To determine the application
Alison Hoffman presented the report to members.
Members received a presentation, in accordance with the public participation procedure, from Craig Brand, the agent.
Mr Brand thanked Alison for confirming that Cambridgeshire County Council Archaeology do not require an archaeological investigation on this site. He referred to a slide showing on the presentation screen which showed in blue the area allocated as a Broad Location for Growth identified in the Local Plan as South-West March, which encompasses an area of 72 hectares and shows a minor incursion of 0.3 hectares, the application site shown in red, into the area, which is less than half percent of the total area.
Mr Brand stated that the proposal seeks permission in principle to develop the site with 4 executive self-build plots, with the applicant wanting to build on the plot nearest to Mill Hill Lane to be in control of the retained field and its access. He showed an indicative site layout plan to indicate how the plots will be set out, in his opinion, to complement the two new houses built off the recently completed private access road.
Mr Brand expressed the view that the issues with Mill Hill Lane and the byway, as referred to in the officer’s report, along with the lack of a footway are the same issues that have been in existence when the previous developments in the last 8 years have been submitted and approved. He expressed the opinion that the proposed plots will all have access to the new private access road and a safe pedestrian route to Knights End Road is available using countryside footpath No.18, which borders the sites northern boundary.
Mr Brand referred to the impact of the development upon the Grade II Listed barn conversion, Owl Barn Lodge, and showed via a photo on the presentation screen that the barn is only visible when the trees and hedge have no leaves on them and then only the roofline is visible due to the post war agricultural barn extension. He asked when entering the grounds of Owl Barn Lodge using footpath No.18 can any of the listed barns facing Knights End Road be seen and, in his view, the new houses in Mulberry Close have a far greater impact on Owl Barn Lodge than the application site does, showing photographs to demonstrate this.
Mr Brand made the point that officers have determined the arrangement to be satisfactory in their report and the outline application for the two newly built houses off the private access road was regarded as having a negligible impact on the setting of the Listed barn. He expressed the view that the application would have a negligible impact on the Listed barn’s setting due to the trees, hedges and post war barn extension.
Mr Brand asked members to allow this tiny fragment of the South West March location for growth to come forward now as, in his opinion, backland development has been approved in the last two years in Upwell Road in a non-designated area for growth. He feels approval will allow a small high-quality estate to be achieved off an existing private drive rather than having a general residential development backing onto the existing two houses in the future.
Members asked Mr Brand questions as follows:
· Councillor Mrs French referred to the road and public footpath into Mill Hill being in an appalling condition and asked what are the plans, if this application is approved, to remedy the appalling state of the road? Mr Brand responded that the public adopted highway, which is a tarmacked surface, does have potholes and cracks, but the byway is the worse part of it and the applicant has been approached by the developer who owns the site on the opposite side as to whether they can go into a scheme to improve the surface and potholes on the byway, but the tarmacked section is the County Council’s responsibility.
· Councillor Cornwell referred to the photographs showing a gate, which he understands is not part of the proposal and the gate would remain and provide an entrance to any development of the rest of the field, but this proposal uses the gravel road, which is described as an existing private shared access road, it is blocked paved at the start and then is gravel and asked if the block paving is on the unmade section of Mill Hill Lane? Mr Brand confirmed it is on the byway. Councillor Cornwell stated that this proposal is increasing the vehicular traffic using the byway, which is in an awful condition and asked if there are any proposals to do something to the byway where the shared access road joins it? Mr Brand reiterated that the applicant has been approached by the developer on the opposite side of the road as to whether they could do a joint scheme to improve the surface of it, but it would need permission by the County Council and, in his view, a private access road with four more houses complements the area rather than a residential estate backing onto it.
Members asked questions, made comments and received responses as follows:
· Councillor Mrs French stated that for many years the Town Council have been recommending refusal of development in this particular area, with the Planning Department usually recommending approval, so the Town Council was surprised to see the recommendation of refusal. She expressed the view that the state of the road is appalling and needs to be rectified, and whilst the houses proposed are of good quality, this area has been developed over the past 8-10 years and enough is enough, especially as March is not short of land. Councillor Mrs French expressed concern that footpath No.18 is not blocked off as it is a nice walk albeit having to negotiate potholes. She feels that the officer’s recommendation is correct.
