There is quite a battle going on in the tiny village of Slapton. The cause of it all is a proposal by a developer to build an enormous five bed, six bath, three story house and accompanying holiday complex in a secluded wooded valley near the village. This valley houses any number of very rare and protected creatures, borders AONB and is next to an area of special scientific interest, which feeds into the famous Slapton Ley. It is a very protected area also being part of the Undeveloped Coast scheme, where local planning guidelines specify that no new holiday complexes are permitted and yet South Hams District Council has given the developer planning permission.
It is a complicated case which brings up all sorts of issues. The developer, Mr Costeloe, who made his money as an investment banker before turning to the Caribbean real estate market, has been trying to build on this little patch of the South Hams for several years. The villagers never thought it could happen, but in this new climate of planning deregulation, anything seems possible. Mr Costeloe it seems, has managed to get planning permission for his development because the holiday complex will cater for disabled as well as able bodied visitors. That has brought up the issue of need. South Hams Planning Dept have stated that if a development can demonstrate absolute need, then planners can give it permission, but this is in absolute contravention of planning guidelines.
The villagers look at the plans for the first phase of this large development, designed by an architect who has since been suspended and see the looming devastation of this beautiful little valley. Just to gain access to the site itself, there has to be a new road built. This will zig zag its way down the hill through several green fields, destroying yet more habitat. They argue this is all about making money out of the site, the developer, who is in a wheelchair following a boating accident several years ago, argues this is about having holiday complex accessible by the disabled. So the villagers have looked at the holiday complex plans. Phase one of the development calls for the building of a five bed, six bath, two kitchen owners property built over three stories; six large holiday units with further bathrooms and kitchens, a further communal building, parking and charging area for sixteen golf carts as well as parking for owners, visitors, staff and deliveries.
There are no utility facilities on site, no sewage pipes, no water, no electricity, all of which will have to be brought in causing more wholesale destruction of untouched habitat. Waste will have to be treated on site. The waste water from eighteen bathrooms will then flow into the flood plain leading to the Ley. The carbon footprint is enormous and yet because the 6 double holiday pods are made out of eco materials, the developer has argued that it is an low impact site. There is no public transport for miles and the Highways Commission have stated that there will be as many as sixty cars a day making their way through the tiny lanes in and around Slapton. There is no access for wheelchairs from the site to the village or to the sea, so any disabled visitors will be totally reliant on cars; hardly eco insist the villagers.
The villagers are up in arms, across the board from local sheep farmers to retirees and have come together to fund a judicial review. The review is based on errors in the application, but the villagers see it as more than that. This is about a precedent they say. If a site as protected and precious as this one, could be given planning permission for a large commercial development, then it could happen anywhere. The floodgates can open. Having a disabled holiday complex is laudable and important, they say, but not in such an inaccessible, fragile place.
Funding a judicial review is very costly. Local people affected by a development scheme have no right to appeal, although developers do. As with so many other issues with building at the moment, the balls are all in the developers court, but with protected areas of our countryside at risk if schemes like this are given the go ahead, the villagers feel passionately enough to rebel and put their hands in their own pockets to protect a very special part of the Devon countryside.