Sunday, November 01, 2009

The Grand Planning Plan

If you recall the 2007 protest against building a block of flats in Westgate's Harold Avenue, part of the conservation area, you may also remember that the developer's appeal against a refusal, went to the Government's 'Planning Inspectorate' and like another appeal, Beach Rise in Westgate, was swiftly granted.

Last week I received notice from the council that the developer now wishes to swap the block of flats application for nine houses on the same spot (F/TH/09/0674) and so I have asked that this new application be referred back to the TDC planning committee and expect my fellow ward councillors will do the same. It's bad enough, I thought, trying to squeeze a new purpose-built apartment block into a small space in the conservation area but nine houses appears to me as excessive, to put it mildly. I'm assuming these will be the same scale model 'dolls houses' builds that have appeared elsewhere in Westgate.

Now, if you weren't aware of it already and for all those excitable readers who appear to believe that the council is at the heart of some kind of developer-driven planning conspiracy, then you may not have heard the Government is to downgrade protection on old buildings and those in conservation areas in order to "benefit developers" and "reduce the number of applications for planning permission rejected on heritage grounds."

Today's papers report that planning powers on all "major infrastructure projects" – such as new windfarms, pylon lines, power stations and trunk roads – will be taken away from locally-elected politicians and given to a powerful new "superquango" which will decide even the most controversial scheme in only a matter of months.

These unelected and I assume, highly paid commissioners on the Infrastructure Planning Commission, which will start work in March, have been given sweeping new powers to grant planning permission, cancel Green Belt protection, allow developers to seize private land, remove footpaths and close roads. As a consequence, local councils and ministers will no longer have any decision making role in the process and public hearings will be curtailed. Even the scope for court challenges to the commission's work will be limited.

From our own point of view, trying to protect our green space here in Thanet, the interesting part is:

"The new policy says that local authorities should allow the demolition or alteration of historic buildings where the "material harm" caused to an area's heritage "is outweighed by the wider social, economic and environmental benefits of the proposed development". The policy says that this "is likely to benefit developers… for example, it should reduce the number of applications for planning permission, listed building consent and conservation area consent rejected on heritage-related grounds".

So, from the point of view of a concerned ward councillor or perhaps even the council and the hard-pressed planning committee, the outcome of planning law is increasingly becoming a gamble, where, on appeal or for large projects, one's Government-supported opponent appears to be throwing loaded dice. Where Harold Avenue is involved, I'll challenge the new plans but given the fact that the Planning Inspectorate has already rejected the council's refusal and given consent for a block of flats on the same space, it would give me some comfort to believe that both sides were playing with a new set of dice.

11 comments:

JP said...

"outweighed by the wider social, economic and environmental benefits of the proposed development".

You'll find Ramsgate's local political representatives know all about this already: we have a conservation area with a jumbo jet superhighway (sans local planning consent) 400 ft above our heads.

Michael Child said...

Simon were that it was as simple as that and that the councils planning authority functioned in a proper and sensible way when it is able to.

I am only talking from my own experience here. But from that small experience it is evident that all is not well, most particularly in terms of communicating with us. The electorate.

I have looked into various large and contentious local planning applications and as an example of what I mean I will use the Royal Sands Development in Ramsgate, I won’t spam your blog up with pages of information, anyone interested in an expansion of what I am saying can click on the following link http://thanetonline.blogspot.com/search/label/Ramsgate%20royal%20sands%20development

The gist of the problem being that when one can produce a coherent case that a development is unsuitable for a site and even dangerous for those who will be living in it, there doesn’t seem to be anyone in the council, officer or councillor who seems able to face any sort of debate about the issue.

With respect the development that you are concerned with here pales in to insignificance next to this huge development on Ramsgate’s prime site, which will have a lasting and massive effect on the town.

The promised public consultation just hasn’t happened, the last time the council and the developer had a drop in session in the town about it was years ago and related to completely different plans.

Compare this say to the Turner Contemporary in Margate tiny in comparison to The Royal Sands where proper public engagement has occurred, could it be present administration has little interest I communication with Ramsgate people and considerable interest in profiting from Ramsgate’s assets, even at the expense of the safety of Ramsgate residents.

steve higgi said...

doc, taking a stroll through any of our towns, if you stray behind the main streets you will find developments crammed into the smallest spaces.

permission has been granted by your council, not central government , for these mainly single occupancy dwellings. tdc now bemoans the number of single occupancy dwellings and the issues they bring.

labour are making your job easier in your quest to concrete over thanet and fly jumbos over the best bit.

DrM. said...

Steve

As I understand it, permission was granted for single occupancy dwellings because there was no legal valid planning reason to object to such. At least now the council has put in place a policy which allows it to challenge the flood of single occupancy flats

Peter Checksfield said...

More & more people are choosing to either remain single or not have families, so more & more people are going to want smaller apartments. It's a no brainer really...& anyone who's seriously bothered about the environement (as Steve Higgins used to make out) should be actively encouraging people not to have large families.

malc said...

what is needed is councils to have REAL planning powers. The ability for massive developers to appeal to govt all the time, makes it very difficult for councils.

they have to fund the appeals. If they lose it is £loooads, so there is a heavy pressure on them to compromise with the slimey developer all the time to avoid xpensiv appeals etc....

Anonymous said...

Simon, like all the other sensible people around, I support the councils move away from single occupancy dwellings.

With the huge number allowed over the years, what incentives will the council be offering to convert houses back to family homes? does the council have a strategy to reverse the years of damage?

Peter Checksfield said...

Anon 9:39, why would they want to do that when there's clearly not enough large families who want these places?

I can understand people not wanting low quality single occupancy dwellings, but as long as they're decent I don't see what the problem is. Gone are the days when everyone's aim was to get married & have children, so the housing market has to adjust accordingly.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Peter on this, & why can't DFL's have a reasonable debate for once instead of questioning people's sanity everytime someone has a difference of opinion?

Andy Kettle said...

As a resident of Harold Avenue who vigorously opposed development on the Tidewells site as did the TDC planning committee only to see their decision overturned by the Planning Inspectorate, I fear that your late intervention will be disasterouly unhelpfull!.

Once planning permission was granted,the initial Channel Island based developers sold on to a local Thanet builder who was unaware of the intense local opposition to the development.

To their credit, the builder has met with the residents several times to discuss plans for a re-development of the site which is more in keeping with the character of Harold Avenue.

We have to accept that a development will take place on that site and a major change to the street scene is inevitable. We cannot turn back the Planning Inspectorate decision - bluntly neither the residents or TDC cannot afford the legal costs.

The plan submitted now for the build of 9 houses on the plot is by far a more preferable development to the residents of Harold Avenue. There is an excess of unoccupied flats in the Westgate area but not houses!

DrM. said...

Dear Andy

Please explain what you mean by "disasterously unhelpful"?

As for "Late intervention", I think that if you trawl back through this weblog you'll find that I have been engaged with the matter for some time.