Agenda item

49352/007/FUL/SAW - Land West of Bentley Industrial Centre, Main Road, Bentley, Farnham

C Y Homes Ltd

 

Eight dwellings, provision of footpath link, car parking and associated landscaping.

Minutes:

Eight dwellings, provision of footpath link, car parking and associated landscaping.

 

The Development Management Team Leader introduced the application and displayed an aerial photograph of the site, along with photographs of and from within the site, the access through the industrial estate and the relationship of the site to the industrial estate and existing dwellings.  In addition he showed elevations of the proposed dwellings, a site plan of the proposed development and plans for the pedestrian footpath to Main Road.

 

He gave a background to the planning history of the site, detailing the three previous refusals and Appeal Inspector’s decisions.  The sole reason for the dismissal of the latest appeal concerned details around the pedestrian access to Main Road, which had been addressed in the current application.

 

He confirmed that the site had originally been allocated as employment land in the East Hampshire District Local Plan: Second Review and that this had been carried forward into the draft Bentley Neighbourhood Plan.  However, it had been removed from the Neighbourhood Plan at the request of the examiner and the site was inside the Settlement Policy Boundary for Bentley.  Therefore, the principle of the proposal was acceptable.

 

The recommendation was for approval.

 

Mr Thallon spoke on behalf of objectors to the application.

 

This development has been refused three times and three times the appeals against the decision had been dismissed.  He questioned what had changed this time, in his opinion, very little.

 

The case recommending the development was weak and contradictory. As an example, he focussed on access.  Vehicle access would still be through the industrial estate and as such these houses would effectively be an extension of that industrial estate.

 

A key issue which he quoted from the case officer’s report, “Officer considers that the juxtaposition of the development and the neighbouring industrial estate is poor in that future residents would need to access the development through the industrial estate.”

 

“As such this is considered to be poor urban design contrary to advice in paragraphs 32, 57 and 61 of the NPPF and CP29 of the JCS.”

 

He reminded the committee that Policy CP29 required the district’s built environment to be of an exemplary standard of design.  Vehicle access through an industrial estate didn’t seem to meet this criterion.

 

The previous appeal inspector had also highlighted that, “the means of access through the industrial estate which lacks proper footways or any vestiges of residential character would be intimidating”, and added “particularly for pedestrians” but clearly for drivers as well.

 

The vehicular access lacked residential character; it was also potentially dangerous.  This was a busy industrial estate.  All the units were occupied, although the developers claimed that this site was not viable.  Industrial vehicles, such as vans, lorries and fork lifts were constantly operating in the access road. Additional traffic to the proposed site would at best cause confusion and at worst accidents.

 

Pedestrian access would be no better despite the proposed car park alterations;

 

To maintain the 6m spacing between opposing parking bays, the bays would be reduced to 4.8m, which was the same length as an average family car. This might work in an urban setting but not in a village.  The car park was often used by 4x4s and pick-ups, all longer than 4.8m.  This change would make the car park less usable and encourage more on street parking.

 

What was more of a concern was that the proposed pedestrian access would be likely to be ignored, because the shortest route to the school and the recreation ground would be through the industrial estate.  The inspector had said this would be “a highly undesirable proposition”.  He questioned whether the sight of children walking, or running, through industrial traffic would be acceptable.

 

In summary, the proposed access would be completely unsuitable for a residential development and he urged the committee to refuse this proposal.

 

Cllr Curwen spoke on behalf of Bentley Parish Council.

 

There were three main threads to the parish council’s objection to this application, over and above their written response as a statutory consultee.

 

Thread 1, the Neighbourhood Plan (NP) as it currently applied.  90% of voters had approved the plan at the referendum for the plan in May 2016.  The NP had been ‘made’ by EHDC in June 2016, which gave it statutory power.

 

The parish council accepted that more housing was required, however the NP already defined its nature.  The report by J Bore, the Government Inspector who reviewed EHDC’s Joint Core Strategy, had stated that Bentley should account for 50 of the 150 houses in the 20 villages north of the South Downs National Park.  In fact, 51 dwellings had been, or were being built since the making of the plan.  Bentley had accounted for the 50 dwellings proposed in the Allocation Plan.  J Bore’s report followed the examination where the examiner had recommended the policy for a reserved housing site be withdrawn, which it duly had been.

 

Policy 2 of the NP required linear development.  This proposal would certainly not be linear, but a Close-style development.

 

Thread 2, the creation of the NP.  When the parish council had submitted its draft plan for examination prior to the referendum, it contained a policy for commercial development that included this site.  The examiner, Mr Parminter, told the parish council that this could not be permitted, since there was a planning application under appeal for the site. The parish council had also been told that such a policy would not be needed, as it would be safe because EHDC had earmarked the area for employment.

 

The parish council had looked at the site, since it was a SHLAA, as a potential housing site, but decided that it was unsuitable due to access problems.

