DEVELOPERS’ diggers moved onto a Milford field hours after opponents announced they will not pursue a legal challenge to block the construction of 42 homes.
Work on the site next to Milford Primary School, known locally as MOS1, commenced yesterday (Tuesday) marking the end a two-year battle between Pennyfarthing Homes and the group of residents calling themselves SLAM (School Lane and Manor Road).
As reported in the A&T, opponents had hoped to raise £30,000 to fund a High Court challenge against a government planning inspector’s decision to allow 42 new homes to be built on the former green belt land.
They argued that permission should not have been granted because the land, previously owned by Edgars Ltd, only had its green belt status removed as an “exception site” where a maximum of 30 homes could be built of which at least 70% had to be “affordable”.
But following the public inquiry in February, appeal inspector Alex Hutson accepted Pennyfarthing’s offer of 19 affordable homes made up of seven ‘low cost’ starter homes six for affordable rent and six for shared ownership.
In his judgement he said it would be unreasonable to expect the developer to provide any more.
In a statement, a spokesperson for SLAM confirmed it had been unable to raise enough money to launch a legal challenge to Mr Hutson’s ruling within the statutory six-week timeframe.
He said: “We instructed barristers to look into the decision that was reached by the inspectorate at the appeal by the developer.
“He looked at the decision in depth and the policies surrounding the decision and found that there were various inaccuracies in his [the appeal inspector’s] decision-making.”
The group issued a pre-action letter before legal action which set out the reasons why it was applying to the courts for permission to ask for a judicial review.
The SLAM spokesperson continued: “It would seem that you can only get justice these days if you have the money to do so, which is fundamentally wrong.
“Our barrister felt we had a very good chance of having the appeal decision quashed – but unfortunately there was just not enough time to find the money we needed.”
In their fight to have the inspector’s decision overturned, opponents also secured the support of New Forest West MP Sir Desmond Swayne who took the unusual step of writing to communities secretary James Brokenshire, asking for planning permission to be revoked.
Despite being unable to proceed with a judicial review, SLAM say they are still seeking an urgent meeting with Mr Brokenshire to discuss what they describe as “the misuse of the MOS1 site”.
The SLAM spokesperson said: “Desmond Swayne believes that as the request has not yet been declined, they are looking into the matter thoroughly and it is being considered properly.
“He has made personal representation to the ministers involved so they know the seriousness of the request.”
Pennyfarthing Homes has pledged to forge ahead with the 42-house scheme which also includes public open space, a children’s play area, allotments, a car park for the neighbouring Milford Primary School, and a cycleway.
Ben Arnold, land and planning director from Pennyfarthing Homes, said: “A valid judicial review has to be based upon errors in the legal procedure of the appeal hearing whereas SLAM was seeking to re-run the planning arguments raised at appeal.
“Therefore, SLAM’s threat to submit a judicial review were ill-informed and out of time.”
The developer said it will also seek a meeting with Sir Desmond to discuss his attempt to have planning permission revoked.
Mr Arnold said: “We thought this was surprising in light of the national housing crisis where NFDC is the most poorly performing authority for housing delivery and considering his parties own housing delivery target of 300,000 homes per annum.”
Building work on the site is expected to begin in earnest next month, and Pennyfarthing says it is working with Milford Primary School and New Forest District Council to deliver the school drop-off zone by the beginning of autumn term in September.
Mr Arnold said: “This is to prioritise children’s safety, minimise disruption and help resolve the traffic issues currently experienced during the school pick up and drop off times.
“Unfortunately, SLAM’s threat of a judicial review has only caused to delay this. However, we will try to make up for lost time to achieve this.”