· Councillor Sutton expressed the view that the road is in an atrocious state and it will not get any better unless something like this proposal comes along to rectify it. He finds the comments about Owl Barn Lodge crazy as the two dwellings approved in 2017/18 did not mention the impact on Owl Barn Lodge and it is now suddenly being raised. Councillor Sutton expressed the view that on his site visit he looked at the two dwellings and their relationship with Owl Barn Lodge and these two dwellings have more impact on Owl Barn Lodge than this proposal. He feels that members should go against officer’s recommendation based on getting this developer and another one, with the help of Councillor Mrs French to provide surfacing material, to improve the road, which would not be a costly job. Councillor Sutton expressed the opinion that eventually this site is going to get developed as it forms part of the Broad Concept Area and the impact of Owl Barn Lodge is not going to stop development in the Broad Concept Area.
· Councillor Cornwell referred to an application a couple of meetings ago when there was an application to create a roadway between two properties and building at the back and he said at the time that this should have been part of the Broad Concept Plan for that area. He feels it is the same with this proposal as development in this area has gone too far, with a private road off a byway and it should be dealt with under the Broad Concept Plan to be developed in a proper manner so Mill Hill Lane could become a properly constructed highway, with the current situation being a few bits of development and patching up a farm track. Councillor Cornwell expressed the opinion that it is a nice plot and the gated access to the land protected by this proposal would seem to indicate that someone is going to come up with another development in the future, but he feels it needs to be done in an organised manner in this location. He does not accept the Owl Barn Lodge argument, and agrees with the comments of the County Council at 5.5 of the officer’s report in that there should be no further incremental development in this location without improvements to the road.
· Councillor Mrs French referred to the history on the Barn, which cost the applicant a lot to convert it into a beautiful home. She stated that she could support this application if it was a guarantee that the road would be improved and Councillor Sutton is correct that through the County Council there is surfacing material to improve public rights of way, but all residents need to pay for it to be properly laid down.
· Councillor Sutton referred to the report stating that it is a narrow lane, which it is, but also says that there are no passing places, but this is not right as there are about 4-5 passing places. He feels there is the chance to put in some really nice dwellings in this location and why refuse this opportunity.
· David Rowen made the point that the comments of Conversation Officer are set out in the report giving the rationale for the comments on the Listed Barn. He stated that the issue with the road improvements is that there is no scheme for road improvements, it has only been stated by the agent there has been a conversation with the applicant and another landowner over improvements, and no firm proposals on the table and if this proposal is approved there is no certainty of any improvements. David Rowen stated that the Broad Concept Plan could prevent development in this area as it makes specific reference to Owl Barn Lodge and the need to preserve its setting, but the Broad Concept Plan would present a cohesive plan for the overall development of site including open space areas.
· Councillor Connor asked if members are minded to approve the proposal could a condition be put on that the road should be improved before any building work gets over slab level or commences? David Rowen expressed the view that this would be an unreasonable condition given that it is not within the applicant’s control to undertake that work as the County Council and other residents have to engage with the process.
· Councillor Cornwell made the point that the officer’s report contains a clear statement from Highways “I would question the suitability of the Mill Hill Lane infrastructure to support further development”, and as further development includes this application can we not take notice of this statement in arriving at conditions? David Rowen stated there is no dispute that Mill Hill Lane needs improving, the issue is in terms of how you deliver that improvement and imposing a planning condition on a development for four houses is more the test of applicant’s control and how reasonable it is to require this from this proposal.
Proposed by Councillor Sutton, seconded by Councillor Mrs French to approve the application against officer’s recommendation, which was not supported on a majority vote by members.
Proposed by Councillor Miscandlon, seconded by Councillor Mrs Bligh and agreed that the application be REFUSED as per the officer’s recommendation.
(Councillors Connor, Mrs French and Purser registered, in accordance with Paragraph 14 of the Code of Conduct on Planning Matters, that they are members of March Town Council, but take no part in planning matters)
(Councillor Skoulding declared an interest in this application, by virtue of his mother residing in the near vicinity to this site, and retired from the meeting for the duration of the discussion and voting thereon)