Agenda item

Unit 3, Sandbank Barns Industrial Units, Sandbank, Wisbech St Mary
Conversion of existing building to form 1no dwelling (single-storey, 3-bed), erection of shed and gazebo together with installation of 2.2 metre high boundary fencing (part retrospective)

To determine the application.


Alison Hoffman presented the report to members.


Members received a presentation, in accordance with the public participation procedure, from Councillor Booth, a District Councillor.


Councillor Booth stated that he was at the latest meeting of the Parish Council when this application was discussed, where it was recognised that this is a local business and since Mr Frankham has taken on the business he has much improved the site as beforehand it had become somewhat derelict.  He feels that members should be supporting this proposal as it is an established building and effectively a brownfield site, and if looked at from the NPPF and Government guidance point of view brownfield sites should be built on ahead of sites in the open countryside.


Councillor Booth questioned whether this was a site in the open countryside as the Local Plan does not specify any boundaries so it is a subjective assessment.  He expressed the view that, whilst Sandbank is on the edge of the Wisbech St Mary, it is an established building that is already there and can be seen from quite a wide area, and the Parish Council are looking at submitting a privately funded highways bid to amend the speed limit along this road, with the limit to be changed past the entrance to this business so the Parish Council consider this area within the actual envelope of the village and not an elsewhere location. 


Councillor Booth made the point that when the Local Plan was developed a number of years ago, the discussion around elsewhere locations was around areas, such as Bunkers Hill or Tholomas Drove, but this location is just on the edge of the village and there is development and residential properties adjacent to it.  He expressed the view that these buildings were former agricultural units and if they had been left as agricultural buildings they would probably have permitted development rights to convert them into dwellings. 


Councillor Booth expressed the opinion that there is no real visual impact from the proposal, which is identified in the officer’s report at 10.9.  He stated that there is a lot of foot traffic along this road and this is part of the reason why the Parish Council want to amend the speed limit because they recognise it is not in the open countryside and there are a lot of people walking along this road getting to the shops in the village. 


Councillor Booth referred to the Police statistics, which do show a lot of anti-social behaviour and concern within this area, which backs up the applicant’s argument of having a residential property next to his business.  He made the point that members should remember that when the Local Plan was developed, it was set as a trail blazer and innovative Local Plan, one that supported business, one that supported growth and the officer’s report dilutes that element of the Local Plan.  He feels that members should also remember the Council’s strapline of Open for Business and by refusing this the Council would not be.


Councillor Booth informed members that the proposal received unanimous support from the Parish Council.


Members received a presentation, in accordance with the public participation procedure, from Mrs Windsor, an objector to the proposal.


Mrs Windsor expressed the view that the plan shown in the officer’s presentation do not show what is on the ground.  She expressed the view that Mr Frankham has addressed the need to live on site due to safety and stresses of the business with his family life, but at present he lives a 3-minute walk away. 


Mrs Windsor feels the property is well equipped with security lights and cameras and she would expect a good alarm system, which can easily be monitored from Mr Frankham’s present home.  She made the point that she lives 20 minutes’ drive away so tending to the needs of her horses and managing an equestrian property over the last 20 years can be difficult at times, but she still manages reasonably well. 


Mrs Windsor referred to Mr Frankham stating that he wishes to expand his business and provide jobs for local people, at present he states he has 6 people working for him and planned to take on two more, but these plans were put on hold due to Covid, which has caused a lot of stress as it has done to many businesses.  She expressed the view that if this proposal is approved, it will mean that the workshop areas for the planned expansion will be lost as would a large amount of storage space for timber, with present planning restrictions on the property meaning that timber cannot be stacked any higher.


Mrs Windsor expressed the opinion that there would also be a loss of parking on site due to the access needing to be maintained for residential vehicles plus staff vehicles, which all take up space for customer parking and could make the situation regarding deliveries more difficult.  She did acknowledge that Mr Frankham has tried to address this issue by widening his access to the road in order to give more space on site as there is no turning point within the site for large vehicles.


Mrs Windsor referred to the Planning Portal where Mr Frankham states that he had a letter from Mrs Bennington regarding her comments which cannot be published but offered to pass them onto anyone who requested them. She stated that she has asked for these comments from Mr Frankham, but has been met with zero response.  She stated that she did e-mail the Planning Officer to see if she could provide her with a copy of these comments, but was informed she could not due to GDPR as it was not in the public domain as it covered areas outside of the planning process due to details over boundary issues.


