LATEST: planning application withdrawn…

visual of how the proposed development at Chough Rock could look

visual of how the proposed development at Chough Rock could look

7 June 2014

We have been advised by Cornwall Council that the agent has withdrawn this application in light of the level of local opposition and a revised design is likely to be considered.

The application by The Guild of St James was for the renewal of an expired planning permission to replace a previous single/ two-storey timber dwelling (destroyed by fire in October 2008) at Chough Rock with a much larger and very ambitious 4-storey building and level terrace.

The site is of historical interest having been used as a Napoleonic Artillery Battery for the coastal defence of Looe from the French. It was operated by the Duke of Cornwall’s Artillery Volunteers from Looe. The battery, which housed a large 64-pounder Armstrong gun, is only one of a few between Pendennis Castle and the Barbican, Plymouth. The structure was mainly preserved by the previous building but the proposed development would destroy the remains.

Chough Rock – extent of excavation would eliminate fulmar nesting sites

Chough Rock – extent of excavation would eliminate fulmar nesting sites

In order to accommodate the two additional floors of the building, which would have five times the previous floor area, it was proposed to drill down 5 or 6 metres, excavate away and level the whole top section of cliff right to its southernmost outcrop.

There were concerns that the amount of heavy engineering involved in moving a substantial tonnage of material might de-stabilise the rock base, which is already subject to coastal erosion, affect adjoining properties, and, by undercutting the highway by 2 metres, weaken its footings and hasten the permanent closure of Plaidy Lane which forms part of the South West Coast Path.

Chough Rock promontory – level of cliff reduction

Chough Rock promontory – level of cliff reduction viewed from the west

Fulmars nesting

Chough Rock – fulmar nesting sites

The whole western cliff face, including upper ledges, are home to a long established colony of nesting fulmars. In the UK, nesting fulmars receive protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act and it is an offence to disturb their nests while in use or kill the birds.

In response to concerns raised about the impact the excavation/ construction process would have on the fulmars, the applicant agreed to install a 1.8m high guard fence all around the cliff-top edge whilst works progressed. This measure would not provide effective protection as it did not recognise that fulmars can be seen nesting on ledges only one or two metres down from the existing top of the cliffs and those ledges would be eliminated by the 6 metre reduction in cliff height proposed.

A permanent visual screen blocking the site line to the nesting ledges suggested by Natural England would also be impossible to establish due to the building’s curved footprint, the balconies which overhang the cliff edge, and the glazed staircase tower which projects into the cove. All these feature would overlook the fulmars.

Composite plan - cliff edge indicated by blue dotted line

Composite plan – cliff edge indicated by blue dotted line

There were also implications for the landscape of the coastline and the planning committee would have to decide if it would be in keeping with the area or have an unwanted and overbearing impact when seen from the beaches below or from along the coast.

 Some of the most relevant documents have also been downloaded to this blog under… ‘Design Proposals’ however, in view of the withdrawal, the following greyed-out information is not currently relevant.

Details of the proposals can be viewed at Cornwall Council’s planning website under reference PA13/11294 or at any One Stop Shop. To influence the decision on this application, which is currently out for public consultation, you may comment on the Council website per link above or write /email the case officer:

Mr Jonathan Luker Planning and Regeneration Cornwall Council 3-5 Barn Lane Bodmin, PL31 1LZ email: planning@cornwall.gov.uk phone: 0300 1234 151

with a copy to the Ward Councillor, Armand Toms CC:

email: atoms@cornwall.gov.uk phone: 01503 264823

At its Planning Committee meeting on 28 January, Looe Town Council unanimously opposed this application and requested that it be called in for a committee decision at Cornwall Council. If the matter is referred to the East Sub-Area Planning Committee, the agenda item will be published 7 days before here… agenda for Planning Committee

more information to follow as available…

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how accurate are the submitted plans for Chough Rock?

There are questions as to the accuracy of the submitted proposal drawings because they portray the roof of the new structure as being lower than the previous building whereas the site surveys (also provided by the applicant) show the opposite to be the case.

