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Agenda item

19/00465/FUL - Charlton, Main Road, Minsterworth

PROPOSAL: Change of use of dwelling and adjacent detached dwelling from C3 (dwelling house) to C2 (children’s care home); erection of a replacement single storey rear extension and erection of front and rear dormer extensions and front and rear dormer windows. 

 

OFFICER RECOMMENDATION: Permit.

Minutes:

13.65        This application was for change of use of a dwelling and adjacent detached dwelling from C3 (dwelling house) to C2 (children’s care home); erection of a replacement single storey rear extension and erection of front and rear dormer extensions and front and rear dormer windows.  The application had been deferred at the Planning Committee meeting on 20 April 2021 due to submission of details for building regulation approval and ongoing discussion in relation to drainage issues.  The Planning Committee had visited the application site on Friday 16 July 2021.

13.66        The Planning Officer advised that the application had been presented to the Planning Committee at its meetings on 16 June 2020 and 20 April 2021.  At the meeting in June, the Committee had deferred the application seeking clarification as to the number of children and staff who would be resident and their relationship to the bedrooms shown on the plan; further information in respect of traffic movement; provision of a larger scale site plan to indicate the sharp bend of the road and the site in the wider context; and to receive further information regarding the drainage proposal including a view from the Council’s Flood Risk Management Engineer.  At the Committee meeting in April, Members had deferred the application due to ongoing discussions with regard to the drainage arrangements on the site.  Since that time, the plans had been amended from the original submission to remove the dormer extension and the loft conversion for the semi-detached property Charlton with the single storey front extension still being proposed.  Charlton remained a three bedroom property and Christie, the detached property, had four bedrooms.  The amended plans submitted identified the bedrooms for staff and children for both properties with two bedrooms for children and two for staff within Christie and the potential for one bedroom for staff and one for children within Charlton.  The care home would provide care for children up to 16 years with staff present on the site as the children were not capable of living unsupervised.  The Environmental Health Officer considered the number of people on site would not be disproportionate to that of residential properties and children being supervised on site would limit any sporadic disturbance.  A revised location plan had been submitted which showed the location of the property with regard to the sharp bend in the A48 to the south of the site.  County Highways had assessed the proposal and considered that the parking policy together with the number of parking spaces proposed was suitable to accommodate the likely demand for the site.  A site inspection of adjacent land was carried out by Officers on 31 July 2020 and, in March 2021, building control had visited the detached dwelling Christie with regard to the drainage arrangements.  Objections had been received in relation to existing on-site drainage provisions being inadequate and foul drainage from the properties in the vicinity adversely impacting farmland to the rear.  Additional information was provided and a final revised drainage plan submitted on 19 April 2021 which proposed a package treatment plan in the rear garden of Christie.  That had originally been intended to serve both properties; however, in order to avoid the need to discharge the outfall to third party land, i.e. the agricultural land beyond the garden to the east, the package treatment plant now only served the detached dwelling Christie and the field drain for the outfall was contained within its garden.  The private treatment plant and field drainage had been installed and approved by Building Control.  Charlton remained connected to the existing septic tank system shared with the adjacent semi-detached dwelling Horaldene and the future upgrading of that system would be subject to control outside of planning under separate legislation.  The proposal was considered to be appropriate to its context in accordance with Policy SD4 and fulfilled a need for extra care type housing in accordance with Policy SD11 of the Joint Core Strategy.  The application integrated effectively with its surroundings and was not detrimental to the character of the area.  The intensification of movements to and from the site would be during normal daytime hours and not dissimilar to that of a residential use.  The proposal was not considered to be of substantial harm in terms of amenity, drainage or highway safety therefore the Officer recommendation was to permit the application.

