Agenda item

Agenda item

Planning Application No. CB/17/05480/FULL (Cranfield and Marston Moretaine)


Address:       Staples Wholesale Nursery, Fordfield Road, Millbrook, Bedford, MK45 2HZ


Change of use of land from garden centre, to a Sui Generis use for the storage, refurbishment and hire of temporary and portable buildings, including erection of office, workshop and formation of open storage area, parking, improvements to access and landscaping, following the demolition of existing structures.


Applicant:     Forte Developments





The Committee had before it a report regarding Planning Application CB/17/05480/FULL for the change of use of land from a garden centre to a Sui Generis use of temporary and portable buildings, including erection of office, workshop and formation of open storage area, parking improvements to access and landscaping, following demolition of existing structures on Staples Wholesale Nursery, Fordfield Road, Millbrook, Bedford, MK45 2HZ.


In advance of consideration of the application the Committee’s attention was drawn to additional/publicity responses, additional comments and an additional informative as set out in the Late Sheet.


In advance of consideration of the application the Committee received a representation from the applicant under the public participation scheme.


A Member sought clarification from the applicant regarding the extra number of Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) movements from his company’s other depots to compensate for the current lack of a suitable depot site in the Ampthill area to service their market and what number of HGV movements could be expected from the application site.  In response the applicant stated that, on average, there four HGV movements a day from the application site although this might not occur every day and would certainly be no more than was experienced at the existing depot.  He added that the figure excluded other vehicle movements such as those by vans.


The Chairman asked for clarification on how certain the envisaged increase in employment was.  In response the applicant stated that the increase was extremely certain as some of the companies surrounding depots were using their own labour to provide buildings for the Ampthill area and this was putting those depots under strain.  They were not able to fulfil all of the orders that they could take.


The company’s market position as a major supplier and a recent agreement with a customer clearly indicated that there were additional opportunities for the growth of the Ampthill depot.  However, there was insufficient capacity on the existing site.


The Chairman next asked the applicant to indicate what other sites within the Ampthill area they had considered.  In reply the applicant stated that no sites had been looked at because none had been available.  He also made clear that it was not question of price when looking at sites.   The company had been searching for a replacement depot site for over four years with agents searching within a 15 mile radius and nothing suitable had been found.  He referred to the conclusion reached by the Business Investment Officers which confirmed that.


Following a further query by the Chairman the applicant confirmed the action taken to attempt to secure alternative premises and the failure to locate a site apart from that before the Committee.  He stressed that it was not a question of price as the company would pay whatever the relevant value was within the area.  The Chairman commented that he would have expected the Council’s economic development officers to have assisted with the finding of an alternative site for a depot if they could have done so given the importance of the application site’s Green Belt status.


A Member advised the applicant of the Council’s ambition, following the construction of the M6-A1 strategic link road, to prevent HGV movements outside of the major road network apart from the loading and unloading of such vehicles.  The major network with regard to the application would be the A507, A6, M1 and so forth.  The Member stated that the applicant’s large vehicles would therefore be expected to use the A507, rather than travelling south along Steppingley Road and through Flitwick, in order to access the M1 and the A507 to also access the A1.  He sought clarification from the applicant on the company’s intentions.  In response the applicant stated that he would have to ask the company’s planning consultant but, as far as he was aware, the company would only use routes that were designated as acceptable for HGVs.  The Member acknowledged this but stated that the quickest route to the M1 was south through Flitwick to Junction 12 rather than going on to the A507 and travelling east to Junction 13.  He asked if the applicant would regard it as reasonable for the Council to request or condition that the company’s large vehicles used the A507 route.  In response the applicant stated that he did not know enough about the local road network to answer.  In addition the company did not own any HGVs and that those used would be from suppliers in the local area.  The Chairman explained that he believed this query had been raised by the Member because of a situation where HGVs used by the suppliers to another business had caused problems by travelling through a village.  The business concerned had subsequently advised its suppliers to use an alternative, specific route in an attempt to avoid the village.   The Chairman stated that the Member was asking if the applicant was willing to do the same and specify the route the HGVs from the company’s suppliers should use.  The Chairman fully acknowledged that the applicant could not insist that his suppliers use a particular route but asked if he would be willing to recommend to his suppliers that they do so, thus avoiding Steppingley and Flitwick.  Following clarification the applicant stated that he would be willing to recommend the use of the A507 to his suppliers.


