Agenda item

30024/008/FUL/SAW - Chequers Inn, Winchester Road, Ropley, Alresford, SO24 0BS

Mulberry Homes (Ropley) Limited


Nine two storey dwellings with associated access and parking following demolition of existing public house (Amended plans, Certificate B and supplementary information received 17 July 2017, further amended plans / information received 1 August 2017 and 13 November 2017)


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


Nine two storey dwellings with associated access and parking following demolition of existing public house (Amended plans, Certificate B and supplementary information received 17 July 2017, further amended plans / information received 1 August 2017 and 13 November 2017)


The Development Management Team Leader introduced the application and referred to the update in the Supplementary Matters sheet which confirmed that the Drainage Consultant had no objection to the principle of the development.


He displayed a location plan of the site, along with the layout plan, elevations of the proposed dwellings and photographs of the former Chequers Public House, the site, the street scene and neighbouring properties.  The application proposed that plots 7 to 9 would be only 6m from the A31, which would be significantly closer than the existing built form.  Part of plots 7 to 9 would also be outside of the Settlement Policy Boundary (SPB) and would therefore constitute development in the countryside if permitted.  With regard to this, he cited a recent appeal decision at Virginia, Lymington Bottom, Four Marks, which upheld a refusal on similar grounds.


The character of the area was typified by a low density of development of between 5.1dph and 8.3dph.  This application proposed a significantly higher density of 28.1dph.  Officers also had concerns regarding the layout and feel of the proposal, which they judged to be cramped and urban in feel with large areas of hard surfacing that would be out of keeping with the area.


The recommendation was therefore for refusal.


Cllr Brown spoke on behalf of Ropley Parish Council


He thanked the officers for their work in ensuring that the plans addressed their concerns regarding flooding and footpath access to the bus stops.  In the event that the committee chose to approve this application, he asked that it ensured that appropriate conditions be applied to ensure that these works were completed.


Having read the grounds for refusal, he feared that the parish council had not made itself clear to the officers about the community’s attitude to this proposal.


He explained the importance of this site to the neighbourhood plan that was currently in development and had been a work in progress for some time.  Protocols and processes meant that it could not be rushed.  There was a simple explanation as to why the site had not been proposed as an allocation, which was that the assumption had been made that the site would have already been granted planning permission.  He quoted “and it is anticipated that planning permission will be granted later this year for nine dwellings on the site of the former Chequers Public House”.


The neighbourhood plan addressed the issue of the SPB.  The map included within the draft plan showed the SPB to be redrawn to include the whole of the site.  Specifically, this land used to have highways rights, but these rights were being withdrawn under a negotiated settlement for this purpose.


It had been obvious to the parish council for years that the village was keen to see this site developed by all of the enquiries that had been received at parish council meetings.  In addition there was now further documented evidence in the form of the neighbourhood plan questionnaire.  This had realised a heroic 55% return, of those 90% had favoured the development of this site.


Mr Goodall spoke as the agent for the application


The application being considered had been under consideration for almost  a year due to a number of technical issues relating to highways and surface water flooding, which had now been resolved.


Having gone through this long and difficult process, the only remaining area of concern was the highly subjective issue of design.  In short, whilst he fully appreciated the importance of good design, on this occasion he felt that officers had been too precious and to satisfy their apparent requirements would prevent the site fulfilling what both the applicant and community felt was its potential.


Specifically, the parish council fully supported this application and design changes had been made in response to specific concerns that they had raised.  The very clear community derived aspiration for this site was to deliver nine small units which would be pitched at the lower end of the market housing price range.  This reflected a site capacity assessment undertaken in relation to the emerging Ropley Neighbourhood Plan, whilst policy CP10 clearly allowed development outside the SPB where there was clear community support.


The nub of the officer’s concern was that the development would be too close to the main road.  However, this was a modest site and the luxury of having a large part of the site undeveloped was not available and would prevent this wholly brownfield site from being efficiently developed.  The applicant had worked hard to design a scheme which respected the character of the area by providing three separate blocks each containing three units.  Access had to be via Gasgoine Lane, there was a requirement for turning to be provided within the site, trees had to be protected and each unit had to have suitable parking and garden areas.


To achieve all these things and to be set further back into the site was not possible and therefore something had to give.  If the officer recommendation was accepted a scheme with fewer higher value units would be pursued.  That would prevent the site delivering a clear community development mandate and would lead to a non-consensual scheme.


It should also be stressed that there were a number of developments which had a similar relationship to the road frontage and these appeared not to cause any adverse impacts.  This was evident to the west of the site where two new houses had been built relatively close to the A31.


He therefore trusted that the committee could put its faith in those local stakeholders who substantially supported this scheme by approving this development.  The site had been unsightly for too long and made no contribution to either the environment or the community.  This was an opportunity for the site to make a meaningful contribution and this scheme would do just that.


Cllr Louisson spoke as the local ward councillor.


As a preface to his main comments, he updated the committee on the status of the emerging Ropley Neighbourhood Plan.  The main policies of the plan had been finalised and agreed by the parish council, including a housing needs assessment.  In Autumn 2017 EHDC required a Strategic Environmental Assessment to be undertaken on the plan and that had delayed taking the plan to public consultation, which was now expected to start in January 2018.