13.67        The Chair invited the representative from Minsterworth Parish Council to address the Committee.  The Parish Council representative explained that the Parish Council had a number of concerns about the application.  He indicated there was no mains drainage in Minsterworth and, due to its heavy clay soils, many properties had soakaway issues so recent new developments were investing huge sums into alternative drainage systems.  Some 40 years ago, houses adjacent to Charlton and Christie had an additional pipe installed to take away excess foul water from their septic tanks.  The effluent from that pipe currently discharged into an open ditch in the adjacent field which was totally unsatisfactory.  There was a pre-commencement drainage condition on the planning permission to build Christie but, as far as the Parish Council was aware, there was no evidence that it had building regulation sign-off despite the property being occupied for at least two years.  The Parish Council’s main concern was about the recently built drainage field serving Christie as the applicant had not stated who carried out the percolation test, nor where in the garden, and the test had not been independently validated – that was important because the figure of 72 seconds per millimetre quoted was far better than would be expected for the heavy clay soil present in the area.  In addition, a professional opinion in the application correspondence advised that the proposed length of the drainage field was only 66% of that required and, to make matters worse, the Parish Council had seen evidence that what was actually built was only 50% of the correct length.  Due to the eastward slope of the garden, the drainage field must have been installed either deeper or steeper than national standards.  The Parish Council representative went on to point out that the kitchen extension of the adjacent property, Horaldene, was not shown on the plans, despite being built in 1965, so the rainwater soakaway – if it existed – was 20 feet closer to Horaldene than shown.  The Parish Council also had concerns about the parking policy, particularly an email dated 21 April 2020 which stated there was only one parking space for staff and that staff should either car share, take public transport or cycle which the Parish Council considered wholly unsatisfactory.  Finally, the Parish Council had concerns that the area did not have adequate facilities for a children’s care home of the nature proposed.

13.68        The Chair invited an objector speaking against the application to address the Committee.  The objector indicated that he intended to confine his speech to the drainage and effluent part of the application and the ongoing concerns that remained unaddressed.  Nothing had changed since the last report with the exception of Building Control signing off the highly questionable drainage proposals which was 30% smaller than the original which in itself had not been adequate to generate the results needed for the household. An independent drainage consultant had recommended that a drainage system could not be achieved within the applicant’s land and the conditions of the 2014 planning permission had never been met or enforced around a suitable and workable drainage plan.  Members would be aware of the concerns expressed by the owners of the land behind the application site in relation to the future infiltration generated by this application and he indicated there was a current County Council Task Group investigating all aspects of discharge from major water companies to individual developments and households with regard to water quality and the national drive to clean up watercourses.  Minsterworth did not benefit from a mains sewerage network and many others seeking planning permission had to provide far more acceptable drainage conditions and systems than were within this application.  What may have looked acceptable on the Planning Committee Site Visit was far from acceptable to neighbouring properties and landowners, the capacity issues remained unaddressed and he believed the application should be refused until such time as they were.

13.69        The Chair invited the applicant’s representative to address the Committee.  The applicant’s representative reiterated that the drainage had been signed off on 23 June 2021 and a completion certificate had been provided.  In terms of parking and highway safety, the property benefited from a large drive for four cars and parking would only be required for two staff at any one time over the duration of a shift.  The two other parking spaces would be used during the day for any staff changes or visitors.  Staff used public transport, car shared or cycled if they lived locally so not all would need car parking.  During shift changeovers, a maximum of three cars would be on the site at one time due to the way the shifts were organised – one in the morning and one in the evening.  The care home would be smaller than most across the UK to ensure good quality housing was provided to replicate foster placement or a family home; it was not intended to increase the number of bedrooms.  No objection had been made by County Highways so it was considered that parking and highway safety did not warrant a refusal reason.  The applicant’s representative went on to advise that new Department for Education proposals stated that children’s homes were not allowed to open in unsafe areas and the Police report set out there were no concerns in Minsterworth to prevent a care home being set up in the area.  Relevant Ofsted legislation had been complied with and the planning application was to support a maximum of only three children between both houses, less than could potentially be housed within the properties if rented privately.  A maximum of four staff would be working over a 24 hour period on a shift pattern including a manager for the homes during the week.  Three care staff and a manager would be present during the day with two care staff onsite at night. Small care homes had similar characteristics to dwelling houses as the comings and goings were not much different to a normal working family.  During unsociable hours, it was expected that the children would be asleep and any noise from occupants would be similar to any other dwelling.  Therefore, whilst there may be some increased impact, it was likely there would not be significantly greater impact from noise and disturbance.  The care home would be registered with Ofsted, the regulator, which did not grant permission lightly.  CCTV cameras had been fitted to ensure the children were safe and there was no sufficient evidence that the care home would lead to crime or antisocial behaviour. 