A Member asked where the area would be serviced from if the application was refused. The applicant responded that the existing Ampthill depot would have to close and the company would operate through its nearest depot at Chawston.  Eight jobs would be lost at the Ampthill site as a result.  In response to a Member’s question, the applicant stated that he would be meeting landlord of the Ampthill site to allow a short term extension of its lease until the new site on Fordfield Road was ready.  He added that he had short term contingency plans in place if an extension to the lease was not an option.


The Chairman stated that Councillor Morris, one of the three ward Members, was unable to be present at the meeting due to work commitments.  However, he had supplied a statement setting out his opposition to the application which the Chairman read out.


The Chairman advised that the second ward Member, Councillor Mrs Clark, was currently on holiday so also unable to attend.  The Chairman then reminded the Committee that he was the third ward Member but he would not indicate his preference at that time.  He commented that, as the site was within the Green Belt, the applicant had to demonstrate special circumstances to overcome the harm by way of inappropriateness and he invited Members to consider if the applicant had done so.  The Chairman then referred to the planning officer who considered that there were very special circumstances that weighed in favour of the application and the Chairman indicated that he had no reason to dispute this conclusion.


The Committee considered the application and in summary discussed the following:


·         A Member stated that he believed the application was an unfortunate encroachment into the Green Belt.  Further, the wholesale nursery business, which currently used the site, did more than sell plants and provided a range of services of value to the area including shops and catering.  Whilst acknowledging that the site had been run down over the 2-3 years since Center Parcs had started on the neighbouring site it would still result in the loss of a valued facility for the local area.  He expressed concern over the encroachment on to the Green Belt and the type of business which was proposed to be carried out on the site.  He indicated that, if the application was approved, he would want to see a low level of lighting at night.  That was an issue of particular concern to local residents.  In addition he asked that landscaping and trees be retained and enhanced to offset the loss of the facility.

·         The Chairman queried whether the garden centre was likely to survive whatever the outcome.  The Member responded that the state of the site was due to the current owner failing to make any investment or effort.  He commented that Center Parcs had wanted to acquire the site though he stated that this was not a matter for debate at the meeting.  However, he felt that there was much that could be done to retain the existing business or bring in the Center Parcs type of Green Belt appearance.  If the application was approved then it should be made to look like a part of the Green Belt and generally reduce unnecessary lighting and nuisance generally.  The Chairman stated that, if members were minded to approve the application, the lighting issue would be dealt with.

·         A Member drew the Committee’s attention to the substantial size of the proposed operation on the application site and the resulting importance of screening which he felt should be conditioned.  He stressed the detrimental impact on the landscape that could arise, should it not be screened, given the potential storage of up to 300 modular buildings to a height of 6 metres.  The Chairman commented that he believed the landscape officer had not raised any objections because considerable screening was already in place.

·         A Member referred to the Committee’s recent site inspection and how the mature trees already present at the site screened it very well.  However, he expressed concern regarding the longevity of the trees and, when they died, what they would be replaced with.  He queried whether it would be possible to ensure that measures were in place to prevent the site becoming open should the trees die. In response the planning officer referred to the proposed landscape plan for the site and the tree protection measures that would be taken during construction.  Whilst understanding the Member’s concern he stated that he could not advise Members to make a decision based on what could possibly happen in the future.

