Presented by Chris Purvis, Major Applications Manager, the report detailed the proposal of a hybrid application that sought planning permission for development on parts of the Langdon Hills Golf and Country Club. Since publication of the Agenda, Chris Purvis advised that Historic England had provided an additional consultation response advising that the application be recommended for refusal for a heritage reason which formed an additional reason of refusal to be included. Therefore reason number 8 for refusal was that:
Chris Purvis advised that the Officer’s recommendation was to refuse planning permission for the reasons listed on pages 124 – 125 of the Agenda.
The full details of the application can be found on pages 47 – 128 of the Agenda.
(Councillor Akinbohun arrived at 7.22pm and was unable to participate on this item as outlined within the Constitution, Chapter 5, Part 3, 13.5.)
Councillor Byrne commented that if the proposed care facilities were not included, the proposal would essentially be a village being built on the Green Belt. The Chair said that the information given on the application stated that the proposal was facilities for care and leisure uses.
Councillor Rice noted that there was a difference in opinions and highlighted the comments regarding the C2 and C3 use of the site within an information pack, that had been sent by a QC, on behalf of the Applicant, to Members. He sought a legal opinion on this. Chris Purvis said that Officers had received the Applicant’s QC opinion and that the Council’s Legal team had analysed the information and considered this alongside other planning applications stated within this information. The conclusion was that the developments stated were different to the planning application that was before the Committee.
Councillor Rice noted that a statement from the QC pointed out that the proposal was for a retirement village which would indicate a C2 use of the site. Chris Purvis replied that the proposal had been looked at in detail and indicated that the proposal was a health village and not a retirement village. He referred the Committee to page 81 of the Agenda onwards which covered the proposal's details in C2 and C3 considerations.
Steve Taylor questioned whether the properties could be bought by someone who was under 55 years old. He went on to ask what controls were in place if the property was passed from an elderly person to someone under 55 years old. Chris Purvis replied that the requirement for properties to be occupied by people over 55 years old would be controlled through the s106 planning obligations.
The Vice-Chair sought details on Thurrock’s current care facilities for dementia care. Christopher Smith, Programme Manager for Health and Social Care, said that there was an increasing need for dementia care and the service was planning for future needs so there would be availability of dementia care facilities in Thurrock.
The Vice-Chair asked why the Langdon Hills Country and Golf Club was not considered to be very special circumstances with the type of care homes provided as the Applicant had put forward. Chris Purvis explained that the suitability of the location had to be considered and in discussions with the Council’s Adult Social Care Team, the location was isolated and not suitable for this use.
Councillor Lawrence asked if there were Green Belt sites being released through the Local Plan and felt that the Green Belt in Thurrock was being ‘given away’. She commented that planning applications on Green Belt were inconsistent and thought that the application before the Committee would help Thurrock’s elderly and provide dementia care facilities and should be considered for approval.
Chris Purvis replied that the current Core Strategy did not identify sites for applications similar to this one presented before the Committee. The Council had to consider some of Green Belt sites for more housing but that this was through the new Local Plan process and was a separate process to the determination of this application. The Council’s preference was to place care facilities within more sustainable urban locations where there would be more supporting services and facilities.
Councillor Lawrence noted that the Applicant proposed to provide a bus service for the site. Chris Purvis explained that the planning application proposed an 8 seater shuttle bus service which would be for the estimated 300 people living on the site. However, this would be for a 5 year period and there had been no indication of a potential public bus route to the area. It was not clear what would happen after this 5 year period regarding funds for a bus service and it was likely that private cars would be used by the onsite residents.
The Committee further discussed the potential of a public bus route as it was highlighted that this could within the gift of the Applicant to consider to cover number 2 of Recommendation B on page 125 of the Agenda. However, the fact remained that the location would still be isolated. The Committee queried if there would be s106 funds available for a public bus service and Officers advised that no financial contribution had been offered by the Applicant. If the application was to be approved, s106 funds would need to be acquired along with a permanent bus service operator.
Councillor Rice felt that there were reasons that could be used to depart from the officer’s recommendation. He highlighted these reasons as:
Chris Purvis pointed out that the proposal outlined 4 keyworker apartments which did not suggest a lot of employment available and that this was not a factor that could be used for approval of the application. Councillor Rice said that the NPPF highlighted that employment was a reason for departing from policy in which Chris Purvis answered that this referred to the types of employment within the NPPF but this needed to be weighed up against other planning considerations.
Councillor Rice said that Thurrock had to meet the national government’s requirement for the number of homes to be built and Thurrock had to consider their ageing population as there were a low number of suitable homes available for the elderly. He questioned if sustainability was a reason to depart from policy. Chris Purvis replied that the new Local Plan would identify where new homes could be developed through identifiable brown field and the likely release of Green Belt sites as part of the Local Plan preparation process in identifying the most suitable sites. He advised that the current Core Strategy was adopted in 2015 and advised that sustainability had been considered within this application and the location was not deemed to be sustainable.
