Peppa Pig v The Planning Inspectorate

Returning to last week’s topic, the Planning Inspectorate’s over-ruling of local feeling and granting of permission for 270 houses off Padgbury Lane, Congleton, the decision document reminded us of something.

It took a while to pin it down: Peppa Pig. The report smacks more of Peppa’s imaginary pastel landscape than the real world.

For those unlucky enough never to have seen the children’s cartoon, Daddy Pig (sire to Peppa) is an architect and designs houses. It’s easy. He draws a child’s picture of a house — roof, four windows, chimney — and Mr Bull (the bovine in charge of heavy machinery) comes along and builds it.

That seems to be about the level of logic the inspector has been required to put into his report, which is clearly driven by a briefing from on high to ignore the facts and just build houses. We’re sure the inspector is a qualified man who knows his stuff, but the Government needs houses and the Planning Inspectorate is required to allow appeals where it can.

So the appeal decision uses lots of long words and technicals but all it’s basically done is drawn a child’s drawing of some houses, possibly adding a smiley face. Many of the comments seem as rooted in reality as the day Peppa turned one of Daddy Pig’s valuable blueprints into a paper aeroplane, which then miraculously flew to Daddy Pig’s office.

Thus: “I am satisfied that accessibility between the appeal sites and local facilities and services, the town centre and places of employment is not dependent upon use of the car.” This conjures up an image of happy people cycling into town and back for their errands or for work, adding to the hordes of people who already travel that way. Congleton’s famous for it, the massed bands of cyclists every morning on our well-marked and safe cycle paths. In theory the inspector is correct, in reality, it’ll just mean more cars.

In Peppa, all houses are on the tops of hills and that’s true for Padgbury Lane, too: Back Lane aside, most employment in town is at the bottom of at least one big hill, and anyone cycling has to battle the heavy traffic, which is why most people don’t cycle to work: traffic to battle with, hills to get sweaty on.

There’s a lot of talk of road improvements or “taking account of the mitigation available through the highways contribution” as the report says.

“The proposals would not materially worsen traffic movement or reduce highway safety,” the report states. Maybe Daddy Pig can draw a road in felt tip. In reality, at peak times the roads into Congleton slow to walking pace. When a river is in flood, you can add as many channels as you like — it will still flood.

Anyone who does cycle will regularly encounter the queues along Padgbury Lane, and the massive ones on the Holmes Chapel road into town, and a cyclist can overtake vehicles on Rood Hill and not see them again until well out of Congleton, no matter what figures the inspector has used. (He assessed traffic on half day closing, just after Easter, when some people were probably still on early breaks).

Some improvements are mooted it’s true, but we have reason to be suspicious in Congleton. The Wagon and Horses “gyratory”, when Daddy Pig and Mr Bull drew it with crayons, was going to make traffic better. In reality, it made the situation worse. (That was before Miss Rabbit stuck a convenience store on it, too).

Says the report: “Local concerns have been raised about the junction with the A34, with arguments put forward referring to difficulties in turning right onto the major road. The modelling predicts that the junctions at both ends of Padgbury Lane would operate well within capacity.” Translation: “Traffic backs all the way down to Porter’s garage as it is, and 270 houses with two cars apiece will make no difference”.

Then there’s the schools.

Says the report: “While Congleton High School may be full, that does not mean there would be no capacity in the education system at secondary school level.” Eh?

Translation: “Elvis might have been found dead on the bog but that does not mean he’s not working a chip shop in Knypersley”. It’s possible. Perhaps Daddy Pig will draw a school, and Mr Bull will knock it up the next day.

Congleton High School is full and the only other school is Eaton Bank, across town — even if there are places there, all of the kids in those 270 houses will have to be driven to Eaton Bank. Or to Sandbach or Biddulph, or Holmes Chapel.

Even Mr Bull would spot the flaw in this: the link road is meant to reduce cross-town traffic but if the Planning Inspectorate keeps approving houses on the Congleton High side of town, the traffic across town is going to increase as parents ferry their kids to Eaton Bank.

To be fair to the inspector, he does concede that improvements are needed on the A34. The developers — rather optimistically — suggested that widening the Newcastle Road arm of the Wagon and Horses roundabout would cost “about £10,000”, though the inspector suggested a more reasonable £305,000.

Road improvements for £10,000? Even Daddy Pig would scoff at that one.

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