Presented by Matthew Gallagher, Principal Planner, the application outlined the planning issues raised by the proposals for the redevelopment of land in the centre of Purfleet which was known as ‘Purfleet Centre’. He mentioned the late email that was sent by the Agent representative for objectors to the application, Barton Willmore.
Regarding point 13.35, page 146 of the agenda, from the 10th and 11th line down, the Principal Planner said that from the sentence beginning ‘Planning conditions could…’ was ‘will’ rather than ‘could’ as condition L9 in Appendix 1 covered this point. In the same paragraph, the food retail floor space would be 2,750 sq. m. (gross) and other retail floor space would be as set out in the paragraph.
On point 18.13 on pages 170 and 171 of the agenda, the Principal Planner said this referred to an anticipated application for a 3G pitch for Harris Riverside Academy. The Principal Planner confirmed that an application had already been received and this application was also referred to within the planning history section (4) of the report as the last entry on page 66.
The Principal Planner also gave a summary of the following details within the application:
· Not less than 10% of the residential dwellings proposed would be affordable;
· Railway facilities and the station would be upgraded and moved to allow the town centre infrastructure to take place;
· Railway lines and platforms would remain uninterrupted;
· 4 new crossings would be implemented over the railway lines;
· The 2011 application previously submitted had proposed mixed use of the site and had been approved following referral to the Secretary of State;
· The northern part of the site was Botany Quarry which was currently in industrial use and discussions were being undertaken on buying parts of the site that was not owned by the Council;
· Proposed demolition plans if approved included commercial buildings within Botany Quarry and at the International Timber site and some vacant residential terraces near London Road;
· Harris Riverside Academy was brought forward as a separate application and was already under construction following approval in 2017; and
· There was a reserved matters submission for zone 1A that proposed the 61 residential dwellings which was currently under consideration.
Key planning considerations outlined by the Principal Planner included:
· Purfleet was one of the 5 regeneration hubs identified by the Council’s Core Strategy;
· There would be community and commercial uses within a new local centre. A sequential test had been undertaken in accordance with Government guidance and conditions were recommended to mitigate the impact of the proposed local centre on existing town centres, as set out in appendix 1, point L10 on page 260 of the agenda;
· The material planning considerations raised by the proposals were outlined within the report. It was noted that the Environment Agency would remove their outstanding objection if the recommended conditions were agreed;
· An independent viability consultant had confirmed that the scheme was not financially viable, but the applicant would be prepared to accept a lower financial return; and
· A mechanism had been agreed for binding future landowners of the site with Section 106 (s106) obligations because the Council (as the main landowner) would not be able to enter into a s106 agreement with itself as local planning authority. Recommended planning conditions would also mitigate the impacts of the proposals.
The application was recommended for approval subject to referral to the Secretary of State, planning conditions and a s106 agreement. As the applicant does not control land within the site the recommendation also included a mechanism to ensure that s106 obligations were enforceable. The recommendation also referred to delegation being passed to the Assistant Director for Planning, Transport and Public Protection to finalise conditions and the s106 agreement.
The Chair opened the item up to the Committee for questions.
(Councillor Akinbohun was unable to participate or vote on the item under Constitution rules in Chapter 5, part 3, paragraph 13.5 as she had not been present at the start of the item).
Mentioning that 35% was the Thurrock planning policy target needed for affordable housing, Councillor Little noted that the application would have 10% of affordable units and questioned what type of units from the 10% would be for Thurrock’s residents. She noted that 80% would be flats and 20% would be houses. The Principal Planner answered that Thurrock’s Core Strategy sought 35% of affordable housing subject to viability. In addition, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) required major planning applications to provide a minimum of 10% of affordable home ownership. The heads of terms for the s106 agreement secured a minimum 10% of affordable home ownership subject to viability and the consideration of costs such as significant infrastructure costs, had to be taken into account in bringing forward the development. He went on to say that if the site was left to a volume house builder, there was the possibility that the site would not be developed. However, the Applicant and the Council as landowner was prepared to accept a lower level of financial return and expected an increase in value over the construction of the development. The 35% figure of affordable housing quoted was correct but the Core Strategy and NPPF both outlined that brownfield sites were often more difficult and costly to develop due to factors such as construction costs in getting the site operational. Purfleet Centre would be delivered over an approximate 16 year timespan.
Councillor Little asked whether the 10% given for affordable housing could be negotiated. She went on to ask if there would be homes for the elderly as this was not mentioned within the report and Thurrock was an aging population. Referring to Appendix 2, the Principal Planner said that 10% was the minimum affordable housing provision and that 3% of affordable housing were reserved for wheelchair users with 10% of affordable housing as HAPPI Homes. As Purfleet Centre would be a long build, a series of viability reviews would be independently assessed over time which provided the potential to increase the provision of affordable homes beyond the 10% secured at this stage, especially if the financial return was higher than predicted.
Councillor Rice raised the same concerns on the 10% of affordable homes given and noted that would give a figure of 285 homes to Thurrock. He went on to say that within the s106, the Committee must insist that as part of the conditions on the planning application, Thurrock Council had full nomination rights to those 285 homes to ensure Thurrock’s 8,000 people on the waiting list for homes were given priority. Referring to the Agent representative for the objectors, Councillor Rice mentioned that the industrial site in Botany Quarry would result in job losses. He questioned whether the Council had a duty to relocate these workers.
On the matter of the minimum of 285 affordable homes, the Principal Planner replied that it was worth noting the 2012 planning permission given was still live so did not secure the 285 figure as a minimum. However, he stated that the minimum amount of affordable homes had increased because of the proposals from the Purfleet Centre planning application. Pages 297 and 298 of the agenda referred to the nomination agreements within the s106 heads of terms and the Council’s housing officer were involved in ongoing discussions with the Applicants on the matter of affordable housing.
Regarding the existing industrial uses in Botany Quarry, the Principal Planner said that the proposals of Purfleet Centre would create a potential 2,200 jobs as a whole representing a net increase above existing jobs on the site. The Applicants did not own any land within the site and the Council, as a development partner, owned approximately 50 – 60% of the total site area. In order to secure the third party land holdings to enable development of the site, the Council, in its capacity as landowner, and Applicant would need to continue to engage in discussions with the landowners which were a separate negotiation to the consideration of the planning application and did not fetter the ability of the local planning authority as decision maker on the planning application. The Principal Planner went on to explain that any applicant could apply to build on land not owned by them, provided the right notification was served. The application before Committee fell to be considered on its planning merits. Although landowners and businesses would be affected by the implementation of the proposed development on Botany Quarry, the question of land ownership and acquisition negotiations were separate matters which did not fetter the Committee from making a decision on the merits of the application.
As the Council was a major landowner in Botany Quarry, Councillor Rice questioned whether the Council could help to relocate the businesses that would be lost if the landowners sold their land to the Council. Councillor Rice continued on to say that the Council had contacts and knew of other businesses such as Port of Tilbury and should be able to arrange an alternative for those workers working within the businesses in Botany Quarry. He asked if this was a condition or a detail that could be detailed in within s106. Councillor Rice went on to say that the detail on housing nominations must be addressed and the Council should avoid the housing association opening up the affordable homes to all applicants. Therefore Thurrock must have the sole housing nomination rights for their residents on the waiting list.
Agreeing, the Chair said Thurrock had to ensure that local residents were given the affordable housing units. On the matter of jobs within Botany Quarry, the Chair asked how the jobs there could be protected. Andrew Millard answered that a nomination agreement was included in the s106 heads of terms. In regards to the relocation of the businesses and workers in Botany Quarry, this was not a part of the planning process so could not be drafted into the s106 terms.
The Chair questioned whether the Committee could express a willingness that the businesses in Botany Quarry could be relocated within the Borough or if they could be given priority in a new location. Andrew Millard answered that this could not be formally contained within legal agreement or planning conditions but could be mentioned within the minutes of the Planning Committee meeting.
Councillor Hamilton agreed with the points on housing nominations raised. He went on to say that it was the first time he had heard of an Applicant willing to risk a lower financial return and asked if this would be a cause of concern. Although the application submitted was an outline of the proposals, the Principal Planner explained that it was more than an intention to build on the site. The application was for permission as contained within the report. The details on affordable housing nominations were referred to on pages 297 – 298 of the agenda.
The Chair invited the registered Speakers to address the Committee.
Agent Representative for Objectors, Andrew Wilford, presented his statement in objection to the application.
Ward Councillor, Councillor Holloway, presented her statement in support of the application.
PCRL Representative and Chairman of Purfleet-on-Thames Community Forum, John Rowles, presented his statement in support of the application.
The Chair opened the item up for debate to the Committee.
The Chair said the project of Purfleet Centre had been ‘in the making for many years’ with media coverage. There had been a concern on whether the film studio would be implemented and deliverable if the application was to be approved but this was not a material planning consideration. He went on to say that it was good to hear the positive comments from the Ward Councillor and from John Rowles who was a pillar of the community. With the comments given on the percentage of affordable homes, the Council had to ensure that full priority was given to Thurrock’s residents on the waiting list. There was also a cause of concern on the businesses situated within the Botany Quarry because of the potential job losses.
Councillor Rice felt the scheme was exciting and had lived in Borough for a long time but Purfleet had always been the forgotten part of the Borough. Central government had set Thurrock with the target of 32,000 homes to be built and the scheme would provide 2,850 homes and it would be good to see Purfleet regenerated. Councillor Rice went on to say that he would be supporting the application provided that Thurrock had sole housing nomination rights to the affordable homes. He supported the Chair in relocating the businesses and workers situated within Botany Quarry and said the Council should be looking to protect those jobs.
Mentioning the Purfleet Centre site visit that took place on 23 April 2019, Councillor Shinnick said the scheme should be supported to enable Purfleet to move toward regeneration.
Councillor Little also said the scheme should be supported but if there was a chance that Thurrock could get more than 10% of affordable houses from the scheme, then the chance should be taken. With the businesses within Botany Quarry, the Council should look to retain or relocate these businesses within Thurrock.
Councillor Hamilton said he was swayed by John Rowles’ statement as it was rare for a member of the community to support major projects similar to Purfleet Centre. He went on to say that as the proposals within the application were an outline, the design could change but the community should not be denied of the progress of regeneration.
Expressing further concern on the businesses within Botany Quarry, the Chair hoped that the workers within those businesses would get the support they needed from the Applicants and from the Council. He stated that those workers were welcome to approach Councillors for help if needed.
Moving on to the Officer’s recommendation to grant outline planning permission, it was proposed by Councillor Gerard Rice and seconded by Councillor Sue Shinnick. The Chair moved onto voting.
(Councillor Akinbohun was unable to vote on the item under Constitution rules in Chapter 5, part 3, paragraph 13.5 as she had not been present at the start of the item.)
For: (8) Councillors Tom Kelly (Chair), Angela Lawrence, Sue Sammons, Graham Hamilton, David Potter , Gerard Rice, Sue Shinnick and Sue Little.
Application 17/01668/OUT Development Land East of Caspian Way and North and South of London Road, Purfleet, Essex was granted outline planning permission subject to the recommendations at pages 219-22 of the agenda.
(The Chair allowed for a short break of the meeting at 20.47 to allow members of the public and relevant officers to leave the meeting who had been present for application 17/01668/OUT.)
(The meeting recommenced at 20.53.)