A PLANNING application for a police firing range in a village quarry near Wellington was pulled from a committee agenda at the eleventh hour following legal advice obtained by residents fighting the plan.

Now the plans by Devon and Cornwall Police, which wants to renew permission to use Pondground Quarry, Holcombe Rogus, for live fire practice by its armed response officers, is likely to go to a special planning committee meeting on November 8.

Mid Devon District Council planning officer Adrian Devereaux had recommended councillors to give approval for a ‘temporary’ 20-year period despite more than 100 objections from residents and parish councillors.

Mr Devereaux said police had used the quarry since 1978 with a series of temporary permissions, but the most recent consent was not renewed when it expired in 2014.

Police continued to use the quarry’s two firing ranges for seven years until the error was pointed out in 2021 and a fresh application was made to the council.

Mr Devereaux said the earlier approvals did not have any conditions covering the terms of the shooting which meant councillors now had an opportunity to impose binding restrictions, including limiting the number of days’ annual shooting to 70 and restricting the times when firing could take place.

But a last-minute legal opinion submitted on behalf of residents from barrister Stephen Cottle, of Garden Court Chambers, pointed out that reducing the amount of time when firing took place did not reduce the noise generated by it.

Mr Cottle said the council would leave itself open to the courts quashing an approval if the decision was taken without ‘explicit advice’ on why it decided to do so when noise levels were shown to be above standards considered unacceptable by the World Health Organisation and ‘every technical guidance addressing noise and planning that has been referred to, and there are a number of them’.

He said planning officers had not even referred to the Government’s Noise Policy Statement for England.

Mr Cottle said the ‘oversight’ came about because the council had entirely negated and wrongly treated as legally irrelevant the fundamental point made by residents and the business most affected that cutting the hours when shooting took place did not reduce the noise level while it was taking place.

He said: “Controlling the duration by reducing the hours to just four hours per day is not the same as reducing the noise transmission while shooting takes place.

“The council has not applied its mind to that issue and seemingly does not even accept the need for that to be done.”

Mr Cottle said mitigation to reduce the noise could include bespoke shooting stands with timber sides and rockwool to provide sound absorptive properties and act as acoustic barriers, but the council had not even considered such measures.