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Agenda item

21/01392/OUT - Land North and South of Newent Road, Highnam

PROPOSAL: Outline planning permission for the erection of up to 95 dwellings and up to three hectares of commercial space associated with the expansion of Highnam Business Centre as well as associated infrastructure with all matters reserved except for access.

 

OFFICER RECOMMENDATION: Delegated Permit

Minutes:

7.16          This was an outline application for the erection of 95 dwellings and up to three hectares of commercial space associated with the expansion of Highnam Business Centre as well as associated infrastructure with all matters reserved except for access.  The Planning Committee had visited the application site on Friday 17 June 2022.

7.17          The Planning Officer advised that the application site related to two parcels of agricultural land to the west of Highnam.  The northern parcel was separated from the southern parcel by the B4215 Newent Road.  The parcel of land to the north was rectangular in shape and comprised part of a large arable field extending to approximately 4.4 hectares.  The land fell gently in a north westerly direction and was bounded to the east by the recently constructed residential development along Lassington Lane and open countryside to the north and west.  The southern boundary was defined by the B4215.  The parcel of land to the south of the B4215 was irregular in shape and occupied the north-west corner of a much larger arable field that extended away to the south-east.  The site extended to approximately 3.06 hectares and, topographically, the land fell in a south westerly direction.  That part of the site was bounded by open countryside to the southern and eastern boundary with Two Mile Lane to the west and the existing Highnam Business Centre to the north-west.  The B4215 Newent Road ran along the northern boundary.  Neither parcel of land was subject to any land designations; however, the parcel of land to the south was crossed by two Public Rights of Way and a further Public Right of Way ran along the northern parcel of land.  There were also several designated heritage assets within a one kilometre radius from the site.  This application was made in outline with all matters reserved for subsequent approval except access; however, the application documented a series of parameter plans which indicated how the quantum of development could be delivered and a Design and Access Statement which set out the rationale for the development.  An Illustrative Masterplan showing the indicative layout for the proposed residential development was also included in the Design and Access Statement.  The proposed development sought to provide up to 95 dwellings on the northern parcel of land and up to three hectares of commercial space (Class E, B2 and B8) as well as associated infrastructure works on the southern parcel of land.  A new vehicular access was proposed to be created from the B4215 to serve the residential development and the existing vehicular access to the Highnam Business Centre would be utilised to serve the proposed commercial development.  The proposed commercial development would be located within an area allocated as an extension to the Highnam Business Centre under Policy EMP2 of the adopted Tewkesbury Borough Plan and within the Highnam Neighbourhood Development Plan; however, the area outlined for development on that parcel of land exceeded the area of land allocated for expansion, although the amount of built form proposed would be in accordance with the quantum of the allocation.  An assessment of the material considerations for the application was set out at Pages No. 115-133 of the Committee report and, when taking those into account, along with the weight to be attributed to the benefits and the known harms identified, it was considered that harms would not significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits in the overall planning balance.  It was therefore considered that the proposed development would constitute sustainable development in the context of the National Planning Policy Framework as a whole.  As set out in the Additional Representations Sheet, attached at Appendix 1, several of the outstanding matters detailed in the Committee report had been resolved, therefore, the Officer recommendation had been revised to delegate authority to the Development Manager to permit the application, subject to the submission of the Naturespace Development Assessment and Certificate; the results of the trial trenching work being acceptable; the addition to/amendment of planning conditions as appropriate, if necessary; and the completion of an agreement to secure the heads of terms listed in Paragraph 7.88 of the Committee report.

7.18          The Chair invited the representative from Highnam Parish Council to address the Committee.  The Parish Council representative indicated that the Parish Council did not object to the principle of increasing the size of Highnam Business Centre as that accorded with Policy B1 of the Highnam Neighbourhood Development Plan 2017 which stated that proposals to extend Highnam Business Park up to around twice its current size would be supported; however, this proposal would treble the size of the existing site to three hectares against an allocation of only 1.9 hectares in the Joint Strategic Plan.  Whilst the intention to increase the width of Two Mile Lane was welcomed, the Parish Council remained extremely concerned that there were no plans to improve the actual junction of the lane with the B road.  Vehicles approaching the junction were denied adequate visibility eastwards which was already a major traffic safety hazard.  The Parish Council questioned the fundamental need for the development at this stage given the increase in working from home and compelling evidence of a significant underutilisation of existing office accommodation in nearby Gloucester City.  The Parish Council had major concerns and objections in relation to the proposed residential development to the north of the B4215 as the Neighbourhood Development Plan made no provision for additional residential development in that location.  Policy H2 of the Highnam Neighbourhood Development Plan stated that design and visual character of any new development in Highnam should make a positive contribution in forming a sense of place, yet this proposal, which had no provision for either internal vehicular access or a deliverable means of providing pedestrian or cycleway access to the existing core of the village, created an entirely separate development enclave which would add nothing to community cohesiveness.  Furthermore, the application was contrary to the provisions of the Joint Strategic Plan and outside of the village settlement boundary.  The Parish Council’s greatest concern was the proposed additional vehicular access onto the B4215 which was on a blind bend.  This would create a sixth access along a 500m stretch of road with a significant and potentially dangerous increase in traffic movements onto and off the road.  The Inspector’s Examination report in relation to the recently approved Tewkesbury Borough Plan calculated that the borough could now demonstrate a 7.15 year housing land supply but that was contradicted at Page No. 116, Paragraph 7.8 of the Committee report which stated that the Council could still only demonstrate a 3.83 year supply.  The representative from Highnam Parish Council urged Members to refuse the application.

7.19          The Chair invited a local resident speaking in objection to the proposal to address the Committee.  The local resident indicated that he was speaking on behalf of residents of Lassington Reach, the most recent development completed in 2019 and adjacent to the proposed site.  He stressed that the residents encouraged improvement and investment in the village, including potential new development; however, they wanted to ensure that any changes would not be detrimental to the community or new villagers as Highnam expanded.  As such, he wished to raise five issues and suggest how they could be resolved.  Firstly, having moved to Lassington Reach, he had first-hand experience of trying to integrate into an established village community which had not been easy; this application would create further division due to limited pedestrian and vehicular access and would cause an island effect as the development was completely segregated from the village.  The local residents felt this should be reviewed to make it more inclusive.  The proposed plan to join an existing path on land owned and managed by the management company at Lassington Reach, as referenced at Page No. 119, Paragraph 7.23 of the Committee report had not been validated – as a director of the management company the local resident confirmed he had not been approached on that matter.  Although the path was yet to be adopted by County Highways, it did not meet the perimeter of the land border, therefore, permission would need to be sought.  Local residents were also concerned that, if this application was permitted, it could set a precedent for similar pockets of dense housing which would further impact on the local infrastructure and would not offer anything more to the community.  The land for the proposed development was part of a field owned by the same landowner so they felt it was inevitable that similar housing applications would follow for the remaining land to the west.  Local residents would instead welcome a larger, more strategic and considered planning application.  The local resident went on to indicate that residents had not been consulted on the proposal and this had been acknowledged by the developer in its response to the Parish Council when the pandemic had been stated as the reason for creating a website.  Given that COVID restrictions had been lifted for some time, local residents were of the opinion that consultation should be carried out as originally planned in order to give them the proper opportunity to express their views bearing in mind the significant impacts of the proposal.  Finally, the local resident pointed out that there were already significant problems with school admission and healthcare provision – he was aware of at least 11 cases where parents had been forced to take their children to alternative schools as far as Newent, Dymock and Apperley which were considerable distances given that the Borough Council had declared a climate change emergency and was encouraging parents and children to walk to school.  The likely demographic of residents would exacerbate that problem and they would have difficulties enrolling children at the local academy – this was a draw for many who had moved to the village.  Residents, including himself, had been unable to register at the local doctor’s surgery and the local nursery had turned away four parents so far this year.

