Agenda item

Agenda item

Planning Application No. CB/17/05355/OUT (Arlesey)


Address:       Land off The Sidings, Henlow (nearest postcode SG16 6HB)


Outline planning application: Construction of 3 detached dwellings and all associated works with new private drive off The Sidings (all matters reserved except access and layout)


Applicant:     C/O Agent




The Committee had before it a report regarding Planning Application No. CB/17/05355/OUT an Outline planning application for the construction of 3 detached dwellings and all associated works with new private drive off The Sidings (all matters reserved except access and layout) on land off The Sidings, Henlow.


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


In advance of consideration of the application the Chairman reminded the ward Member, who was also a Member of the Committee that he had called-in the application on the grounds that it would result in a loss of amenity, overbearing impact on neighbouring properties and that the design was out of keeping with neighbouring properties.  The Chairman asked the ward Member if he was therefore predisposed to refuse the application.  In response the ward Member explained that he had met with a number of local residents who had submitted objections.  The issues which they had raised formed the reasons for the call-in; the residents having asked him to raise those issues with the Committee and the planning officers.  He added that the views expressed by the residents were not necessarily his own views and he had retained an open mind.


In advance of consideration of the application the Committee received representations from Henlow Parish Council and an objector to the application under the public participation scheme.


In response to comments by the Parish Council representative the Chairman assured him that 12 Members of the Committee had attended a site inspection of the application site on the Monday prior to the meeting.


A second ward Member explained that he had been unable to attend the site inspection because he was engaged on other Council business.  He had submitted his apologies to both the Chairman and the Executive Member for Regeneration.   The Chairman stated that he had explained the reason for the ward Member’s absence.


The second ward Member then drew the Committee’s attention to the reference in the officer report to the development being within the Settlement Envelope of Lower Stondon when it actually lay in Henlow Parish and in the settlement of Henlow Camp.  The ward Member then referred to a Member’s comment relating to the previous application (land at Chase Farm, Arlesey) where there had been 12 objections from residents for a development of 900 dwellings.  He stated that with the current application there was very significant concern expressed by local residents and there were 24 objections received for just 3 dwellings.  He added that 20 or more residents had attended the Parish Council meeting when the application was considered.  The ward Member felt that the level of attendance clearly illustrated that much disquiet had been generated by the proposed development although he commented that residents’ objections were, unfortunately, a minor consideration when dealing with planning applications.


The second ward Member turned to what he described as the two main issues.  The first was parking which had already been raised (by the Parish Council representative).  Whilst he believed a space would be provided to replace the proposed demolition of the garage at No. 19 The Sidings, the occupants of that dwelling had applied for planning permission for a two storey extension.  This would enable it to grow beyond its current three bedrooms and so create serious parking problems in the future.  He acknowledged that it would be a difficult issue to deal with in the context of the current application.  Second, the ward Member noted that the applicant had to submit three sets of drawings in order for the highways officer to be convinced that the access was viable.  He stated that he retained serious reservations regarding the angle of access and the width of access and the way it had possibly been ’massaged’ to meet the minimum requirement.  He asked that the Committee consider that issue.


The ward Member who had called in the application stated that he had done so following meetings with a number of local residents who had raised concerns.  These were set out in the reasons for the call-in.  Since then the applicant had provided additional drawings and reduced the height of one of the buildings from two storey to single storey but the ward Member still did not think that the residents’ concerns had been addressed.  He first referred to how Members had walked through the wooded area at the site inspection.  Whilst he did not have an issue with the ecology officer’s comment that there was nothing of outstanding value on the site he stated that, if the trees and undergrowth were removed, then it would leave a fairly open site which was elevated in comparison to the dwellings around it.  He expressed concern regarding the elevations and stressed that they needed to be examined and remedial work carried out to get them to the right height.  He sought a greater understanding from the officers as what material needed to be removed from the site because it would need to pass through what he felt was a very poor access.  This would impact on the deliverability of the proposed 3 new houses.


The ward Member then expressed concerns regarding the access and use of block paving.  He stated that block paved roads were usually installed last when it was known that large vehicles were not going to use the road and cause damage it.  The development site was a small cul-de-sac and the presence of a large number of heavy vehicles would destroy the amenity of the road for local residents.  He stated that he had real concerns regarding the deliverability of materials onto the site and the excavation of materials from the site and the equipment that would need to enter it.  Having listened to what had been said he did not think the application was acceptable.  


