Wednesday, November 17, 2010

It's all in the design

Two Aldi supermarkets on the Planning Committee agenda today, along with the control building for the Seamer wind farm and some technical reports and protocols. Enough to keep us going for 3 hours!
Earlier this year the residents of the area of Stockton near Yarm Lane convinced the planning committee that the site proposed for a small supermarket was not so near the High Street that it would have a detrimental impact on revitalising the Town Centre and that they needed the shop for their area.  The committee quite rightly said that the design needed to be of a standard to suit the site, next to a lovely old building on one side though admittedly next to a pretty ropey garage on the other.  After much discussion and modification of the plans approval was granted.  Imagine how cross we were to find that they had come back with an application for a small change in the layout and a big change in the design of the frontage.  Again much discussion, this time with planning officers, and an amended plan came in at the last minute to reinstate the missing detailing and give us again a building worthy of the setting.
Residents were understandably cross - they thought they were going to get a shop as soon as the plans allowed, instead of which they're still waiting for the first brick to be laid.  let's hope we have no more silliness from the developer and that they have their shop by next summer.
Aldi's application for Billingham took much longer to determine.  Is the site on the corner of Finchale Ave an out of town site or an edge of town site?  It all depends of course on where you measure to, but the statement from the developer that it was only 20m from the Town Centre did seem to stretch the boundary of the town centre somewhat.  I came to the conclusion that their problem is that the Town centre isn't somewhere people drive past, so the shops in there aren't immediately visible to passers by.  They didn't seem to get the point of a town centre - people actually go to the centre and then often visit several shops and venues in it.  They don't drive there for one shop and go away without at least noticing that others are available.  Rightly, the committee concluded that there are possible sites in the Town Centre which would fit well with Aldi's needs for car parking and delivery slots and would contribute to the vitality of the town centre.  So the Finchale Ave site will stand empty for some time longer, which is sad but better that than succumb to the attractions of short term gain and live to regret it in the long term as the town centre struggles for viability.  I've seen it happen with Tesco in Eaglescliffe.  I don't want to see it happen to Billingham just as the green shoots are sprouting there.
The control building for the wind farm was a much more difficult one.  When the turbines were originally approved, back in July last year, the control building was shown on the south side of the Hilton to Seamer road, near to the hedge.  Now we're told that NEDL don't want it there and it has to be significantly bigger and on  the higher ground on the North side of the road.  My question is quite simple - if it has to be that size now, why was it shown as smaller previously.  Such equipment doesn't usually grow in size - electronics tend to become more compact over time.  NEDL must have known the size two years ago.  Why come up with something bigger now?  Similarly, why decide now that they can only connect at this higher point when last year they said that it was more probable they'd do the connection south of the road?  It all smacks of not doing your homework and made me, along with others on the committee very uneasy. 
Imagine a small bungalow on a hillside and being told that it's OK cos it'll be partly hidden by the rising ground in front of it, and from the other side it'll be hidden by the hedge which will be planted but then being told by someone else that the hedge won't be planted because that's in a neighbouring authority and they won't allow it!  Confusion reigns.  In the end the committee decided by a very slim majority that the visual impact of the new building was unacceptable and rejected the application.  We await further developments!
Such are the joys of planning committee.  It was good to go from that to the Council's Be a Councillor evening and meet people who really want to make a difference for their own local community - make sure the pavements are mended and the roads are swept and there are enough lights and police and so on.  Nothing to do with laws and guidance and strategies - just good old community involvement.

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