This is an important material consideration and the Council’s decision statements attached to the previous two successful applications reveal that planning officers did not appreciate the error when citing it as a reason for approval. The blue content on the drawing below indicates our correction of the proposal plans.

There are also questions as to the ownership of the land beyond the cliff-edge parapet wall which is shown on the Title Deeds Plan as defining the eastern boundary of the Chough Rock plot. Because the proposed reduction in site level also widens the plot, then it would appear an encroachment situation arises onto the adjoining property of Gradna to the east.

click drawing to enlarge…

Survey of Existing in Blue

difficulties accessing the Chough Rock site…

Due to the restricted nature of Plaidy Lane and its inability to accommodate larger vehicles, it is proposed to deploy a dumper truck to ferry materials between the site and a transfer point on Hay Lane where the highway becomes two lanes.

Plaidy Lane measures 2.2 mts wide in various locations between the application site and Hay Lane, however the applicant’s Method Statement proposes the use of a 10 ton tipper/ dumper which is typically around 2.6 mts wide.

Assuming the maximum size of vehicle able to use Plaidy Lane is 1.9 mts wide with a 3 tonne payload and that around 2,500 cubic metres (4,200 tonnes) of spoil needs to be carried away, then this equates to at least 1,400 return trips to remove just the waste from site before considering those trips required to deliver personnel, plant and construction materials.

The plans also show the installation of Heras fencing on the road surface fronting the plot. This would render the lane impassible by cars or vans whilst in place and, in saying that “the lane would not be required to be closed for long periods”, the applicant significantly understates the impact the proposed works would have on users of Plaidy Lane bearing in mind the difficulty of passing a vehicle even on foot.

VW Transporter Van passing Chough Rock site on right

VW Transporter Van passing Chough Rock site on right

Selected Objection Comments . . .

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“I confirm my objection made online to this overly ambitious scheme at Chough Rock, Plaidy Lane for all of the reasons given below…

  1. This cliff-edge proposal represents an advance in the building line towards the sea and is counter policy advocated by the Shoreline Management Plan,
  2. There is ongoing cliff erosion at the site and the extent of excavation activities is likely to trigger further instability of the cliff system, affecting neighbouring properties,
  3. The undercutting of level adjacent the highway risks the future integrity of Plaidy Lane/ South West Coast Path (SWCP) at this point,
  4. The removal of thousands of tons of material, thereby irreversibly damaging cliffs, for just one dwelling represents unsustainable development,
  5. Contractors’ traffic would endanger users of the narrow single-track Plaidy Lane, and positioning of metal fencing on road surface would block it for vehicular use,
  6. The proposal drawings are inaccurate as they portray the roof of the new structure to be lower than the previous building whereas the applicant’s own site surveys show it would be higher.
  7. No other structure locally has 4 floors or is set directly on/ overhanging the cliff face and therefore is not in keeping with local scale or character,
  8. The overall floor area is 5 times greater than previous house and represents an overdevelopment of the site,
  9. The building would have an overbearing impact on the local beaches below,
  10. Prominent cliff-top /skyline siting visible from Hannafore to Downderry would impact coastal landscape character,
  11. Loss of biodiversity on the site, particularly the nesting habitat for fulmars (an Amber-listed species of conservation concern) would lead to abandonment by the colony,
  12. No details given in the plans whether the public viewing point from Plaidy Lane into the cove would be preserved,
  13. Removing or restricting the view of the cove and its wildlife interest would adversely impact user enjoyment of the SWCP,
  14. Destruction of preserved Napoleonic Artillery Battery remains on the site,
  15. The project has no positive benefits for Looe. The town council unanimously opposes it and there have been around 100 letters of objection with none in support”

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“I object to this proposal. As a geologist it is my view that the stability of the cliff site cannot be guaranteed under “normal” conditions, let alone in conditions of increasing extreme weather events. Additionally there is potential for the heavy excavation works to open up bedding planes and other joints in these highly fissile slates and shales. The same ground conditions could give rise to damage to Plaidy Lane and Hay Lane as numberless heavy loads are carried over them. Why should taxpayers money be put at risk of paying out for expensive remedial works. Residents and others should not be put to the long term inconveniences of noise, dust and road closures.