13.70        The Planning Officer clarified there was a drainage problem in the existing area and evidence of pollution from existing properties to the rear but not all of that was emanating from Charlton and Christie.  The drainage arrangements had taken a long time to sign-off but the proposals had evolved during that time and now the treatment plant would only serve the detached dwelling, Christie, with Charlton using an existing septic tank – at one point the treatment plant was proposed to serve both properties but that was no longer the case.  A Member acknowledged that Building Control had signed-off the drainage arrangements and asked whether that meant there were no longer any issues in terms of drainage and foul water.  The Planning Officer advised that, for these properties, Building Control had inspected the site and was satisfied with what had been installed. The Member questioned whether the drainage solution for both properties had been signed-off and clarification was provided that Building Control had signed-off the drainage for the new dwelling and the existing building was remaining on the septic tank and would potentially need upgrading in the future as would any septic tank for a residential property.  The Chair indicated that he was still struggling to understand the issue around the drainage and asked for some more clarity regarding the situation.  In response, the Development Manager confirmed that Charlton was the existing semi-detached property which was served by an existing septic tank so did not require building regulation sign-off as there was no material difference – it would be the same system that the house had always used.  Christie was the new dwelling which had now had its drainage arrangements signed-off by Building Control.  As far as Planning Officers were concerned, the foul drainage was acceptable for both properties.

13.71         The Chair indicated that the Officer recommendation was to permit the application and he sought a motion from the floor.  A Member indicated that her main concern was for the safety of the children that would be residing in the care home as the dwelling was right on the main road and she pointed out that an application within this area had been refused at a recent Planning Committee because of the access onto the main road.  She did not feel that children should be playing in the garden when it was not secure.  She also had concerns that children may be noisy during the night if they were upset and that would not be fair to neighbouring residents.  In her view, a semi-detached property was not appropriate for a care home for children; Minsterworth embraced all sorts of dwellings and would not object to the proposal unless there was a real need to do so.  Another Member questioned how long the drainage had been separate for and who had undertaken the percolation test; why the drainage field was only 66% of the length it should be and why the drainage pipe was 30% smaller than the original; and who regulated the children’s home and who had responsibility for any breaches.  In response, the Development Manager advised that, in terms of this application, the considerations were very much around planning land use matters – regulation was a completely separate matter which was outside of the Planning Committee’s remit.  The issues for Members to consider were in relation to drainage, which had now been signed-off where it had needed to be; highways – a view had been provided by County Highways and the Planning Officer and Members who visited the application site would have seen there was sufficient space for car parking and turning so that vehicles could enter the highway in a forward gear; and, noise and disturbance which he encouraged Members to think in terms of how the proposed use would differ from being occupied by families bearing in mind the number of staff and children who would be residing there – given those limited numbers, Officers did not think there would be an issue.  In terms of children running onto the main road, that would be the same for any of the properties along the A38.  Care home facilities needed to go somewhere and Members should be careful about what they were considering; the application was in line with policies and acceptable in planning terms.  The Planning Officer confirmed that the applicant was a private company so this was not a County Council application.  The Chair expressed the view that the questions raised in terms of the percolation test and how long the drainage had been separated were irrelevant given that the drainage arrangements had been signed-off by Building Control.  The Legal Adviser confirmed that the Planning Committee did not deal with building regulations and the drainage arrangements had been signed-off; however, she suggested it may be that the pipe was smaller because it was no longer serving both properties.  As this was an application for change of use, albeit with a minor extension, drainage should have been addressed as part of the existing build permission and she stressed that Members were looking at change of use in this instance.

13.72         A Member applauded the thinking behind the proposal but could not accept that it was in the right place for a number of reasons.  She agreed that a semi-detached property was not suitable for this type of home and, having attended the Planning Committee Site Visit, it was very difficult to move away from the road with Members struggling to hear one another due to the volume of traffic.  She accepted the situation would be the same if the house was occupied by a family but that was not what the Planning Committee would be giving permission for and she felt that there was a moral responsibility in terms of the safety of children.  There were documented incidents at the property which were over and above what would be expected from a standard residential property and she could not support the proposal.  Another Member indicated that the Committee should be discussing land use and Members were all well aware of the dangerous nature of the road so cars must not be allowed to reverse onto the main road but that could be controlled by condition.  In terms of sewerage, one house had a new system and the other was sharing the old system so it was up to the Environment Agency to advise if and when that system needed to be upgraded – whether that was done was not within the Committee’s remit.  Similarly, whether the regulator would find the property was suitable for use as a children’s care home was not a matter for the Committee.  A Member indicated that he had attended the Committee Site Visit and the amount of traffic and noise had led him to question whether it was the right place to house children with special needs; he felt they deserved a quieter, less dangerous place as there was always a chance a child could run out into the road and he would not be able to live with that, as such, he could not support the application. 

