Potentially “catastrophic” plans for hundreds of homes above a flood-hit Derbyshire town have been thrown out

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Potentially “catastrophic” plans for more than 400 homes on the hillside above a flood-hit Derbyshire town have been rejected after more than five years in limbo.

The scheme, from William Davis Homes, sought to build 423 homes and associated services on the Matlock Wolds site off Pinewood Road, Gritstone Road and Sandy Lane.

A Derbyshire Dales District Council meeting saw councillors unanimously reject the plans five years and four months after they were first submitted, leading to rapturous applause in County Hall.

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An extensive number of passionate Matlock residents, most of whom are members of the Wolds Action Group campaign, said that the Wolds is an essential part of the landscape surrounding Matlock and also provides crucial recreational outdoor space for its residents.

The proposed Matlock Wolds housing site, circled in red, above Matlock. Image from Wolds Action Group.The proposed Matlock Wolds housing site, circled in red, above Matlock. Image from Wolds Action Group.
The proposed Matlock Wolds housing site, circled in red, above Matlock. Image from Wolds Action Group.

Campaigners also described the current traffic conditions around the proposed site, which includes Highfields School, saying it was already “unacceptable” and could not cater for more.

Residents derided the assumption that those living on the new estate would all use public transport or travel by either walking or cycling Matlock’s notoriously steep hillsides.

Flooding was one of the core concerns on the table. Numerous speakers referred to a report from a chartered civil engineer hired by Derbyshire County Council who had found that flood water collection ponds planned on the site would need to be so large that they could “pose a threat to life” to the downstream population.

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More than 2,500 people signed a petition started last June by the Wolds Action Group opposing the scheme and a total of 462 objection letters were submitted to the council over the scheme.

Julie Atkin, a member of the Wolds Action Group, said: “Five years and four months is an awfully long time for people to have this hanging over them and the anxiety and the stress it has caused cannot be underestimated.

“This is the wrong place to build. We all know we need new homes but they need to be built in the right places. The Wolds is clearly the wrong place.”

She said the scheme would see the loss of “rare and irreplaceable landscapes” and that the developer’s inability to afford infrastructure funding through Section 106 payments would lead to taxpayers footing the bill.

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The developer is currently required to make £7.4 million in contributions towards required improvements to roads, schools and health services to cater for the scheme and says this would leave it unable to provide affordable housing.

Rob Atkin, from the action group, said the planned drainage scheme consisted of a “cascading series of dams” and ponds required to cater for 21 million litres of water, which would equate to 21 thousand tonnes of water held above the town.

Colleen Marples said: “Developers have tried and failed to build houses on the Wolds for more than 50 years and each time they have been refused and the many reasons for refusal have not magically gone away. In fact they are more relevant than ever. The site is unsustainable, undeliverable, unsuitable and unviable and should be protected for future generations.”

Cllr Steve Wain said: “This council has a duty to develop affordable homes, enabling young people to remain in their communities and to offer downsizing options to others. It is not the responsibility of this council or our community to help bail out a developer who has failed to effectively assess the site or has paid too much money for an option on this site.”

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Cllr Sue Burfoot said: “Matlock is at a crisis point in terms of flood risk. The consequences of overdevelopment have resulted in serious and unacceptable flooding and sewage problems.”

She said the site was a “precious habitat” and “natural flood defence” while the planned scheme would be “visually intrusive” and would represent “urban sprawl”.

Tom Dillarstone, agent for the applicants, said there had been “a lot of sound and fury” about the plans but that the council “must take a dispassionate view” saying there were many benefits to the scheme, including “more than 400 high-quality homes” along with solar panels and electric vehicle charging points.

Chris Whitmore, outgoing development manager for the district council, said he had recommended refusal of the application for four key reasons, citing “fundamental” issues with the scheme, including “significant shortcomings”.

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He said there was a danger the plan would be decided by the planning inspectorate, not the council, if it did not now make a prompt decision.

The four reasons for refusal were the lack of detail about flood risks, the lack of information about the loss of biodiversity, the lack of information about water attenuation, and the shortage of affordable housing.

Cllr David Burton said the council would be “making a difference” and should be encouraging development of brownfield sites like Cawdor Quarry, not Matlock’s green fields.

Cllr Peter Slack said: “Flooding is the big issue and this will contribute to flooding and if we persist with these holding tanks, well, they will only hold the water so long and the water will flow right down the Bentley Brook and to Knowlston Place and Matlock town centre and it will have a catastrophic impact on Matlock eventually. We can’t go ahead with this.”