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Agenda item

Agenda item

21/01173/FUL - Land off Ruby Avenue, Bishop's Cleeve

PROPOSAL: Residential development to erect 22 units with associated car parking (100% affordable).




56.13        This application was for residential development to erect 22 units with associated car parking (100% affordable).  The Planning Committee visited the application site on Monday 20 March 2023.

56.14        The Planning Officer advised that the application required a Committee determination as it was for more than 10 residential units and as the Parish Council had objected to the proposal.  It was noted that an additional objection had been received from the Parish Council the previous night raising concerns relating to amenity, parking issues, community development and overdevelopment.  This application sought full planning permission for the erection of 22 affordable houses which would be secured through a Section 106 Agreement.  The site was currently open land with an area of approximately 0.5 hectares.  It was located within the settlement development limit of Bishop’s Cleeve and had previously been granted planning permission as part of the Cleevelands mixed use development scheme.  As part of the outline permission, the application had been approved for a High Street comprising four retail units.  The outline consent contained a condition which required reserved matters to be submitted but no application of that nature had been advanced on this parcel of land.  Planning permission had been granted on the site in 2020 for the erection of a Marston’s family pub but that had not been implemented and no conditions had been discharged.  Upon grant of consent, Marston’s had concluded there was insufficient demand in the location to acquire and develop the public house following which it had instructed the site to be advertised on the open market.  Marketing was subsequently carried out for a period of six months resulting in no bids.  Policy RET7 of the Tewkesbury Borough Plan required the change of use of public houses to be marketed for a period of 18 months; however, in this case, the public house planning permission was neither implemented, nor operational, as per the retail units.  Therefore the marketing exercises carried out by the applicant were considered to be acceptable.  Although planning permission had been granted for community facilities, neither the retail or the pub schemes had been implemented for this site, therefore, in planning terms, the land effectively reverted back to its original use.  The principle of residential development on the site was acceptable in line with Policy RES2 as it was within a defined settlement boundary.  Turning to the site layout, the site would be accessed mainly via a side street off Sapphire Road to the north.  The proposed development would comprise a variety of dwellings with 10 apartments and 12 semi-detached houses.  The development offered a range of accommodation providing for single occupancy and family accommodation.  All properties were two storey, as shown on the elevation plans, which was in keeping with the size and scale of properties in the wider area.  A question had been raised by Members on the site visit in relation to the provision of affordable housing in the wider area and the Planning Officer advised that Phases 1-5 had provided a total of 560 houses of which 224 were affordable houses and 336 were market houses and with the 22 unit there would be 42% and 58% respectively.  The proposal provided public open space on the western boundary which totalled 967 square metres and the units would have rear/front gardens for private amenity space.  All units met the nationally described space standards as set out in Policy DES1 and the Council’s Housing Enabling Officer supported the proposed tenure of affordable housing mix.  The Lead Local Flood Authority had no objections and County Highways and the Highways Agency had concluded that, subject to appropriate conditions, the application would not have an unacceptable impact on highway safety or congestion.  In line with the policy in the Joint Core Strategy, the County Council had requested an education contribution of £177,000 which the applicant had claimed would make the scheme unviable.  A financial viability assessment prepared by RCA Regeneration had been submitted to support that position and the Council had appointed Porter Planning Economics to independently review the assessment and scrutinise its underlying assumptions.  The Council’s independent assessor concluded that the proposed scheme would be unable to support a financial contribution and it was therefore recommended that the education contributions were not pursued on the grounds of the viability of the scheme in accordance with Policy INF7 of the Joint Core Strategy.  In light of the proposal complying with the relevant national and local planning policies, and given all technical consultees supported the application, it was recommended that authority be delegated to the Development Manager to permit the application, subject to completion of a Section 106 Agreement.

