Agenda item

The Piggeries, Flaggrass Hill Road, March
Erect 2 x 2-storey 4-bed dwellings with covered parking involving demolition of existing outbuildings

To determine the application.


David Rowen presented the report to members


Members received a presentation, in accordance with the Public Participation Procedure, from Gina Taylor, an objector to the application.


Ms Taylor stated that she is representing the objecting bungalow residents along Creek Fen and added that these are not solely her personal views and concerns. She added that the residents of just one of the bungalows knows Mr Upton, the applicant, and she clarified that none of the objections are directed personally towards him.


Ms Taylor expressed the view that they strongly feel that the application is completely detrimental and out of character with the surrounding bungalows and she added that the proposed properties are approximately 8.9 m in height and the current UK average height for a two-storey property is between 4.7 m and 5.8 m. She added that the plans clearly show windows in the roof and a large void area on the first floor Indicating the true intention is for 2 times 3 storey properties.


Ms Taylor stated that the proposal does not make a positive contribution to the local distinctiveness and character as required by new development under Policy LP16 of the Local Plan. She stated that the site is not Brownfield, so it is in clear conflict with LP3, and as such to be used for land-based purposes.


Ms Taylor explained that most of the surrounding neighbours were present when the land was used for pigs with no concerns other than pigs escaping into the gardens. She stated that with the current buildings being in a derelict state there could be a case for abandonment before they could be used for housing livestock again and, in her view, the site is a haven for wildlife enjoyed by the residents and a late submission ecology report states the presence of Pipistrelle bat droppings.


Ms Taylor added that when considering the sightings of bats in the resident’s gardens they all request that the site be fully and independently surveyed before any clearing of the land or buildings works are undertaken and with special attention to the genuine and real potential for Protected Species on site especially bats and newts, as these creatures are most likely to inhabit the most undisturbed and inaccessible areas.  She explained that flooding around the residents’ properties is already an issue, with surface water in their gardens a regular occurrence following heavy rainfall and referred to the presentation screen which showed instances of historic flooding.


Ms Taylor explained that there is concern regarding the dimensions and general access to the site and she requested that this should be properly and independently measured with the relevant neighbours present as well as the applicant. She made the point that the Fenland Local Plan addresses facilitating the health and well-being of Fenland residents, however, in her opinion, the types of residents occupying such huge properties will undoubtedly be families, totally different to the current homeowners.


Ms Taylor stated that all immediate neighbours on all 4 sides joining the site have objected and the application has been refused twice before and, in her opinion, the Agents are still presenting the Council with aerial site photographs from over 10 years ago. She stated that the road infrastructure has not improved during this time and the applicant has not updated the plans to be more sustainable with no consideration for climate change.


Ms Taylor concluded by stating that she trusts that the committee will come to a thought out and fair conclusion to the application in an unstainable location for development.


Members asked Ms Taylor the following questions:

·         Councillor Marks asked when the site ceased being a piggery and Ms Taylor stated that it was approximately 10 years ago.


Members received a presentation, in accordance with the Public Participation Procedure, from Gareth Edwards, the Agent.


Mr Edwards explained that the application is for 2 executive agricultural styled dwellings at land   atthe Piggeries, FlaggrassHill Road, March, which has the support of March Town Council and  allother standard consultees. He stated that the site is within Flood Zone 1 of the Environment Agency maps, which further supports   residential development onthe site and added that March is a market town under Policy LP3 where the majority of the newhousing shouldtake place.


Mr Edwards explained that the site is in a cluster of dwellings all within a close distance to the facilities in   March,especially the railway station, which, in his opinion, make the site ideal for the use ofpublic transport for both work and leisure and the site also mirrors a number ofrecently approveddwellings within thedistrict andsurrounding area. He stated that the dwellings have been designed so as not to have a detrimental impact on neighbouring properties and will utilise the existing access on to the site and upgrade it as required by the Highway Authority.


Mr Edwards explained that comment has been made on the gable features,which are traditional brickdetailing notwindows as there is no space in the roof as part of the proposal and the choice of agricultural styled dwellings fits in with the existing use on thesite which was the applicant’s fathers’ piggeries that have been left unused fora number of years. He stated that the land has not been farmed either so there is no loss offood producing land by this development, and due to the size of the holdingand access to it, it is not suitable for the large farm vehicles that are seen on the surrounding roads.