Most people in the north of the district would be familiar with the Chequers, that run down pub on the A31.  While many Ropley residents including himself bemoaned its passing, Ropley residents were not in denial waiting for someone to revive it as a pub and supported this application.


The officer report stated that they were satisfied that the site had been adequately marketed after the pub ceased trading and that they were in agreement on the majority of the aspects of the application including drainage, access and parking, neighbour amenity, biodiversity, tree protection and noise, and raised no objection to the dwelling designs.  Accordingly, he focused on the areas of disagreement, namely CP10, CP29 and the SPB, layout and density and housing allocation.  He began with community support.  The neighbourhood plan questionnaire performed in summer 2015 received over 300 responses.  This was a better turnout than many local elections managed, so clearly representative of village opinion. 


The findings included:


New housing in Ropley: 82% yes, 10% No, 8% no opinion

Brownfield: 92% support or strongly support

Small Houses: 85% support (vs 40% for large)

Specific sites: 90% support or strongly support housing on the Chequers site


From these figures he believed it would be difficult to argue that this project did not enjoy wholehearted support from the community and this had been backed up by the public comments.  Out of 33 public comments received, 32 were in favour and only one had objected.  Despite this, the officer claimed that while the parish council supported the application "this is not considered to be the same as clear community support through an agreed process". 


At an appeal hearing last year, a copy of which had been circulated in advance of the meeting, concerning Barnet Side Farm in Froxfield against a delegated refusal by this authority, Froxfield Parish Council had supported the application and this had been accepted by the Appeal Inspector as "amounting to clear community aspirations and support for the scheme".  In addition, a footnote to the appeal decision stated that this authority had no established process through which communities could demonstrate community support.  That appeal decision established that a parish council could adequately demonstrate community support, or objection.  Additionally, in this application, as Ropley parish had a Neighbourhood Plan Designation Order agreed by this authority and this constituted an agreed process between the Planning Authority and the Ropley Parish Council, and in light of the neighbourhood plan questionnaire results, he was confident that this application was compliant with the requirements of CP10 and would therefore allow development outside of the SPB.  He believed that to say this application did not enjoy community support was disingenuous at best.


The officer report stated that the application site was partially outside of the SPB.  Approximately 20% was outside the current SPB and this was to the front of the site between the existing pub building and the A31 road. Historically this section of the site had been zoned as Highway and was most likely the reason that the SPB had been drawn to exclude this area.


The officer report concluded that the SPB was set back to prevent development.  An examination of the SPB of all adjacent properties to the east on Winchester Road showed that the SPB had been drawn to the boundary between their curtilages and the verge of the A31, which was inconsistent with the SPB being set back to prevent development. Had this part of the site not been Highway, then in all likelihood the SPB would have been drawn to the A31 verge similar to adjacent properties and so all of the site would have been within the SPB.


As part of the application process, extinguishment of Highway rights had been sought from and accepted by HCC and this had, he believed, been approved. The Ropley SPB was under review by the neighbourhood plan team and their initial proposals which had been reviewed by this authority included the addition of the area in question to the SPB.


As part of the information provided by the officer, the committee had been asked to review an appeal decision given recently on a development at 115 Lymington Bottom in Four Marks. This was for 5 dwellings of 833 sq m GIA including garages on a site of 0.32ha, so denser built form than the 663 sq m applied for here.


The appeal against a refusal had been dismissed on several grounds including development outside the SPB, so on the surface may appear similar to this application. There were however substantial differences.  In the appeal case the SPB incursion had been to the rear of the curtilage and towards open fields, so into the countryside, while this was between an existing brownfield site and a national trunk road. Not most peoples view of a countryside location. Additionally, in the appeal case almost one-third of the site was outside the SPB, while in this case only 20% was outside. There were other notable differences between the appeal case and this application. This had full support from Ropley Parish Council, while Four Marks Parish Council had objected strongly to the appeal application with their comments running to one and a half pages. This application had overwhelming support from the community and had 33 representations, of which 32 offered support, while the appeal application had 21 representations, all objecting.


A further significant difference was that one of the examiners reasons for dismissing the appeal was that housing delivery in Four Marks was already 80% in excess of the requirements of the local allocations plan, so there was no justification for additional housing. Ropley had been allocated about 43 dwellings as part of the LP2 allocation and to date only 30 of these had been completed, so there was still a shortfall to the allocation. On these bases he contended that the Lymington Bottom appeal decision actually had little relevance to this case.


The Housing Needs Assessment undertaken by the neighbourhood plan determined that a total of 73 dwellings should be provided over the Local Plan period from 2011-2028. This was 30 more than the 43 dwellings allocated under LP2. The officer report also noted that while the application site was mentioned in the plan, it had not been allocated. The draft neighbourhood plan contained the following statement:


“At the start of the neighbourhood plan period in April 2016, 46 dwellings had planning permission but construction had not yet started, and it is anticipated that planning permission will be granted later this year for 9 dwellings on the site of the former Chequers public house.”


