To determine the application
Nick Thrower presented the report to members.
Member received a presentation, in accordance with the public participation procedure, from John Craythorne, an objector.
Mr Craythorne stated that he has four principle objections to this application in that it is an intrusion into the open countryside and opens the door to further development not in keeping with the village, it could not go ahead without severe disruption to all the existing residents of Ingham Hall Gardens and Brewery Close for a number of reasons, the proposed access road has access granted to the applicant, but part responsibility for its maintenance falls upon the other beneficial users of the road and the proposal does not meet the conditions of the Parson Drove Neighbourhood Plan, which was formally adopted at Full Council on 6 August 2020. He displayed an aerial view of the whole village showing the proposed development and expressed the view that you could see from this view to the west Murrow Bank to Church End and throughout the whole of the village if you draw a line from the rear boundaries of the existing developments in Ingham Hall Gardens, Brewery Close and John Bends Way there is no development whatsoever beyond these boundaries anywhere in the village, therefore, he feels that this development is an intrusion into open countryside.
Mr Craythorne showed a photograph which shows in more detail what he is trying to emphasise, there is the rear boundary of Brewery Close, Ingham Hall Gardens and John Bends Way and this development is entirely beyond this boundary. In terms of severe disruption to existing residents, he referred to the Design and Access Statement where it is proposed that up to 28 vehicle movements could be generated from this development and he made the point that Ingham Hall Gardens is a quiet cul-de-sac of bungalows almost exclusively occupied by retired persons and in addition there would be the noise and mud on the road caused by the construction of this development.
Mr Craythorne referred to an extract from item 6.2 of the Design and Access Statement, which states “ the proposal will result in the installation of a new sewage treatment plant which will benefit the wider community”, but as Director of the Ingham Hall Gardens Residents Association he is aware of the condition of this plant and has been assured it is nowhere near the end of its life so it does not need replacing and they are continuing to build a contingency fund for when replacement is necessary. He expressed the opinion that there are additional rules for sewage treatment plants issued by the Environment Agency on 1 January 2015, which states if you are building a development of more than one property, you are governed by a rule that if the number of houses multiplied by 30 metres is less than the distance to a public sewer you must connect to that public sewer, with this development generating a figure of 270 metres and the distance to the public sewer as the crow flies is 160 metres and along the roadway is 260 metres, therefore, the properties pertaining to this application must be connected to the public sewer in Main Road, Parson Drove, which would involve digging up the whole of Ingham Hall Gardens causing an even greater disturbance to all the residents of this road and Brewery Close.
Mr Craythorne advised that through considerable research through the Land Registry he has obtained information on who owns what in this area and the right of access was granted to the Bellamys and their successors in 1987, which, in his view, means there is a legal implication that any occupier of these new properties would not automatically get that right of access meaning they could own a property but have no right of access to it. He referred to the Parson Drove Neighbourhood Plan in that the applicant has not consulted with anybody and neither does this development have the support of the Parish Council.
Members asked questions of Mr Craythorne as follows:
· Councillor Sutton noted the red line across the back of the development and that this development is beyond this, but asked if this red line had been drawn across the back of Main Road years ago Mr Craythorne would not be living where is living now? Mr Craythorne agreed that this is true.
· Councillor Sutton stated he was unsure whether Mr Craythorne’s presentation is strictly in line with policy about connecting to the main sewer as his reading of it is that a sewer is there and as long as that has the capacity to take it then this potential development could feed into that rather than feed into the sewer in Main Road. Mr Craythorne responded that the situation as he has read the Environment Agency’s guideline is that if they had to provide a sewage treatment plant, with the current treatment plant at capacity, they would have to provide a larger treatment plant and this is the essence of what the Environment Agency are getting at in trying to discourage the use of sewage treatment plants, therefore, connection to the main sewer.
Members made a presentation, in accordance with the public participation procedure, from Gareth Edwards, the agent.
