The report on pages 5 – 28 of the Agenda was presented by Matthew Gallagher.
The Chair noted that the building to the back of the site was already surrounded by existing custom build homes which had less substantial concerns in regards to heritage. He sought further details. Councillor Lawrence also asked how the proposed buildings that were indicative on the plans shown would affect the existing listed buildings. Councillor Potter questioned if there was a set distance from a listed building that could not be developed on.
Matthew Gallagher explained that the existing properties were for general purpose housing and that the two listed buildings were heritage assets with one having some built development to the south of it. He said that the setting of the buildings were historically surrounded by farmland and that although there was no direct impact to the buildings, the proposal would result in further development that would enclose around that heritage aspect and erode it. He said that the site layout plans were indicative in how the development would look. There could potentially be some form of development to the north of the site that was the farmland which was closest to the listed buildings on the site so the Heritage Officer had taken the view that there would be some harm to these heritage assets. He also said that planning laws required the Local Planning Authority to consider the impact of a proposed development on the setting of a heritage asset and that there was no set distance to refer to.
Councillor Rice pointed out that the Lower Thames Crossing (LTC) would be going across the site which would already cause harm to the Green Belt and the heritage assets. He highlighted that the M25 was close to the site and questioned the harm of the development. He also asked if there would be electric charging points. Matthew Gallagher answered that the LTC was proposed to be about 300 – 500 metres away from the site. He said that the LTC was a national infrastructure and that the Secretary of State may take into consideration whether the national interest outweighed the impact to heritage assets. He highlighted that the proposed development and the LTC were on a different scale of projects. He added that electric charging points had not been considered as conditions for the proposals had not been formulated as the Officer’s recommendation of the application was to refuse planning permission. The Chair said that electric charging points should be considered if the application was to be approved.
In regards to design and heritage, Councillor Lawrence commented that phase one’s development had blended in well with the area and that it gave her confidence when looking at phase two. She said that the design code would help to remove further concerns and that more self-build homes were needed in Thurrock which the Housing Secretary had highlighted and the Council needed to identify the areas for this. She felt that the Applicant would ensure that the homes would be built to a better standard than the new homes that had been built in the Borough.
Councillor Sammons commented that the development was proposed as zero carbon and that people building homes here would take note of this. She felt that the Council should be supporting more self-build developments.
Councillor Churchman questioned whether there had been an infill site around the area of the site. Matthew Gallagher said that the recent development on the site had taken place as highlighted in the planning history within the report. Steve Taylor said that there had been a landfill site in the area that Councillor Churchman referred to.
Referring to Councillor Sammons’ comments, Matthew Gallagher said that the homes would be self-build so could not be guaranteed that the homes would be environmentally sustainable and would be up to an individual on what they would build as it was a service plot on offer. Referring to Councillor Lawrence’s point on the design code, he said that a design code had been submitted which referred to basic elements such as common landscaping and reiterated that individuals could build how they wanted as it was self-build.
The Vice-Chair questioned whether a condition could be included to enforce zero carbon if the application was to be approved. Matthew Gallagher explained that the Applicant had submitted an s106 unilateral legal agreement which provided an obligation that the houses would be constructed to a carbon neutral standard. He highlighted that this referred to lowering carbon emissions during the operational phase as there was no guarantee that there would not be a carbon footprint from the occupiers of the development as the homes would be self-built. Caroline Robins added that it would be difficult to add this as a condition for self-build houses and for that restriction to be controlled.
Referring to the extra carbon monoxide pollution, Councillor Potter commented that the percentage increase for this would be zero with the extra 11 houses. He said that the site was near the Next warehouse which had regular vehicle movements and was also visible from the M25. Matthew Gallagher answered that there had been no concerns raised by the Environmental Health Officer on air quality and that the site was not within an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA). He pointed out that the issue was the location of the site which was on its own in an unlit road with no footpath so it was not a sustainable location. Residents in this development could not travel on foot to local shops and would need to drive their car instead which ran contrary to national policy that highlighted the need for developments in sustainable locations with sustainable modes of transport and accessibility to non-car transport.
Councillor Byrne commented that he liked the idea of custom build houses and that it was carbon neutral. He suggested that a site visit would help Members to see where the site was located. Councillor Rice said that the site was sustainable as it was 3 or 4 minutes from Ockendon station and the parade of shops in that area and that residents in the development could ride their bikes there. Matthew Gallagher reiterated that the site had no footpath and was on an unlit road with high speed limits so would not be appealing for anyone wishing to ride a bike on that road.
Statement of support from James Bompas, Agent was given.
Referring to the images seen on Google Earth, the Chair commented that the site appeared to be well protected by hedge rows from the road so it was well screened and the proposed development would not have much visual impact in the area. Regarding the location, he said that the site already had some development. He said that some people may prefer a remote location as it was secure and hard to get to so tended to have lower crime rates which was ideal for elderly people. He noted the country park within the speaker’s statement which would have pathway improvements that would give access towards Ockendon. He highlighted the importance of carbon neutral and that air quality would not change that much with the extra vehicle movements. He stated that he was minded to support the application and that the heritage concerns were less than substantial.
Councillor Lawrence felt the development would give people the opportunity to build their own homes and onto the property ladder due to the cheaper costs. She said that the government had measures in place to support councils around self-build house requirements and also supplied funding for this. She pointed out that self-build was a special circumstance that was phase two of the existing development on the site. She went on to say that there would be paths built in for people to walk to the station and electric charging points for electric cars. She highlighted that the scheme was zero carbon and the Applicant showed commitment of this intention through the unilateral undertaking. She stated that she was in favour of the application.