From this it was clear that the intention of the neighbourhood plan was that the 9 dwellings proposed in the application were part of meeting the overall housing needs assessment. It had been anticipated that this application would be determined in advance of the making of the neighbourhood plan, so allocation within the plan would not be required.


The neighbourhood plan allocated two sites, one which scored higher than the Chequers site and had been allocated for 14 dwellings and a further site which had scored the same as the Chequers site that had been allocated 4 dwellings. He was fairly certain that should this application be refused, the site would be allocated within the neighbourhood plan ahead of consultation, resulting in the dwellings being built, just 12-18 months later and probably at least £10K each more expensive, which was counter to the intentions of the neighbourhood plan.


The officer had questioned the layout and density of the application. One of the key findings of the neighbourhood plan questionnaire was the desire for smaller, less expensive properties. With land registry data for the last three years showing an average selling price in Ropley of £640K, with only 20% of sales at less than £400K, that finding was expected. With the land element making up such a substantial portion of the cost of building a new house, it should not really be surprising that a development that aimed to provide a range of smaller, less expensive properties would be higher density than the rest of the leafy uplands of Ropley.


He did not agree that the density would be excessive. At 28dph it would be less dense than a development approved by this committee recently for 8 dwellings in Bentley, a similar level 4 settlement, which was 29dph. The built form for this application expressed as the portion of the site occupied was very similar to the recent development of 15 dwellings at Dunsells Lane in Ropley. It should also be noted that updated requirements on parking standards requiring minimum rather than maximum numbers of spaces as well as turning areas for refuse and other large vehicles would tend to produce denser developments. Additionally, this was a brownfield development. As all the LP2 housing allocations in Ropley were greenfield, this somewhat redressed the balance.


In addition to meeting community aspirations, this application would also deliver two significant benefits to the community.


The junction of Gascoigne Lane at the A31 had frequently experienced moderate levels of flooding. Research into the drainage issues as part of this application had uncovered a drainage scheme that should have been implemented by HCC over 40 years ago. As a result of negotiation with HCC this scheme would now be implemented as part of the development and should consign these flooding issues to history.


Secondly, the proposed development would deliver a properly surfaced pedestrian route between Gascoigne Lane and the bus stops on Winchester Road, removing the need to walk along the A31 verge. This route was used by many children travelling to school and college in Alton, Alresford and Winchester. The provision of this route would be a significant safety improvement, especially in Winter, as this section of the A31 was unlit.


In conclusion he believed that this application had demonstrated full community support, was compliant with CP10 allowing development outside of the SPB, was required to meet the assessed housing needs of the parish, would be at a comparable density to other approved developments in the district and would deliver important benefits to the community.


He encouraged the committee to vote against the officer recommendation for refusal.


The committee discussed the application and had mixed views on whether it should be permitted.  The proposal had a lot of merit and a number of councillors queried why the SPB did not follow the A31 and include the layby and verge between the former Chequers Public House and the A31.  The committee noted that the emerging Ropley Neighbourhood Plan proposed to include this land within the SPB and the comment from the parish council that the site had not been included within the plan as an allocation site because the assumption was that the site would have already been permitted for nine houses prior to its publication.


The committee also noted the level of community support that had been shown for the proposal and was pleased that the need for smaller, more affordable market housing in the village was being embraced.  By its very definition, the density of such a development would be higher than that typically found in the locality.  The committee was impressed at the level of community engagement that had been shown in response to the Neighbourhood Plan questionnaire.


However, the committee had to consider the application before it and the policies that currently existed.  If approved, part of the development would be outside of the SPB and whilst it appreciated the level of community support and the aims of the emerging Neighbourhood Plan, the fact that it had yet to be published for consultation meant that it held very little weight in determining planning applications.


At the invitation of the Chairman, Cllr Louisson summed up for a further minute.


Cllr Louisson reminded the committee that Policy CP10 allowed development outside of the SPB if there was overwhelming public support for an application.  He believed that this application met this criteria and would deliver important facilities for the village.


As Cllr Louisson had taken the opportunity to speak again, an additional minute was offered to the other public speakers.


Cllr Brown, Ropley Parish Council referred to the proposed layout.  The Village Design Statement explained how the village was in favour of a diverse mix of houses.  That message had been repeated and reinforced by the responses to the neighbourhood plan questionnaire in 2015.  There was a resistance to the village becoming solely full of large houses and the preserve of the wealthy.  This design was clever in that it would look like three large houses, but provide nine small ones.  To have nine houses one must have parking.  The officers fear that there would be too much, the parish council felt that this would be a small price to pay to keep some diversity within the housing stock.


Mr Goodall, the agent for the application, explained that the Highway land to the front was the subject of an easement that would be lifted if the application was approved.  Policy CP10 allowed housing outside of the SPB if community support had been demonstrated and this had been proven by appeals.


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


Following the vote, the recommendation was declared CARRIED, 8 Councillors voting FOR refusal, 4 Councillors voting AGAINST refusal and no Councillors ABSTAINING from voting.

Supporting documents: