Agenda item

19/00617/FUL Thurrock Council, Civic Offices, New Road, Grays, Essex, RM17 6SL (Deferred)


(In line with Thurrock Council’s Constitution, Chapter 5, Part 3(d), 13.5, Councillors Akinbohun and Chukwu were unable to participate or vote on the application as they had not been present when the application was first heard at Committee on 15 August 2019.)


Before hearing the application, the Chair stated that Councillors Akinbohun and Councillor Chukwu would be unable to participate or vote on the application as they had not been present when the application was first heard at Committee on 15 August 2019.


Councillor Byrne felt that the application should be deferred to a later Committee date as the substitute Members would not be able to vote on the item. He said the application was important and affected all of Thurrock. The Chair reminded the Committee that the Planning Committee was an independent Committee and should not be voted along political views. He sought clarification from Leigh Nicholson, Interim Assistant Director of Planning, Transport and Public Protection.


Leigh Nicholson explained that the application was already published on the agenda and due to be heard at Committee that night. The application should be heard. Members could propose an alternative recommendation to defer the application to a later date if they wished to do so.


The application was presented by Chris Purvis, Principal Planner (Major Applications) who gave a brief overview of the proposal set out within pages 35 and 36 of the report. He referred the Committee to the 3 bullet points in paragraph 1.1 on page 27 of the report which were the reasons Members at the last Planning Committee had given, as they had been minded to refuse the application. The report assessed these 3 points in more detail.


There was one update to the application in which an additional letter in support of the application had been received from New River. They were the new owners of the Grays Shopping Centre and supported the application as part of the regeneration framework of Grays Town Centre.


The Chair said the concerns raised at the last Committee on the application was well researched and assessed. Referring to a past planning application at 76 High Street, Grays, he asked if it was still a live application because he had seen hoarding around the site. He went on to question whether the St Peters and Pauls Church had commented on the 76 High Street, Grays planning application at the time it was considered.


In confirmation, Chris Purvis said the 76 High Street, Grays planning application was still live and that planning permission had been granted in 2013 – 14. The development to that site would bring a benefit to that part of the High Street. St Peters and Pauls Church had objected to the 76 High Street, Grays planning application but the church had not objected to the current planning application.


Noting that the report mentioned significant benefits that would outweigh the heritage impact of the St Peters and Pauls Church, the Vice-Chair sought clarification on what the significant benefits were. He also questioned how the significant benefits would outweigh the loss of the businesses. Chris Purvis confirmed that there was no detrimental impact on the church and the proposal plan would help to open up views of the church from New Road. In addition, the plan would enable regeneration in that part of the town centre; the design of the building would not be competing with the church and it would be lower than the buildings in the surrounding area. Regarding the loss of the businesses, there would be a café in the ground floor of the building and if built, the nearby 76 High Street scheme included four commercial ground floor units as part of the plan and these could be used. The public would benefit from the facilities to be provided in the proposed Civic Offices building.


The Vice-Chair answered that ‘no detrimental impact’ was not a benefit and that opening up the view of the church would only bring a benefit to the church, not to the public. He questioned what the proposed plan would give to the public what they did not have already.


Chris Purvis explained that the registry office would be moved from the Thameside Theatre and into the proposed building which would be more easily accessible as it would be closer to the train station, bus station and town centre. The impact on the church would be neutral and there were no objections in terms of heritage to the church as assessed by the Heritage Officer. Therefore, a ‘less than substantial harm’ test for the church had been considered with the public benefits weighing in favour of the development.  The Vice-Chair responded that a registry office would be gained from the plan to which Chris Purvis repeated the benefits already mentioned.


The Chair sought clarification on whether it was five buildings that they would be losing to which Chris Purvis confirmed that it was.


Councillor Lawrence questioned whether the Grays Dental Centre on the High Street would be affected. Chris Purvis answered that the Grays Dental Centre was not within the site plan so would remain where it was. Councillor Lawrence went on to ask if the benefit of the plan would be to taxpayers because the cost of the extension would be less than a refurbishment of the current civic offices. The Chair thought it was a fair point to make but was not the only benefit although the general consensus was correct.


With the Committee moving onto the debate of the application, the Chair started off by saying that the Committee had been minded to refuse the application at the last Committee meeting with the three reasons given within the report. The Church had no objections to the plan and since the last Committee meeting, Officers had also discussed with the Design Council who had also raised no objections. The site location was within the town centre that was undergoing major development and the proposed design of the building was of a modern form.