56.15         The Chair invited a local resident speaking in objection to the proposal to address the Committee.  The local resident indicated that the land had originally been designated for retail use – a community and social space for the residents of Cleevelands whilst providing local employment opportunities.  The estate had developed into a good community, sharing concerns and helping each other in many ways.  There was a need for a commercial outlet, such as a coffee bar, restaurant or licensed premises, to help community cohesion with space for social interaction and to make contact with neighbours.  This was especially important to many who were still working from home and lacking contact with work colleagues - having somewhere for face to face conversations was proven to ease mental health issues.  Other objections included concerns about traffic congestion and she refuted what had been said by the Planning Officer.  There was a particular fear regarding restricted access for emergency vehicles, especially in terms of being able to reach the care home.  There was also a lack of visitor parking on the estate meaning roads were becoming congested and there was a genuine concern that extra houses would exacerbate those issues, particularly in this area which already saw a high volume of traffic for the medical centre and other associated buildings.  In addition, residents were concerned about the high density of social housing already on the estate along with that planned for the neighbouring site on Nortenham Allotments.  The local resident asked Members to consider the change of landscape, moving from a plan for a single storey building and car park to two storey housing thus losing the open space feel of the estate entrance.  She believed that thinking should be in the interest of the local community and how this area could be developed in line with the original site development plan to provide social and community infrastructure which would benefit Bishop’s Cleeve as a whole.  Development should be sustainable, reflecting not only current but future needs and supporting community and cultural wellbeing.  She strongly urged Members that the retail use of the land be maintained.

56.16         The Chair invited the applicant’s representative to address the Committee.  The applicant’s representative indicated that, as the Planning Officer had mentioned, Marston’s Pubs successfully obtained planning approval for a family pub on this site but had withdrawn from the purchase in 2019.  Marston’s had recently put 61 freehold pubs up for sale following a review of their estate, highlighting that it wanted to maximise returns by focusing on existing core venues.  As Members would have heard in the press, it was normal for three public houses to close each week highlighting the demise of what was once a vibrant industry.  Following extensive marketing over several months without success, the landowner’s agent had presented the site to Rooftop Housing Association which had recently completed housing on the adjacent land with a view to converting it to residential use.  There were currently approximately 1,700 people on Tewkesbury Borough Council’s housing register, of which, over 400 had expressed a preference to live in Bishop’s Cleeve.  Rooftop had experienced considerable demand for its shared ownership homes, not only in the village, but on the Cleevelands development.  This new development of 22 one, two and three bedroom homes had the full support of the Council’s Community Services team and would go some way towards meeting this housing need through the provision of 16 social rented and six shared ownership properties which would complement Rooftop’s existing 30 homes on Cleevelands.  The homes had been designed with the same principles in mind as the recently completed homes, and those on the wider Cleevelands development, including the same material, quality and sustainable features.  The layout took account of several significant drainage easements which blighted the south-west corner of the site, allowing parking and green open space.  Properties facing onto Sapphire Road had also been set back from the footpath to afford residents privacy from passers-by.  Quality affordable housing was especially important in the current economic climate and Rooftop considered it had a responsibility to provide residents with homes that they could be proud to live in and which were environmentally sustainable, energy efficient and economical to run.  These homes would achieve the highest Energy Performance Certificate rating of ‘A’ through a fabric-first approach and residents would be provided with rotary washing lines, water butts and compost bins within their private gardens.  In addition, all properties would have secure bicycle storage, either through provision of communal bike racks or within individual garden sheds.  Notwithstanding this, it was recognised that many residents would be car owners so all homes would be provided with allocated car parking and there would be a number of unallocated visitor spaces, giving a total number of parking spaces in excess of that required by County Highways within the guidance set out in the Gloucestershire Manual for Streets.

