The report on pages 185 – 218 of the Agenda was presented by Nadia Houghton.
Steve Taylor referred to the first application that was approved and questioned if that had been based on the amount of development allowed on that entire site to which Nadia Houghton confirmed was correct. He went on to comment that the Applicant was now requesting for more and was not building the original 6 dwellings that had been approved which would have enabled them access to the site.
Councillor Lawrence questioned if it was usual for Applicants to apply for one phase and then to come back and apply for a second stage. Nadia Houghton said that each application had to be considered on its own merits but in this application, the site was within the Green Belt when the original application was considered. The original application was for the demolition of the farmhouse and outbuildings and to be replaced with six dwellings and the Applicant was aware of the likely quantum of development that would be considered acceptable. Since then, the Applicant had come back having not built out the sixth dwelling. She said that smaller developments would not normally require phases and that the previous application had used up the quantum of development considered to be appropriate for this site. This current application sought to add built form where there was not any so was recommended for refusal.
The Committee agreed to suspend standing orders at 8.08pm to enable the
Agenda to be completed.
The Vice-Chair asked if the Applicant had been made aware of the amount of appropriate development considered for the site in the first application. Nadia Houghton said that the Council records showed that the Applicant had previously been informed of the total floor space allowed so they were aware.
Councillor Rice stated that he had not changed his mind since the application was heard at the last meeting. He pointed out that the Council did not have a five year housing supply and no 20% buffer and that Thurrock Council was on the Government’s list (for lack of housing) so the Council needed to increase the number of developments in the Borough. He stated that the Council was failing on its yearly housing targets. He said that the development would bring employment through the construction phase which was needed in these times as it would rise. He highlighted that there were accessible facilities close by on Defoe Parade and that Thurrock had a lack of housing provisions for older people. He also reiterated the points made at the last meeting in that the bungalows were of exceptional build quality that would be for over 55s and that the Council’s Core Strategy 2015 recognised a shortage of bungalows in the Borough.
Councillor Byrne pointed out that a person over 55 could buy the bungalow but could let this out to people under 55. Nadia Houghton reminded Members that the bungalows were not proposed to be for over 55s. She said that the Applicant had been asked if they would consider this option but the Applicant had declined to answer so the age restriction mentioned by Members was irrelevant to this application. Councillor Rice said that the bulk of the properties currently on the site were occupied by people over 55. He pointed out that bungalows were usually for over 55s and older people.
Councillor Lawrence stated that no one took it lightly building on Green Belt and decisions had to be made on which areas could be built on. She felt that this site was a good area to develop homes on and that although the bungalows were not specified to be for over 55s, it was suitable for older people who did not want a big bungalow as these bungalows would be small. She said that the site was a big space in the middle that had no pathway for people to walk through and no park. It was a big green patch in the middle of the existing bungalows where elderly people lived who did not want big gardens. She felt that this amounted to a Very Special Circumstance (VSC). She also said that the bungalows were in immaculate condition which was built for the purpose of older people without the need for major works and also blended in with the area. It would also be near Orsett Hospital and Long Lane which was going to be an area for elderly people to visit so was in the ‘heart of things’.
The Vice-Chair said that Members acknowledged that there would be harm by building on the Green Belt. He commented that it would be worth considering other plans for the site if it was not built on. Referring to Councillor Rice’s earlier comment that Thurrock Council was on the Government’s list (for lack of housing), the Vice-Chair said that the Council needed to address this but he was concerned that this reason could be used to justify the approval of other developments as well. He urged caution on using the same reasons of ‘lack of a five year housing supply’ to justify developments.
Referring to paragraph 4.10, Steve Taylor pointed out that this highlighted that the proposed bungalows had no restrictions on age. He went on to say that an article from Thurrock Gazette in December had reported that the preceding 12 months had showed that half the homes in Thurrock had been bought by people from London so was not necessarily housing local people which he was aware had a need for homes.
Councillor Byrne sought clarification on the planning law around housing for over 55s. Councillor Sammons said the existing bungalows on the wider site were nicely built and that the site application was behind these which could not be seen so was not open. Referring to Steve Taylor’s previous comment, she said that there was no control over who bought properties. Adding to this, Councillor Lawrence said that this was regeneration and that she could not see people from London moving into these small bungalows. She said that these were more for local people who wanted to downsize and stay close to their families. She also said that she did not stipulate that the proposed bungalows were for over 55s but it was clear that these were small and not ideal for families.
