Planning permission was granted on Wednesday evening for the Daventry canal arm, linking the town to the Grand Union Canal.
Daventry District Council’s planning committee approved the application for the canal.
The 1.6 mile canal arm would run from a basin by the iCon roundabout and the snake along the edge of Daventry Country Park before heading out to the Grand Union Canal.
The application approved by the committee includes six locks, rather than a boat lift. The application also did not deal with the waterfront development proposed for the Eastern Way playing field.
Wednesday night’s meeting saw the council’s planning committee deciding on the application which was made by the district council. Such instances are not uncommon in planning, and members of the planning committee, both those who voted for and against the proposals, where at pains to stick to the rules governing such decisions.
As such members were reminded that it is not a planning committee’s role to consider the economics of any planning application - planning committees do not question house builders if their money could be spent in other ways or if retailers have a business case for their new shop. And that ‘we don’t want it’ is not a valid reason to refuse planning permission. The idea is that planning permission is just that, a legal permission to build rather than a financial or political judgement whether it should be built.
Instead the committee had to base its decision on planning terms.
It was pointed out that the canal proposal has been on the table for more than 10 years, and has been included in various masterplans for the town, and the district’s strategic plans, which have all been open to public consultation. The canal application itself has also been open to public consultation twice - once when it was first lodged, and then in 2016 following revisions.
Officers advised committee members that while members my have spoken for or against the principle of a canal arm in the past, they had not voiced their decision on this particular application for this design of canal, and so could not be said to have predetermined which way they would vote.
The committee was told that many members of the public had objected to the proposals, but that the main reasons given - cost, who will pay for it, and that people don’t want it - are not considerations for planning purposes.
Cllr Deanna Eddon (Conservative) pointed out that among the organisations consulted over the application, most were in favour or had raised concerns that had been dealt with.
Cllr Wendy Randall (Labour) said Daventry already had the Grand Union Canal, which runs along the edge of Lang Farm and Monksmoor, with towpath walks to Braunston and Weedon.
Cllr Ken Ritchie (Labour) questioned whether the application met the definition of sustainable set out in national planning guidelines, and proposed the scheme be rejected on that basis. His proposal failed after no one seconded it.
Then Cllr Mark Wesley (Conservative) spoke saying that the canal should be the “best it could be” and said he had concerns about the design of some of the bridges across it. He added that while wildlife experts had accepted the canal would not pose a insurmountable barrier to animals, that DDC should aspire to go beyond ‘acceptable’.
His Tory colleague Barry Frenchman went further, saying that he was excited by the opportunities of a canal, but described the plans before the committee as ‘an opportunity missed’. He criticised the brick designs for the bridges, and the style of the rest of the canal, saying the district should be looking to the 21st century, not the 18th.
Cllr Frenchman proposed the application be refused because of the design, seconded by Cllr Ritchie. Members voted five in favour of Cllr Frenchman’s proposal and six against.
Those in favour of the application argued that the canal would provide a new pedestrian link from the town out into the countryside and to the existing canal, that it would bring jobs for the construction and maintenance of it, and visitors would come and spend money locally.
Finally Cllr Colin Poole proposed the planning permission be granted. The vote was passed with nine for and two against.
This is not the last hurdle the canal arm plans will face. It is now up to Daventry District Council as a whole to decide if there is a business case for the project and if it has, and it wants to commit, the money to build it. Either way the planning permission will lapse if no work commences within three years.