56.17         The Chair invited a local Ward Member to address the Committee.  The local Ward Member indicated the site had been proposed and marketed as a community asset for the Cleevelands development, part of a High Street at the heart of the new community.  Residents had expressed strong opposition demonstrating the importance of the community asset.  Tewkesbury Borough Plan Policy COM1, Paragraph 9.23 set out that the Council sought to protect and maintain those assets, any loss should be exceptional and would need to be fully justified to the satisfaction of the Borough Council.  The local Ward Member questioned what, if any, exceptional circumstances applied in this case to fully satisfy the Council; 9.24 set out that community assets could be made up of a range of facilities; 9.28 stated that where a community asset was not viable for one use, the first preference was to reuse the asset for another community facility use; 9.26 set out that proposals for the loss of community facilities would be required to prove there was no demand for the asset at the current time and in the future; 9.26 required applicants to seek involvement of the local community and, given the strong local objections and community petition to save the asset gaining 300 signatories, he wondered how the applicant had worked with the community regarding loss of the asset; and 9.27 stated that the business or organisation would need to be marketed for 18 months at a realistic price, discussion should take place with community groups, Parish Councils and others and that grant funding should be explored – he questioned whether this had been done within the six months the asset had been marketed for.  To summarise, the Tewkesbury Borough Plan deliberately set a high bar before losing community assets because once lost they were lost forever.  The correct process was 18 months marketing, not six months, for any community asset, not just a pub, and working with the community to exhaust all options for community assets, including grant funding – only once those options were exhausted was policy to approve housing.  In his view, this was a tick box marketing process and the housing application felt premature.  It was a significant deviation from Policy COM1 and set a precedent which he felt would be a risk to other community assets in the borough.  Setting this aside, the application did not meet the requirements of the National Planning Policy Framework Chapter 8 Policy 92 “strong neighbourhood centres”, “community cohesion” and “providing high quality public spaces” unless a strip of scrubland next to a pumping station and car park was considered high quality. Furthermore, he felt it was unlikely that the site had met the 10% biodiversity enhancement requirement. Chapter 12, of Gloucestershire Manual for Streets, “achieving well designed places” , discouraged car parking courtyards because they tended to attract crime yet this site had a large unlit car park.  Much of the site could not be built on, none of the surrounding development was planned with this housing in mind so the cramped application would sit awkwardly in the High Street.  He urged Members to refuse the application at this time as it contradicted many areas of the National Planning Policy Framework and COM1 of the Tewkesbury Borough Plan.

56.18         The Chair indicated that the Officer recommendation was that authority be delegated to the Development Manager to permit the application, subject to any additional/amended planning conditions and the completion of a Section 106 Agreement to secure the provision of 100% affordable housing and a contribution of £73 per dwelling (£1,241 based on 22 dwellings) towards recycling and waste bin facilities, and he sought a motion from the floor.  It was proposed and seconded that the application be refused on the basis that it failed to deliver a balanced community, lack of a contribution towards education and the unacceptable delivery of non-integrated affordable housing.  The proposer of the motion thanked the Planning Officer for his detailed report; the site had considerable planning history and there were a lot of different factors relevant to this particular proposal which had been well set out to enable Members to make an informed decision. Whilst he could understand the reasoning behind the Officer recommendation he had come to a different conclusion and felt the application should be refused – he found it very difficult to reject an application for social housing from a developer which had already done a lot of good work in Bishop’s Cleeve but the overriding issue for him was that the site had been designated for commercial use in the Secretary of State’s decision on the original outline planning permission and he felt that should be maintained as far as possible.  Whilst he understood the outline permission was not sacrosanct, commercial use was vitally important to the community and, if it could not be implemented in accordance with the plan, it would not create the right communities.  There was a history of commercial land being designated in planning policies and applications which ultimately did not come forward and this had happened in Bishop’s Cleeve over the years.  The seconder of the motion was of the view that the proposal went against policy in terms of the density of affordable housing – in his opinion, social housing should be integrated into development sites as opposed to being clustered in one area.  He agreed with the policy justification put forward by the local Ward Member and was particularly unhappy that the developer did not feel able to commit to a contribution towards education as part of the Section 106 Agreement. 

