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Agenda item

22/00223/FUL - Field to the West of Hucclecote Lane, Churchdown

PROPOSAL: Change of use of agricultural land to a secure dog walking/exercise area and associated works, including car parking area and improved access.




43.2           This application was for change of use of agricultural land to a secure dog walking/exercise area and associated works, including car parking area and improved access.  The application had been deferred by the Planning Committee at its meeting on 20 December 2022 for a Planning Committee Site Visit to assess the gated area with regard to vehicular access to the site.  The Planning Committee had visited the application site on Friday 13 January 2023.

43.3           The Planning Officer advised that this was a retrospective change of use application which included a 1.8 metre high security fence, car parking and improved access.  The field was situated on the west side of Hucclecote Lane and approximately 200 metres to the south of the settlement of Churchdown within designated Green Belt land.  The field had a road frontage to Hucclecote Lane of approximately 100 metres which included an existing access.  The field was formerly agricultural use and was securely fenced with wire mesh secured to timber posts at three metre intervals around the boundary.  To the north of the site was a dwelling house, Four Gables, to the east, and on the other side of Hucclecote Lane, was a small woodland and a Severn Trent Water pumping station with the grounds of Chosen Hill House lying to the south.  It was considered that the proposal would not result in any undue harm, as outlined in the Committee report, therefore, it was recommended that the application be permitted, subject to the conditions proposed.

43.4           The Chair invited a local resident speaking in objection to the proposal to address the Committee.  The local resident indicated that this retrospective application for change of use of this agricultural, species rich, permanent pasture to a commercial business use should be refused.  In his opinion, Neighbourhood Development Plan Policy CHIN13 should be upheld to preserve the views.  The local amenity would be adversely affected due to the noise and greatly increased activity that would take place which contravened Joint Core Strategy Policies SD4 and SD14; Policy SD14 stated that there should be no unacceptable harm to local amenities including the amenity of neighbouring occupants and he failed to see how the proposal could avoid causing exactly that.  The Environmental Health department did not seem to consider that an activity which would continue every single day of the year until 20:00 hours would be detrimental to the health and wellbeing of local residents – the opening times currently proposed were of little comfort and the nearest dwelling was only 10 metres from the field.  County Highways had given no consideration to the increased run-off of water from the site; however, following a visit last month, it had been acknowledged that water was now being discharged onto the highway.  The Council’s Tree Officer had stated that Oak trees, now subject to Tree Preservation Orders, had already been impacted which contravened Tewkesbury Local Plan Policy LAN1.  The local resident felt this was not the right place for this type of enterprise as it was not an isolated field and there were six dwellings within close proximity which would all be affected by the continual disturbance.  The car park would be much more visually intrusive after it was fenced with six foot high security gates and fencing and the local amenity would be affected by the arrival and departure of vehicles every hour of every day of the year, setting free a fresh pack of up to ten excited dogs.  The local resident asked Members to consider the impact the proposal would have and to refuse the application; however, if they were minded to permit the application, it should be within their remit to insist on more stringent conditions - there should be a restriction on any structures or equipment to preserve the amenity; the car park should be relocated further south, away from the neighbours and the Oak trees; there should be a restriction on the number of vehicles to one, as in the proposal; there should be greater restriction on the hours and days of opening; the number of dogs should be further restricted, particularly after the recent fatality in Surrey, with many similar sites restricting dog numbers to three or four; and, he asked if there could be at least one day per week when the site was not in operation to allow the neighbours to enjoy their gardens in daylight hours.  The local resident disagreed with the Committee report which emphasised the proposal as being small-scale and concluded there would be no adverse impact on amenity.  In his opinion, the proposal would radically change the environment and lives of the immediate neighbours and wider amenity of this quiet and beautiful part of Chosen Hill.  He felt the recommendation to permit was wrong, the restrictions proposed did not go far enough and the Committee should refuse the application.

43.5           The Chair invited the applicant’s agent to address the Committee.  The applicant’s agent indicated that, as he had explained at the December meeting, the applicant ran a successful, established and highly-regarded dog walking business.  This proposal was really important in moving the small business forward and enabling it to succeed by providing a secure dog walking facility in a very accessible location.  He had also explained that, in planning terms, the proposal was very similar to other dog walking proposals in the Green Belt that had been approved on similar sites and he had given three nearby examples making the point that the law did not allow different decisions on proposals which were essentially the same in planning terms.  He intended to deal with some of the matters which had arisen at the December meeting; firstly, he wished to correct Paragraph 1.3 of the Committee report as it was not a retrospective application as the change of use of the land had not commenced – he pointed out that the applicant had been waiting patiently for almost 11 months for a decision on the application.  Secondly, as Members would have seen on the Planning Committee Site Visit, the access was not yet completed but would be properly surfaced in line with the plans.  Visitors would come into the site in a forward gear, turn in the parking area, and leave in a forward gear.  County Highways had raised no objection to the proposal and Members should not go against the highway authority on expert technical matters.  Thirdly, with regard to dog numbers, the figure of 10 dogs did not come from the applicant and the condition had been suggested by Officers in line with restrictions on other similar sites – the vast majority of users of these facilities had one or two dogs.  He confirmed that all sessions would involve one vehicle at the site.  In terms of amenity implications, Officers had raised no objection and the three examples he had quoted all had immediate residential neighbours but none had evidence of complaints so this proposal should not be treated any differently.  With regard to planning conditions, the applicant had adopted a positive attitude and agreed a whole range of conditions and there was no guarantee these would be endorsed by an Inspector should the application end up at appeal.  The applicant’s agent sincerely hoped that the majority of the Committee would follow the evidence and clear advice and recommendations of the expert Planning and Highways Officers as there were no reasonable or sound planning reasons to withhold permission for this proposal.