Mr Parminter questioned the procedure for selecting land for development, and decided that the parish council’s process was flawed.  However, since he decided that we had over-filled our quotas, no land needed to be allocated at the time of creation of the Neighbourhood Plan.

 

Thread 3, the report by Mr Wiltshire, the EHDC Case Officer, treated the NP as a non-event, to be ignored at will.  A reference to the “letters of representation” was an astoundingly simplified summary of 37 detailed ‘Objects’ documents on the on-line system, and one ‘Neutral’ which started “I would like to object…”  It gave the impression that there was no need for employment land in Bentley.  Developers claimed that using this site for commercial development was not viable. This was patently false.

 

The parish council had checked with the letting agents in the area, who confirmed that there were no industrial units available on the proposed site.  There were also no units available across the road on the other industrial site, or at Blacknest Industrial Estate down the road.  Local businessmen had told the parish council that units around Bentley were like “hen’s teeth”.  Had the developers really tried to find out, or were houses more lucrative?

 

It was the parish council’s view that this site was viable as an employment site as described in the EHDC Local Plan and therefore objected to any change of use.

 

In summary, to pass this application without even coming to see what worried Bentley residents, would be an act utterly contrary to the feelings and widely held opinions of the residents of Bentley.  This was surely about democracy and localism.

 

Mr Andrew Bantosz spoke as the agent for the application.

 

He welcomed the fact that the scheme had been supported by the council’s planning officers.  The officer report was very detailed, thorough and covered all of the material planning issues pertaining to this development proposal.  Importantly the report went through the previous Planning Inspector’s comments in detail and how this current application addressed those concerns.

 

As the committee would have noted from the report, this was the fourth planning application on this site and there had been three previous appeal decisions.  The main issues establishing the principle of housing on this site had been accepted by the three previous Planning Inspectors.  The design of the proposed houses had slightly altered over the various planning applications, however the design and layout as it stood was acceptable to the most recent Planning Inspector.

 

The main issue of concern for the Council and the Planning Inspectors had been the proposed vehicular access through the neighbouring commercial site and more importantly, the pedestrian access into the site.

 

The most recent Planning Inspector had clarified this issue by concluding that a vehicular access for residents through the commercial site would be acceptable.  The footpath running alongside the pub car park and No.1 Poplar Cottages was also considered acceptable by the Planning Inspector.

 

The only reason the Planning Inspector had dismissed the appeal was down to the fact that the proposed footpath required works to the pub car park and the adjacent commercial building, namely moving fire escape doors and other obstructions to make way for the revised car park layout, which had not been fully detailed in the original planning application. The Planning Inspector had considered that these alterations should be given proper consideration as part of the planning application, rather than being conditioned.  As such, the current planning application had been submitted to address these final issues.

 

The exact positioning and dimensions of the footpath had now been shown on the submitted plans and the alterations to the neighbouring pub car park had also indicated and demonstrated that there would be no loss of parking and the car parking spaces and manoeuvring area complied fully with highway standards.

 

In summary, he hoped that the committee would concur with the officers’ report which stated that the proposal was considered to be of a satisfactory design standard and acceptable in terms of layout and scale, which the report acknowledged were matters that had already been considered acceptable by previous Planning Inspectors.  The report concluded that the development would have an acceptable relationship with the neighbouring occupiers and no concerns had been raised by the Conservation Officer regarding the setting of the neighbouring Conservation Area.

 

He noted that there had been a significant number of objections to the proposal, however all the points raised by objectors had been addressed by previous Planning Inspectors, with only the issues of the minor alterations to the car park and commercial building left for determination.

 

Cllr Carter left the committee to speak as the local ward councillor.

 

Cllr Carter spoke as the local ward councillor.

 

Having been through three refusals and dismissed appeals, he suggested that the application was unsuitable for the site.  The current application was very little different to the previous applications and a tweaked version of the application refused and dismissed at appeal in April 2017.    

 

The application was a development for eight houses on land categorised as employment land and accessed through an industrial estate with an unprotected pedestrian access.  If approved it would be a deviation from the local plan and as the Bentley Neighbourhood Plan was the most recently adopted plan, it should be given due weight.  Policy 2 of the plan clearly stated that development should be linear.  This application was far from linear and not on an identified site for housing.  He had been advised that industrial units in the local area were very hard to come by and that there were no available units on this site or the other sites nearby.  Once this employment land was gone, it would be gone.  In summary, it was critical that the Neighbourhood Plan be respected as it carried significant weight.  The site was currently employment land and should remain so.

 

The committee discussed the application and whilst it had reservations about the access through an industrial estate and the proposed parking provision, it acknowledged that the site was within the SPB and that the sole concern from the last Appeal Inspector’s decision had been addressed.

 

The committee voted on the officer’s recommendation for permission.

 

Following the vote, the recommendation was declared CARRIED, 8 Councillors voting FOR permission, no Councillors voting AGAINST permission and 1 Councillor ABSTAINING from voting.

 

Cllr Carter re-joined the committee.

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