·         A Member concurred with the effectiveness of the existing screening of the site.  However, he had a concern regarding the turning of HGVs out of the site entrance onto Fordfield Road, which had a speed limit of 50 mph though most drivers drove at nearly 60 mph.  The Member felt that a much better visibility splay should be provided at the site entrance and referred to the problem experienced when the small coach used by Members for the site inspection entered on to Fordfield Road.  He added that it was not easy for traffic to see vehicles entering or leaving the site until the vehicles were in the middle of the road.  The Member suggested removing some of the screening to the left of the exit.  He also commented that the entrance was not suitable for HGV use and, in his experience, the quality of the entrance made it difficult for a car to leave the site.  In response the highways officer confirmed that the speed limit was 50 mph and the size of the existing visibility splay conformed to the requirements of the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges.  He stated that highways officers could establish if any branches obscured the visibility splay and request that they be removed.  The Chairman concurred and was of the opinion that if a problem existed it could, if necessary, be dealt with by trimming back the trees without affecting their height.

·         Following a query by the Chairman the Committee was advised that a condition required the entrance gates to be set back a considerable distance from the road.

·         A Member expressed concern regarding the 50 mph limit on Fordfield Road, mindful that traffic normally travelled at 60 mph.  He referred to the close proximity of the access to Center Parcs, the concentrated vehicular presence on particular days and the poor visibility for traffic approaching from the direction of Flitwick.  In addition, once past the Center Parcs entrance, vehicles could be almost immediately faced by a large lorry exiting the application site and asked if a reduction to 40mph could be considered. The highways officer responded that the Member’s suggestion could be referred to the relevant highways section for consideration but such a reduction had not been examined in connection with the application because the visibility splays met the Design Manual requirements.  The Chairman advised the Member to approach the highways section and ask it to consider his request and whether a change was necessary and undertake the checks that could determine this.  The Member continued that the same issue had arisen when the application for Centre Parcs was being considered.  Further, at that time there was a crossroads at the junction with the A507, which slowed traffic.  The roundabout which had since been installed allowed traffic to maintain its speed.  He stated that a formally quiet road had become a ‘rat run’, experienced traffic for Center Parcs and was now expected to accept vehicle movements connected with the application.  The Member felt the situation should be, at least, monitored.

·         A Member stated that he understood the concerns expressed but felt that the officer’s report reached the correct conclusion.  However, he felt the screening to the rear of the site was slightly inadequate, though he also stated that Center Parcs had removed some trees which would have assisted in screening it from the application site.  He referred to the concerns expressed by Center Parcs relating to noise disturbance to the nearest chalets and stated that by paying attention to the landscaping issues at the rear of the site it would also help inhibit noise levels.  He asked that the relevant condition be strengthened or applied.  The Member also referred to a bridleway which ran close to the application site and suggested that, in order to maintain the rural character of the area whilst recognising the need for security on the site, a condition requiring the use of low level PIR (passive infrared sensor)  controlled LED (light emitting diode) lighting, should be adopted. Finally, and if it was not possible to add a condition, he requested that an advisory (informative) be added stating that delivery/collection drivers of vehicles over 7.5 tonnes should be requested to only use the A507 and there should be advisory signage within the site stating ‘Left Turn Only’ with additional suitable wording in order to deter large vehicles from travelling through Flitwick.  The Member informed the meeting that he would seek to have restrictive measures introduced on the use of Fordfield Road by lorries should the advisory be ignored.  He assured Members that the situation would be monitored.

·         The Planning Officer stated that there was an intention to increase the screening to the rear of the site and it was covered under the landscaping plan in condition 7.  He stated that, with regard to the lighting, condition 6 could be amended to take into account Members comments, including a scheme to reduce light pollution. The informative for the HGV route was appropriate and the applicant had agreed to that.  Further, signage within the site could be conditioned.

·         A Member drew the Committee’s attention to the site operating hours and comment was exchanged relating to the issue of light pollution.


On being put to the vote 11 members voted for approval, 1 voted against and 1 abstained.




that Planning Application No. CB/17/05480/FULL relating to Staples Wholesale Nursery, Fordfield Road, Millbrook, Bedford, MK45 2HZ be approved as set out in the Schedule attached to these minutes.




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