We have criticised the Secretary of State for Environment for granting consent for further works on Leigh Common near Wimborne in Dorset. However, we welcome the views of his inspector that there are ‘clear policy reasons to reject an application for this proposal’ under the procedure adopted by the developers, even though she went on to grant consent in this instance.
The consent is for works on Leigh Common to create a new junction on Leigh Road, to service a development on land to the south. The developer, Lewis Wyatt (Construction) Ltd, has been authorised to proceed with the works to remodel the road layout, even though the works are on common land, and require the special consent of the Secretary of State under section 38 of the Commons Act 2006.
This is the second consent granted for road works on Leigh Road, after another inspector granted consent to Gleeson Developments Ltd in August 2017.
Said Hugh Craddock, one of our case officers: ‘This is a very significant decision—the inspector accepted our argument that the Secretary of State’s own policy demands that works of this kind should have been facilitated by an exchange of land, involving some of the open space in the development being newly designated as protected common land. But the inspector proceeded nevertheless to grant consent for two reasons.
‘First, the original consent in 2017 had set something of a precedent, and guided the applicant’s expectations. Second, an application to exchange land would have required the involvement of the council, and the applicant said the council’s staff were too busy.
‘We do not accept that the alleged inability of the council to join in an application to exchange land is a legitimate reason for proceeding contrary to the Secretary of State’s established policy. But we are glad that the inspector accepted our arguments that, in similar cases, policy does require an exchange, and “in other circumstances the policy arguments for rejecting this application may hold firm”.
‘In short, Lewis Wyatt (Construction) Ltd was lucky to get the consent which it applied for. We shall draw the inspector’s comments to the attention of other developers who try to get away without providing exchange land for works on commons, and we shall suggest that it is in their own interests to get the application right first time, and avoid unnecessary delay. Otherwise, they could have their applications turned down by the inspector, and risk having to start all over again, with six or twelve months’ delay to the development.’
Hugh adds: ‘We wish that the inspector had had the courage of her convictions to apply the same logic to Leigh Common, rather than condemning this part of the common to be a highway junction, with local people getting nothing in return for the loss of the common.’