The Chair went on to note that the South East Essex College was of a larger scale than the proposed building in the application which would be of a lower built form. On the concerns on the loss of light for Pullman Court residents, the Chair understood assessments had been carried out and analysed as outlined in paragraphs 3.11 to 3.15 of the report on pages 30 and 31 of the agenda. The Chair did not think there were sufficient grounds or material considerations to go against Officer’s recommendation for approval of the application.


Councillor Byrne said the proposed plans was bigger than standard plans and noted that two Members of the Committee were not in attendance and had substitutes in their place. As Substitutes were unable to participate or vote on the application as per rules, he thought that the vote should be undertaken with all Members of the Committee that had been present at the first consideration of the application last month.  Therefore, he proposed to defer the application because of this.


The Chair pointed out that large scale applications were brought to Planning Committee on many occasions and Members were to be of an independent mind to decide on planning applications following planning policies. He was concerned on pulling Members back into the Committee if it was not possible and sought clarification on Councillor Byrne’s proposal regarding the number of Members. Councillor Byrne answered that it would be preferable that both Members, Councillor Rice and Councillor Shinnick were in attendance with the rest of the Committee to vote on the application.


The Vice-Chair stated that he too, wished to propose a deferral of the application but not for the same reasons as given by Councillor Byrne. The Vice-Chair referred back to Councillor Lawrence’s earlier comment on the costs of the proposed plans and noted that spending more in the short term would help to save on costs in the long term. He wished to put forward a proposal to defer the application in order for Officers to bring a report back on the costs spent in the short term against long term spending and what taxpayers would save on through these.


The Chair reminded the Committee that decisions had to be made in regards to planning laws and policies and should not consider factors outside of these. He understood this could be frustrating but the Planning Committee was governed by rules.


Councillor Lawrence disagreed with the two proposed recommendations and felt the application had already been discussed in detail twice. She thought the proposed design of the plans was good and would be cost effective as she had already mentioned earlier.


(Councillor Akinbohun arrived 18.41.)


Steve Taylor commented that he was a resident of Grays so was familiar with the town and had noted that it had grown over the years. He remembered the number of council buildings around Thurrock and the costs and effort to operate the different buildings. He felt it was better to extend the current Civic Offices building rather than have the chaos of managing other buildings in different locations as was the case in the 1960s.


The Chair asked Leigh Nicholson to clarify the position of the two proposed recommendations. Leigh Nicholson stated that two motions for deferral of the application had been suggested but not as formal recommendations nor had they been seconded yet. He reminded the Committee of Chapter 5, Part 3(b), 6.5 of Thurrock Council’s Constitution and said that both of the reasons put forward were not clear planning reasons. Finances and costs of the proposed plan and waiting for the full Planning Committee to be in attendance were not planning reasons. If reasons were based planning reasons, for instance based around amended plans, this would be considered a planning reason for the application to be deferred to a later date. However, the Vice-Chair and Councillor Byrne’s reasons for deferral failed to meet the test as set out in the Constitution.


Regarding the benefits of the proposed plans, the Vice-Chair asked for more detail on the benefits. He pointed out that it was one of the main criteria for him to approve the application. Chris Purvis replied that the new purpose built form would cater to more needs and be more energy efficient. There would be a positive impact on the church with an opening up of its view; easier access to the new building; and services would be brought together such as the registry office and an improved council chamber along with committee rooms.


Leigh Nicholson reminded the Committee that a seconder would be needed to support an alternative recommendation. He went on to say that for the Vice-Chair’s reason for recommendation to be accepted, it would need to be re-worded based upon material planning grounds. For example, if the benefits were to be balanced against the historic build of the environment. Regarding Councillor Byrne’s reason for recommendation, it could not be accepted on planning grounds.


The Vice-Chair withdrew his reason for an alternative recommendation.


With this, the Chair proposed the Officer’s recommendation and was seconded by Councillor Churchman. The Committee moved onto the vote.


(In line with Thurrock Council’s Constitution, Chapter 5, Part 3(d), 13.5, Councillors Akinbohun and Chukwu were unable to participate or vote on the application as they had not been present when the application was first heard at Committee on 15 August 2019.)


For: (4) Councillors Tom Kelly (Chair), Colin Churchman, Angela Lawrence and Sue Sammons.


Against: (3) Councillors Mike Fletcher (Vice-Chair), Gary Byrne and David Potter.


Abstained: (0)


Planning application 19/00617/FUL was approved subject to conditions following Officer’s recommendation.


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