undertaken without planning permission are entirely at his own risk and we would strongly advise him to cease any further development at the site whilst investigations and the consideration of the pre application advice are ongoing.
Officers understand and appreciate that local residents want action taken immediately to address the concerns raised. However, the Councils need to conduct thorough investigations, work in line with our published policies and national guidance and follow due process because any failure to do so could result in the Councils not being able to adequately defend an appeal submitted against the service of a formal notice.
If the result of the pre application advice is that an application for planning permission is unlikely to be supported, then officers at CCC and HDC will work together, gathering evidence of all of the breaches and taking legal advice on the initiation of formal enforcement action. Such action would require, alongside the evidence of planning harm, the assessment of the development against national and local planning policy which is already being undertaken in respect of the pre application advice and so it would not be appropriate for the enforcement officers to duplicate this work whilst investigations are ongoing.
Regarding Little America:
There are a number of operations and uses that are actively under investigation at the current time. Some applications have been received in respect of certain elements and officers are continuing with their enquiries regarding a number of uses of a number of units. To this end a planning contravention notice is being issued to ascertain all of the outstanding information required through a formal notice. In respect of the action that has been taken and individual queries as to where formal action should and should not be taken, I would note that any action that the local planning authority may wish to take must be supported by evidence. Whilst it is noted that local residents may feel that they know what is happening, Officers need to be able to demonstrate the information to any possible Inspector if formal action were to be challenged moving forward. This does take time and whilst it may appear that there have been delays, Officers are continuing to work to build this information for the case. Officers will continue to liaise with all stakeholders moving forward and will look to update reporters when there is progress with each case.