Members received a presentation, in accordance with the public participation procedure, from Mrs Hamilton, a supporter of the proposal.


Mrs Hamilton stated that she has lived in Wisbech St Mary for over 22 years and has never seen the site looking so well kept and professional.  She fully supports the applicant’s decision to apply for planning permission as she is well aware of the security implications should a property not be attended at all times.


Mrs Hamilton expressed the opinion that she can see no problems with the location of the proposed dwelling as it does not interfere with any other properties or persons, it is set back off the road and out of the way, and as there are already a number of buildings it can only improve the look of the property further.  She feels the roadway is well maintained and customer service and safety are at the forefront of the applicant’s business at all times, which should be commended.


Mrs Hamilton feels that due to the materials on this site, the possibility of damage due to theft or fire by individuals is high in this area and would, therefore, strongly recommend that there needs to be 24-hour security, which would also protect neighbouring properties from being affected by criminal activity.  She made the point that the applicant has built a thriving business and wants to protect his livelihood and his family, and feels it makes sense that he would want to live on site and be able to conduct and support day to day running of the business whilst balancing family life.


Mrs Hamilton referred to the letter from an adjoining landowner, which she has read, and she is the neighbour of the applicant living directly across the field from this site and feels that there is no proof been identified regarding the boundary, with Mr Frankham always stating that should proof of boundary be submitted he would consider making appropriate changes. She stated that although she cannot comment or wish to be included in this dispute regarding this issue, she has in the past had a conversation with another person who has had issues with the same couple over boundaries and again they did not have any proof so she can only assume that this was not resolved.  She feels that Mr Frankham has been keen to resolve any argument amicably, which she has experienced first-hand and was solved with care, respect and consideration to herself and the safety of her horses.


Members received a presentation, in accordance with the public participation procedure, from Shanna Jackson, the agent, and Sam Frankham, the applicant.


Mrs Jackson stated the application is for the conversion of an existing building to form a single-storey 3-bed dwelling, which will allow the applicant and his family to live at his business premises known as Fenland Timber as they are currently living in a rented property which is to be sold by the owners.  She expressed the view that this is a situation whereby the effectiveness of a local rural business is being threatened by the owner not being able to reside on site, with Fenland Timber being the only source of income for the applicant who is having to invest most of his waking hours into the business to support his family resulting in a poor work/life balance exacerbated by the fear of crime that threatens his livelihood.


Mrs Jackson expressed the opinion that allowing the Mr Frankham and his family to reside on site will provide a better work/life balance and reduce the risk of and fear of crime, and whilst she appreciates that there is not a specific policy requirement within the Local Plan, this is a genuine situation which could help save the ongoing functioning of a rural business that is not dissimilar to other occupational dwellings previously considered favourably by the committee.  She feels that the promotion of an existing rural enterprise and health and well-being issues are material planning considerations and supported by policies in the Local Plan. 


Mrs Jackson argued that these issues outweigh the concerns with regards to the locational aspect of the site, which is considered in the officer’s report as being outside of Wisbech St Mary, and she feels that the proposal will have no visual impact on the surroundings given that it is the conversion of an existing building.  She made the point that the proposal is supported by the Parish Council.


Mrs Jackson advised that a revised Flood Risk Assessment is currently being considered by the Environment Agency, which addresses their objection, and there are no other objections from technical consultees.  She hoped members would be able to support this rural business by approving the application and they would be happy to accept conditions tying the property to the business.


Mr Frankham informed members that he started working for himself back in 2009 in a landscaping company and was still undertaking this when he moved into Wisbech St Mary in May 2014.  He stated that it was always his dream of owning a timber yard and first started renting one of the units at the barns in 2015 to store his tools and trailer and then made the decision to start Fenland Timber, which started as timber related jobs from the landscaping side to adding new services, such as bespoke sheds, animal housing or anything timber related.


