Campaign group vows to continue to protect community from over-development

By Paul Evans   |   Content editor   |
Saturday 5th March 2022 4:40 pm
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Stepaside campaigners
Members of the Stepaside and Pleasant Valley Residents Group at the High Court (SPRVG )

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A group of campaigners have vowed to learn from key lessons in their battle against what they call ‘over development’ - having lost a judicial review case against planning permission granted by the local authority at the Heritage Park in Stepaside.

The Stepaside and Pleasant Valley Residents Group (SPVRG) headed to the High Court towards the end of last year, to try and prove that Pembrokeshire County Council had wrongly granted permission for 29 caravans in the north of the site in 2021.

In 1987, the old Dyfed Council granted a planning permission, and in return the owner of the Heritage Park signed a legal agreement guaranteeing that the north of the site would never be used for anything other than parking.

In their case SPVRG stated that PCC who own the site were aware of the agreement, and informed their leaseholder of it in 2006, but then forgot about it, and in 2010 entered into an arrangement with the leaseholder, agreeing in advance, a plan to site caravans on the north of the site

PCC later granted planning permission for the proposed caravan development in 2016, but only rediscovered the 1987 permission and agreement in their files on May 7, 2021; and two weeks later, on May 27, proceeded to grant permission for even larger caravans in the north of the site without considering either of the rediscovered 1987 planning permission or legal agreement.

In taking legal action, SPVRG believed as the agreement was binding over all future owners of the site, PCC were acting in direct contravention of the legal agreement, by not to enforcing the agreement against themselves (as freeholder) as a conflict of interest and contrary to the public interest.

Before launching the legal challenge, SPVRG stated it had ‘exhausted all alternative avenues’ of persuading PCC to prevent the expansion of the Heritage Park into greenfield areas at the very north of the site, towards Stepaside, including the car park.

However, recently the campaign group lost their legal challenge against the 2021 planning permission granted, with the case’s judge, Mrs. Justice Steyn dismissing their claims.

“Significantly, the judge seemingly accepted our evidence that in 1994, the Dyfed county planning officer believed that a 1987 planning permission and legal agreement had permanently removed all rights for caravans and tents to be placed at the north of the site,” said a disappointed Alec Cormack secretary of the Stepaside and Pleasant Valley Residents' Group.

“However she then decided that, for the purpose of deciding the fate of the 2021 permission, PCC were entitled to disregard Dyfed’s view, primarily because PCC have since lost many of the historical records, which may have given a contrary view.

“The SPVRG committee members and I are deeply disappointed by this, but we had our day in court and must accept the judge’s decision is final.

“Moving on we must consider how we can learn from this so that we can best protect our rural community from over-development.

“In this legal action we were primarily challenging gross planning mistakes made by PCC between 2010 to 2016. Those errors had knock-on effects to the permission granted in 2021.

“The court decided firstly those historical decisions were too old to be challenged now, and that PCCs failure to maintain records meant the court was unable to determine if PCC had made any error in law in 2021.

“The key lesson for us all is that in future we must be vigilant for planning applications being proposed, considered and taken. We must be ready in advance to object where necessary, so that we are prepared to challenge immediately if the wrong decision is made,” he continued.

“The court defeat only means there is planning permission for 29 caravans at the north of the site, but the lease covenant legally prevents that permission being fully implemented as granted, so we still have a strong position from which to fight and hopefully at least ensure that only a few caravans are placed in the north of the Heritage Park.

“SPVRG have already forced PCC to concede that a public consultation will be undertaken before any decision to release this covenant is taken.

“This consultation is likely to take place in the next few months and SPVRG will be campaigning to raise awareness of the consultation and maximise the number of objections from residents.

“Just because we did not win, does not mean we were wrong to fight! I am proud that as a community we were prepared to stand up against such poor decisions made by PCC.

“Additionally, during this challenge we have obtained a great deal of documentation PCC had previously not disclosed, which we can use to support the legal agreements restricting development at the north of the site.

“Ultimately we were just too late in starting the challenge this time - but even then the judge took three and a half months to decide against us!

“I want to thank the dozens of people who have donated their time and money in support of this action,” added Mr. Cormack.

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