The ward Member next stated that he believed the application represented an overdevelopment of the site and would have a substantial impact on the amenity of the neighbouring properties.  He stated that, as 24 residents of a small cul-de-sac had expressed concerns, then their views deserved to be given weight by the Council.  He added that he did not think that there had been many applications where there had been that level of complaints about so few houses.  The ward Member stated that the weight of objections was such that the Committee needed to take it into consideration, to add context with regard to the access only one half of the double garage located at the entrance to the site was to be demolished and the plan itself had been manipulated several times in order to obtain officer support.


In response the Chairman reminded the meeting that, despite what had been said regarding both the current application and the previous one about the number of objections, Members had to focus on material planning considerations.  He added that the Localism Act had given many residents a false perception with regard to the influence of the weight of numbers on planning decisions.


The planning officer responded to the points raised as follows:


·         There had been no objections by the highways officer on the proposed parking.  He was also happy that the 4.8m wide access width was sufficient for the three dwellings.

·         The issues relating to construction vehicles blocking access, insufficient space, problems relating to emergency vehicles accessing the site and the impact on block paving had all been noted in the report and were dealt with under separate legislation.

·         The ecology officer had no objection.  Further, there was a recommended condition that the development works were only carried out in accordance with the ecological assessment submitted with the application.

·         Noise and disturbance during the construction period would be dealt with under environmental health legislation.

·         The Chairman referred to the claim of overdevelopment.  The planning officer stated that the privacy distances with regard to the flank elevations facing 19, 18, 16 and 14 The Sidings met the Council’s guidelines and it had been suggested that a condition be attached to any permission restricting any windows on those elevations to prevent overlooking.  He added that the garden sizes were acceptable and there would be no overbearing impact on 41 Signal Close by Plot 01.

·         The Chairman referred to the 18 month construction period and the claimed disruption.  The planning officer stated that the length of the construction period was not a material planning consideration and the developments themselves were allowed to start at any time within three years of gaining permission.  The issues of noise and disturbance fell under environmental health legislation.


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


·         A Member expressed surprise that the 4.8m wide access was felt to be acceptable by the officer because although one of the two garages was to be demolished the other would be left in place.  Although the access road off The Sidings into the development site appeared to be a similar width any larger lorries would experience difficulties maintaining a centre line because they would need to manoeuvre around the remaining garage.  The Member regarded it as a congestion point although it was only servicing three properties.  He stated that it was unfortunate that there was no suitable officer present to respond.  The Member then referred to a second area of concern.  He stated that the north-west of the site where Plot 01 was to be situated had not been accessible during the site inspection due to the undergrowth.  In connection with that Plot he then referred to No. 41 Signal Close which the Committee also could not visit but which the Member felt would be extremely close to the development and he expressed concern regarding possible overlooking.

·         In response to the Member’s concerns regarding possible overlooking the Chairman advised that Plot 01 was a single storey dwelling.  The Member thanked the Chairman for reminding him of that fact.

·         In connection with Member’s concerns regarding site access by construction vehicles the highways officer stated that it was limited in the vehicular areas shown but those areas could be increased throughout the construction period and conditioned through the construction management plan.  They could then be reduced in relation to the final scheme.  He added that the access, with the demolished garage, was 4.8m wide and a lorry was approximately 3m wide.  The turning area for the site was capable of taking a large HGV and for a HGV to reverse in that area.  The highways officer therefore felt that matters relating to construction and construction traffic could be dealt with within a construction management plan.

·         Another Member commented that he found that aspect of the officer report relating to the loss of amenity to be subjective opinion.  He recalled that when on the site he had seen a fence and behind that the rear of existing buildings in Henlow Camp.  However, the map displayed (at the meeting) did not convey that and gave the impression that there were substantial gardens bordering the development area thereby giving the impression of open space.  He stated that he had felt claustrophobic and the map was actually deceptive.  The Member mentioned an earlier reference to the presence of bats and how their numbers had been underestimated.  The Member then sought clarification on the Council’s policy regarding back land development and what the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) (or the emerging consultation which carried significantly less weight) said about positively enhancing biodiversity because there was no mention of it in the report.

·         In response to the query on back land infill the planning officer stated that it was considered the application site to be a vacant piece of land with significant vegetation.  It did not meet the definition of being a back land garden area although No. 19 The Sidings was using some of the land as a garden without planning permission.  Turning next to the query regarding enhancing biodiversity the planning officer stated that the ecology officer had been consulted and had raised no objections.  Further, an ecology statement had been supplied with the application and it had advised, for example, minimal external lighting, the clearance of vegetation from the construction zone by hand and checking for birds’ nests before the felling of trees.  Enhancements mentioned in the report included the provision of bat boxes.  All the recommendations in the ecology report would be covered by the recommended condition.

·         The Chairman referred to the proximity to the houses on the other side of the fence in Henlow Camp.  In reply the planning officer stated that the measurements were taken from the submitted plan which was considered to be correct when compared to the Ordnance Survey map.  She added that there was a 22m gap between the rear elevations of the existing houses in 1-7 Borton Avenue and Plots 01 and 02.

·         A Member referred to the unauthorised use of land on the application site as a garden by No. 19 The Sidings and pointed out that the report stated that permission to do so had been granted in 2009.  The planning officer confirmed that the Member was correct.  She added that it had occurred to her when at the site inspection that No. 41 Signal Close appeared to be using land on the site as an extended garden area.

·         A Member moved refusal on the grounds of loss of amenity, overdevelopment of the area, insufficient space between the proposed and the existing dwellings, failure to positively enhance biodiversity and the application constituted back land infill.  The Member commented that the current or emerging NPPF required new development to positively enhance biodiversity but the application actually reduced it.  The proposal was seconded.  In response a second planning officer responded to the proposed reasons for refusal.  He asked for clarification on what amenity was being lost, acknowledged that overdevelopment was a subjective judgement but with regard to insufficient space between the existing dwellings and the proposed houses, the Council’s standards, as set out in its Guidelines, were complied with.  With regard to the claimed loss of biodiversity part of the ecology report recommended the provision of bat boxes which would be viewed as the enhancement that was being provided.  The planning officer commented that in terms of the amount of land available, and that one of the proposed properties was a bungalow, he did not think it would be easy to support a case that the application represented overdevelopment of the site.

·         With regard to the claimed loss of amenity the Member explained that this referred to the impact on local residents arising from the loss of the trees on the site.  The insufficient space between the existing and proposed homes was overdevelopment.  He had acknowledged that it was subjective but he believed it to be so based on his presence at the site inspection.  The Member queried whether the supply of bat boxes enhanced biodiversity and advised the meeting of the increasing government focus on this issue and the importance of trees to human wellbeing.  He added that the government was committed to the planting of more trees than were cut down.  With regard to back land infill the Chairman stated that the officers’ opinion was that the application did not represent back land infill as the site was defined as open space.

·         Another Member asked to whom there was a loss of amenity.  He stated that No.19 The Sidings had not registered an objection although that could be because of an incentive not to do so.  He had been concerned regarding No. 41 Signal Close but it had been pointed out to him that the relevant Plot would be a bungalow and so was unlikely to have a substantive effect on the amenity of the existing dwelling.  On the claim of overdevelopment the Member stated that the Committee had approved a large number of higher density developments that were a great deal closer to other homes than the current application.   With regard to a loss of biodiversity he commented that the Committee usually deferred to the views of the experts.  Whilst he had expressed concerns on highways matters these had been explored and the highway officers appeared satisfied.  Turning to the use of part of the site as a garden extension the Member stated that there large numbers of small pieces of land within the Council’s borders which the owners, out of kindness, allowed their neighbours to use for car parks or gardens.  If, however, if the land was subsequently formally recognised at some point as being someone’s garden then the landowners would refuse to allow it to be used because they would be unable to develop it.  The Member advised that, whilst the application did not appeal to him, he was unable to find anything substantive on which to base a refusal.  He felt the Committee should provide a reason for its decision that the officers could take to an appeal, even if one never arose, and that at least the Committee’s arguments were substantive.

·         The Member who had moved refusal stated that omission of comments by the ecology officer did not alter the fact that development should positively enhance biodiversity.  He reiterated that loss of amenity was a subjective issue and developing the site would lead to a loss of amenity for all the residents in the area who would be effected by the development.  He stated that the officers would advise him if he was wrong in his claim that the development was back land infill.

·         Another Member referred to the site plan in the agenda which showed development to the border with Henlow Camp north and south of the application site.  He asked why was the site not included in the scheme for the area when it was first developed and concluded that it was because the site formed part of a biodiversity space and that it would be eroded if building was permitted.  That would contribute to the overdevelopment of the area in the wider context. He referred to the footpath providing access to the site and that he could not support what was an opportunistic attempt to develop the Plots.  A Member concurred with the interpretation of the site plan and commented that it indicated that there had been a clear attempt to create a green buffer.  He felt the application to be speculative.


On being put to the vote 9 Members voted to refuse the application, 3 voted against the motion to refuse and 1 abstained.




that Planning Application No. CB/17/05355/OUT relating to land off The Sidings, Henlow be refused as set out in the Schedule attached to these minutes.




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