To determine the application
Nick Thrower presented the report to members.
Members received a presentation, in accordance with the public participation procedure, from Chris Walford, the agent.
Mr Walford stated that this is an application for what he would call two large self-building plots within the built form of Elm, which is a designated village within the Local Plan for limited growth where small development will be encouraged. He drew members attention to the slight anomaly in the agenda where it refers to Elm in the description, but in Paragraphs 2.4, 10.8 and 11.1 it refers to Friday Bridge.
Mr Walford made the point that the proposal has the support of the Parish Council and also 14 letters of support have been received. Officers have considered the site to be out of character, but, in his view, the fact that it cannot be seen from the road would not adversely harm the character or the appearance of that area, therefore, it is considered low impact development and on a field which has been cut to a domestic level of grass for many years and used in connection with the applicant’s adjacent dwelling.
Mr Walford referred to a case on Main Road, Elm, on the same stretch of road but further down, F/YR17/0469/F, which was refused by the Council for being behind the existing linear pattern and would result in backland development considering harm to the local character contrary to policy, with this application being appealed and was won as the Inspector did not consider that the backland development in this case would have been harmful to the local identity of the area or character and was, therefore, not contrary to LP16. He expressed the view that this application is relevant to this proposal as their application is well screened from the main road, would not affect the street scene or the local identity.
Mr Walford referred to the objections from neighbours, with one of them in relation to the area becoming an estate or a large development, but this proposal is only for two dwellings and there is a pre-application from Highways to show their access can only sustain two dwellings and he can reassure members that this will only be an application for two self-build properties. He feels the site and its character does not set a precedent for backland development in the area, which has been confirmed in the officer’s report.
Mr Walford expressed the opinion as agents they see a huge shortage of self-build plots in all of the villages and where there are sites or schemes that can deliver low impact development within the village centres it should be supported and he asked members to help them do this. He expressed the view that bringing executive type housing to the villages, which supports the villages and its services, should be supported.
Mr Walford stated in relation to the flood risk issue on the reason for refusal, he spoke to the flood risk specialist yesterday who produced the report as it did not appear that his sequential tests had gone far enough and his assessment was undertaken on the basis of sites that are available and openly willing to be sold on the open market whereas the officer has explained in their report that it is leaning towards any site whether it is on the market or not, but, in his view, it is hard to understand whether a site is available or not if it is not on the open market. He stated that they can check levels on site, as they have a site which is predominantly in Flood Zone 2, but the other third of it is in Zone 1, to query with the Environment Agency whether the site is in Zone 1 or 2 and if it can be confirmed the site is in Zone 1 the sequential issue would be removed.
Mr Walford expressed the view that if members are not keen going against officer’s recommendation on flooding he would ask that they are given time to check those levels on site and get an accurate confirmation on whether the site is in Zone 1 or Zone 2 as at the moment they are working off the high level Environment Agency map and have in the past been able to go into more detail and confirm with accuracy what zone a site lies in.
Members asked questions of Mr Walford as follows:
· Councillor Miscandlon referred to the last point made by Mr Walford that the question would be answered more definitively if he had more time and asked why the application was brought to this meeting, why was it not withdrawn so he could gain a more substantive answer to present to this committee? Mr Walford responded that it was due to lack of time, he has only been looking at the proposal recently and felt that they would put the application past committee and see what happened.
Members asked questions of officers as follows:
· Councillor Miscandlon asked if officers were aware of the issues that Mr Walford had raised in relation to flood zones and if so what were their recommendations to him? Nick Thrower advised the process by which a sequential test is carried out is set out in the Cambridgeshire Flood Water Strategy, a Supplementary Planning Document, which is supplemented by a document that the Council confirmed in terms of the approach to undertaking a sequential test with regard to the area of search and it is a fairly straightforward process albeit does require some work to be undertaken to understand what sites are available or have permissions and to that extent the planning authority does keep a record of permissions granted within villages and the dates of those permissions that is available for agents to request so they can fully investigate what permissions are in place in settlements and to ensure any sequential test they undertake is fully detailed with all the possible sites that might be able to accommodate the development as proposed. Councillor Miscandlon stated that this response did not answer his question as he was asking about the issue with flood zones the development land is within. David Rowen stated that on the Flood Zone maps of the Environment Agency the site is shown as within Flood Zone 2, with the information that Mr Walford gave seemed to indicate that the applicant and agent were looking to go away and in effect survey the site and surrounding land levels to try and dispute that classification, which is a separate process to undertake with the Environment Agency to get the flood map amended. He made the point that ultimately the site is classed as being in Flood Zone 2, which is in the public domain, and that information should have come in with the application to make that case from day one of the application rather than here at Planning Committee.