13.73         Given the concerns raised regarding highway safety and that boundary fencing had gone, a Member queried whether it was possible to include a condition that boundary fencing must be erected to ensure there was no access onto the lane at the side.  Another Member raised concern that the Committee was trying to control the use of the property to prevent it being run as a children’s care home and it was not within its remit to do so; he reiterated that a family of seven could move into the property and the Committee would not be able to do anything about that.  The Development Manager noted that a Member had referred to the children having special needs and he indicated that he did not believe the care home was intended for any particular group in that respect but that was a matter for Ofsted.  It was very much about the use of the land and its suitability; a lot of the issues raised by Members were for those responsible for licensing properties to take a view on and he did not think the Committee should concern themselves with issues that were not clearly planning-related.  He stressed that he understood the issues but there would probably be fewer children occupying the site than family homes.

13.74         A Member proposed that the application be refused due to the lack of sufficient foul drainage as it currently stood.  A Member indicated that she was willing to second the proposal but would like to add an additional refusal reason about the inappropriateness of the site for the intended use as a children’s care home in terms of highway safety and due to concerns regarding anti-social behaviour as a result of the type of children that were likely to be resident.  The Development Manager felt there was little more that could be said regarding the drainage and he considered it would be unwise to proceed with a refusal on those grounds given that the drainage arrangements had been signed-off by Building Control.  He understood the wider drainage concerns and that matter was being dealt with elsewhere; notwithstanding that, this site had met its own requirements and he was not sure what evidence was available to withhold planning permission.  He also understood the concerns regarding safety but it was not for the Committee to decide if it was a safe place and there was a body set-up to deal with that aspect.  He asked Members to consider what issues there were in terms of the pattern of use that would make it so unacceptable that planning permission should be withheld given that the two properties could accommodate any number of people.

13.75         The seconder of the motion questioned whether speed and density of traffic was an appropriate planning reason for refusal and was informed that County Highways did not object to the proposal.  The Development Manager reiterated his point about the difference between the speed and density of traffic in relation to this proposal compared to a dwelling; he recognised what had been said about the potential nature of the children but that was a matter for the governing body.  The proposer of the motion to refuse the application indicated he would be happy to amend his proposal to address the concerns raised by the seconder, as such, it was proposed and seconded that the application be refused due to insufficient evidence regarding the capacity of foul water being displaced and its impact on existing watercourses; the inappropriateness of the location; and noise nuisance.  The Development Manager sought clarification as to the planning issues being raised within the proposed reasons and the seconder of the motion felt that highway safety must be mentioned in terms of the speed and density of the traffic and the amount of fatalities on the road.  The gates to the properties were never shut and there were no secure gates between the back and front gardens.  She had no problem with the principle of the proposal, just the location.  The Legal Adviser noted that a Member had asked about the possibility of conditioning the planning permission to address highway safety concerns - for instance, by providing fencing or gates - and she explained that, if the application was refused on the basis of concerns about highway safety as a result of the change of use, one of the questions that would be asked at appeal was why that could not be dealt with by condition.

13.76         Upon being put to the vote, the proposal to refuse the application fell.  It was subsequently proposed and seconded that the application be permitted in accordance with the Officer recommendation.  The proposer of the motion indicated that the fact of the matter was that, although Members may not like it, the Planning Committee had a job to do.  A Member requested that condition(s) be included to ensure that safety measures were put in place prior to occupation i.e. that the boundary fencing be reinstated and safety gates be installed to the front of the property and that vehicles would exit in a forward gear.  The proposer and seconder of the motion indicated that they were happy for those condition(s) to be included and, upon being taken to the vote, it was

RESOLVED          That the application be PERMITTED in accordance with the Officer recommendation, subject to the inclusion of condition(s) to require the boundary fencing to be reinstated and safety gates to be installed to the front of the property and that vehicles would exit in a forward gear in order to address safety concerns in respect of the adjacent highway.

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