7.20          The Chair invited the applicant’s agent to address the Committee.  The applicant’s agent indicated that the Planning Officer had prepared a very detailed and carefully considered report which recommended delegated permission.  Part of the reason for it being so comprehensive was due to the collaborative approach between the applicant and the Planning Officer to resolve consultee queries.  This had continued in recent weeks where the applicant had worked positively to resolve matters in relation to archaeology, minerals and details around local highway improvements. Accordingly, the application before Members today was robust and capable of being determined positively with no outstanding technical concerns.  As Members would be aware, the process of the determination of the application sought to balance benefits against adverse impacts.  The proposal was for a mixed use and, if permitted, would deliver the expansion of a well-occupied business park - which currently accommodated some 180 employees – which had been allocated via the Higham Neighbourhood Development Plan and, more recently, through the adopted Tewkesbury Borough Local Plan.  The delivery of the employment element would provide substantial local economic benefits by creating much needed additional floorspace for small businesses in a sustainable location.  The scheme also delivered up to 95 residential dwellings with a policy compliant provision of 38 dwellings (40%).  Importantly, that meant 38 families would benefit from an affordable home.  The proposals delivered a tenure spilt fully in line with the up-to-date local housing needs assessment including 23 social rented units and 15 shared ownership units.  The delivery of affordable housing to meet a demonstrable need should be given substantial weight in any balance.  As the Planning Officer had set out, the Council currently had a deficient housing land supply and the applicant was actively engaging with experienced regional residential housebuilders who would seek to bring forward reserved matters applications as quickly as possible.  Permitting this site would see a further boost to the housing land supply which could be delivered within the next five year window on the edge of a highly sustainable rural settlement.  The applicant’s agent confirmed that the applicant had agreed to make the full suite of financial contributions which totalled in excess of £800,000 and, if the Committee resolved to permit the application, they would commit to working with Officers to finalise a Section 106 Agreement at the earliest opportunity.  In summary, the applicant’s agent indicated that the benefits of the proposal were substantial and, as concluded by the Planning Officer, there were no significant adverse impacts, therefore, permission should be granted.

7.21          The Chair invited a local Ward Member to address the Committee.  The local Ward Member indicated that this was a speculative application which would create a new settlement as opposed to being an addition to Highnam village – it was disconnected and would remain so, as set out by the public speakers.  There was a lack of infrastructure in terms of schools and healthcare facilities and there were also concerns around traffic in relation to visibility, volume and safety.  He felt there were many grounds to refuse the proposal including the fact that additional residential development was not included in the Highnam Neighbourhood Development Plan and was recognised to be in conflict with Joint Core Strategy Policy SP10 and INF1, the agreed Tewkesbury Borough Plan and the Tewkesbury Borough Landscape and Visual Sensitivity Study for Rural Service Centres and Service Villages because it was encroaching into the rural area.  The main points were set out at Paragraphs 7.4-7.7 and 7.33 of the Committee report.  He also drew attention to the cumulative impact of the flooding and surface water i.e. the sustainable urban drainage systems issue which had been raised in the previous Agenda item.  He believed it was in conflict with the Tewkesbury Borough Plan and the National Planning Policy Framework Paragraph 1.30.  In terms of flooding, as set out at Paragraph 4.19 and 7.64 of the Committee report and as highlighted by Minsterworth Parish Council, it was intended to discharge surface water into new watercourses and Committee Members who knew the area would be very mindful of problems currently experienced.  Turning to employment, the representative from Highnam Parish Council had set out the concerns – Highnam Business Park would treble in size and would extend well outside of the allocation in the Neighbourhood Development Plan.  In terms of the Borough’s housing land supply, he was extremely disappointed that the Tewkesbury Borough Plan had been adopted by the Council less than two weeks ago and Members were now being told that a five year supply could still not be demonstrated.  He hoped the Committee felt there were adequate grounds for refusal.

