Builder wins appeal to 'cram' homes in open countryside

One councillor objected, saying the area in question has been designated in the local plan as protected green space.

Builder wins appeal to ‘cram’ homes onto open countryside in West Lothian Google Maps

A house builder has won an appeal on its plans to develop a site in West Lothian which councillors had rejected for “cramming” homes onto open countryside 

The council rejected plans in January by Taylor Wimpey to build almost 200 homes on a field at Sibbald’s Brae on the western edge of Bathgate, branding the development plan as cramming.

Labour councillor Harry Cartmill slated the decision saying: “The Reporter has powers that belong in North Korea, not 2022 Scotland.” 

While a spokesperson for the builders said they were “delighted” that the decision had been reversed, councillor Cartmill was scathing at the Reporter’s ruling.

He said: “That this one person can overrule the democratic decision of local councillors and, crucially, the collective voice of a whole community is basically a knife through the heart of democracy as we know it”.

His anger was echoed by council leader, Labour’s Lawrence Fitzpatrick. 

This year he has hit out at a string of appeals against rejected housing developments which Reporters, appointed by the Scottish Government’s Division of Environmental and Planning Appeals (DEPA), have upheld.

He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “The planning system is in total disrepute when one Reporter finds his decision on housing supply issue whereas other Reporters have found to the contrary.”

Councillor Fitzpatrick added: “I have formally asked the planning minister for a meeting to press the issue and have twice been refused. Pre-devolution, and even before 2007, a council leader would never have been rebuffed for a meeting.”

Councillor Cartmill said: “Why the Reporter sided with Taylor Wimpey is a total mystery.

“The area in question has been designated in the local plan as protected green space. It has three European protected species abundant – great crested newts, short eared bats and water voles, as well as almost 200 year old protected oak and beech trees.

“These precious species and their habitat will be totally destroyed, the water course running through the area in question runs to the Little Boghead Nature Park – this will now most likely be polluted.

“Our GP Surgeries will be inundated by new patients they cannot accommodate.

“Incredibly, they were not consulted by the Reporter. Our schools are already over subscribed – they too were not consulted – I could go on but finally the entrance to this development of 190 houses is at the base of Sibbalds Brae.

“Tthis is arguably the most dangerous road in Bathgate with the reverse camber and steep slope so close to Windyknowe Primary School.”

The town’s community council had objected to the plans, as had neighbours of the site. 

One of the 150 objectors, Sandra Malloy, told the January meeting of the Development Management Committee that her garden fence would be a boundary with six of the new homes.

The only concession to the allegation of “cramming” has been the Scottish Government’s Reporter adding a condition demanding a redraw of the plan along the Malloys’ garden boundary.

Concluding her decision to uphold the plan, the Reporter, Claire Milne said: “The acceptability of the principle of residential development at this site has been established by the grant of planning permission in principle.

“This appeal is concerned with the details submitted in response to conditions attached to that planning permission. I find that the details submitted are generally consistent with the grant of planning permission.”

A spokesperson for Taylor Wimpey said: “We lodged this appeal on the basis that, in our opinion, we comply with all the Council’s Local Development Plan and design guidance policies, contrary to the reasons for the refusal upon which the Planning Committee’s decision was based.

“Planning Permission in Principle (PPiP) was granted for the development in February 2020.”

“We are looking forward to starting our development of 189 much-needed homes, including 29 affordable homes to be delivered in partnership with Dunedin Canmore.

“We expect to begin pre-construction works within the next few months.

“Despite being significantly delayed by the appeal process, we firmly believe that this positive outcome will contribute towards addressing the urgent housing need in Bathgate.”

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