Councillor Churchman said that the houses that were currently on the site were designed well and that there was a legal agreement included with the proposal. He said it was not far from shops and amenities and that he supported the application. Councillor Rice said the location was not that remote as the site was a 12 minute walk through the country park to the train station and local shops. He said the scheme was proposed as zero carbon which was in the legal agreement submitted by the Applicant and people would be able to build their own homes and would also support the climate emergency that Thurrock Council had declared recently. He pointed out that there would be less pollution in a number of years as people would be driving electric cars as well. Members echoed similar comments and were in support of the application. Steve Taylor pointed out that the houses would be self-built so it could not be guaranteed that the design quality of the houses would be nice. He commented that people living in a listed building may not want to be surrounded by new build houses.
Councillor Byrne proposed a site visit for Members to see how remote the site was and where the nearest shops were located. Councillor Shinnick seconded.
FOR: (3) Councillors Mike Fletcher, Gary Byrne and Sue Shinnick.
AGAINST: (6) Councillors Tom Kelly, Colin Churchman, Angela Lawrence, David Potter, Gerard Rice and Sue Sammons.
The site visit was rejected.
There were no proposers for the Officer’s recommendation to refuse planning permission.
Leigh Nicholson read out the Constitution, Chapter 5, Part 3, para. 7.2. He referred Members to pages 25 and 26 of the Agenda and stated that Members would need to address the Officer’s three reasons of refusal given for the application if Members were minded to approve. Caroline Robins advised Members to undertake the balancing exercise and give substantial weight to the Green Belt harm.
Councillor Rice said that Members recognised the harm to the Green Belt. He went on to give the following reasons for approving the application:
The Chair mentioned that the Applicant had a commitment to have a pathway through the country park which would allow the walking accessibility as highlighted in reason 4 above. He said that he acknowledged the highways issues but pointed out that previous larger applications in remote locations had resolved similar highways issues and was confident that the same could be done for this application. In regards to the heritage issue, he reiterated that the harm was less than substantial which was not enough for a reason of refusal as put by Officers and the site was secluded and covered by screening. He went on to say that there was a desire from Members to promote zero carbon which was in government guidance and be included in the local plan as it progressed.
Councillor Lawrence questioned if an approval of the application by Members would be subject to a referral to the Secretary of State. She also asked whether the unilateral agreement submitted by the Applicant could be used for reasons to approve the application.
Leigh Nicholson summed up:
The Chair added that Officers had attributed limited weight to the role of the application in the Green Belt and said that significant weight should also be added for this factor.
Referring to the visibility of the site, Matthew Gallagher explained that a recent Supreme Court case had concluded that it was the openness that defined the Green Belt. He said that not being able to see the site in the Green Belt or that it was partially obscured was academic and that it was about spatial designation in keeping the land open which Members had to consider. Referring to Members’ comments on phase one and phase two of the site’s development, he highlighted that the development was not a multi-phase development. In regards to the Applicant’s s106 unilateral undertaking, he said that this was a one sided s106 agreement that needed to be looked at in detail by the Council particularly in regards to carbon neutral custom builds to assess whether it held any weight as an obligation. He added that there was support for self-build houses in the NPPF and legislation from 2015 where the Council had to keep a register for but it could not be counted as part of the Council’s housing land supply. In reference to the footpath, he said that this involved the former Little Belhus landfill site that was being redeveloped as a country park and the legality of the access arrangement could not be confirmed.
Members stated that the Applicant strived to be carbon neutral and this could be included in an s106 condition to ensure this. Members said that the Applicant’s unilateral undertaking was a legal agreement that already included conditions that the Council was asking for which could be used instead of an s106 agreement. Caroline Robins said that Members’ comments that the site was secluded could not be used to assess the heritage test which was outlined in the NPPF. In regards to the footpath, she said that it was not within the control of the Applicant to provide that path and could not be considered as it was in the control of a third party.
The Chair noted Caroline Robins’ point about the pathway and said that the developer was keen to contribute towards a pathway there which showed commitment. He also said that self-build homes were a benefit as it gave people a choice on the type of build they wanted and would also give the elderly access to a secure remote location. In regards to heritage, Councillor Rice said that there would not be substantial damage to the listed building as the proposals were 300 – 400 metres away and the M25 was already close to the site which should be taken into consideration as a reason to approve the application.
Leigh Nicholson referred to paragraphs 6.48 and 6.49 of the report and said that the factor that Officers could consider was in regards to the public benefit where the development would positively contribute towards the housing land supply. He said that Members’ reason that the development was in a secure location could also be taken into consideration. He went on to say that Officers would need to look into more detail around the legal agreements along with appropriate conditions to ensure the development was a zero carbon scheme as well as the footpath issue if Members were minded to approve the application.
Councillor Rice proposed the alternative recommendation to approve the application and Councillor Byrne seconded.
FOR: (8) Councillors Tom Kelly, Mike Fletcher, Gary Byrne, Colin Churchman, Angela Lawrence, David Potter, Gerard Rice and Sue Sammons.
AGAINST: (1) Councillor Sue Shinnick.
A report would be brought back to Committee.
The meeting was adjourned at 7.55pm and reconvened at 8.01pm.
The Committee agreed to suspend standing orders at 8.01pm to enable the Agenda to be completed.