Mr Frankham stated that within 18 months the business had gone from strength to strength, occupying another unit at the barns, and commencing the process of becoming a timber yard buying bulk quantities of timber for their own use, but also being able to sell to their ever-growing customer base.  In 2020, with 8 employees, he was able to buy the barns from the landlord and everything fell into place, with work orders for buildings being at a high, demand for raw materials going up and generally becoming a well-known business in the area.


Mr Frankham advised members that with the success comes stress and long hours as it is a family run company with corporate ambition and he generally works between 12-15 hours a day 6 days a week with Sundays as appointment only.  He made the point that he is renovating and upgrading the site after years of neglect, with upgrades to the drainage and surfacing of the property with more to continue with the buildings and outside space.


Mr Frankham informed members that he is running the business on a day-to-day basis and fitting in the renovation around work that he is doing 12-15 hours a day, so does not have a lot of home time with his family and he feels that if he lived on site he could see his family more often.  He also gets nervous when he leaves the site as he has expensive materials in the yard and all of his tools and machinery that he has worked hard to buy are left unattended overnight.


Mr Frankham made the point that the business is his family’s only source of income as his wife also works within the business.


Members asked questions of Mr Frankham as follows:

·         Councillor Sutton referred to one of the previous speakers mentioning conifers being taken down and asked Mr Frankham to confirm where they were?  Mr Frankham advised they were on the inside of his fence boundary, it is a civil dispute but the fence belongs to him and whilst there were some conifers on his side, which belonged to him, they were removed to free up more space on the site.


Members asked officers the following questions:

·         Councillor Sutton expressed the view that if this building had still been a redundant agricultural building it would more than likely have been approved under Class Q.  Given that is the case and the stance to support businesses, he thinks he would tend to put weight to this.  He referred to Class ZA, with his understanding of this is that B1 and B2 use can be converted into residential, and he understands that the premises are B1/B2 so, in his view, the applicant could have applied under Class ZA, which would likely have ticked all the boxes under this, but these two use classes conflict with the NPPF and the Local Plan.  Councillor Sutton made the point that on the visit to the site, he saw a static caravan, some stabling and a container on land adjacent to the site and asked if this has planning permission?  Alison Hoffman stated that the adjacent site was granted a Certificate of Lawfulness for equestrian use and she believes the structures did form part of this process.  She stated that with regard to the application site a change of use was granted for a B2 use and the permitted development rights quoted relates to B1 use.  It is her understanding workshop 3 was a new build element, although a change of use application, there was an anomaly during the processing of that application and she would imagine if the option under permitted development had been available the applicant would have gone down that route.  There is also the added element with permitted development in that officers have to look at how they sit alongside existing uses.  David Rowen added that it is easy to say agricultural or commercial buildings can be converted under the General Permitted Development Order as permitted development, but there are a number of considerations that limit that and in terms of agricultural conversions members would have seen from the number of appeals decisions concluding that development is not permitted.  He stated that the buildings are not agricultural and they would not been accepted under Class Q anyway and Class ZA does refer to B1 use only and some of the issues that would need to be taken into account with Class ZA are impact of noises from commercial premises.


Members asked questions, made comments and received responses as follows:

·         Councillor Mrs Bligh referred to crime and in Wisbech St Mary there is the fear of crime as a lot of the crime is opportunistic so the fact that there is no data suggests that it is not a high crime area but the applicant wants to be on site to avoid the opportunistic crimes that can come out of nowhere to protect his only source of income.

·         Councillor Benney acknowledged that it is difficult to have a work/life balance when you run a demanding business and the applicant has spent time improving the buildings and making the business successful.  He stated that he has no faith in the Police statistics and with rural security, whilst you can put alarms and cameras up, the thing that really deters people is a presence on site as they never know when you are going to walk out your door and with this type of business out in a rural area the best way to safeguard it is to live on site.  Councillor Benney expressed the view that members do not want to be hearing that Mr Frankham has had his business broken into and his family upset, but want him to prosper.  He stated that he did not see the site before Mr Frankham owned it, but can see that it is looking very tidy and clean and if living on site helps to address that work/life balance that should be supported.  Councillor Benney feels that LP2, rural well-being, is a reason to support the application and members should be helping somebody who is helping himself.  He reiterated that the only way to safeguard the business is to have someone living on the site as it is the best deterrent to have.

