Last week I was supporting Torfaen Friends of the Earth at the developers’ Appeal against the refusal of the South Sebastopol planning application (some of the sessions at least), until the snow curtailed it on Friday. If you don’t know this, it is unnecessary vandalism of a large are of open countryside, a buffer between Cwmbran new town and the older Valley communities, with 1200 houses. After years of fighting, and recently losing a crucial Council motion to save it by ONE VOTE, we’ve probably lost the battle, the bad guys (Councillors and planners) have forced it through – ridiculously deciding to abandon the original Council decision to refuse the planning application.
What a dysfunctional Council process this has been –
• promoting unnecessary greenfield development (and abandoning the New Town plan)
• refusing to recognise the imminent WG legislation on the value of ecosystem services
• deciding to delete the development from the LDP
• then reinstating it
• refusing the application,
• then turning round and backing it

Who thinks this development is a great idea? The developers, for the profit; a few Councillors; a few planners; maybe a few WG officers promoting ‘growth’ anywhere, anytime.
Who is against it? All local residents who have expressed a view; almost half the Torfaen Council members; local Community Councils; all the local environmental groups; CCW; etc etc
So unless we have another reprieve, we lose
• a vital green buffer between two distinctly different existing communities
• a ‘green lung’ amenity for Cwmbran and Sebastopol
• the rural character of a rare canal-focussed conservation area
• a valuable ecological area and a vital species corridor
• any pretence that this Council has a policy based on sustainability, or that it listens to its residents
• one more area of non-renewable beautiful Welsh countryside
But of course there are also some gains:
• a large housing estate with mostly expensive houses for Bristol & Cardiff commuters, very little affordable housing, and no community facilities.
• regular gridlock on Cwmbran Drive and A4042
• rat-run roads through neighbouring communities
• substantial additional storm water run-off to who knows where
• a blot on the landscape
We at CPRW are very grateful for FoE instructing a consultant to represent the joint objectors at the Appeal. (They are FoE, CPRW, Pontypool Community Council, and ‘several hundred’ local residents – an under-estimate, I believe). Our stance at the Appeal has had to be damage limitation, arguing against some development areas and for retention of more green space. We hope that we have demonstrated to the Inspector, who seems most perceptive, that the proposal constitutes over-development, and should at the least be reduced.
There is one more day of the Appeal, yet to be announced; if you can, go along when it is reconvened, if only to observe the way countryside is still being attacked by those who think short-term growth is all-important, and ignore the consequences for our future generations. And if you have time, catch up with the WG Planning Bill consultation; I have responded to this, putting the case for a proper democratic planning process, instead of this ‘hole in the corner, secretive, development-friendly, growth-driven process.
But the fat lady hasn’t sung yet – we thought we had lost this war six years ago, but nothing happened and they had to start again. Do they really think they can sell houses in this recession? We live in hope for a miracle to save this large and vital area of countryside.