To effectively obliterate a colony of breeding fulmars is totally unacceptable. They cannot be shielded from the building process, neither can an alternative site be contrived (a laughable suggestion). This is a millionaire’s indulgence which does nothing to address the national or local housing shortage. The proposed building is oversized, will be overbearing and is entirely out of context. It will be horribly visble by day and light polluting at night”

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“The fulmars are described as nesting on ledges. There is a long diagonal ledge which reaches almost to the cliff top which is the focus of the birds’ interest, but the nest sites are clustered at the top and bottom and spread into adjacent nooks and crevices which the birds find attractive. At the top, two or three nest sites are extremely close to the cliff top – and certainly within three metres. These nest sites will be destroyed by the development, which proposes to cut down around six metres into the bedrock of the cliff top.

The statement in the 2007 Spalding report that the lowering of the cliff top would not result in the direct loss of nesting ledge habitat was incorrect then and is incorrect now and approval of the scheme, by eliminating the sites at the top of the cliff, will reduce the capacity of the colony by half. The (Spalding ) reports suggest that various measures could be taken to minimise the disturbance at the site, but there is no guarantee that these measures would be successful – the building works contemplated are bound to be drastic in their impact. It is entirely possible that the whole colony would be abandoned.”

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“This overly ambitious speculative development is of no benefit to the people of Looe, and threatens the stability of the cliff system with untold consequences for the adjoining properties, the public highway and the coastal path.

The proposal is not in keeping with the locality – no other edifice has 4 floors set forward so prominently onto the cliff edge. The impact from cutting away vast quantities of material would cause irreversible damage to the rocky promontory, to the wildlife that inhabits the cliffs and the landscape of the coastline, and yet it yields just a single a private dwelling, the scale of which would dominate the beaches and be visible from Hannafore in the west to Downderry in the east.

This is not sustainable development as championed in Government policy, it is a throwback to thinking from a bygone era when we showed scant respect for the fragility of our environment. National and local policy* promotes the protection, restoration and enhancement of biodiversity, such as the Fulmar colony on the cliffs of this site.

This (now threatened) colony adds greatly to the scientific interest of the area due to its of uniqueness in South East Cornwall and because of its easy access for educational visits by the young generation of Looe – let’s not lose it”

* NPPF para 118, Cornwall Local Plan Policy 23, Caradon Local Plan CL15 and CL16, Cornwall Structure Plan 2004 Policy 2.

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I write in connection with the above planning application and hereby lodge an objection on the grounds that the development would have a serious detrimental impact on Chough Rock’s colony of fulmars and their nesting habitats which receives protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, Policies CL15 and CL16 of the Caradon Local Plan, and Government policy contained in the NPPF to “conserve and enhance biodiversity” wherever possible.

During the past two weeks since the application has been out for public consultation I have visited the site on several occasions and each time observed fulmars on the upper ledges of the cliff, and there appears to be no lull in activity at this time of year as photographs show.

With regard to the submissions by Spalding Associates and the delegated reports of the previous two applications PA10/07171 and A2/08/00105/FUL, it is apparent that the impact on the fulmar colony has been seriously underestimated because a) the location of the nesting sites was never accurately identified and b) the analysis of the proposals is not consistent with the plans submitted, as follows:

  1. Spalding’s report incorrectly states the proposal is “to lower part of the cliff top including the landward section of the promontory”. The levelling is in fact across the whole of the plot including both the building footprint and seaward promontory -­‐ the latter being lawned and guarded with clear glazed balustrading to the cliff edge east, west and south.
  2. The report incorrectly states the lowering of the cliff would be by “some few metres”. However the site survey Drg. no. 07-­‐25-­‐1 indicates the existing cliff-­‐top level to be around 32.50 mts which is proposed to be cut down to a site level of 26.50 mts throughout giving a difference of 6 metres. It is apparent therefore that the author has not appreciated the extent of the reduction.
  3. The report identifies the need for a “permanent visual barrier… to block the sight line from the nest ledge to the building.. in order to avoid any disturbance” but fails to identify that there would always be close visual contact between anyone within the building and the remaining nesting ledges on account of there being 4 floors of uninterrupted glass in close proximity to the birds habitat that curves round the perimeter of the cliff and a glazed stair tower projecting into the cove.
  4. All the expert’s site visits were undertaken during the annual period when the fulmars are absent and therefore the location of nesting sites of the birds was not properly identified. The attached photographs clearly show the inhabited ledges extend to within a couple of metres of the cliff top.

