Cornwall residents 'terrified' by St Austell housing plans due to mining dangers
Aug 25, 2023
Councillors refuse the plan which would have offered 40 per cent affordable housing
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A representative of residents on a housing estate neighbouring an agricultural field mooted for up to 50 new houses told a Cornwall Council planning committee that she and her neighbours were "terrified" at the prospect of the homes being built.
The council's central sub-area planning committee were considering an outline application for up to 50 properties - which was changed at the last minute to include 40 per cent affordable housing for local people rather than the originally proposed 25 per cent - on five acres of 'green buffer' land between Aspen Drive and Boscoppa Road on the eastern edge of St Austell.
The meeting on Monday, June 5 heard that the proposal would help address the current housing crisis in Cornwall - there's a housing need for 940 people in the St Austell area - but it would mean the loss of vital agricultural land. It would also mean the felling of two protected ancient oak trees to make way for the entrance to the new housing development.
Read next: Strong opposition to 50 new homes on town's 'green buffer'
The meeting at Lys Kernow / New County Hall in Truro heard that 69 residents had opposed the proposal on the council's online planning portal. Clare Edwards, representing many of them, told councillors: "The area is very heavily mined. Bishop Bronescombe School was to be built on the field but was denied by the county council due to safety concerns. My home, adjacent to the site, currently sits on stilts after an 18ft mining-related hole appeared beneath it.
"Information from mining reports indicates at least two other identified shafts on properties adjacent to the field. We are terrified that should this application be approved and the land be disturbed in the field it could damage our properties and we would be unprotected if there was damage to gardens or access. Insurance is slim comfort given the tragic fatal mining incident which occurred on Boscoppa Road, just around the corner, in the '90s."
She was referring to the death of a resident when a mine shaft opened beneath their property.
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Mrs Edwards added: "The application is completely lacking in detail and will buffer existing bungalows and low-lying houses causing suffocating overlooking privacy issues. For decades this field was used for productive farmland by a tenant farmer - we've watched them cultivate wheat, rape, linseed on this good quality soil. [The land] is considered as a green buffer so it should not be considered for development.
"Housing on the field will completely destroy the semi-rural feel of this area," she said, adding that it was the only green space left in that part of St Austell and is full of wildlife including bats and foxes. She stressed it would add an extra burden on an already overstretched infrastructure, particularly schools and healthcare. "We are also outraged by the lack of any public consultation concerning this application."
Local councillor for the area Jordan Rowse made a passionate plea for the committee to refuse the application, stating it was the first time he felt it necessary to bring an application from his division before a planning committee, which "speaks volumes".
He said: "Firstly, I need to point out the elephant in the room. Less than two weeks ago we sat in the main council chamber and almost unanimously supported a motion that committed this council to supporting our Cornish farmers and agricultural sector. Yet here we are, less than two weeks on, finding ourselves considering an application to put a minimum of 50 properties on a farmers field. Grade 3A agricultural land which, as it even says in your report, is the best and most versatile agricultural land and the loss of it does weigh against approval. Once it's lost, it's lost forever. Do we really want to rip up the last farmed field in St Austell for the sake of 50 properties?
"In Cornwall Council's Site Allocation Development Plan Document, this land in question has not been identified as a potential for development. In fact, quite the opposite, this land has been protected. It has specifically been identified as a ‘green buffer zone’, a clear boundary within the town specifically included to protect a sensitive or critical area."
Cllr Rowse added: "Within Cornwall Council's Local Plan, it states that St Austell will need to provide around 2,900 dwellings by 2030. St Austell has been saturated with housing growth for the last 20/30 years, and in doing so St Austell now represents Cornwall's largest town. Since 2010, 1,903 properties have been built, and around 1,200 are either under construction or have been granted planning permission. Way over 3,000 in total, but circa 4,000 in the last 23 years. The equivalent of a small town.
"That means that, because of the concentration of development at such a rate, we have passed enough planning consents for properties in St Austell to meet our 2,900 Local Plan allocation, eight years earlier than we needed to. That means that any application that is granted planning permission in St Austell now is technically surplus to requirements.
"And, just to add, this is just in the town of St Austell, this doesn't include the huge developments at Higher Trewhiddle, the eco-town [at Carclaze] or the huge development at Holmbush all within a mile of the town. Not only this, but in recent months we have just received a planning statement to develop the old council offices on Penwinnick Road in St Austell, with up to a further 180 homes for the town.
"We have been inundated at every angle. And, just to highlight, to date only 23% of the circa 3,000 are affordable homes for local families. At what point do we stop and take breath?"
The meeting also heard that St Austell Town Council opposed the proposal. Cllr Malcolm Brown outlined his council's objections.
He said: "The town council considered this application, probably appropriately, on Halloween. We had large members of the public present and they were universally opposed to the application for a variety of good reasons. They're not NIMBY objections, they are for a range of feelings.
"St Austell Town Council has generally been very supportive of development. We've had to be as we've had more than virtually any other town in Cornwall, but we don't think this is an acceptable site."
Following further discussions about the loss of vital agricultural land and the need for more substantial mining surveys of the land, the central sub-area planning committee voted unanimously to refuse the application on the grounds of loss of versatile land and harm caused to the distinctive character of the area, as well as the loss of a green buffer zone between St Austell town and Carlyon Bay parish.