The Committee discussed the need for a retirement village and some Members were of the view that the proposal was an opportunity not to be missed. However the reasons given to depart from the Officer’s recommendation were not justifiable and that retirement villages were being looked at separately as part of the Local Plan process. The Committee also noted refusal reasons 3 and 4 and highlighted affordability as an issue.
The Chair invited registered speakers to present their statements to the Committee.
A Resident’s objection statement was read by the Committee as the Resident was not present.
The Agent, James Bompas, gave his statement of support.
The Chair thought that a lot of information was missing from the application but the proposal offered a facility that Thurrock did not have. The Council aimed to place the elderly in community areas but he thought that some elderly people would prefer a more isolated location which this proposal offered. He said that if the Committee was minded to approve the application and if it was brought back to Committee following process, then he would like to see more information on the application.
The Vice-Chair thought the idea of the development was good but was not sure if the application could be approved given the number of reasons for refusal as outlined in the Officer’s report.
Noting that the proposal focused around health and wellbeing, Councillor Byrne felt that the proposal should have included options available for elderly council tenants as well. He thought the proposal was more or less a village and there would only be one 8 seater shuttle bus available which was on a temporary basis.
Steve Taylor pointed out that the proposal was a large development on the Green Belt and said that the Green Belt around Thurrock was narrow as confirmed by the Secretary of State and there was little Green Belt between Southend and London which was a big issue. He noted that the road leading into the golf club had a high traffic accident rate as it was used as a cut through road which was busy during the morning rush hours. He felt it was dangerous for elderly people to use this road into the site and would also add to the volume of traffic. He went on to say that the site was isolated and was not possible access without a car and then there was the issue of affordability of the care homes. He felt that the proposal was essentially building a village on the Green Belt.
Councillor Lawrence said that the application proposed a lifestyle facility which was not just for wealthy people. The elderly would be living in state of the art homes within a healthy area that would be good for their wellbeing so the application should be considered for approval.
The Committee discussed the proposal in that it was a retirement village that offered a lifestyle facility with state of the art homes for the elderly. Members said that the retirement village would improve the health and wellbeing of the residents that would reside there and that the retirement village was not just for wealthy people. Councillor Byrne felt the proposal was not for a retirement village but for a private healthcare village.
The Committee commented that the small lanes leading into the proposed retirement village would cause a problem with accessibility into the site. Members discussed deferring the application to enable the Applicant time to work with the relevant teams in the Council to overcome some of the reasons for refusal of the proposal.
Councillor Rice sought to approve the application and the Committee discussed the reasons for approval. The discussion revolved around the employment opportunities that would come out of the scheme; Thurrock’s ageing population; and the lack of alternative suitable sites for the development. The Committee also raised Thurrock’s low housing supply as a reason to approve the application and Officers pointed out that this had been given significant weight within the report already. It was noted that some of the Consultees such as Sport England had raised no objection to the scheme as well.
The Chair asked Leigh Nicholson, Interim Assistant Director of Planning, Transport and Public Protection, for his advice on the alternative motion. Leigh Nicholson advised the Committee that there were 8 reasons for refusal and any alternative motion would have to clearly address each of the reasons. Leigh Nicholson advised that the factors put forward did not address the reasons for refusal. The Chair asked whether the contribution towards the Council’s five year housing supply could be taken into account. Leigh Nicholson advised the Committee that this factor had already been taken into account and given Significant Weight; he drew Members attention to a table on page 98 of the agenda which set out the assessment of the Applicant’s Very Special Circumstances case. Leigh Nicholson advised Members that the factors put forward did not address the first reason for refusal and there were 7 other reasons for refusal which would also need to be addressed.
Leigh Nicholson advised the Committee that the application could not be approved given the factors put forward and in accordance with the Constitution, it would be necessary to bring a report back outlining the implications of approving the application contrary to Officer’s recommendation.
Councillor Rice proposed an alternative motion to Officer’s recommendation which was a resolution to approve the application with the reasons being that:
Councillor Shinnick seconded the motion.
(Councillor Akinbohun was unable to participate on this item as outlined within the Constitution, Chapter 5, Part 3, 13.5.)
For: (7) Councillors Colin Churchman, Mike Fletcher, Tom Kelly, Angela Lawrence, David Potter, Gerard Rice and Sue Shinnick.
Against: (1) Councillor Gary Byrne.
The motion was carried. The Committee were minded to approve the application subject to a report being brought back to the next Planning Committee meeting outlining the implications of making a decision contrary to recommendation. In the event of approval, the decision would then be referred to the Secretary of State to consider.