This application sought planning permission for the proposed ancillary Manager’s accommodation with a double garage and was presented at the Planning Committee in October for refusal based on the following reasons:
The site is currently located within the Greenbelt and the PMD6 states that this will only be granted for development in Green Belt where it meets the requirements of the NPPF, and the specific restrictions within the PMD6 policy. The proposed development does not fall in any of the categories for acceptable development in the Green Belt and therefore is harmful by definition. Very special circumstances would need to be demonstrated which would need to clearly outweigh the harm caused prior to justifying an exception to local and national Green Belt policies. The very special circumstances put forward by the applicant had been fully re-considered and it has been concluded that no very special circumstances have been demonstrated and therefore the development should not be granted planning permission.
In the few days leading up to the Committee, the applicant confirmed the fencing had been reduced from 3 metres to 2 metres. Despite this, there were still concerns in relation to the harmful impact to the openness of the location and the impact to visual amenities and landscape in relation to the proposed dwelling.
The variations to the design details and layout of the Wellness Centre was approved at October’s Planning Committee, which would be a large enough building to facilitate a Manager’s private accommodation. The applicant advised that the insurance would not cover the Wellness Centre unless an extended property was built for a Manager to be onsite 24/7. However, the insurance letter submitted with the application did not state that a three bedroom dwelling would need to be provided as a separate property, and, therefore there was no insurance reasons provided that would prevent the accommodation being provided within the approved Wellness Centre.
The Principal Planner said, following the previous discussions around the flood risk zone of the dwelling, the Environment Agency had confirmed that the site for the dwelling was located primarily in flood risk zone 2, with the far eastern end of the rear garden being located in flood risk zone 1. As a consequence, the Environment Agency confirmed that the site should be assessed on the basis of it being located within flood zone 2.
The Chair felt the application was very unique and was in favour. Although the Officers had done extra work to explain the refusal of this application, the Chair highlighted that there continues to be a number of derelict pubs and buildings in Thurrock and this building would still be a derelict building if the applicant did not request the Wellness Centre.
The Chair moved a motion to approve the application against Officers recommendation, and this was seconded by Councillor Rice.
Mr Steve Taylor, Campaign to Protect Rural England Representative referred to the report on page 70 point 2.13. He agreed that a Manager would be needed onsite 24/7, however there would be no need for an external building.
Councillor Liddiard felt it was misleading for the applicant to say they are in need of another building on site for the Management, and he expressed the concerns this additional dwelling would have on the openness of the Green Belt.
Councillor Piccolo assumed the applicant would have included the additional dwelling in the original application, and it was concerning they later decided the need for this dwelling after the application for the Wellness Centre was approved. This has been submitted as an afterthought, continued Cllr Piccolo, stating that he was not happy with someone piggy-backing on to this previously approved scheme.
Councillor Rice pointed out that the applicant had gone a long way with this application, and felt it should be agreed by Members. He also recommended for a part of the conditions to specifically state that the dwelling would be tied to the use of the main centre.
Councillor Rice advised that all Committee Members received correspondence from the Environment Agency confirming that the development was in flood risk zone 1 and 2 and there were no objections. He felt positive about this application, and explained that without someone being on site 24/7 the insurance would not be valid and he wanted to witness this project succeed. Councillor Rice went on to state that the applicant said they need the development and should not have to keep reiterating it.
The Chair agreed that if the management were needed on site, it would be suitable for them to have a separate area. Referring to the flood risk zone the Chair explained the original application for the Wellness Centre was also located in flood risk zone 2, and he felt strongly about approving this application as it gives confidence and there were no objections received. All applications are decided on their own merits and he does not feel the building would impact on the openness.
Mr Taylor, Campaign to Protect Rural England Representative, praised the Officers for looking at the application, and explained that if the application was to be approved it would show acceptance in the Greenbelt which is a concern. The insurance for the Wellness Centre does not stipulate that there needs to be a separate building for management. He reinforced to the Committee Members the dangers that may be caused when a property is built within the Green Belt and that this proposal would set a precedent.
The Chair agreed there were risks for the dwelling, however he felt the applicant should be applauded for creating a business in a derelict building.
Councillor Piccolo did not approve of the application for the additional dwelling as the applicant would have known they was in need for a separate building for management when they originally put in their application for the Wellness Centre, and because of this he would not be in support of this application.
The Assistant Director - Planning, Transport and Public Protection referred to relevant part of the Council’s Constitution and advised Members of the Committee that if they were minded to approve the application then it would need to be referred to the Secretary of State because of the significant impact upon the openness of the Green Belt. He asked for clarification from the legal representative.
The Chair wanted confirmation as to why similar applications that are contrary to Officers’ recommendation, had not been referred to the Secretary of State. It was advised by Assistant Director - Planning, Transport and Public Protection that due to the uniqueness of the application it would need to be referred.
Councillor Rice asked if the original application for the Wellness Centre was referred to the Secretary of State. It was confirmed by the Principal Planner due to it being contrary to the development plan and affecting the Green Belt it was referred to the Secretary of State.
Councillor Rice stated the application went through the relevant tests and was agreed by the Government to go ahead, and every application is based on its own merits.
The Assistant Director - Planning, Transport and Public Protection stated that he always tries to remind the Committee that all applications are heard on their merits in accordance of the policy containing the development plan, and new dwellings are not acceptable although a Wellness Centre is unique in the borough, there are other businesses in the Green belt notably small farm buildings that the Planning Committee had turned down for residential accommodation.
The Legal representative stated that in relation to the analysis from the Planning Officer on the application it seems clear that this is both a departure from the development plan and the Green Belt policy. Members’ difficulties are by statutory law, they are required to have regards to the development plan and to any other material consideration, and the Green Belt policy is a material consideration. The Green Belt policy is tightly confined and is a code of what can be granted in the Green Belt. As the analysis shows it is very difficult to find any aspect of this scheme which passes the Greenbelt test, if Members were to approve this they would be acting contrary to the Green Belt policy and their own development plan. In relation to referring the application to the Secretary of State, the 2009 Direction is still valid and it would need to be referred for determination.
The Chair asked if there was an element of protection if what they are doing was increasingly dangerous. The Planning Inspectorate will consider that the Planning Committee are a democratically elected chamber and will support them, but if they look at the proposal and it is dangerous they will refuse it. The Chair stated that the Planning Committee are democratically elected to represent the residents, and asked if the views of Members are at risk, then Members should look at giving the decisions to officers and for the proposal not be brought to Committee. The applications are put in front of the Committee and Members are asked to make decisions on them. The Chair asked if there were any element of protection or issues for the Members of Planning Committee.
The Assistant Director - Planning, Transport and Public Protection explained the original application was referred to the Secretary of State and agreed it was unusual for this to happen, but it was a process point and the Legal Representative has also agreed on the application to be referred to the Secretary of State.
Councillor Rice stated he was happy with the legal advice given and agreed that if it was to be approved then it should be taken to the Secretary of State, just like the DP World application as it was within the Greenbelt and the application had been returned within 24 hours. He wanted Members to continue to vote on the item and a decision should then be made.
The Assistant Director - Planning, Transport and Public Protection advised, if Members vote to approve this application, it would be subject to conditions with agreement by the Chair. Once this has been completed the application would be referred to the Secretary of State. He quoted point 7 of the Council’s Constitution page 133 “Decisions contrary to Officers recommendations and/or the Development Plan” and reminded Members that it was a requirement to follow.
Councillor Rice requested for a condition to be added to ensure the additional dwelling is not sold separately and needs to be used by the Wellness Centre. He referred to a letter received from a Barrister in regards to this.
The Locum Lawyer pointed out that it would be very easy for a Barrister to give advice but it would need to reference the Manager and not staff members. Councillor Rice asked for it to be amended to explain this.
The Assistant Director - Planning, Transport and Public Protection explained there would need to be reasonable planning grounds before the conditions are amended. He asked for the Chair and Councillor Rice to share the planning grounds to the Committee for it to be noted.
The Chair asked for Councillor Rice to share the following:-
Councillor Piccolo also added that, if this application was to be approved, it would need to specifically state that the management needs to be on site not including regular staff members.
The Assistant Director - Planning, Transport and Public Protection said this can be added into the conditions. He shared his concerns with the position the Committee had found itself.
The Chair said by voting for approval on this application it would be going against Officers recommendations which are a departure of Green Belt policy. He highlighted Councillor Rice’s earlier statement as there would not be a significant concern with the flood risk zone as the Secretary of State had accepted the Wellness Centre which is also located in flood risk zone 2. Although it would not be ideal for this application to be taken to the Secretary of State, it will give the developed site and the business the best chance to succeed. Therefore he would be happy to vote in favour of this application and if there were concerns with the Members decisions, the Council should look at removing the Planning Committee completely.
For: (5) Councillors Tom Kelly (Chair), Colin Churchman, Angela Lawrence, Gerard Rice and Sue Shinnick
Against: (3) Councillors Steve Liddiard (Vice-Chair), Andrew Jefferies and Terry Piccolo
That the application be deferred to the National Planning Casework Unit as a Departure from the Local Plan