· Councillor Cornwell asked if the case is not ready to be considered why are we talking about it as actually, according to the agent, they still have some unfinished business, so why has it come to committee incomplete? David Rowen stated that members have a planning application in front of them and there is a duty to determine these applications, with the flood risk/sequential test issue being one of two reasons for refusal, and it is up to members what they wish to do with this application today.
Members asked questions, made comments and received responses as follows:
· Councillor Cornwell expressed the opinion that if the application is not ready for members to be able to approve it then committee should go with the officer’s recommendation and refuse it.
· Councillor Sutton stated that he understands where the agent is coming from as not that long ago just down the road there was a development for two dwellings, one which was in Flood Zone 1 and the other in Flood Zone 3, and he asked the question where Flood Zone 2 was. He made the point that the agent and applicant on that application did a topographical survey which showed the level of Flood Zone 3 was higher than Flood Zone 1, which possibly should have been challenged with the Environment Agency, but the committee took the view at the time, which in his opinion was a commonsense decision, to build on Flood Zone 3 as it is no more dangerous in flood terms than building next door to Flood Zone 1 and approved the application. Councillor Sutton expressed the view that if the agent is asking for extra time, a deferral would be the right direction.
· Councillor Cornwell agreed with the comments of Councillor Sutton because the agent had already done his work before he came to the meeting.
· Councillor Benney expressed the view that a deferment is the best thing as he does not want to be refusing the application when it is a matter of time to put it right and he would be supportive of a deferment. He remembers the application that Councillor Sutton referred to, which was approved, and he feels the surveys that need doing can be undertaken to find answers for this issue. Councillor Benney expressed the opinion the application is incomplete, but he does not want to refuse an application without good reason.
· Councillor Skoulding agreed with the comments of Councillor Benney. He made the point that 2 hectares is the size of two football pitches, so they would be fantastic plots and it would be a shame to refuse them.
· Councillor Mrs Davis agreed with Councillor Benney in that a deferment should be made, but, in her view, it would have been wiser for the agent to have withdrawn it, but he has not so all members can do is defer it.
· Councillor Sutton made the point that members are only talking about flood issues and there are two reasons for refusal and if members are deferring on flood issues a decision is required on the second reason for refusal. He stated that if members do not think it effects the character of the area this needs to be said now as members do not want to put the applicant or agent to unnecessary work and expense regarding the flood issues if it is resubmitted and it is then refused due to it being out of character.
· Councillor Benney stated that he has visited the site and noticed there are other houses built behind further down the road. He feels if the Highways have got no objections to the access and, in his view, some developments add character to the area, he would have no objection to it affecting the character of the area. Councillor Benney expressed the opinion that there are these types of developments throughout the whole district so he would go against the officer’s recommendation of refusal on this particular policy.
· Councillor Skoulding stated that he had difficulty finding the site and he cannot see any problem with this development at all, it cannot be seen from the road and, in his view, it is a lovely design. He made the point that there are other developments behind.
Proposed by Councillor Benney, seconded by Councillor Skoulding and agreed that the application be DEFERRED in relation to flood risk issues only. Members did not agree with the officer’s recommendation of refusal one as they feel that the application does not adversely impact on the character and appearance of the surrounding countryside.
(Councillor Sutton registered that, in accordance with Paragraph 2 of the Code of Conduct on Planning Matters, he had been lobbied via an e-mail from a resident asking for support in objection to the application, but responded that he could not comment due to sitting on Planning Committee)
(Councillor Sutton declared that he knows the applicant on this application, but this will make no difference to any decision made on the application)