This item was moved up the agenda to be heard first following a request to which the Chair agreed to due to the publicity it had received. The Chair reminded the Committee that the application should be judged on its merits and that cost was not a planning consideration following the motion that had been heard and voted on at Full Council in June 2019.
Presented by Chris Purvis, Principal Planner (Major Applications), the application sought planning permission to demolish the existing buildings and external wall on the corner of High Street and New Road to allow for the development of a building which would be an extension of the Civic Offices but would appear as a building as its own entity with a link extension to the Council’s existing CO2 building. The details of the proposal was set out within the report.
Officer’s recommendation was for approval subject to the conditions highlighted on pages 105 – 116 of the agenda.
Councillor Byrne sought confirmation on the proposed 2 disabled parking spaces. Chris Purvis replied that 2 spaces were shown and asked Highway Officers to confirm. Julian Howes, Senior Highway Engineer, confirmed that two spaces were adequate for the development. He went on to say that there would be areas where blue badge holders could park for a limited time with their blue badges on display and that there were more spaces along New Road.
With no further questions, the Chair invited registered speakers to address the Committee.
Councillor Kerin, Ward Councillor, presented his statement in objection to the application.
Bradley Moore, Agent Representative, presented his statement in support of the application.
The Vice-Chair noted that Bradley Moore’s statement had said the proposal would be contributing to Grays and sought clarification on how the town would be regenerated through this proposal. He also asked the name of the proposed plan. Bradley Moore answered that the plan was known as the Civic Offices Phase but was not private offices for council staff. That 2 out of the 3 proposed floors were open to the public to enable them to interact with the council. The Committee rooms proposed were available for public meetings and the public had the option to book the rooms.
The Vice-Chair went on to ask how the public had been involved in the consultation of the proposed plan. Bradley Moore answered that consultation had taken place through formal and informal methods. Key groups had been consulted as well as council staff and members of the public in the Grays High Street.
Regarding Grays heritage, the Chair questioned the view of Heritage Officers. In answer, Chris Purvis said that the council’s Heritage Officer had commented on the removal of the existing buildings but had judged the scheme to cause a less than substantial harm to the heritage of Grays. Therefore, it fell to Planning Officers to judge through the test of the NPPF whether the less than substantial harm was outweighed through the potential public benefits the scheme would bring. Planning Officers’ view was that the public benefits outweighed this less than substantial harm.
The Chair sought more detail on ‘less than substantial harm’. Chris Purvis answered that there were various tests in the NPPF for less than substantial harm. Less than substantial harm generally meant that NPPF were not objecting but if public benefits would outweigh this, then the scheme could be approved.
Noting the Ward Councillor’s statement, the Chair sought more detail on the loss of sunlight issue for Pullman Court residents. Answering that a Daylight and Sunlight report was included in the Officer’s report, Chris Purvis went on to say that this had been assessed by the Applicant. Residents in Pullman Court would be slightly affected by the development but there would not be any substantial harm caused which had been assessed in the report.
On Mulberry Square, the Chair noted that this was a publicly accessible open space that would be lost and asked for more details on this. Chris Purvis answered that Mulberry Square was not allocated as a formal open space in the Core Strategy. However, policies in the Core Strategy aimed to retain and provide more open spaces but an assessment of the area showed a range of open spaces in the surrounding areas of the Civic Offices which included Grays Beach and Grays Park.
The Chair said there were positives and negatives to the proposal in the application and that the Core Strategy included the regeneration of Grays Town Centre. The loss of businesses as part of the proposal would be regrettable but it would not be enough to not go ahead with the proposal. There would be many benefits to the public.
Noting the CGI building in the Officer’s presentation, Councillor Rice thought it was not pleasing to the eye and looked out of place given the Grade II listed church behind. The design of the new building was big and despite what the Daylight and Sunlight report highlighted, this would affect the residents of Pullman Court. He stated that he would be voting against the application.
Agreeing with Councillor Rice on the design of the building, Councillor Bryne said he would also be voting against the application. Also agreeing, the Vice-Chair said the style of the building did not match the surroundings of the area even though it was less intrusive than what was currently in its place. The Vice-Chair went on to say that the proposed building would also effectively replace a number of existing amenities and effect the heritage of Grays.
Councillor Rice proposed an alternative recommendation to refuse the application; contrary to Officer’s recommendation. For reasons of:
Councillor Shinnick seconded the recommendation. The Chair said material considerations must be taken into account and asked Leigh Nicholson, Interim Assistant Director of Planning, Transport and Public Protection to advise.
Leigh Nicholson advised the Committee that Councillor Rice’s proposal of an alternative recommendation was based upon material planning considerations but reasons for refusal had to be material, grounded in planning policy and supported by evidence. Reasons for refusal should be also be sustainable; given that there were no objections from the Council’s technical consultees on the grounds raised.
Leigh Nicholson went on to say that if Members were minded to refuse the application, it would be necessary for Officers to bring a report back to the Committee to outline the implications of making such a decision, in accordance with Chapter 5, para 7.2 C of the Council’s Constitution. The Locum Solicitor, Caroline Robins, was invited to comment. She confirmed the advice and approach was correct.
The Committee moved on to the vote of Councillor Rice’s alternative recommendation as outlined above.
For: (5) Councillors Mike Fletcher (Vice-Chair), Gary Byrne, David Potter, Sue Shinnick and Gerard Rice.
Against: (4) Councillors Tom Kelly (Chair), Colin Churchman, Angela Lawrence and Sue Sammons.
As the Committee was minded to refuse the application, in line with the Constitution Chapter 5, Part 3, Section 7.3, the application was deferred to the next Committee date to enable Officers to draft a report on the implications of refusing the application.