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Agenda item

20/00464/FUL - Part Parcel 3152, Tewkesbury Road, Deerhurst

PROPOSAL: Hybrid planning application seeking full planning permission for the erection of a B2 unit (general industrial) with associated landscaping, access and parking; and outline planning permission (all matters reserved except access) for a mix of B1, B2 and B8 use classes (employment).

 

OFFICER RECOMMENDATION: Minded to Permit

Minutes:

13.20        This was a hybrid planning application seeking full planning permission for the erection of a B2 unit (general industrial) with associated landscaping, access and parking; and outline planning permission (all matters reserved except access) for a mix of B1, B2 and B8 use classes (employment).  The application was deferred at the Planning Committee meeting on 20 April 2021 until the Inspector conducting the Borough Plan Examination in Public had published his findings in respect of the access of the application site.

13.21         The Development Manager explained that, since the meeting in April, the applicant had submitted a non-determination appeal which meant that the Council was no longer the determining authority for the proposals.  As such, the Committee must advise the Planning Inspectorate of its views.  As Members would be aware, the Borough Plan Inspector had now provided his Post Hearings Main Modifications Letter and he had not taken the view that the expansion at Highfield Farm would be unsound. On that basis, Officers considered that the allocation of this site under the emerging Policy EMP2 (Rural Business Centres) could be given substantial weight in determination of the proposals.  The Inspector had also listed a number of main modifications in respect of Policy EMP5 around employment including MM20 which included the Council’s suggested modification that “where there are opportunities to access sites proposed for employment development from major roads (as opposed to providing access from local roads and rural lanes), this should be the preferred option unless it is demonstrated not to be feasible or appropriate in planning and/or highways terms”.  Whilst it may be possible for an access to be provided through the existing business park of Highfield Farm, that was not proposed in this case and, as set out in the Committee report, County Highways was satisfied that the proposed access was acceptable subject to various conditions which had been discussed at the Committee meeting in April which would prevent vehicles from turning left onto Cursey Lane.  On that basis, it was considered that the findings of the Inspector’s Post Hearings Main Modifications Letter had not raised any matters which altered the Officer recommendation, particularly in terms of highway safety, and the considerations remained as set out in the Committee report.  It was therefore recommended that the Planning Inspectorate be advised that the Council would have permitted the application had the appeal not been submitted, subject to conditions and the preparation of a Legal Agreement to secure a financial contribution in connection with the monitoring of a travel plan.

13.22         The Chair invited an objector speaking against the application to address the Committee.  The objector indicated that he was grateful for the opportunity to reiterate his past objections and those of the Parish Council.  His main objection - which he had raised with both Officers and the Borough Plan Inspector who had remained silent on the issue following his site visit and had accepted that traffic light controlled access was acceptable - was on the access proposed from Cursey Lane which Members had unanimously opposed previously.  He drew attention to Pages No. 90-91, Paragraph 9.3 of the Committee report, which set out that the Inspector had accepted MM20 in relation to new employment development; however, the applicant had not demonstrated how the access from the existing traffic light controlled junction was not feasible.  There was nothing in the Committee report and nothing was proposed from County Highways in relation to the past Section 106 Agreement with regard to the permanent closure of the proposed access or any highway improvements.  Turning to the size and scale of the building itself, it was clearly unacceptable as it conflicted with Policy SD1 of the Joint Core Strategy and Policy EMP5 of the Tewkesbury Borough Plan which required new employment development to be small scale on rural employment sites.  This building would be totally out of keeping with the business park which was made up of small units and would be dominant and incongruous in the existing setting.  The objector indicated that he was not opposed to employment growth but felt it must be in keeping with what was already established and, in his view, the Committee had very valid planning reasons to refuse this application.

13.23        The Development Manager explained that Policy EMP5 had not been adopted and therefore must carry lesser weight; nevertheless, there were adopted policies which did talk about highway safety and the highway safety experts at County Highways had looked at the scheme and found the proposals to be acceptable.  Whilst it may be preferable to have another arrangement with access through the employment site, that had not been assessed so it was not clear how it would be achieved and whether there was scope for a suitable route through the site.  There was a clear view from County Highways that there would be no unacceptable impact on the safe operation of the highway network as a result of the proposal given the emerging policy and the proposed addition to it in respect of the feasibility paragraph.  The impact of the size and scale of the building was a subject for the full element of the application and was a matter of judgement which, as set out in the Committee report, Officers felt they could support.

13.24        The Chair indicated that the Officer recommendation was that Members be minded to permit the application and he sought a motion from the floor.  A Member indicated that, as before, she had major concerns in relation to highway safety.  Whilst she appreciated County Highways had found it to be acceptable, the proposal, which would require vehicles to access the site from a very fast road without any traffic lights, was dangerous.  In terms of the Borough Plan, the Inspector felt this site was sound but that was about deliverability not a particular planning application.  She would be happier if traffic lights were provided and the entrance widened as she felt everything possible should be done to make the junction safe; however, that was not what had been put forward by the applicant.  For her, this was the right site for the development but the access was not safe and she would like to hear from the County Highways representative about exactly what was being proposed in relation to this given her concerns about the safety of the access into and out of the site.  A Member shared the concerns about the safety of the junction and indicated that he had nearly been involved in an accident at that location whilst pulling a tractor/trailer.  Another Member also wished to hear from the County Highways representative as vehicles travelled at high speed along the dual carriageway and she could not see how they would be able to come to a sudden halt when they saw a vehicle turning out of the junction.  She was confused about the introduction given by the Development Manager when he had mentioned preventing vehicles from turning left onto Cursey Lane and she sought clarification on that.  In response, the Development Manager explained that the proposed site access was onto Cursey Lane and vehicles turned left from the lane to get onto the dual carriageway towards Cheltenham so he clarified it was preventing vehicles from turning left out of the junction onto Cursey Lane which he had referred to, not preventing vehicles from turning left onto the dual carriageway.  The County Highways representative confirmed there would be a banned left turn from the access onto Cursey Lane for vehicles leaving the site – all traffic coming from the site would need to turn right which would take them to the junction with the A38 where there was no restricted left or right turn.  There were no safety concerns in terms of the assessment of the access; however, there would be an intensification of use as the number of trips to and from the site would increase.  There were a number of other application sites nearby which had been granted planning permission, one of which included a condition to make improvements to the junction and that was currently going through the technical approval process.  Should Members be minded to permit this application, it was possible to include a condition to limit occupation until such time as those improvements were completed.  A Member asked whether the accident and fatality details were available for the site and, in terms of the further mitigation measures, she indicated that the application site that had been referenced was for residential development whereas this development would be used by articulated lorries, not standard family vehicles.  The County Highways representative indicated that he was under the impression that the development that had been permitted nearby was for industrial use. 

13.25         A Member indicated that it seemed to him that Members were not against the principle of the development on the site, specifically it was the access to which they objected and, with articulated lorries turning onto the dual carriageway, he believed there would be accidents.  As such, he proposed that the Committee resolve to be minded to refuse the application on highway safety grounds; this would give the applicant the opportunity to come back with a revised scheme which allowed for access via a traffic light system as he did not believe Members would have an issue with a proposal of that nature.  A Member pointed out there was an existing haulage firm based at the opposite entrance onto Cursey Lane which also used articulated lorries - if they were already using the junction, he was not sure this proposal on the other side would make much difference in terms of its safety.  The Development Manager confirmed there was a haulage business at that location and Members would no doubt have seen vehicles carrying machinery and plant equipment in and out of the site; there was also a poultry unit and a grain store further down Cursey Lane, both of which used large vehicles, and all those sites used the Cursey Lane/A38 junction currently.  On that basis, it would be difficult to understand what the addition of this development would do in highway safety terms when there was already a significant amount of large vehicle manoeuvring and as County Highways had confirmed that the junction would be able to operate safely. A Member expressed the view that it was the increase in the amount of vehicle movements which concerned him as this also increased the chance of accidents.  He had witnessed people travelling along the A38 from Tewkesbury speeding off at the traffic lights and there had been a fatality at those lights only a few months earlier so it was certainly a problem.  He asked the County Highways representative to confirm how many vehicle movements the proposed development was expected to generate.  In response, the County Highways representative indicated that he did not have the specific numbers to hand but given that the land use was for a mix of employment uses and having looked at the generation figures, it had been decided the additional vehicle movements would not cause a problem.  He confirmed that Heavy Goods Vehicles would have been taken into account as part of the traffic profile.

13.26         A Member indicated that she continued to have concerns regarding safety, particularly as she had almost been involved in an accident with a van pulling out of Cursey Lane.  She agreed that vehicles accelerated quickly from the traffic lights and, whilst the existing businesses using the lane may not consider the junction to be a problem, adding another firm to this would clearly increase traffic movements.  She was interested to know when the traffic assessment had been carried out as if this was done during the COVID-19 pandemic it would not be an accurate reflection of usage.  She drew attention to Page No. 79, Paragraph 4.12 of the Committee report, which stated that the Urban Design Officer had indicated that some amendments could be made to improve the design quality of the proposal and she asked that this be taken into account if Members were minded to permit the application. The Development Manager advised that the application reference number suggested the application had been submitted around May 2020, therefore he could only assume the transport statement had been prepared in advance of that and likely before the initial lockdown.  It was noted that it was recognised and agreed within the industry that transport assessments carried out in lockdown were not fit for purpose.  The County Highways representative confirmed that traffic survey data collected during the pandemic had not been accepted by the authority as it was not reflective of normal conditions.  The application had been registered as received in mid-June 2020 but he was not able to give Members the exact date of the traffic surveys.

13.27         The Chair sought clarification as to whether the non-determination appeal would be withdrawn if the Committee was minded to permit the application and the Development Manager explained that unless a subsequent application was submitted – sometimes a duplicate application was submitted if the applicant felt there was an opportunity to obtain a quicker decision – the appeal would not be withdrawn and the determination of the application was out of Tewkesbury Borough Council’s control.  The Chair indicated that a proposal had been made that the Committee be minded to refuse the application on access grounds and he sought a seconder.  The proposal was duly seconded.  The Development Manager reminded Members that an appeal had been lodged in respect of the application and neither the local highway authority nor Highways England had raised any objections to the proposal.  What had been put forward was anecdotal evidence from the local community and Members and there were a number of occasions when he had seen this was simply not acceptable to an Inspector so there would be a risk of an adverse cost award.  When Members received planning training, they were advised there must be clear and compelling evidence to defend a refusal of planning permission going into an appeal and he felt that was lacking in this case.

13.28         Upon being taken to the vote, it was

RESOLVED          That the Committee be MINDED TO REFUSE the application on highway safety grounds.

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