Mr Edwards stated that under LP3 of the Local Plan, Parson Drove is a limited growth village and in this classification it states that such development may be appropriate as a small village extension, and, in his view, this is exactly what is being proposed and consistent with approvals in the same classification of villages in Fenland for as many as up to 60 dwellings. He made the point that the site is served by an adopted highway, which he feels is more than capable of taking the additional traffic that would be generated by this proposal and the proposed road would be to an adoptable standard, but is to be maintained and remain in the ownership of the management company paid for by the 9 individual dwellings.
Mr Edwards expressed the view that the management company will enter into an agreement to allow FDC refuse vehicles to use the road for bin collections in line with Recap legislation, which is also consistent with many sites approved recently in the District. He stated that the proposed development comes with the support of 26 individual letters as opposed to 19 individual letters opposing the development and it should be noted that one individual has sent in several letters, which gives you the total of 22 in the officer’s report. He believes this shows there is clear community support for the proposal in line with the requirement of the local Neighbourhood Plan.
Mr Edwards stated that in an ideal pre-Covid world they would have carried out a consultation on the proposal, but individuals have taken the opportunity to show their support to the proposal and he thanked them for this. He referred to the plan displayed on the presentation screen which shows that Parson Drove, especially to the south side, has pockets of comprehensive development with no hard or fast line, which led them to carry out an informal pre-application in 2017, which was initially for a larger area and officers felt was too much, and the proposal was reduced in line with the current proposal, to which officers confirmed “I have reviewed the drawing and can advise that the level of development is more in line with the previous advice given and does not represent an unacceptable encroachment into open countryside”, with this proposal going behind both Ingham Hall Gardens and Brewery Close and this has further been reduced down by keeping it solely behind the existing tree line to screen the proposal and additional planting is also being proposed, which they will be happy to secure by a condition.
Mr Edwards stated that the pre-application advice was given under the current Local Plan and an e-mail with this advice was contained within the Design and Access Statement. He expressed the view that the site is a natural village extension, which is positioned close to the heart of the settlement and its facilities, and, therefore, represents sustainable development and it also has all the dwellings within Flood Zone 1.
Mr Edwards made the point that whilst the layout is indicative, bungalows have been shown nearest to the existing bungalows on Ingham Hall Gardens so not to overlook them and he would be more than happy to accept a condition that states Plots 1-5 are to be single-storey. He stated, by way of planning gain, they are proposing to replace the existing treatment plant which as the manufacturer has stated was installed in the late 1980s to early 1990s, would be reaching its anticipated mechanical life expectancy and feels that the plant will require replacement in the next few years, with replacement of the unit being about £70-80,000, with a further £15,000 for shoring and dewatering.
Mr Edwards acknowledged that the proposal requires a treatment plant, but these will be of an individual nature to the plots and at a fraction of the cost that the applicant is looking to fund by replacement of the existing plant. He stated that the proposal has the support of the Highways Authority, North Level, Environmental Health and as per the request of Cambs Fire and Rescue they are prepared to install a fire hydrant, which will benefit the whole estate.
Mr Edwards asked members to support the application with the conditions they deem appropriate.
Members asked questions of Mr Edwards as follows:
· Councillor Benney asked why consultation was not undertaken with the Parish Council, acknowledging that Covid was the reason that the public consultation was not undertaken, as this does form part of the Parson Drove Neighbourhood Plan and could he explain why this was not undertaken? Mr Edwards advised that the applicant did speak with the Chairman of the Parish Council, who confirmed they were not happy with the proposal, but the applicant feels they have demonstrated the support by the number of support letters that have been secured against those that oppose it so, in his opinion, it is consistent and meets the requirements.
· Councillor Benney referred to the approach to the Chairman of the Parish Council and asked if this was an official approach at a Council meeting? Mr Edwards confirmed that it was not an official approach. Councillor Benney asked for clarification that the applicant did not undertake any official approach with the Parish Council? Mr Edwards confirmed that he did not.
· Councillor Cornwell asked Mr Edwards to clarify who was supporting the application as he had referred to the Environment Agency or IDBs? Mr Edwards responded that it was North Level Internal Drainage Board. Councillor Cornwell stated that the report says that North Level had no objection in principle and this does not say they support the proposal. Mr Edwards made the point that they have not objected to it either, which they would take as support.
· Councillor Sutton asked about the grey area of connection to or not a main sewer. In his view, given that there is a sewer albeit not a public sewer this development would be able to go into that sewer should it have the capacity and would not need to go all the way through the estate to the Main Road sewer and asked Mr Edwards views on this issue. Mr Edwards stated that their drainage consultant did look into this issue, whilst it is a bit of a grey area, they came to the conclusion that as there is already an existing facility that is utilised this can be used and you do not need to go to the main sewer. He made the point that it would not be cost effective to discharge to the main sewer.
· Councillor Sutton referred to an officer stating that this is not in an elsewhere location so advice Mr Edwards had back then was an indication to go forward with the application. Mr Edward agreed and stated that this side of the village development is not all linear.
· Councillor Mrs Bligh asked if this was a resubmission of a previous refusal and was public consultation undertaken on that application? Mr Edwards responded that as it was only 9 dwellings there was not a requirement at that stage to undertake public consultation. Councillor Mrs Bligh expressed her confusion on when the Neighbourhood Plan got adopted in relation to the previous application. Mr Edwards stated the first application was before the Neighbourhood Plan was adopted.
Members asked officers the following questions:
· Councillor Murphy referred to 10.29 in the officer’s report and asked if this needs to be taken into consideration if the proposal goes to an appeal? David Rowen stated that the intention of that paragraph is to highlight to members if the committee is minded to overturn the recommendation to refuse there would need to be a condition imposed on any planning permission in relation to a refuse collection strategy. Councillor Murphy referred to the last paragraph of this point where it indicates if it is overturned or even if it is agreed for refusal. David Rowen referred to reason for refusal 3, which does pick up on providing high levels of residential amenity due to the distance they are located from the nearest waste recycling point and the need for residents to move their bins to that point and if members are minded to grant planning permission then it would need to be picked up through a condition.
· Councillor Cornwell asked if the Neighbourhood Plan is fully approved and has to be taken into account? It was indicated in the affirmative.
· Councillor Sutton is not sure whether refusal because of not doing a public consultation would be given a great deal of weight as the support has subsequently come forward and if members remember back in 2018 the Council’s policy of LP12 was used on a Manea application, which clearly states why it was refused, but that went to appeal and not only did the Council lose that appeal it got cost awarded against it for being unreasonable. He expressed the view, given experience with the Council’s own policy, members would be on dangerous ground to refuse the proposal on the lack of public support, when clearly there is public support there. Councillor Sutton asked for advice if members refuse the application on this particular point? David Rowen stated that when he was looking through the report the Manea case came to his mind also, but there is a difference in that was refused on a Local Plan policy as opposed to this being a Neighbourhood Plan policy. He made the point that you have to consider what the point of Neighbourhood Plans are and it is to allow the community to steer the development that occurs in their area, which may, therefore, give slightly greater weight than a Local Plan policy would in terms of their having to be demonstrable community support. David Rowen stated that it is worth noting that the examination of the Neighbourhood Plan took place after the Manea application and from his recollection the Manea application had this issue as the sole reason for refusal and this proposal has this as one of three reasons for refusal, so if members are minded to go with officer’s recommendations and refuse the application on all those three grounds then even if the Inspector was to strike out reason for refusal 2 he cannot see that the Council would be subject to a cost claim given the other reasons for refusal.
· Councillor Sutton stated that if there was not subsequent support then he could fully go with the recommendation, but there is demonstrable support and he would be wary of turning it down on those grounds. David Rowen referred to the wording of policy 2 of the Neighbourhood Plan that the proposal needs to be “accompanied by clear demonstrable evidence of positive community support scheme instigated by a thorough and proportionate pre-application community consultation exercise”. He stated, firstly, there has been no pre-application community consultation exercise, and whilst there is support for the application there is objection as well and as well as the demonstrable evidence of community support aspect there is also a second point “and it is supported by the Parish Council” and it does not have this support so in effect the proposal fails both of those points of Policy 2 of the Neighbourhood Plan.
Members asked questions, made comments and received responses as follows:
· Councillor Mrs Davis stated that she is inclined to support the officer’s recommendation as there seems little point in the Government giving grants to the parishes to undertake Neighbourhood Plans only for members to ignore them. She made the point that the Parish Council do not support it and whilst there is some support it is marginal and if there had been a wider consultation it may well have swung the other way. She feels that as it is a very recent Neighbourhood Plan, members should respect this.
· Councillor Mrs Bligh completely agrees with the officer’s recommendation to refuse. She has watched Parson Drove Parish Council work very hard on their Neighbourhood Plan and it took a lot of years to get it approved and she will not go against what they want as far as building their community is concerned. Councillor Mrs Bligh recognises that it does have individual letters of support, but it also has a lot of objection as well so, in her view, this does not show clear support and it does not have Parish Council support and she recommends to the agent that if they do try again they engage better with the Parish Council. She feels the rear building line will definitely encroach into the open countryside and knowing the linear development of Parson Drove that concerns her.
· Councillor Benney expressed the view that it is a worthy development to bring forward, the site lends itself well for additional dwellings to be built with the road left as an entrance for development. He referred to members approving a takeaway in Parson Drove and this takeaway will need support. Councillor Benney stated that his concern with the proposal was Parson Drove Neighbourhood Plan, it was only adopted in 2020, and he struggled to come up with a reason to go against this, but he thinks that the community benefit in terms of the offer to pay for the treatment plant is a generous offer and must be taken into account. He has listened to what Councillor Sutton has said toady about the possibilities of an appeal and members must not put this Council at risk in any way to face costs. Councillor Benney made the point that the committee are District Councillors and need to look at the benefits for the whole District, with the points that the objector made about disruption being a feature of any development. He very much feels if this proposal goes to an appeal and the Council loses it is opening itself up to costs and the public benefit of the proposal in the long-term will be better, questioning whether it was building in the open countryside as wherever you build houses in Parson Drove you are building in the open countryside. Councillor Benney expressed the opinion that the District needs homes and he feels Councillor Sutton has provided him with a way to go against officer’s recommendation and approve the application as he feels the community benefit will support business in that area.
· Councillor Cornwell expressed the view that it is outside the existing settlement and he was surprised on his site visit just how outside it was. He feels there has been a chequered history of development in this area and if this had been approached as part of a complete package members would have been happier with it. Councillor Cornwell expressed concern that Neighbourhood Plans are encouraged and members are potentially ignoring them, with the Parish Council itself not saying it did not comply with its Neighbourhood Plan if it did not and do not support the proposal. He referred to the possibility of an appeal and made the point that if someone wants to take the Council to an appeal that is fine, but members must not sit here and be frightened of appeals as long as members are carrying out their roles properly then they should not be worried. Councillor Cornwell expressed the view that it is not being inconsiderate but logical and he will support officer’s recommendation.
· Councillor Connor agreed with the comments of Councillors Mrs Davis, Mrs Bligh and Cornwell in what is the use of having a Neighbourhood Plan, which is less than a year old, and going against it as it would make a ridicule of having a Neighbourhood Plan. He made the point that the Parish Council are not in support of the application and whilst he is in favour of growth in Fenland and houses in the right location, he would have to support the officer’s recommendation.
· Councillor Sutton stated that he concurs with a lot of what has been said, but feels the committee may be forgetting that the Neighbourhood Plan was approved in 2020 under a virtual meeting and for the majority of the duration of its existence the country has been in lockdown so public consultation would have been virtually impossible and had the subsequent support and objections gone in favour of objection then he would have no problem with the officer’s recommendation, but the fact of the matter is that the public support outweighs the objections so the issue of the Neighbourhood Plan, in his view, has to take a side step because of the conditions the country has been in. He feels that, given that the proposal has got support, members would not be going against the Neighbourhood Plan as it does have community support so he does not believe it is going against the Plan per se, but even if it was it is within the committee’s remit to do so as it has done on many occasions against the Council’s own Local Plan. Councillor Sutton expressed the view that he would suggest that new Neighbourhood Plans do not include these type of things as he does not feel it is a good policy and stifles development.
· Councillor Mrs Davis reminded members that there are other legitimate reasons for refusal, it is not just in relation to the Neighbourhood Plan.
· Councillor Cornwell pointed out that the consultation does not have to be face to face, consultation could have been in a written form and he assumes the comments that did come in were in a written form. He made the point that everyone in the community would have had the opportunity to take part in the Neighbourhood Plan and consultation could have taken place by post.
· Councillor Miscandlon asked where the support letters came from as in the past support letters have been received from abroad and he wanted to know if this support was local? David Rowen stated that as set out in paragraph 5.9 of the officer’s report 22 objections had been received and were all residents of Parson Drove, with the majority received from residents of Ingham Hall Gardens, and at 5.10, 26 responses of support have been received with the majority being from residents of Parson Drove, with them mainly being from Brewery Close and Springfields Road and a small number from Ingham Hall Gardens.
· Councillor Miscandlon expressed the opinion that Neighbourhood Plans are important, they are what the elected members are dealt with from the local residents, and those letters of objection and support do not represent the whole village and, therefore, the Neighbourhood Plan is sacrosanct in the village. He feels there may be small sections of the Plan that people do not like, and they will object to, but the Neighbourhood Plan is the views of the whole village and needs to be considered.
· Councillor Mrs Bligh stated that Mr Edwards will be well aware having his business in the area that there is such a thing called Village Voices and a public consultation does not have to be face-to-face and he could easily have used this publication asking for public support.
· Councillor Murphy referred to overwhelming support and he does not class 26 responses to be an overwhelming number for the whole of Parson Drove. He made the point that the committee is not aware how many of those supporters were persuaded to support it.
· Councillor Mrs French agrees with the Neighbourhood Plan, making the point that it took March Town Council four years to conclude at considerable cost and March Town Council would be appalled if this committee repeatedly went against its Neighbourhood Plan. She feels it would be most unfair to go against the Parish Council when they have spent the time and money producing the plan so she cannot support going against this plan and if it goes to appeal the Council will only get costs if it has been unreasonable and she does not believe the committee would be unreasonable in supporting a Parish Council.
· Councillor Mrs Bligh agreed with the comments of Councillor Mrs French, it did take three years and a lot of backwards and forwards to get this Plan sent to a Referendum and adopted by Council, which is a lot of work, and to go against it what would the message be to other Councils starting this journey.
· Councillor Sutton made the point that this is exactly the comments used by him and Councillor Mrs Hay on the Manea application and it went to appeal where it was overturned, which led to the removal of LP12.
· Councillor Benney expressed the view that a big thing is being made of going against policy, but the committee goes against policy every week as members interpret policies in different ways and if members went with officer’s recommendation on everything there would be no need for a Planning Committee He expressed the view that he does not feel overly strongly about this application as he came to committee today thinking it would probably be refused due to the Neighbourhood Plan, which is why he asked the agent why they had not gone out to consultation whereby he may have received the support required, which is where he feels the application has fell over, which is a shame for the applicant. Councillor Benney made the point that it is the committee’s duty to challenge and to question, he understands members views on this application and agrees in some way with the Neighbourhood Plan, but he also takes into account what Councillor Sutton has said and really feels this has fallen over due to a basic mistake by not undertaking consultation.
· Councillor Connor agreed that committee does go against policy, but every planning application has to be dealt with on its own merits.
· Councillor Mrs French asked if it was possible to make a recommendation to defer this application for the applicant to go out to a proper consultation with the Parish Council?
· Councillor Connor agreed as there is only possibly until 19 July before there is a certain amount of freedom once again and a month or so after this there could be a full public discussion and it could be brought back in September or October again so that not too much time would be lost.
· Councillor Mrs Bligh asked for clarification regarding the Manea application was this refused on the Council’s Local Plan as Manea does not have a Neighbourhood Plan and this application is looking at overturning a policy of a Neighbourhood Plan not a Local Plan. She asked if the Neighbourhood Plan supersedes the Local Plan?
· Councillor Mrs French made the point that the March Area Transport Strategy consultation was undertaken on-line during Covid and it had a fantastic response so it could have been done by another method rather than face to face. She expressed the view that the Neighbourhood Plan is only a year old and it does supersede the Council’s Local Plan, she feels the application should be deferred to allow the applicant to go out to proper consultation.
· David Rowen stated that the main issue that has come out of debate has been public consultation and non-compliance with the Neighbourhood Plan and reminded members that all applications should be determined in accordance with the Development Plan as set out in the Town and Country Planning Act. In terms of the deferment of the application and what benefits this would bring, he made the point that the Parish Council have already commented on the application and objected to it and this is a key strand of Policy 2 of the Neighbourhood Plan. David Rowen expressed the view that public consultation could have been undertaken in one form or another, but essentially there is an application that has not complied with the relevant policies of the Neighbourhood Plan and he is not sure that going out to consultation on the back of a deferment would move the situation along a great deal. He made the point that the Neighbourhood Plan issue is one of three refusal reasons and it is not proposed to be refused solely on this basis and, in terms of an appeal and the issue of costs, this is a Neighbourhood Plan policy and Neighbourhood Plans were introduced to give local communities an opportunity to give a greater steer to what development is allowed within their areas and because of that the community consultation aspect carries more weight at appeal than the Local Plan policy did in the Manea application, with these policies being different due to where they sit in the policy hierarchy. David Rowen advised members that it is the committee’s decision to determine the application in front of them and go with the recommendation.
· Councillor Connor asked if this was the first application on this site and would they get free resubmission if refused? David Rowen responded that if the applicant had used their free submission from the previous refusal then no, but he is not sure whether this application is a free submission or not.
· Councillor Benney stated that he does like deferments unless there is a specific issue to resolve and he does not feel there is on this application. He feels if the application was refused today it would give a definitive answer to the applicant, know where he stands and if it would allow a “free go” as he does not want the applicant to incur more costs. David Rowen stated that this application is the applicant’s free re-submission and the fee regulations only entitle an applicant to one “free go” on a site, so if this application was refused and a further application submitted a fee would need to be paid.
· Councillor Mrs French asked for clarification that if an application was re-submitted it must be considerably different to the original application as why would you submit a complete duplicate of a current application? David Rowen stated that for an application to be a “free go” it has to be the same red line boundary, the same applicant and the same character of development and you are only entitled to one “free go” on a site. He stated that in terms of the Council’s power to decline to determine a subsequent application whereby it is an identical application to a previous submission, there have been more than two previous decisions on the site.
Proposed by Councillor Skoulding, seconded by Councillor Mrs Bligh and agreed that the application be REFUSED, as per the officer’s recommendation.
(Councillor Sutton requested it be recorded that he abstained from voting on this application)
(Councillor Mrs Bligh declared that she is the Ward Councillor for this application)
(Councillor Sutton declared that he knows the applicant and public speaker for this application, but this will make no difference to any decision made on the application)