At last night's council planning committee meeting I challenged the plans to demolish the bungalow at 43 Ethlebert Square in Westgate and replace it with a new block of flats in the "Victorian" style.
All the Westgate ward councillors are worried by this application (refused once in 2005), as is the Residents Association and I was quite surprised at the level of support from residents, two of whom spoke against the planned development.
The planning committee have now agreed to a site visit before the make any final decision on the fate of the bungalow and the general impression was that the new building would compliment rather than detract from the Westgate Conservation Area.
What concerns me and my fellow ward councillors is the danger of a precedent being set with the possible demolition of a building in the Conservation Area. There are of course strict government guidelines that guide the decisions of the planning committee but there is a local sense of Westgate coming under attack from the developers.
In my own three minute speech, I said:
"I have counted over 100 planning applications involving Westgate over the past twelve months and in places dolls-house like building are being squeezed into impossibly tiny spaces and are making a mockery of the “conservation area” principle. This application represents one more step in the wrong direction and local people are, quite rightly concerned, over density of building effort which now affects every corner of Westgate, both inside and outside the conservation area.
There can be no half measures or half truths. We either have a conservation area and protect it from avaricious and unsightly development or we concede defeat in the face of planning and building pressures. Ethelbert Square is not a suitable position for more flats and it does not, in my opinion, satisfy:
1. Policy QL6 that advises that primary planning policy towards conservation area is to preserve and enhance their special character or appearance.
2. Policy TP19 on “Maximum” standards on respective parking policies
3. Policy TR16 on parking provision which is detrimental to the character."
Policies are of course open to interpretation and the planning committee receive the best possible advice on what they can and cannot approve under the straight-jacket of regulations that were imposed on us, here in the south by John Prescott's office. Regardless of their final decision, which will, I'm sure be absolutely correct in the circumstances, I'm keen to see the principle of a Conservation Area defended in a town, under pressure, like Westgate.