Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Planning or reacting?

This afternoon's planning committee was a real disappointment to a number of residents who felt that we should be stopping developments that will affect them.  Stockton 6th form college, disappointed last year by the ineptitude of the Learning & Skills Council which first allocated them money for a new building then realised they didn't have enough money and withdrew the offer, has managed to find other funds to build an extension instead.  It will give them some much needed new science labs but it will also take the building nearer to some housing.  Residents fear loss of privacy as the lab windows will be facing their houses.  The architects had come up with a landscaping bund as a partial answer and we spent some time yesterday on a site visit discussing with residents, officers and the college staff what sort of planting could be put in, where the footpath should go and so on.  Today was decision time and the view of the committee was that the safeguards which were being insisted on would be sufficient.  The residents were very disappointed, but that's what we do - weigh up all the evidence and make a decision.
Then it was on to a site in another part of the town.  This site had planning permission for some building but the owner had decided to build something else.  With the foundations apparently laid we were then presented with a planning application for sheltered housing.  Unfortunately, although there was car parking provided there was so little amenity space that planning officers had deemed it necessary to insist on a payment towards amenity space elsewhere.  I pointed out that the guidance on that sort of payment was developed for higher density housing for younger people who don't want to look after gardens etc, but this housing is for elderly relatively frail people who can't walk over to the park or wherever the money is spent.  They need the gardens on site - not hundreds of metres or even more away.  The committee agreed and the plans were refused.  No doubt there will be an appeal but I'm comfortable with the idea of fighting it.

And then on to another partially retrospective application - this time for more windows in a house to be able to open up the loft and convert it to bedrooms.  Only 2 neighbouring houses were affected and there were measures possible to mitigate the problems but the frustration of councillors, residents and officers at the way people build something different to their original permission and then apply for planning permission to regularise the situation was palpable.  Life on planning committee would be so much easier if it really was allowed to plan rather than to react to what people have already done.

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