Mr Edwards explained that a full ecology survey and report has been carried out by Philip Parker Associates, which shows that the proposal will have minimal impact on the ecology on the site and he is prepared to accept the findings in his report and provideecological enhancement on the site. He stated that the existing boundary treatments are toremain and be reinforced where required to maintain privacy to existing and proposed dwellings and additional landscaping is proposed, being happy to  accepta conditionfor theretention ofexisting boundary treatment.


Mr Edwards expressed the view that the proposal makes the best use of the land and will finish off this part of the town and remove any conflict between the existing residents and any futurenon-residentialuse on the site. He expressed the view that the proposed site has ample size to accommodate both surface water and foul water from treatmentplants andwill besubject toa soakage testcarried outin accordance with BRE365, with consideration also to be given to the use ofrainwater harvesting and all soakaways will be positioned so as not to have anydetrimental effect on neighbouring properties and building regulationcompliant.


Mr Edwards expressed the opinion that it has been stated at previous planning committees that parcels of land like this  are massively valuable to housing supply in the District and are at a prime,plots like these will be developed by self-builders or smaller developers thatare being priced out of the larger sections of land due to the cost of theinfrastructure and land price, small builders and self-builders employ localtradesman and agents and buy locally from local merchants, which in turncontribute to other businesses in the district. He added that support for this type of development can be seen in the 24 letters of support from neighbouring properties and local developers with many showing an interest in purchasing the siteto buildout whatis proposed, and he asked the committee to support the proposal and approve the application with the conditions members deem appropriate.


Members asked M Edwards the following questions:

·         Councillor Cornwell asked for clarification as to how long it has been since the site was an actual operational piggery and Mr Edwards responded that the previous speaker had mentioned that it was 10 years, however, he did not think that information was correct. Councillor Cornwell stated that he also agrees that ten years is incorrect due to the condition the area is in and he added that the owner has already stated that that if planning permission is refused, he will revert the building into pig farm usage.

·         Councillor Mrs Bligh questioned whether bat boxes could be introduced on the site should planning permission be approved? Mr Edwards stated that this is something that can be included, and the surveyors had advised there was an area which could not be surveyed at the time but further investigation under a licence would be carried out.


Members asked officer’s the following questions:

·         Councillor Cornwell stated that he has noted that at the back of the site there is a drain and he questioned whether there has been any response as part of the consultation process from Middle Level Commissioners? David Rowen confirmed that there had been no response received from the Middle Level Commissioners.

·         Councillor Mrs Bligh asked, as she notes that there are flooding issues, whether the Environment Agency maps are out of date? David Rowen stated that the source of flooding appears to be a surface water issue, or a drainage problem rather than a more strategic flood issue and added that Flood Zone 3 does come close to the area, but the majority of the dwellings are situated in Flood Zone 1.

·         Councillor Murphy asked why Cambridgeshire County Council are insistent on an archaeological investigation on the land, as it will mean an additional expense for the applicant? David Rowen stated that the line of the Fen Causeway, which is a substantial piece of archaeology in Fenland, runs through the middle of the site, and over a number of years, the Fen Causeway has been subject to a number of archaeological finds. Councillor Murphy questioned what the process will be if something is found on the site? David Rowen stated that the officer recommendation encompasses three significant reasons for refusal and if members decide to go against the recommendation, there is also a recommendation for an archaeological condition to be added and if there is something found then that would need to be addressed at that time dependent on its significance.

·         Councillor Marks questioned whether there is the requirement for piggeries to be phased out due to their impact on the environment? David Rowen stated that Planning Officers and the Committee are looking at the usage of the site for residential development and members need to decide whether the proposal is a suitable usage of that land taking into consideration the relevant planning policies, with the historic use of the site not being a material planning consideration.


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

·         Councillor Cornwell stated that the Fen Causeway is a Roman causeway which goes through the area and he can understand why the County Council Archaeology Team have an interest in the site as our heritage needs to be protected. He added that the area is not adjacent to March and it is a small area which, in his opinion, should be left as a small area. Councillor Cornwell expressed the view that that the proposal is for substantial buildings, which are out of keeping, apart from one recently developed dwelling as most of the surrounding dwellings are all low level and the proposal would not be in keeping with the area.

·         Councillor Mrs Bligh stated that she is concerned that the proposal is for two storeys which will overlook bungalows.

·         Councillor Sutton stated that the proposal does not align with the true specification of brownfield although it does have the built form and, in his view, he would expect all the pig sty areas to be bound by concrete drives and paths. He added that in terms of permeable area, in his opinion, the proposed dwellings will be less than what is already on site, which will improve the flood risk issues. Councillor Sutton stated that if the proposal had been for four single storey dwellings he may have been in support of the application, but the site is an awful mess and already has built form on it. He expressed the opinion that as long as the distances are within the permitted parameters of 21 metres there is no difference for a 2-storey dwelling being built there or in another location. Councillor Sutton stated that he could consider supporting the proposal and supporting the application, against the officer’s recommendation. 

·         Councillor Miscandlon expressed the opinion that he is always surprised that redundant piggeries can be allowed to deteriorate into a dilapidated condition and the Planning Officers are presented with a proposal to build two exceptionally large dwellings. He made reference to a previous planning application at the same location, which was also refused, and, in his opinion, nothing has changed with the current proposal, with these proposed dwellings being exceptionally high, and, in his view, that should be reflected in the decision.

·         Councillor Benney expressed the view that the plans show that the dwellings are high but are also a fair distance from the other dwellings and the layout shows that most of the gable wall have no windows which would, therefore, not cause any overlooking. He added that the build form of the old piggery is no different to the proposal for the dwellings and, in his opinion, they would not be built any further into the open countryside than the existing dilapidated buildings on the site. Councillor Benney stated that the proposal would smarten the area up, and it is a fair distance from the existing dwellings and, in his view, it would provide good homes for people as long as there is no overlooking.

·         David Rowen clarified that the relationship between the proposed dwellings and the existing dwellings is not the recommended reason for refusal. He stated that the reason for refusal is the incongruous visual impact of two substantial detached dwellings being located at the back of existing single storey dwellings and the visual conflict that would arise from that which would be detrimental to the character and appearance of the area. David Rowen stated that with regard to the sustainability of the proposal, the application site is physically detached from the main settlement of March and does not comply with the definition of LP12 of the Local Plan which was the previous reason for refusal made by the committee in 2018. He added that the decision was made in the context that the Council did not have a five-year housing land supply at the time and greater weight should have been given to the delivery of housing than needs to be given currently due to the fact that that there is a 6.69 year housing land supply. David Rowen referred to the comment made by Councillor Sutton with regards to whether the site is brownfield land or not and he added that the definition of brownfield is contained in the glossary within the National Planning Policy Framework document, which excludes agriculture and land previously used for agriculture purposes and, therefore, from a planning policy aspect the land is not previously developed and cannot be considered as such, which is consistent with the view that the planning committee took in 2018. He added that at that time issues surrounding tidying the site up were also considered and the committee decided that the state of the land and the condition of the land was not a justification to go against planning policy.

·         Councillor Benney stated that there has been flooding in the area and building can resolve flooding issues. He added that the agent has advised that the site can deal with surface water in terms of permeable surfaces. David Rowen stated that if there is a development site with issues of surface water flooding potentially putting an engineered solution into that may resolve the issue. He stated that the information provided to members does not show the application site being affected by flooding, it is only Brownlows Yard which is 50 yards away and adjacent gardens in the vicinity which have been subjected to flooding and there is no information to show what the source is which is causing the flooding and there is no information to determine whether the application site suffers from surface water flooding and whether developing the site would provide an engineered solution.

·         Councillor Cornwell stated that there has been no response from the Middle Level Commissioners, however, he is aware that there have been drainage issues nearby and he is not convinced that there would not be drainage issues on site. He added that if permission was granted would drainage be a consideration at the detailed stages of the application? David Rowen stated that it is a detailed application and if members granted planning permission, given the uncertainty around the drainage situation with the site and surrounding area, a condition with regard to surface water drainage could be applied. Councillor Cornwell expressed the view that is something that would definitely need to be included should approval be given.

·         Councillor Sutton stated that the Middle Level Commissioners do not have the manpower to respond in detail to every single planning application and they are not statutory consultees.

·         The Legal Officer addressed the committee and stated that the application has been before the Council twice, once as a delegated decision in 2016 and once before the committee in 2018, and those decisions were very clear. She added that the officer has given the committee three very sounds reasons for refusal and if the committee are minded to go against the officer’s recommendation for refusal then they Council may be subject to a complaint to the Ombudsman and/or be subject to a Judicial Review, which may result in a cost award against the Council.


Proposed by Councillor Miscandlon, seconded by Councillor Mrs Mayor and agreed that the application be REFUSED as per the officer’s recommendation.


(Councillor Connor registered that, in accordance with Paragraph 2 of the Code of Conduct on Planning Matters, that he had been lobbied on this application and therefore took no part in the discussion and voting on this item)


(Councillor Mrs Davis assumed the position of Chairman for this item)


(Councillor Lynn left the meeting during the discussion on this item)

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