56.19         A Member indicated that, following the Planning Committee site visit, he had raised concern as to whether the site layout met the requirements in terms of the Council’s waste vehicles being able to service the new properties and he asked the County Highways representative if the potential for on-street parking was taken into account when assessing distances.  In response, the County Highways representative confirmed that was considered and, in terms of this site specifically, refuse collection would be from bin storage collection points so the refuse vehicles would not enter the site.  With regard to marketing of the site which was discussed in the Committee report, a Member noted that Policy RET7 of the Tewkesbury Borough Plan required an 18 month marketing period and she asked what policy was being relied upon in terms of the justification for marketing this site for a much shorter period of six months, bearing in mind that this was likely to have taken place during lockdown when all public houses were closed.  The Planning Officer clarified that the site was not for retail use – a reserved matters application had not been forthcoming therefore the outline planning permission had expired meaning the land reverted to its original use, as such, there were no retail or community facilities designation for this site.  He advised that the site had been marketed between October 2019 and March 2020 which was prior to the COVID lockdown.  The Member indicated that she would still like to know which policy was being relied upon in terms of six months being an acceptable marketing period.  In terms of the masterplan for the site, she believed it had stated that this area was set aside for commercial use.  The Legal Adviser recognised it was a complex situation and advised that the policy referenced and Policy COM1, referenced by the local Ward Member, related to existing community facilities, did not apply here.  There was no policy in relation to an appropriate length of time to market this site which was an open piece of land.  She appreciated the site had been outlined for retail use on the masterplan when the outline application had been determined and a reserved matters application could have been submitted on that basis; however, the time for that had now passed.  Members therefore needed to determine the application based on the site being an open piece of land within the settlement boundary and apply planning policies to that.

56.20         A Member indicated that Page No. 79 of the Committee report suggested there was interest from a party to acquire the site for commercial use; she had asked for the detail on this and had been informed that would be provided today.  The Development Management Team Leader (Northwest) advised that the reference was in an objection made by a third party and Officers had no detail in relation to that; she did not know if there had been any discussion about whether they wished to acquire the site from the existing owner.  The Member questioned if this was something which should have been followed up by Officers and whether a response was provided to objectors as standard.  The Development Management Team Leader (Northwest) advised that objections were taken as read and reported to the Committee so were taken into account in forming a decision.  No approach had been made over and above the objection that had been submitted.  Delivery of development was dictated by market forces and the local planning authority did not get involved in that.  In this case, the site had been marketed through commercial agents and there was no information to say there may be another party interested in taking it forward for commercial use.

56.21         Another Member drew attention to Page No. 78, Paragraph 4.6 of the Committee report, and noted that the response from the Lead Local Flood Authority stated that Severn Trent would be adopting the foul drainage and would therefore be responsible for future maintenance so he asked when that would happen.  The Planning Officer indicated that conditions required detailed design of waste management.  The application had been reviewed by the Council’s Flood Risk Management Engineer who had raised no objection to the proposal so it would be for Severn Trent and the developer to negotiate when it was put in place.  The Member asked if it was possible to include a timeframe within the condition as he was concerned about the impact if it was not maintained on a regular basis.  The Development Management Manager pointed out that proposed Condition 3 dealt with both foul and surface water drainage.  Another Member indicated that he shared the concerns raised by the local resident speaking in objection to the proposal and he asked if the ratio of houses had been assessed as, in his opinion, an additional 22 affordable houses did not seem valuable enough in comparison to the provision of a community asset which would benefit a greater number of residents. 

56.22         In terms of the refusal reasons put forward, the Legal Adviser sought clarification as to whether the proposer and seconder of the motion wished to include Policy COM1 as this would be difficult to defend on appeal given there was no existing community facility on the site.  The seconder of the motion indicated that he accepted the advice in terms of COM1 but he raised concern that the site had initially been identified as a local centre and permitting this application would set a dangerous precedent for other local centres.  Whilst he considered the applicant to be an excellent social housing provider, he felt this was the wrong place for affordable housing as there was other social housing in the existing area and the Council had a policy in relation to integrated development and understood there should be no more than 16 affordable dwellings in one location.  Another Member sought clarification in terms of the clustering plan as the previous application was asking for no more than 25 affordable houses.  The Development Management Team Leader (Northwest) advised that affordable housing had been approved through the outline permission but that decision had lapsed which meant this site was effectively white land within a development boundary, as such, this scheme was not subject to the affordable housing plan that would have been submitted for the outline approval.  Officers considered that the scheme would deliver an appropriate mix of housing and, whilst the Joint Core Strategy required a minimum of 40% affordable housing on residential developments, there was no maximum.  Although this application was for 100% affordable housing, in the context of the whole site there would be 42% affordable housing which was just above the Joint Core Strategy minimum and Officers did not consider 100% affordable excessive in the context of that policy.

