We would not be here if Rushmoor head of planning had not lied on the state of the trees, if spineless councillors on the planning committee did their job and questioned what was put before them.
Planning consent was granted last summer to destroy Firgrove Green for an unwanted 80-bed Premier Inn Hotel, and to destroy the four businesses at Firgrove Parade.
Almost immediately, tree surgeons were on the green cutting down the trees. The green was fenced off and the footpath running diagonally across the green, a popular short cut into town, illegally blocked off.
Bride Hall have been forced to apply for a Stopping-Up Order on the footpath, as otherwise, their unwanted development cannot go ahead.
The meeting started with barrister dumping several new documents. The correct procedure then should have been to either refuse the documents, or for the inquiry to be adjourned.
Following opening statements by the chairman, a long presentation by a so-called highways expert acting for the developer.
He came across as a clueless idiot.
He claimed, the path across the green was not safe, as badly lit at night and that those crossing the green were not observed. The impression given was that of going down a dangerous muggers alley.
He also claimed the route around the green was shorter, that it was the better route, and that it was safer.
Under cross examination, it was shown he had misled the inquiry. Having claimed there was no informal observation of the green, he was asked had he made a site visit? He said he had. He was then asked had he not noticed the CCTV? It was also drawn to his attention, the residential properties that overlook the green.
For some perverse reason, the ‘highways expert’ objected to a site notice that the footpath was to be closed for yet another unwanted hotel. Under cross examination, he was no clearer. Especially as part of their argument why they should be granted the Stopping-Up Order, was because they wished to build their hotel.
This also indicates a serious flaw in the entire process. At planning, committee instructed to ignore loss of a public right of way. At Public Inquiry, the demand is that loss of the public right of way be automatically granted on the grounds planning has been granted.
Objectors gave their views, the footpath gave a convenient short cut, has been in use over a very long period of time, it was safer as not likely to be jostled into a busy road, that fencing off of the green and illegal obstruction of the footpath gave the opportunity to observe what it would be like.
The highway expert, had produced a quick ball park figure, which would indicate few people on the footpath around the green. This did not match what local people had observed. He was also forced to admit there had been no survey carried out of the number of people actually using the various paths.
He was asked could he produce any crime data to support his assertion the path across the green was not safe. He admitted he could not.
Each objector was cross examined by the barrister for the developer. Much of his questioning was of no relevance as he referred to their objection to the planning application. The chairman in his opening statement, had made very clear, we could not go over the grounds of the planning application, a decision had been made to grant planning, and that could not be reversed. All we could consider were matters relevant to the public right of way. And yet, the chairman failed to intervene.
The second line of questioning, was to ask, is a wider path not preferable, is a path well lit not preferable, is it not better to walk a safer route?
A moment of light relief, Rushmoor lack more than a couple of brain cells to rub together.
The barrister made much in his cross-examination, that the path across the green, was narrower than that around the green, were it to be fenced in. This was challenged by one of the objectors. What was under discussion, was the legal right to cross the green, not the width of a specific path, the highway authority could choose to widen the path, and it would be churlish of the developer to fence it in and deny access to the green. The barrister wisely chose not to cross-examine on these points.
In his summing up, the barrister gave the impression Bride Hall was a benign organisation, their only interest in the stopping-up, to direct people around a safer route. His view of safe, was different to that of objectors, who do not regard safe, being jostled into a busy road.
He also summarised, that as Bride Hall had planning permission (the application being fairly handled by Rushmoor), then it was only proper they be granted a Stopping-Up Order, else their hotel could not go ahead.
The formal part of the inquiry was then closed.
There then followed a site visit. No additional information could be supplied. But, attention could be drawn to various aspects relating to the inquiry, for example CCTV and apartments overlooking the site, The Tumbledown Dick which will generate additional foot traffic.
The objectors made a very good case. They were also able to expose the flaws in the developers case. They had a fair hearing, which is more than can ever be said before Rushmoor planning committee.
The Planning Inspector now has to write a report and present his findings to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State then grants or does not grant the Stopping-Up Order.
Present: a member of the planning committee, a planning official and a local troll who delights in posting abuse.