The author of the Spalding Report concludes by stating incorrectly that “this would probably not result in a direct loss of nesting ledge habitat”. In reality, there would be a direct loss of all the nesting ledge habitat above the proposed 26.50 metre cut line representing 40% to 50% of the colonisation. The integrity of the remaining nesting ledge below this level would also be compromised by the intrusive groundworks proposed and also by the altered environment and drainage patterns within the ledge itself after being opened up to the elements.

In the unlikely event the birds were to survive the reduction in habitat, the on-­going disturbance from construction activities and thereafter occupancy of the house, it is reasonable to conclude that by lowering of the promontory cliff and introducing a 4-­‐storey fully glazed curtain-­walled building would so change the conditions within the cove (air-currents, exposure to weather, privacy, noise, light-nuisance, etc) as to make it unviable for continued use by the fulmars.

In conclusion I suggest that the previous acceptance of the plans was based on expert advice that was flawed, and the stipulation that a visual barrier be installed during the construction phase would do nothing for those nesting habitats already destroyed. Furthermore the condition of approval that appeared to allow for new nesting sites to be created in mitigation of any loss would simply not be a practicable solution for a bird such as this.”

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“I would like to register my concern regarding the above application. It seems to me that the proposed alterations to the cliff-face and site are a major undertaking. In the course of the last twelve months major slippages would seem to indicate the fragility and instability of the area, and its unsuitability for the unavoidable impact of the proposed re-structuring. I don’t feel that the construction of a four-story house justifies the major inconvenience and disturbance to the neighbouring properties, and to the steep and narrow access road.

Despite the research undertaken, I find it hard to believe that there would be no long term detrimental consequences. I am also extremely concerned by the potential threat to the fulmer colony, which inevitably will be disturbed, if not totally displaced, by this development. Siting these increasingly rare and lovely birds has been one of the delights of this stretch of the coast path for so many people over the years. Such a unique environment is so quickly and easily destroyed, and once lost, impossible to re-create.”

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“I object to this outrageously large office-like proposal because it is out of keeping with local scale and character, and the rocky promontory would remain hugely scarred long after the building has fallen into disrepair. This is disrespectful to our valuable coastline which has protection against “physical damage, disturbance or pollution” under policy CL15 of the Caradon Local Plan.

Another concern is that all the vibration and heavy engineering involved in moving 4,000 tonnes of stone might de-stabilise the rock base, which is already subject to coastal erosion, and in turn affect adjoining properties, weaken the highway and hasten the permanent closure of Plaidy Lane and the South West Coast Path. How would all the material be taken away? Plaidy Lane is so narrow, the contractor would need to employ a smaller vehicle to deposit the spoil in Hay Lane until it can be loaded onto a something larger and taken away. The applicant suggests a10 ton dumper but this might struggle on the incline so assume 8 tonnes per load makes 500 return trips – the disruption could go on for months or years!

Another problem is the upper ledges of the cliff are home to a colony of breeding fulmars. In the UK, fulmars receive protection under the law and it is an offence to deliberately disturb their nests or kill the birds. A temporary 2m screen is proposed all around the cliff edge to guard the birds from disturbance, but someone somewhere has failed to appreciate a good proportion of their nesting ledges are close to the cliff top and would already have disappeared up the hill in a dumper before the screening was ready to erect! Policy CL16 is there to protect wildlife species and no mitigating measures could be possibly recover the situation. 

I would support a smaller development, maybe timber-framed that is prefabricated away from site, but no excavation of the cliff top!”

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