56.23         A Member asked who the landowner of the site was as he felt that was relevant to the marketing of the site and he was advised that Officers did not have that information.  The Member indicated that Officers had stated a number of times that this piece of land was open to any application because an application had not been forthcoming to fulfil the requirements of the original Secretary of State approved plan and he asked if this meant that part of the approved masterplan could be ignored and whether he was correct in thinking that, if a developer failed to bring forward a reserved matters application, they did not need to develop parts of the site they did not want to.  The Development Management Manager advised that the original decision had been made in 2012, over 10 years ago, and there had been significant changes since that time.  As set out in the Committee report, the site had been deemed appropriate for a range of uses including a medical centre, retail offer and a community centre.  The opportunity for submitting a reserved matters application had expired in July 2016 and there had been further marketing since in terms of retail use.  The masterplan was a material consideration but the weight it could be attributed given the change in context in planning terms and the various community facilities coming forward had been carefully considered in the Committee report.  The Council’s Housing Enabling Officer had assessed the application and there were no outstanding objections to the proposal in planning terms.  The design had been considered in terms of creating an entry point into the overall development and the creation of a High Street and affordable housing was considered an appropriate use of the site.  In terms of the policy position, he echoed the comments made earlier and the concerns regarding the need to avoid references to policies which related to existing community facilities.  The proposer of the motion thanked the Development Management Manager for his response and accepted the point about the planning environment reasons.  He reiterated that it was an excellent report detailing the planning context but both the planning and economic situation had changed since 2012.  Low cost housing was needed but so were commercial premises and, ultimately, if this application was permitted, Bishop’s Cleeve would lose land that had, in planning terms, been set aside for commercial activity over the years, pushing it further away from the community; that would be fine if it was a two way process and land which was designated for residential use could be used for commercial but that was not what happened in reality.  In his view, it was important to maintain the overall concept of the masterplan i.e. a High Street.

56.24         A Member indicated that he had viewed the proposal in a positive light when reading the Committee report and he had been interested to hear the views expressed, particularly by the local Members.  He would be abstaining from the vote but indicated that a refusal would allow an Inspector to make a decision at appeal based on the weight of the argument put forward.  Another Member shared this view; as an advocate for social housing she recognised there was a need for affordable housing but she did not believe it should be allowed on any available piece of land.  She felt the proposal would set a dangerous precedent for future development in the area she lived and she could not vote for it in the absence of an education contribution.  She drew attention to Page No. 89, Paragraph 8.64 of the Committee report which stated that the applicant had indicated a willingness to enter into a legal agreement to secure the affordable housing provision but at this stage there was no such agreement in place – this appeared to be a contradiction and she could not support the application on that basis.  The seconder of the motion appreciated the guidance from Officers and the information provided, however, he felt deviating from the masterplan due to being “timed out” would set a precedent for other applications coming forward.  The site had been designated as a local centre and that was what he believed it should be.  A Member indicated that he would be supporting the motion to refuse the application.  He had been interested to hear from the local resident speaking in objection to the proposal with regard to the expectation of being part of a community and he felt a refusal would send a clear message to developers that infrastructure was needed as well as housing in order to create communities.

56.25         Upon being put to the vote, it was

RESOLVED          That the application be REFUSED on the basis that it failed to deliver a balanced community, lack of a contribution towards education and the unacceptable delivery of non-integrated affordable housing.

Supporting documents: