Stop Adnams, Save Victoria Street

by John Hedges

Stop Adnams, Save Victoria Street

by John Hedges
John Hedges
Case Owner
We're Southwold residents who fear for our safety and our street. Adnams want to create a car park here, misleading the council with a dodgy dossier to gain approval. A JR is our last hope.
Funded
on 13th December 2016
£3,300
pledged of £3,760 stretch target from 40 pledges
John Hedges
Case Owner
We're Southwold residents who fear for our safety and our street. Adnams want to create a car park here, misleading the council with a dodgy dossier to gain approval. A JR is our last hope.

Latest: April 2, 2017

Round 4

The statutory return from Suffolk Highways, the third for this application (a record?) turned out to be a brief comment on the Transport Assessment we commissioned to counter the misleading one pro...

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Residents are seeking help for a Judicial Review to quash a scheme approved on the basis of a dodgy dossier.  

Adnams own the Swan hotel in Southwold.  Its a lovely listed building they aim to refurbish (long overdue), with an added beer garden for the Brewery tour customers.  Sounds good, but there's a downside: to make space they plan to shift the car park , close the High St access to cars and open up a new two-way access from Victoria St.  It's a sleepy residential road with almost all houses listed or locally listed... some going back to the 1630s ... that epitomises Southwold's charm and character.  It also has some unusual features. Our part of the street has the Brewery at one end with fork-lift trucks unloading HGVs on the roadway and a blind corner and junction at the other. Diverting hotel traffic from the High St. to the new hotel main entrance will force it through a swathe of the conservation area and increase Victoria St traffic by 50%.  

It's dangerous - which you wouldn't know from the dodgy dossier, the Adnams' Traffic report, which states that:

  1. the access specification for the Swan's 32 space car park meets the required standard for visibility - although it gives 30% less visibility than the standard access to a single domestic dwelling.
  2. there were no personal injury accidents in the vicinity of the proposed access in the last five years - although there was one last year by the Brewery and two others with cars crashing through garden fences at a blind corner at the other end of the street, all within 100 m of the access.
  3. a new access may be safely provided - although the forecast 50% increase in Victoria St traffic is never explicitly mentioned, that's an extra 46,700 cars a year, and its impact on safety is not considered!

It doesn't take a highways expert to realise that to create a sub-standard access in a narrow street with a recent history of road traffic accidents and to increase the traffic flow by 50% is likely to increase hazards for residents and all road users to a dangerous level.

It's damaging too - residents and the character of the conservation area will suffer from the impact of:

  1. intrusive noise and light from the car park and access control (24/7) - not considered by another dodgy dossier, the Adnams' Noise report, which should have considered all those car park noises that carry so far at night, such as: the access control intercom in use, car doors being slammed, cars starting and accelerating away.
  2. a 50 m tract of tarmac that will replace rose covered walls in the street scene - which will change the character of the conservation area.
  3. the inevitably prominent advertising and direction signage that will be needed to route traffic through the conservation area to the new Swan entrance - but is still not specified.

This scheme will benefit Adnams and its customers but it has negligible, if any, public benefit. Unless we can stop it, it will adversely affect all residents of Victoria St and nearby roads as well as the many visitors who stay here on holiday.

Adnams is by far the biggest company and employer in Southwold.  What it wants it usually gets, although not to everyone's satisfaction.  It likes to portray itself as a socially responsible company and a good neighbour.  It does have a track record of good deeds and charitable work but it is also has a good PR operation that likes to make a virtue out of necessity.  

In this case it persuaded Southwold Town Council (STC) to change its initial opposition to the scheme by offering so-called concessions.  As any experienced developer would know, these were no more than could reasonably be expected as conditions of planning approval - as they were.  These, with the dodgy dossiers, were enough to sway STC, which in turn helped to persuade Waveney District Council (WDC), the planning authority, to give approval.  

Adnams also played the "jobs at risk" card, but since we're only trying to stop the car park being shifted there are no jobs at risk and Adnams financial viability is hardly likely to be affected.

So sure of approval was it that Adnams started work even before approval was given.  We seem to have achieved a temporary stop, but only because we alerted Waveney District Council (the planning authority) to this breach of planning conditions.  

We do need to move quickly with a Judicial Review of the approval for this scheme, the only way we can get it objectively assessed, so we can stop it for good and Save Victoria Street.

Your help would be most appreciated.

Many thanks for your contribution.

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Update 6

John Hedges

April 2, 2017

Round 4

The statutory return from Suffolk Highways, the third for this application (a record?) turned out to be a brief comment on the Transport Assessment we commissioned to counter the misleading one produced in support.  Although our Assessment provided clear evidence that the proposed access would be highly dangerous, for example with sight-lines less than the "thinking distance" for cars travelling at 20 mph, the return glibly remarked that it provided no new information and so their position had not changed.

The return was quoted in a revised version of the planning officer's report which again recommended approval.  It came before the Waveney District Council's planning committee on 28 March.  Again we objected, stressing the dangers and pointing out that the FOI response revealed that the highways engineers did not believe their own justification for approval.  But again the planning committee approved the application, unanimously, with only a cursory discussion.

Although we expected the decision, it is disappointing that the planning system allows such bizarre decisions to be made with impunity.  

So Round 4 to Adnams as we consider the prospects for another judicial review! 

Update 5

John Hedges

March 3, 2017

Round 3 - Would you believe it?

Our claim for a judicial review (JR) was based on the grounds that the Waveney District Council (WDC) planning committee was misled on heritage and traffic impacts.  Although WDC initially agreed to our reasons it later changed its stance to agree it was misled only on heritage grounds.  

This change was agreed with Adnams and Suffolk County Council (SCC – the highways authority). One inference being that when WDC comes to reassess the planning application it would be able to rely on the traffic assessment prepared for Adnams and the statutory return from SCC, both supportive.

The proposed access is so obviously sub-standard and therefore dangerous to Victoria St. residents and road users that we decided to initiate a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to SCC.  This sought details of communications between Adnams and SCC that led to SCC's decision to issue a supportive statutory return and the evidence used to support it.

The response was very revealing:

  • the proposed access has 8 m visibility one way and 18 m the other

  • this was not acceptable to SCC because the minimum visibility standard for a new access in a 30 mph area is 43 m in both directions, but this could be reduced to 25 m when speeds are below 20 mph

  • an access with 25 m visibility was possible but would require more time and cost to develop, which was not acceptable to Adnams

  • this impasse was cleared shortly after the SCC Chief Executive took an interest 

  • another site visit came up with the ploy that the existing Swan car park access to the Market Place, in use since the 17thCentury, was dangerous

  • this danger was so great that it outweighed the danger that would be created in Victoria St. thus, provided the existing access was closed to cars, the proposed access would be justified by a net reduction in danger – Bingo!

  • privately, the SCC officers involved expressed doubts whether this was true.

With such apparently compelling evidence of wilful misconduct and procedural impropriety we initiated a second JR claim, this time on SCC.  We asked that the highways statutory return be reissued, either with substantive evidence to justify access approval or to recommend refusal.

Naturally SCC denied all alleged wrongdoing but, conveniently, WDC has just asked SCC for another statutory return by 14 March, for the WDC planning meeting on 28 March.

We await Round 4 with bated breath.

The irony is that if WDC, Adnams and SCC had not changed their stance on the first JR the FOI request would not have been made and we would be none the wiser.


John Hedges

Update 4

John Hedges

Jan. 18, 2017

Round 2 to Victoria Street

Great news!  We've won the second round in our fight to save Victoria St. 

A big THANK YOU to all who contributed.  We really could not have done this without your support.  It has been most heartening to see so many prepared to help fight our corner against a such an overbearing and uncaring neighbour as Adnams.

We thought we had a reasonable claim for a judicial review but Waveney District Council have consented to submit to a quashing order even before our claim was considered acceptable to the Court.  The Council agreed to our argument that it erred when it granted planning permission, because it did not properly consider the impacts on the conservation area or the traffic impacts - the two main points of residents' objections.  Of course there may be other reasons too, such as a desire to keep legal costs to a minimum or to avoid the need for disclosure of pre-application discussions.  The consent order is being prepared.

This does not mean we've won the fight, since the planning application now goes back to the planning committee.  But it does mean that this time around due consideration must be paid to residents' objections - so we still have a good chance.

The other piece of good news is that the Council have also agreed to pay our costs.  

I'd expected to be able to repay contributions (less the CrowdJustice charges) but, incredibly, the small print in the Ts and Cs suggests this may not be possible.  I'll pursue this with CrowdJustice because it seems so unreasonable that its lower limit for refunds is £1000, when the average contribution to causes such as this is apparently about £35.  

As you may imagine, I don't really want another fight on my hands at the moment so in the meantime it will stay available in case we have cause for another legal challenge.

On behalf of Victoria St residents, thanks again for your support.


John


Update 3

John Hedges

Dec. 17, 2016

The Next Step

The barrister's advice has confirmed our reasonable concerns and we have immediately sent a pre-action letter to Waveney District Council (WDC).  This cited substantial flaws in the process and decision to approve planning permission and asked WDC to consent to the decision being quashed by judicial review.  The main grounds being the flaws in the way WDC dealt with the impacts on the heritage aspects of the conservation area and how it assessed traffic impacts from the sub-standard access visibility and the roughly 50% increase in traffic volume.

While we wait for WDC's response we need to prepare for the next step, to seek permission for a judicial review.  This involves a detailed preparation of our case with a clear statement of facts and grounds to challenge the decision as well as a compilation of the relevant documents for a judge to decide whether permission can be given.  

With a very tight timescale to initiate a judicial review, and with Christmas and the New Year holidays soon upon us, we need to move quickly to raise £3000 for barrister's fees and court costs for the next step, by 24 December!

This is not a great time of the year to be asking for contributions but if you would like to help Save Victoria Street (and make a stand against bulldozing developers who care nothing for their neighbours) please pledge whatever you can, but no more than you can afford, to support our cause.  All contributions, however small, will be very much appreciated.

Many thanks,

John


Update 2

John Hedges

Dec. 17, 2016

Wow! We made it!

Thank you so much for your contributions to our cause.  

We now have enough to get an initial opinion from a barrister on the merits of our case.  If appropriate we can also initiate the judicial review (JR) process with what's called a pre-action protocol (PAP)! letter. This would put Waveney District Council on notice of our intention to have the planning approval quashed by a JR.  WDC would have 14 days to respond.

If the response is unsatisfactory, and we still consider our case is sound, than we have to apply for permission to initiate a JR formally.  All this has to be done within six weeks from 1 December - so, with Christmas almost upon us, we have to move swiftly.

I'll be back in touch once we have the barrister's opinion.

Thanks again


John

Update 1

John Hedges

Dec. 13, 2016

Funded

We hit our first target!

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