7.22          The Chair indicated that the Officer recommendation was to delegate authority to the Development Manager to permit the application, subject to the submission of the Naturespace Development Assessment and Certificate; the results of the trial trenching work being acceptable; the addition to/amendment of planning conditions as appropriate, if necessary; and the completion of an agreement to secure the heads of terms listed in Paragraph 7.88 of the Committee report, and he sought a motion from the floor.  A Member questioned whether it was possible to consider the residential and commercial elements of the scheme separately and, in response, the Planning and Enforcement Team Leader (South) confirmed that Government guidance allowed split decisions to be issued in exceptional circumstances and the application had two discrete elements – residential and commercial - so that was a mechanism which could be used, should Members be minded to refuse one part and permit the other.  It was proposed and seconded that a split decision be issued to permit up to three hectares of commercial space and to refuse permission for the erection of up to 95 dwellings.  In terms of potential reasons for refusing the residential development, the Planning Officer indicated that she had identified some harms within the Committee report i.e. conflict with the strategy for the distribution of new housing development in Tewkesbury Borough; landscape harm on the basis that the development would encroach beyond the village edge and therefore would appear as an unacceptable urbanising intrusion into the rural landscape and open countryside; and, in the absence of a completed planning obligation, there would be no arrangements for the direct implementation or financial contribution towards infrastructure considered necessary to make the development acceptable.

7.23          A Member indicated that she had also intended to propose a split decision and, in relation to the refusal of the housing, she pointed out there would also be harm from the loss of 3.8 hectares of best and most versatile agricultural land.  Given that it had been referenced by the public speakers, she asked Officers to explain again why the Council was not currently able to evidence the housing land supply figure.  The Planning and Enforcement Team Leader (South) reiterated that, in order to understand fully what development was coming forward and being built on site, it was necessary to go out and monitor the existing housing sites.  As he understood it, that was happening now but it would take time; the intention was for it to be completed in order for the Council to have a position on its five year supply by the autumn.  The Planning Officer confirmed that the loss of best and most versatile agricultural land could be included in the refusal reasons.  She also clarified that, if Members were minded to issue a split decision which permitted the employment land element of the proposal, this needed to be delegated to the Development Manager as there was a need to secure a legal agreement for an employment bond and monitoring fee for the Travel Plan.

7.24          A Member indicated that he would be happy for the employment land element of the proposal to go forward.  Based on the Planning Committee Site Visit, he had serious reservations about the proposal due to the road and how busy it was.  He also considered the site could potentially be looked at as a larger site in the new Joint Strategic Plan.  He felt that the lack of community cohesion should also be included in the reasons for refusing the residential element of the proposal at this time as there was no link between the proposed site and Higham village.  The Planning Officer clarified that there was a pedestrian/cycleway link.  The Planning and Enforcement Team Leader (South) advised that connectivity and social cohesion were two distinct planning issues and, from the points raised during the discussion, he understood that it was the lack of connectively to the existing housing and facilities in the village which Members wished to see included in the refusal reasons.  The proposer and seconder of the motion confirmed they would be happy to add the loss of the best and most versatile agricultural land and the lack of connectivity to the existing housing and facilities in the village to the refusal reasons for the residential element of the proposal.

7.25          Upon being put to the vote, it was

RESOLVED           That a SPLIT DECISION be issued as follows:

1.     That erection of up to 95 dwellings be REFUSED due to conflict with the strategy for the distribution of new housing development in Tewkesbury Borough; landscape harm on the basis that the development would encroach beyond the village edge and therefore would appear as an unacceptable urbanising intrusion into the rural landscape and open countryside; loss of the best and most versatile agricultural land; lack of connectivity to the existing housing and facilities in the village; and, in the absence of a completed planning obligation, there would be no arrangements for the direct implementation or financial contribution towards infrastructure considered necessary to make the development acceptable.

2.     That authority be DELEGATED to the Development Manager to PERMIT up to three hectares of commercial space subject to a legal agreement for an employment bond and monitoring fee for the Travel Plan.

Supporting documents: