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Planning

This is the most difficult of tasks as a Borough Councillor. The role of the councillor is to both act in the best interests of the community and to act in a judicial capacity to correctly interpret the planning rules and regulations. In all the controversial planning application these two roles are normally in conflict.

To add to the mix of problems there is the added knowledge that if we as councillors push for too many changes to the plan, put too many conditions of the approved application or reject it without good solid planning reasons, then the applicant can appeal to the Secretary of State. Then the following could happen :-

  • the application could be approved on appeal even when as councillors we all think the plans are completely wrong for the area.
  • conditions that we put on for the plan for the benefit of the community could be removed if the applicant is able to prove that the conditions were unfair to them.
  • any changes that we put on for the plan for the benefit of the community could be removed if the applicant is able to prove that the changes were unreasonable to them.
  • the council could have to pay the applicants appeal costs which could run into 10's or 100's of thousand of pounds and this directly affects the councils ability to provide any community improvements because we have to use the money to pay lawyers instead.

The appeal process is performed by a civil servant planning inspector who normally does not know the area, the concerns of people and problems that approval of application could have for the community that will have to live with the development. And worst still they are not accountable to the people of area for their decisions. The only person who is elected in the appeal process is the Secretary of State but even they are cannot be held to account for their actions because they are not voted for by the local people.

So for all of these reasons we try as councillors to avoid plans going to the inspector for appeal even on the most controversial planning applications and in my time as a councillor in West End there have been a number of difficult applications, for example :-

  • The Sportsman Inn / Fielders Court, West End
  • The Lamp & Mantle / Rosemount Court, West End
  • 97 Chapel Road, West End
  • 67 Moorgreen Road, West End
  • Kenilworth House, 1 Telegraph Road, West End

Each of the above applications had a number of plans but eventually a plan that both met most of our concerns as councillors and met the planning rules was produced. So the application was passed otherwise any the gains we had made could be lost on appeal.

To underline the problem of appeal hearings the HEWEB LAC recently lost the appeal on the Wildern Mill development application. The first application for 251 dwellings was turned down for a number of reasons not least that the 13/14 tower block in the centre was completely out of character with Hedge End. The second application was a completely fresh design which countered most of the problems with the first design however it introduced some of its own particularly with parking and lack of affordable housing. Yet the civil servant Whitehall inspector didn't understand these local issues and overruled the democratically elected councillors to approve the plans and large costs maybe awarded against the council.

I hope this comment on the planning process as helped your understanding of it and if you have any comment on this or questions on planning please feel free to ask me.

Planning - A Detailed Look

To look at this problem in more detail it is best to examine some of the issues involved in the above developments. So below you can read a brief outline of these developments and at look at the problems involved in them, the improvements to the plans that were achieved in the course of the planning process and the restrictions that the planning process makes on achieving more improvements.

Wildern Mill, Hedge End

An appeal hearing example

The recently lost the appeal on the Wildern Mill development application, consisted of several smaller blocks of flats all served by one multi-storey car park situated on one side of the site. This over came most of the problems linked to the first application for 251 residential units which was turned down for a number of reasons not least that the 13/14 tower block in the centre was completely out of character with Hedge End. However the second application is a complete fresh design and introduced some of its own problems.

The Problems -

There are only two main problems with this development and they are :-

  • the design consisted of several smaller blocks of flats all served by one multi-storey car park situated on one side of the site. So this would mean that the residents of some blocks could have a 200m walk from their car parking space to their block of flats - bad after a big shopping run. In practice this would mean that they would either park on the internal roads within the site or on Turnpike Way. In both cases this would cause traffic problems which could be avoided by better design either by smaller car parks along side in each residential block or a more central position for the one car park.
  • affordable housing is a desperate need in the Borough with 4000 applicants on the housing wait list. This large development of 184 dwellings should meet its fair share of the affordable housing need. However it was providing far less than its 30% which we expect of other sites and which is the requirement in the local plan.

The Planning Inspectors Jugdement -

So on the basis of these two grounds we rejected the plans because although they were better than the first set they still were not quite right because of these two issues. Yet the inspector at the appeal approved the plans and said :-

  • The number of spaces provided was right for the size of the development, so parking was not a problem.
  • The extra affordable housing could not be afforded by the mill company because they needed the extra cash to fully develop their new factory and that took precedence over the council's requirement for affordable housing.

The Problem with the Planning System -

I think this judgement really highlights the problem with the planning system :-

  • As local councillors we could really see big problems with the car parking; problems for the residents of the development that would become our constituents from the ability not being able to park near their home and so having to carry shopping large distances; problems for our existing constituents due to regular parking on Turnpike Way; problems that we as councillors will have to try and resolve without the best weapon we have to solve such problems i.e. avoid them in the first place.
  • As local councillors we also understand better than any Whitehall inspector or Secretary of State the needs of the local people. The largest need in housing terms is the 4,000 applicants on the housing wait list. Each applicant represents a single person, a couple or a family who need a home, so 4,000 applicants represents about 10,000 local people who need help to have a home of their own.

A possible solution

The big problem in local planning that the appeal process is conducting by people who are not accountable to the local people and by people who do not know the area. It would be better if the appeal was decided by a different set of local councillors. In the case of this application it could be a neighbouring local area committee. The independent planning inspector could then provide the role of the planning officer in advising the committee. Such an appeal committee could also be given greater powers to modify the development plans so that if possible a comprise agreement could be reached.

Such a change or something similar would readdress the balance between a pushy multi-million pound developer and a small district planning authority. It would also mean that local councillors familiar with the area would have the final say and not an unaccountable Whitehall inspector.

The Sportsman Inn / Fielders Court, West End

The development in a nutshell - knockdown the Sportsman Inn and build a block of 40 odd warden assisted flats for the elderly plus a block of 8 key worker flats in its place.

The Problems -

Three main ones with this application there were many people would rather keep the pub, the proposed building was too high for the surrounding and in particular too there were too few parking spaces for residents and visitors.

Planning Process Gains -

After rejecting plans and modifying new ones we managed to - decrease the height of the building by almost a metre, decrease the number of flats, increase the number of parking spaces, increase the minimum age of the residents, increase the developer contributions, improve the overall look and feel of building and improve the sight lines round the building for better traffic safety.

Planning Process Restrictions -

The main bug bear with this development is the parking at the time I pointed out that today more older people drive a car and continue to do so for longer, however in planning terms warden assisted accommodation of this nature are allowed to have less than the normally allocated amount of car parking. The belief is that people move into this type of accommodation when they are at a point their lives at which they no longer wish to drive, hence Fielders Court has a recharging and storage place for electric shopping scooters. Thus the number of parking spaces is reduced accordingly as with Glenside house in the centre of the village which as even few spaces relative to the number of flats. Glenside also gives the developer precedence in the local area for reduced parking spaces.

As for visitors parking we can't plan for visitor's cars under planning rules. We are only allowed to plan for residents parking. This is madness I know as I would hope that old people are frequently visited by friends and relatives but there is nothing in planning law that we can do to force a developer to set aside land for visitors parking.

With the current situation the council could use some of its land on the corner of Kenilworth Gardens to provide visitors parking for Fielders Court, but as a local area committee we feel that McCarthy and Stone should contribute partially or completely for the cost of this. However McCarthy and Stone say there is not a problem with parking at their home Fielders Court and so will not contribute to provide extra parking spaces for it.

As for keeping the pub all that can be done is to put a building preservation order on the existing building. This was tried but the building was decided not to be of sufficient architectural merit even for a temporary preservation order. However even this would have not necessary meant that the building would remain as pub there is no preservation order that can preserve the use of a building.

The Lamp & Mantle / Rosemount Court, West End

The development in a nutshell - knockdown the Lamp & Mantle pub and build a block of 30 odd flats in its place.

The Problems -

The original plans had a number of problems - a tree with a preservation order was to be removed, there are too few parking spaces, design for the original block of flats was a boring square block with a constant roof line, the placement of the block meant there were serious over looking problems with the neighbouring houses, the traffic junction design was dangerous and people would rather keep the character building of the Lamp & Mantle.

Planning Process Gains -

After rejecting plans on a number occasions, winning an appeal and modifying the final plans we managed to - decrease the number of flats, increase the number of parking spaces, the whole design was improved to make it less boring, the roof line was broken up to give a more varied appearance, the large tree at the front was kept.

Planning Process Restrictions -

The only real restriction on this development was that we could not preserve the building. We did manage to get a temporary six month preservation order on the building issued by the Chief Executive Officer at Eastleigh Borough Council. However after this period had passed the planning inspector ruled that the Lamp & Mantle was not a good or unique example of the architects work, because "The Leigh" pub in Eastleigh was a better example. So the temporary order was not made permanent and the developer quickly knocked down the building.

97 Chapel Road, West End

The development in a nutshell - knockdown a bungalow and build 5 houses in its place.

The Problems -

There were three main issues size and mass of the building were too great, overlooking in the neighbour at number 99 was too great and the number of dwellings was too great.

Planning Process Gains -

After rejecting the first set of plans and modifying the final plans we managed to - reduce the size of the houses from five large detached chalet style bungalows to three smaller single storey bungalows plus a pair of small semi-detached dwellings. The overlooking was overcome by reducing the scale of the buildings and lack of clear windows in the right places on the new bungalows. Some of the neighbours actually supported the final set of plans, despite rejecting out right the first set of plans.

Planning Process Restrictions -

The only planning restrictions were on the number of dwellings. The planning rules meant that it could not be less than five but it could actually be more. The main point I was able to get across to the developer was that 5 dwellings does not necessary mean five large detached houses it could also mean five small bungalows, two pairs of small semi detached bungalows plus a small bungalow or even five small flats. After this the developer took the not so subtle hint that the large scale development proposed was not wanted.

67 Moorgreen Road, West End

The development in a nutshell - knockdown a house and build a block of 12 flats plus two detached houses in its place.

The Problems -

The main problems here were concerns over traffic, overdevelopment of the site, lack of car parking spaces and overlooking of neighbouring properties.

Planning Process Gains -

The only real planning gains to be made here were on the overlooking issue where windows were removed and parking where car parking spaces were increased to the maximum permitted.

Planning Process Restrictions -

The main restrictions here were on the maximum number parking spaces at a 1œ average per dwelling and this development was increased to the maximum, which the objectors still thought were not enough. However given we had hit the maximum limit we could not force the developer to have more car parking spaces.

On highway safety the Head of Engineering Services said that the proposals were ok from a highway safety point of view and that the proposed footpath at the front would actually be an improvement. Therefore a refusal on highway safety grounds could not be won on appeal.

With regard to visual impact, the planning officers had some concerns due to the higher density build but they felt that design had taken due regard of its surroundings and will have a satisfactory impact in the street scene. So this recommendation it would make it very hard to win an appeal if we refused the application on grounds of visual impact, which is after all a very subject thing to refuse on.

On overshadowing issues the plans met something called the 45 degree rule which meant that in planning rule terms the building would not have an impact on the neighbours although obviously any new building would have some impact. In planning rule terms this would not be enough to refuse the application.

In short this application passed not because in was a brilliant development but because there were no grounds on which to refuse it that would stand-up to the pressures of an appeal.

Kenilworth House, 1 Telegraph Road, West End

The development in a nutshell - knockdown a house and build a block of flats in its place.

The Problems -

There were four basic issues with this development initially; too few parking spaces; poor design with the flats in one block, garden at the front and parking at the back; poor sight lines for traffic; and the loss of an old house from West End.

Planning Process Gains -

The first plan was refused after I and other councillors referred this application to the HEWEB LAC for the councillors to make the decision and after new plans were submitted a number of changes were made the plans were passed having - increased the car parking ratio from 1 per flat to the maximum of 1.5 per flat; the number of flats were reduced from 14 to 12; the access and sight lines were improved; the car parking was moved from the back to the front; the garden was moved to the back so it backed onto the gardens of the neighbouring properties; cycle store was increased in size; the bin store was increased; the design of the building was improved to reduced the scale and mass of the building; the amenity space for the residents of this development was improved with a larger and more secluded garden area; and at the meeting we agreed that the boundary between this development and the neighbouring properties would be a brick wall instead of a fence.

Planning Process Restrictions -

The only real restriction was that we were unable to prevent the loss of an old character property from West End. The only way to do this would be to make this a listed building however this building as nice as it is does not have sufficient architectural merit even for a temporary preservation order.

The final plans had to be passed to keep the gains made in the planning process. A refusal would have definitely been lost on appeal and it was even possible that the first plans could have been passed on appeal which would have been disastrous.