·         Councillor Mrs Bligh referred to approval of the Barrett’s Bridge application for exactly the same reasons going against officer’s recommendation for security purposes.  She stated that the Police say there is no crime, but there is crime and having someone on site is the best security a business can have and when the business is your only source of income she can understand the fear of crime.  Councillor Mrs Bligh drew members attention to the support this application has received from the local community, which shows there is no actual harm this proposal is going to cause.

·         Alison Hoffman acknowledged that members seem sympathetic to the proposal, but pointed out that there is an outstanding consultation response from the Environment Agency and asked that if members were mindful to consider favourably the application it would be good to have a steer as to how members view the flood risk issues noting that a revised Flood Risk Assessment has been submitted, but it is not known if this meets the requirements of the Environment Agency but does highlight the potential flood levels and does make provision for safe refuge.  David Rowen added that if members are minded to grant the application then there are two options; firstly, that members give greater weight to granting the application than the flood risk issue or secondly, to potentially delegate to officers to resolve this issue satisfactorily.

·         The Legal Officer advised members that if they are minded to go against the officer’s recommendation where there is clear planning basis for this to make sure members have all the facts in front of them when weighing up that assessment in terms of how much weight they would give to each element and what might outweigh the planning considerations and Flood Risk Assessment.

·         Councillor Mrs French asked when the deadline for the consultation with the Environment Agency ended?  Alison Hoffman responded that it was yesterday.

·         Councillor Miscandlon expressed concern that this proposal is for a single-storey building in a high flood zone and he would not wish to put this family, if the application if granted, in any danger and there should be flood mitigation measures put in place.

·         Councillor Murphy stated that members have always been told that they need to consider applications on what is in front of them and it is through no fault of the Council that the comments of the Environment Agency have not been received.

·         Councillor Mrs Mayor made the point that the plans do show that one of the bedrooms is built higher to provide a refuge point if there is a flood.

·         Councillor Mrs Bligh referred to the Barrett’s Bridge application again, which she believes was also single-storey and exactly the same situation as this proposal.

·         Councillor Benney stated that, although no fault or a reflection on officers, members have an incomplete report in front of them and committee is regularly receiving incomplete reports.  He feels that consultees are not responding and not visiting the sites, which is a worrying trend.  Councillor Benney stated that he would be happy to support the application today with officers being permitted to apply conditions and resolve the flood risk issues.  He stated that he did read that a mezzanine floor was going to be put in and if a bedroom is going to be built higher he feels this addresses the flood risk issues.

·         Alison Hoffman referred to David Rowen mentioning that there were two options available, but stated there is also a third option to put a condition on the application, if members are minded to approve, to comply with the Flood Risk Assessment as submitted given that it does seek to address the points raised by the Environment Agency.  She made the point that the Environment Agency’s lead in time for a consultation response is longer that the Council gives them and all the agencies are dealing with unprecedented number of applications and officers do have to take a leap of faith in scheduling applications to ensure a timely response and Mr Frankham was keen to get some closure on the application to know how to take the site forward.

·         Councillor Sutton expressed the view that it seems unfair that the Council has to abide by the Government’s response deadline in determining applications, but other consultees are not under such restrictions.  He made the point that the committee needs to be consistent and when it is not consistent it has been punished by the Planning Inspectorate and he feels that it would be inconsistent for the committee not to approve this application just as it would not be consistent for the officer’s recommendation not to be one of refusal.  Councillor Sutton made the point that a similar application was passed in Manea and in Wisbech St Mary, and if this was refused the applicant could genuinely say what is the difference.  Whilst these applications do not meet the criteria of demonstrable need to live on site it is a benefit to those businesses, bigger than members may realise and whilst he does not like to go against officer’s recommendation, he will be supporting the proposal.


Proposed by Councillor Sutton, seconded by Councillor Mrs French and agreed that the application be APPROVED against officer’s recommendation, with conditions being delegated to officers.


Members do not support officer’s recommendation of refusal of planning permission as they give greater weight to supporting a business than policy and do not feel it is in elsewhere location, with Wisbech St Mary Parish Council stating this location is part of their village.


(Councillor Mrs Bligh registered that, she is the ward member for Parson Drove and Wisbech St Mary and also Clerk to Wisbech St Mary Parish Council, but takes no part in planning applications.  She stated that Mr Frankham is known to her, but they do not socialise)

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