43.6           The Chair indicated that the Officer recommendation was to permit the application and he sought a motion from the floor.  It was proposed and seconded that the application be permitted in accordance with the Officer recommendation.  A Member noted that the applicant’s agent had suggested the application was not retrospective and he asked for clarification on that.  The Planning Officer advised that the retrospective element was the fence which had already been erected.  She confirmed that the change of use had not been implemented and the dog walking business had not been started.  A Member asked for further clarification with regard to the hardstanding as he assumed this would also make it retrospective if that had been put down and would constitute development in the Green Belt.  In response, the Planning Officer confirmed there was some hardstanding across part of the site.  The Development Management Team Leader advised that hardstanding itself did not constitute inappropriate development in the Green Belt.  The Member appreciated the clarification but indicated that other points of view had been put forward with regard to this matter, both at Tewkesbury Borough Council and at Gloucestershire County Council as to whether they laying of hardstanding was development.  The Legal Adviser explained that it could constitute development as a building or engineering operation but that could depend on the extent of what was happening.  The Development Management Team Leader had advised that here it was not considered that the hardstanding would be inappropriate development in the Green Belt and it was necessary to look at the policy and context each time.

43.7           A Member indicated that he personally did not agree with retrospective applications and, in this case, he felt the proposal would scar the beautiful location of Chosen Hill and would be inappropriate development within the Green Belt.  He referred to the terrible incident regarding a dog walker killed when walking 10 dogs, seven of which were still detained, and he felt that, if the application was permitted, a condition should be included to restrict the number of dogs to six in accordance with national thinking.  He also felt the site should be closed on a Sunday to offer some respite to local residents.  In response, the Development Management Team Leader advised that dog numbers were linked to the licensing process which was outside the scope of planning in terms of conditions so, whilst the number could be reduced, that would need to be reasonable in terms of licensing. With regard to operational hours, Planning Officers had been guided by Environmental Health in terms of what was reasonable and it was within Members’ power to amend them if they considered it to appropriate.  A Member asked what licence was required for walking dogs and the Development Management Team Leader indicated that he believed there were professional standards in terms of licensing dog walkers.

43.8           A Member indicated that she had spoken at length at the last Committee and she could not support the application.  She felt it was unnecessary development in the Green Belt and would have an adverse impact.  The Committee report stated there would be limited impact on views but that meant there would still be an impact, however limited.  She noted that some of the supporting comments stated that residents should be grateful as it was better than having a housing estate on the site but they clearly did not understand the purpose of the Green Belt.  She had complete sympathy with residents whose lives would be blighted.  She had no problem with the facility itself but felt it was in the wrong location.  Another Member indicated that she continued to have concerns regarding waste, which she had raised at the previous meeting.  She asked who would be making sure the waste bins were emptied daily which would be required based on the number of dogs that would be using the field; this would be particularly important in the summer when odour could become a problem for the surrounding area.  The Development Management Team Leader advised that facilities would be provided on site for dog walkers to dispose of their waste and it was down to the owner to make the arrangements for that.  The Planning Officer pointed out that this would be the same situation as with other dog walking sites and there had been no comments from the neighbouring properties in relation to that particular matter.  The Member indicated that she would like a definitive answer regarding who would empty the bins when they were full and the Planning Officer confirmed it was the owner’s responsibility.  In response to a query regarding how often the bins would be emptied, the Development Management Team Leader advised that he did not have that information but he presumed dog walkers would be required to clean up after their dogs ready for the new users.  A Member questioned whether a condition could be included to require dog waste bins to be provided on the site.  A Member pointed out that, as an agricultural site, it was possible it could be used for cows or sheep, or even corn, which could all create a much greater disturbance in terms of noise and dust, for instance, during lambing or harvesting.  In his view dog walking would have very limited impact.  Another Member reiterated that the application was for a maximum of 10 dogs per hour over a 12 hour day.  She accepted it was the owner’s responsibility to ensure the waste bins were emptied but questioned who would make sure that was being done.  The Development Management Team Leader explained that it was proposed to include an informative on the decision notice to recommend that at least two dog waste bins should be provided, situated away from residential properties and near the exit from the site, and that they should be maintained and emptied on a regular basis for the duration of the development.  Consideration had been given to including this as a condition but that had not been felt to be appropriate based on reasonableness and the ability to monitor such a condition.  She pointed out that a condition had not been applied to any other dog walking site permissions and it was expected that the owner would want to maintain good practice on the site.  A Member raised concern that, if dog waste bins were placed at the exit to the site that would also be the closest point to residential properties which contradicted the informative.  The Legal Adviser explained that Environmental Health had attended the meeting in December and had pointed out that there was legislation covering odour and accumulation which could be applied if any issues were to arise.  Members must consider how reasonable it would be to add a condition to the planning permission, particularly in light of the fact that it had not happened on other similar applications.  It had been suggested by others that a waste management plan could be required by condition and she asked an Officer to comment on that.  The Development Management Team Leader advised that there may be a waste management plan which would deal with some of these issues but he did not have that information before him so that would need to be done under delegated authority.  The proposer and seconded of the motion indicated that they were happy for Environmental Health to attend the site if there were any issues and did not feel that any further conditions were necessary. 

43.9           Upon being put to the vote, it was

RESOLVED          That the application be PERMITTED in accordance with the Officer recommendation.

Supporting documents: