(This page last updated 30 Oct 2010)

An informal report

We thought our supporters might like to hear about the hearing, so below is a daily and very informal account, based on my recollections while in the audience. There's not been time to get it checked, so it certainly doesn't represent the position of our representatives or the group as a whole. (See disclaimer here). It is certainly no more than a short summary and is not intended to be a full account of a very long hearing.

This account covers the most recent day first so start with Day 1 if this is your first visit.

 

Thursday 28th October - The Final Day.

Well, the hearing is over, and I think we had a better day although what the outcome will be is not something I can predict. Our witnesses (in my view) did an absolutely outstanding job in difficult circumstances. It's not a pleasant experience being cross-examined by one of the foremost planning barristers in the UK. A lot will depend on the weight the Inspector will give to local opinion as to whether he agrees with us that the building is indeed very visually intrusive and also that it is clearly in the wrong place. He must be able to see how sincere and genuine the views of our group are, and hopefully realise that it does represent the opinion of the vast majority of the public. Also we hope we have successfully proved the building is in the wrong place and a good 3 to 4 metres higher than was intended by the National Park DMC when they delegated the final decision to the Officers who let us all down. .

I'm going to list our witnesses and the main points. They gave some very convincing evidence (although I admit I'm biased!).

Ros McGarry covered how the views and experience of walking the local paths have been adversely affected and discussed how the many visitors to the park find the building intrusive and ask "how can this have happened?"

Sandra Bayes, referring back to the original plans and minutes was able to produce overlay diagrams, of the type to be found on this web site. She showed that the as-built dwelling was a huge 3.6 metres above the level it should have been. This was based on the assumption that the dwelling should have been sited with the ground floor at the same level as the previous dwelling and justified that with an extensive list of references from the various Officers' reports. She also showed that the DMC had always intended this to have the appearance of a 2 (not a 3) storey dwelling with reference to various notes and minutes. She also demonstrated that the as-built dwelling was closer to the entrance (the only element from the 2005 survey discernable on the stamped approved site plan) than either side had previously agreed. She argued that this was of significant importance in visual intrusion to the public path around the site.

Hywel Williams demonstrated the degree to which the previous wetland and other trees and vegetation had been destroyed and described the excess water after the construction of the as-built development and considerable groundworks that now flowed not just onto his property but those of other neighbours which the new Local Development Plan policy is designed to prevent happening.

Susan Potts gave an excellent explanation of how difficult it is to get the types of trees proposed in the proposed landscaping scheme to survive on this North facing and wind swept shore.

Reg Atkinson demonstrated how out of character Bettws Newydd is by comparison with the other historic buildings that line the Parrog (including both "Sea Captain's house" and "fisherman's cottages"), as well as how it really damaged the conservation area on the border of which the building lies. This forms the setting of the Parrog Conservation Area and should have been protected from a visually intrusive development by applying supplementary planning guidance on conservation areas.

Robbie Manson covered many key points admirably. He had to raise the fact the the Officers had made made many mistakes by referring (amongst other matters) to the Ifor Jones report which admitted the bad mistakes that the Officers had made on levels. He also pointed out that there was no legality in the agreements on levels reached "under duress" by Officers and the Developer's Agent long after construction had started, something agreed with by the other sides albeit for different reasons.

I will mention one other speaker, Teresa Grafton, FRAS (retired Education Officer of the London Planetarium) who pointed out that there was virtually no light pollution in that area of Newport Parrog as demonstrated by the views of the Milky Way and the fact that the faintest object visible to the naked eye (the Andromeda Galaxy) is clearly visible. Thus light pollution from the huge area of glass fronting Bettws Newydd is something that really must be minimised as covered in the new Policy 9 of the Local Development Plan.

In the afternoon there was a long discussion about what conditions should be attached to the new application in the event that the appeal was allowed, which I won't cover more here. The appeal then completed with the summing up by all sides.

Graham Walters (barrister for the National Park) stated that comparison of the 2006 drawings and the proposed and as-built building showed that the design is materially different, as the 2006 scheme showed a scheme set down in the ground with curved staircases giving a strong horizontality The proposal, by contrast, is taller and thinner and set above ground giving a prominent appearance. He also did come some way to correcting what Lyn Powell had seemed to imply yesterday about location, saying that the NPA submit that the fall -back (the 2006 approved scheme) would not be sited where the as-built dwelling currently stands and would be less visually intrusive.

Adrian Trevelyan Thomas (barrister for the appellant) stated that in his side's view the as-built development was not only unauthorised, it was not an implementation of the 2006 scheme. In Mr Nicholas' evidence it was stated that he would build the 2006 scheme if he has to demolish what is on site. The appellant's side did not agree that the as-built dwelling was wrongly sited.

In our summing up, Robbie Manson emphasised that BNOG believed that both appeals (against refusal of the retrospective application and against the enforcement notice) should be dismissed. Robbie also stated that BNOG held that the levels cited in the "statement of common grounds" as having been agreed by both parties had not lawfully been approved during the application process, because such agreement occurred only after the foundations and slab level had been poured and set, rather than prior to the commencement of the building works as required by the relevant planning condition.

BNOG argues that the fall-back scheme (the 2006 scheme as shown on the stamped approved plans) is for a building at least 5 metres both further north and east on the site and thus further from the entrance and at least 3.6 metres lower to the ridge than the as-built dwelling because it is set down into the surrounding ground with a ground floor around the level of the original bungalow.

...and that was it, and given the lack of any more time, that's it for this blog as well. We will try to put some more information up as soon as we have recovered from a very lengthy and tense experience! I will just say that it seems to me that the Inspector handled what could have been a very difficult hearing very well in a considered and very courteous way. We were given the time we needed to make our case for which we are very grateful.

Wednesday 27th October - Day 5.

The day started with the conclusion of he National Park witness, Lyn Powell. In general he made some excellent and very telling points. You can see his evidence on the Appeals portal if you wish - see our Appeals Page for details of how to find this. My main concern. however, was that in cross examination he stated that the siting of the building was not very important and it could in fact be equally well be placed in a number of positions on site without detriment. We disagree with this, and are not sure why he said so. Putting the building so far up the slope has markedly raised the level and thus the overall intrusiveness. This overlay diagram shows (from the October 2009 Officer's report) shows how much the building has been moved, although I should add that the Appellant's Barrister is disputing the accuracy of this drawing.

By the middle of the day, the National Park completed their case, and we were finally able to start making our own case. We didn't get long as the hearing was suspended at 3 pm for the site visit, during which the Inspector visited the site and also walked along a number of the local paths as well as visiting the other side of the estuary to see the building from there also. I'll report on all our witnesses in tomorrow's entry as a single item.

Tuesday 26th October - Day 4.

This blog is going to be rather short from now on, as I've been given the job of operating the projector, so can't really take the notes I need, or write this while sitting in the audience!

The hearing resumed (there was no session yesterday), and progress was perhaps a little faster. The morning was almost completely taken up with the questioning of the Appellant's Landscape Architect Gary Soltys. These was much discussion about his plans but from our point of view the most important item (in my view) was the fact that a number of his plans show levels at defined cross sections. To most of us present these showed that the building was not sunk into the earth but instead was mostly perched on top of it, and this was brought out in the cross-examination by our representative.

In the afternoon the National Park started to present its case. Firstly the landscape architect Richard Staden presented his evidence. He had given a very considered position with some excellent points, but unfortunately during what I thought was rather aggressive cross examination by Mr Trevelyan Thomas, many of these may have been diminished.

The next witness was Lyn Powell for the National Park. He is an impressive speaker and really did manage to stand up to the Appellant's Barrister during cross-examination. He stated that in his opinion the 2006 permission should never have been given. We went through his statement which you can see on the Appeal Portal. That's it - I did say it would be short.

Friday 22nd October - Day 3.

Well - we still haven't completed hearing and cross examining all the Appellant's witnesses. This hearing is probably going to run into Thursday next week at the present rate and everyone who can has now reserved the day. There's a break until Tuesday 26th October, so there won't be anything happening (in public at least) on Monday.

The cross-examination of the current architect, Jeff Davies, took up the entire morning, despite another 9:30 am start. This was another morning of detailed questions about levels. I now understand his reason for challenging the 2005 Site survey levels - he has compared the levels of points which he asserts cannot have changed on the 2005 and 2010 Topographic surveys, and the former seems to be marked with levels about half a metre lower than the later survey. If the difference in levels were to reflect a difficulty with the 2005 survey then it might follow that a reduction in the excess height of the as-built structure of a similar magnitude could be warranted. He was submitted to very searching questions by Graham Walters (PCNPA) and often had trouble understanding the questions. He also often resorted to not knowing the basis for the question, or the question being outside his experience as a reason for not answering. Must have been quite gruelling for him.

One particular drawing of note, which our representative raised can be seen here. This is of the east elevation and shows various levels. It appears to show the previously existing ground level as well as showing the path and land around the structure as rather higher than before. It was presented to illustrate that certainly on the northern side (right of picture) there was never any attempt to ‘cut in’ the building form, down into the slope of the surrounding ground level. Instead, we believe the land around the structure to the west and south has been raised during 2007 by up to 2 metres, and we will continue to present evidence that levels have been raised by material brought onto site. In this case, however, it was pointed out by the architect that the existing levels line might have been the hedge, and the architect could not recall where he had taken as being the line. But we were able to demonstrate that the landscape plan originally submitted with this application showed it to be about half- way between the hedge-bank and the eastern elevation of the building and the levels shown on that plan correspond to those shown on this elevation drawing.

There were some encouraging questions at the end when the Inspector asked questions on a number of matters that I thought showed he had taken on board the fact that the house was not sunken into the ground as it should have been. He also asked a good question about where the curved staircases shown on the "3D" drawings had gone to. They certainly improved a rather ugly building a little in my view - let's hope that's what the inspector thinks also.

In the afternoon the Landscape Architect Gary Soltys presented his evidence. He was quite impressive, and more considered than other witnesses I thought. However, by asking questions the Barrister for the Appellant already has showed quite a few over optimistic assumptions and errors in his plan. These were, I think, in expectation that some very real criticisms of the landscaping plan will emerge. He also has yet to be cross-examined. I know some of our members who have tried to grow trees in that locality think his growth assumptions are extremely optimistic. My own view is that the landscaping is a device to mitigate the impact of a building that is too high, too big and in the wrong place, with acres of glass shining across the bay emitting light pollution - so however good a landscaping plan is, it will only partially mitigate the intrusiveness of the building. Not that this stopped the witnesses today from saying what a lovely building it was and how unobtrusive it was. Oh well, as was once famously said, they would say that, wouldn't they!

No time for more tonight, so I've probably missed some very important points. The resident wasp buzzed around happily today on a bright afternoon.

 

 

Thursday 21st October - Day 2.

We were greatly assisted today by the installation of a p.a system and the very welcome provision of tea and coffee at breaks for all present!

Progress remains very slow - we've only managed to hear another three witnesses (the (appellant himself, his structural engineer and his new architect.). Cross examination of the architect has yet to start. This means the inquiry will run well into next week. Even when it is complete there will be a wait of at least two or three weeks before a decision is reached.

The most interesting person we heard from today was the developer. There is obviously sympathy for the plight in which he finds himself. The blame seems to be directed towards the original architect, Gordon Davis of Pembroke Dock. He apparently vanished into thin air in June 2007. No-one knows where he is or where he lives. I wonder if he is aware he is now the fall guy? Having put his trust in this professional, Nolan Nicholas seems to have taken a back seat and left him to run the show. He (Nicholas) stated that he didn't even know there were any conditions attached to the planning consent given in 2006 (for example the one saying levels should be agreed before construction started.)

The other thing to emerge, causing our BNOG experts some surprise, is that he stated that a "unrecorded" agreement seems to have been made with a planning officer way back in 2006 before plans were even submitted. This agreement was that the ground floor of the new development could be situated at the level of the top of the public footpath steps up as they rise to the stile, which then leads into the field adjoining the site to the south - the coping stone to be precise. This is a very substantially higher level than even the elevated entrance level to the old bungalow, and (in my personal view) much much higher than any reasonable person would think was intended based for the ground floor level of the replacement building on a study of all the drawings and plans that were eventually approved, together with the associated letters etc. However, I understood the Developer to concede, when cross examined by our side, that this definition of “agreement” may have amounted to nothing more than that his, and his then architect’s ambitions, were clearly put to the planning case officer during this meeting, so that she must “have known” what they were!

The Appellant was questioned closely by Graham Walters, the Barrister for the National Park, concerning the date and details of the meeting at which this agreement was reached. Mr Walters announced to all that he may have to, very unusually, call a witness to clarify details of who was present and what took place. This witness must surely be Vicki Hirst, the Officer allegedly present at this meetings though this does not seem to be documented anywhere on National Park files. The assertion that everyone on the Appellant's team was working to this ground floor level (see above) was repeated over and over again by various of the appellant's witnesses, and was the level supposedly agreed to in the infamous July 2006 letter.

I thought that our biggest achievement today came when Robert Manson (representing us) did an excellent job in pointing out that there was a 2 m discrepancy between the level of the path leading to the house from the entrance as shown in a 2005 site survey, and the most recent site survey in 2010. This was undoubtedly due to many dumper loads of spoil (from sewer diggings nearby) being brought on to the site in early Summer 2007 to raise site levels. Robbie then produced a letter from a local resident witnessing this event which took place over two weekends. Yet both the Appellant's agent (Robin Williams) and Nicholas himself both testified that no material of this type had been brought onto site or certainly only sufficient to support the ground retaining walls and cover over a ‘french’ drain. They've been caught out here, then, and I hope this was duly noted by the inspector.

My final comment for today is to that the Inspector certainly has his work cut out on this appeal. As we all know, this is a remarkably complex case, and detailed evidence is produced about multiple pieces of data drawn from this plan and that, over a lengthy timescale. The mind boggles as to how he or anyone can be expected to make sense of it all!

The day began with squalls and ended in autumn sunshine . It's far too soon to say whether this could be construed as a favourable omen! However, the Memorial Hall's resident wasp appeared more agitated today than yesterday.

 

Wednesday 20th October - the first day.

Well – the inquiry started at 10 am today. Entering the Memorial Hall in Newport there was a quite intimidating array of be-suited barristers and witnesses lined up on both sides as well as the somewhat less formally attired Opposition Group representatives. It was good to see both the local paper (The Western Telegraph) and the BBC represented in the audience as well as quite a few others from the Town Council and other locals.

There are some formidable people on the benches. The Appellant is being represented by Adrian Trevelyan Thomas (a Barrister specialising in Planning Law, education Magdalene College, Cambridge) and the National Park by Graham Walters (a Barrister based in Cardiff educated at Wadham College, Oxford.) Oh well, then it's Oxford versus Cambridge yet again!

Technical advice is provided by Asbri Planning on behalf of the Appellant and by RPS Planners on behalf of the National Park. It seems that the National Park Officers are not to appear - those same people who made all the mistakes that have left us having to go through this hearing, and whose presence would have enabled a quick answer to be obtained to some of today's questions. To me it seems strange that the Officers responsible are to be kept well away from the hearing - is this a deliberate decision so they don't open up more of the can of worms? I think the official position would be that the Officers had previously supported the application to regularise what has been built, so if they took the case forward there would be a conflict of interest. But they could at least have been available.

One key development is that the old Joint Unitary Development Plan (JUDP) was replaced by the new Local Development Plan on 29th September 2009. Thus the appeal against refusal of permission will have to consider this new plan rather than the old.

During the day a number of admissions came to light. It was admitted that the building was in fact constructed to what are being called “The Building Regulation” plans and not to the approved plans. These altered plans show the building with a number of changes requested by the owner and reflects what has in fact been built (subject to much argument about the levels).

The appellant’s agents also now admit they should have got planning permission for the changed building at the end of 2006 and not waited until this was required by the National Park (and then only following protests, I might add!) The Appellant’s agent, Robin Williams, went through a lengthy statement. This was (it seems to me) primarily designed to prove that the differences between what has been built and what was approved are very minor. (We disagree, of course!) He was certainly subjected to a very lengthy cross examination by the Barrister representing the Park, and quite a number of errors were uncovered. He was then questioned by Robbie Manson, representing our opposition group. The most important thing to come out of this, is that we dispute what the base level of the building should have been. This one will take much work to resolve I suspect.

So after a full day, we've had just one witness testify - this could be a long one.

There's been a petition in favour of the development - with (I think) about 60 signatures. The person behind it (and who handed it over) is one of the developer's contractors. That compares with almost 500 of you that signed our petition of opposition in March and April 2009.

I'll try and keep this blog going so you can all keep in touch if you wish.

The BNOG Webmaster.

 

Disclaimer: This ‘blog report’ is prepared by the webmaster from his daily recollections whilst present in the audience, and reflects only his impressions. It is not intended to be a full account and is certainly not going to be 100% correct , if only because it is very difficult to hear everything on occasions. It is also important to note that it is not pre-approved by the BNOG committee and most especially does not necessarily reflect the position put by those officially representing BNOG at the Inquiry. It has not been submitted to any formal review by anyone for accuracy. I will, of course, immediately correct anything that is incorrect. Please write to info@parrog.org.uk

 

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