Councillor Rice noted that the proposed bungalows were not for over 55’s and stated that bungalows were not meant for families and were usually for people close to retirement. He reiterated that the Council did not have a five year housing supply; no 20% buffer and was failing on its yearly housing targets. Thurrock had a lack of housing provisions for older people. The Council’s Core Strategy 2015 recognised a shortage of bungalows in the Borough. The Chair said that older people were more likely to downsize so bungalows were ideal for them. Referring to Councillor Rice’s earlier comment that Thurrock Council was on the Government’s list (for lack of housing), he said that the Government had to match housing delivery with infrastructure.
The Chair proposed the Officer’s recommendation to refuse planning permission and was seconded by Councillor Byrne.
(Following Chapter 5, Part 3, para. 13.5 of the Constitution, Councillor
Churchman could not participate or vote on this item).
FOR: (3) Councillors Tom Kelly, Mike Fletcher and Gary Byrne.
AGAINST: (4) Councillors Angela Lawrence, Gerard Rice, Sue Sammons and Sue Shinnick.
The Officer’s recommendation was lost.
Leigh Nicholson referred Members to the Constitution Chapter 5, Part 3, paragraphs 7.4 and 7.5.
Councillor Rice stated that Members recognised the harm to the Green Belt and gave the following reasons and weighting for approval:
Caroline Robins pointed out that ‘lack of provision for older people’s accommodation’ was not relevant and should not be considered. She also said that ‘exceptional build quality’ should not be a reason for approval as it was expected that this should be the case for all properties. Leigh Nicholson highlighted that the six reasons Members had given for approval were the same as before and that Officers had assessed these within the report based on planning laws and planning decisions by the Planning Inspectorate. He referred to the reason ‘lack of provision for older people’s accommodation’ and said that the bungalows could be bought by anyone as the application did not specify it was for older people. This could not be used to justify inappropriate development on the Green Belt and the reasons provided were not unique which could be used on other developments on the Green Belt too. He went on to say that if Members were minded to approve the application, the decision would be reviewed by the Monitoring Officer following the usual processes in these type of applications before a decision notice could be issued. Members were advised to undertaken the balancing exercise to show that the benefits clearly outweighed the harm to the Green Belt.
Councillor Rice said that bungalows usually had smaller gardens and were designed primarily for older people although he saw the point that anyone could buy the bungalows. But he pointed out that due to the price point of bungalows, it was unrealistic that a younger person would purchase one and for families to buy one too. Councillor Lawrence said the land on the site was unused and had nothing growing on it. She highlighted that the price point of the bungalows were similar to a 3 or 4 bedroom house but people bought bungalows as these properties were small and easier to manage. Councillor Byrne sought clarification on the planning law around age ranges. Councillor Rice reiterated the first reason for approving the application and that the Council had to provide housing provisions for older people. He reiterated that two bedroom bungalows were usually bought by people in their 50’s who were looking to downsize. He added that there were no complaints from his local residents about this development.
Leigh Nicholson provided a summary of the debate so far and said that Officers and Members had different views on the VSCs put forward but this did not prevent Members from coming to a decision. Referring to Councillor Byrne’s question on age ranges in planning law, he said that some proposals would have age restrictions such as retirement complexes which could enforced through conditions or s106. He went on to say that this scheme was not being proposed as being specifically for older people's accommodation but could be attractive to older people as these were bungalows. There was no control mechanism to ensure that it would be occupied by older people. Caroline Robins reminded Members that the balancing exercise had to be carried out to show that the benefits clearly and decisively outweighed the harms to the Green Belt.
Councillor Rice stated that reason six would be removed and that substantial weight would also be applied to reasons two to five. He highlighted the importance of reason four and that it was recognised in the Council’s Core Strategy 2015. He proposed the alternative recommendation to approve the application with the following reasons which he attributed substantial weight to all:
Councillor Shinnick seconded.
FOR: (4) Councillors Angela Lawrence, Gerard Rice, Sue Sammons and Sue Shinnick.
AGAINST: (3) Councillors Tom Kelly, Mike Fletcher and Gary Byrne.
The application was approved (subject to the referral to the Monitoring Officer).