To determine the application.
Alison Hoffman presented the report to members.
Members received a presentation, in accordance with the public participation procedure, from Mr Slater, the agent.
Mr Slater advised members that the lodge building has been in situ now for 7 years and in that time it has been used for an office associated with the family business and as staff accommodation. He made the point that whilst it is accepted that the building remains unauthorised, in his view, if it was causing significant harm he would have expected the Council to have pursued enforcement action to seek its removal, but no action has been taken post 2015.
Mr Slater stated that the family business is an agricultural plant and machinery company, which provides, in his view, a vital service to local agricultural and drainage boards. He advised that Mr Fowler set up the company, but it is now run on a day to day basis by his son, with Mr Fowler still undertaking maintenance and servicing of the vehicles.
Mr Slater referred to the various IDB drainage boards that they carry out work for. He stated that in semi-retirement, Mr Fowler intends to continue to work a couple of days per week carrying out maintenance on the company plant and vehicles, which is carried out in the recently approved barn/workshop adjacent to the lodge.
Mr Slater stated that the proposed use of the lodge is as temporary accommodation to enable Mr Fowler to live on site for short periods whilst he maintains the company’s vehicles. He made the point that the Design and Access Statement sets out that Mr and Mrs Fowler are now semi-retired and have sold their property, Woodlands, and are in the process of moving to the Norfolk Coast.
Mr Slater referred to the officer’s report whereby the changes in circumstances with the selling of Woodlands and relocation of Mr and Mrs Fowler to the coast is seen as material to the application, but at that time the sale of the property was not secured. He advised members that at no time have they been asked to provide evidence of a functional need in addition to that set out in the application submission.
Mr Slater made the point that Mr and Mrs Fowler are seeking a temporary permission to enable occasional occupation of the lodge in association with the business use in the barn for a period of 5 years, which will provide an opportunity for Mr Fowler to reduce his work to a full retirement, and at the end of this period the need for the accommodation can be reviewed in the light of the circumstances at that time. He stated that the maintenance work is partly seasonal, but there are also breakdowns and emergencies throughout the working year.
Mr Slater informed members that Mr and Mrs Fowler would look to occupy the lodge for several days at a time for the maintenance periods and on an as and when basis for minor works and emergencies, and, in his view, the occupation would not be more than 100 days in any year, which will reduce in the coming years. He expressed the opinion that there is an essential need for Mr Fowler to have access to accommodation on site to maintain the high level of service to the local agricultural community and drainage boards.
Mr Slater referred to flood risk, in that whilst it is accepted that the site and much of the surrounding area is in the Flood Zone, the operational need for Mr Fowler to be able to work from the barn is such that the lodge needs to be on site. He also made the point that the proposed use is for occasional occupation and for a temporary period.
Mr Slater highlighted to members that there are no technical constraints to the development, with officers confirming that the building itself is acceptable in terms of design, character and amenity. He made the point that the Parish Council does not object and there are several letters of support from local people confirming the important role that the business plays to local agriculture and drainage boards. Mr Slater asked members to approve a temporary permission for the proposal.
Members asked Mr Slater the following questions:
· Councillor Sutton asked Mr Slater what is the destination of the building after the 5 year period? Mr Slater responded that it is potentially demolished or as it is a modular building it could be picked up and moved to another location.
· Councillor Sutton queried whether a Certificate of Lawful Use should have applied if the building has been in existence for 7 years? Mr Slater responded that there was not the level of evidence required to demonstrate its use and the building needs to have been there for 10 years.
Members asked officers the following questions:
· Councillor Mrs French asked if the building has been there for 7 years, what action has Planning taken over the last 7 years? David Rowen stated that enforcement is a reactive service and if it is not brought to their attention, enforcement does not necessarily know about it. Its presence has now come to light and there may have been a change of use of the building, which could be a potential or new breach of planning control, but there is an application in front of members today that a decision is needed on.
· Councillor Mrs French asked whether the buildings existence had been brought to the attention of the Council further down the line? David Rowen responded that knowledge of the building may have existed in 2014, but the building was viewed as ancillary to the use on the site and the decision was taken that it was not expedient to take any action.
· Councillor Murphy referred to Mr Slater stating that the building could be demolished or taken away after 5 years and asked if the Council can ensure this is undertaken, so its presence is not forgotten and it is not still in situ 10 years down the line. David Rowen stated that if the application is approved it can be conditioned, which would be monitored at the appropriate time. Nick Harding made the point that this does not prevent a further application being submitted to seek to retain the building and this would have to be considered against policies at that time.
· Councillor Miscandlon asked that, bearing in mind that the building has been on site and used for residential accommodation for some time, have the rates been paid and if not, why not? Nick Harding advised that this is not a material planning consideration.
· Councillor Sutton made the point that Planning Committee had visited the area in 2013 and there was not, as far as he can remember, any building on site at that time, so 7 years seems to be correct. He asked whether the building came to light when the application for the workshop was submitted last year? David Rowen advised that it is not known how the building came to light or the background to the enforcement case, but timings do seem coincidental.
Members asked questions, made comments and received responses as follows:
· Councillor Sutton stated that he knows Mr Fowler, but not well and they do not socialise. He knows that he runs a well-respected company and undertakes a lot of work in the area. Councillor Sutton notes that the current dwelling has been sold and given the dwelling is there and the proposal is for a specific period, he tends to give more weight to that business. He made the point that there will be a reduction in need and as long as the building is only there for 5 years, he gives this more weight than strict policy.
· Councillor Benney stated that he visited the site on Sunday and struggled to find it, so, in his view, the proposal would not cause any concern. He feels that if the proposal had more of a definable need it would have been approved, but questioned how you quantify a need for a business. Councillor Benney expressed the view that Mr Fowler is the anchor and his knowledge keeps the successful business operating and the best person to say what a business needs is the owner. He stated that he will be supporting the application.
· Nick Harding referred to the officer’s report, which presents the proposal in the context of adopted local policies as well as national policies and dwellings in the open countryside should only be approved in limited circumstances and only where essential for a rural business. He made the point this is a rural business, but there is already a dwelling associated with this business, which has been sold off and if this application is approved the same situation could reoccur.
· Councillor Miscandlon asked if there are any safeguards in the conditions that can be placed on the proposal? Nick Harding stated that whilst conditions can be placed on the application, these can be applied to be varied or removed, and an application cannot be prevented which would need to be considered at that time. Councillor Miscandlon asked if a condition is placed on the proposal and an application comes forward to change that condition, it would have to come back before committee? Nick Harding stated that if the application is approved and someone applied to retain the cabin dwelling and there is a viable business then it is highly likely that there is a need for that dwelling for the business to be operated.
· Councillor Benney requested clarification that members are looking at an application that will last 5 years and after 5 years the building would either come down or if needed another application would be submitted and considered at that time. Nick Harding stated that is correct, but made the point that there is already a dwelling in existence to serve the business.
· Councillor Mrs French questioned what harm is a temporary building going to do to the countryside? Nick Harding made the point that Council policies and national policies seek to protect the countryside for its own sake. Councillor Mrs French expressed the opinion that if Councillor Benny had trouble finding the site then the proposal does not stick out “like a sore thumb”.
· Councillor Sutton acknowledged that the officer’s recommendation is the only one they could come forward with, but feels this application is unique as it is looking forward to a retirement. He thinks members can give more weight to issues that officers cannot and a business should be allowed to thrive and grow. Councillor Sutton stated he will give more weight to the needs of the business rather than policy.
Proposed by Councillor Sutton, seconded by Councillor Benney and agreed that the application be APPROVED against the officer’s recommendation, with delegated authority given to officers to determine appropriate conditions.
Members did not support the officer’s recommendation of refusal as they feel that whilst the proposal is in an elsewhere location more weight can be given to the requirements of the business rather than policy.