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Agenda item

DM/18/03366/FPA - 8 The Hallgarth, Durham

2 storey extension at rear of C4 property, including internal alterations.

Minutes:

The Planning Officer, Jennifer Jennings, gave a detailed presentation on the report relating to the abovementioned planning application, a copy of which had been circulated (for copy see file of minutes).  Members noted that the written report was supplemented by a visual presentation which included photographs of the site.  The Planning Officer, JJ advised that Members of the Committee had visited the site and were familiar with the location and setting.  The application was for a 2 storey extension at rear of C4 property, including internal alterations and was recommended for approval, subject to conditions.

 

The Planning Officer explained that there was already an existing permission and use in terms of the property being a HMO and Members were shown proposed elevations and noted similar extensions to nearby properties within the area.  She explained that there had been no objections from Northumbrian Water or the Highway Authority to the application.  Members noted there were objections raised by the City of Durham Parish Council including in terms of how the application related to the Council’s Interim Policy on Student Accommodation, with a representative from the Parish Council being in attendance to address the Committee.

 

The Planning Officer noted that there had been no objections from internal consultees, however, Spatial Policy had commented in terms of the student density in the area being 36.5 percent, therefore creation of additional bed space would be contrary to the Interim Policy.  It was added that it was also noted that consideration needed to be given to an appeal case at Hawthorn Terrace in January 2017 where a similar proposal was allowed, despite being contrary to the Interim Policy.

 

The Planning Officer noted that in respect of public representations, there had been objections from the City of Durham Trust and from a neighbouring family as summarised within the report.

 

The Planning Officer, JJ noted that it was felt that as the application did not represent an increase in number of HMOs as the property already operated as a small C4 HMO and therefore did not run contrary to the principles within the Interim Policy as the housing mix would be unaltered.  The recent appeal decision was reiterated and Members were asked to note the recommendation for approval.

 

The Chairman thanked the Planning Officer, JJ and asked Local Member and Committee Member, D Freeman if he wished to speak first in respect of the application.

 

Councillor D Freeman noted he was a member of the Parish Council, although he was not a member of the Parish Council’s Planning Committee and had not been involved in their decision making or objection to the application as submitted.

 

Councillor D Freeman noted that the report suggested that the application was for “just one more bed” and therefore would have little impact, however, Members noted that month by month there were applications for “just one more bed” and at the last Committee there had been approval for an additional eight beds within the same area, likely to be let to students.  Councillor D Freeman noted within the last year there had been a number of such additions, contrary to the Interim Policy, noting this meant not only the creation of additional HMOs, but also to the creation of additional bed spaces, as stated at paragraph 50 of the Officer’s report.  He added that the Council created the Interim Policy on top of the statutory provisions of the saved City of Durham Local Plan to stop further “studentification”.  He noted that in this case the report set out that unfortunately the Interim Policy was not able to stop this.  Councillor D Freeman noted the reference to the appeal decision relating to Hawthorn Terrace, however, he felt this was not directly applicable as the area was on the other side of the City and the student density in that area was likely greater than 90 percent, with that being around 35 percent in The Hallgarth, demonstrating there was still a mix of housing use within the area.  He noted that each appeal should be looked at on its own merits, as should each application and he felt that the information as set out at paragraph 50 of the Officer’s report should be sufficient to refuse the application based upon the Interim Policy.

 

The Chairman thanked Councillor D Freeman and asked Mr John Ashby, representing the City of Durham Parish Council, to speak in objection to the application, having 5 minutes to address the Committee.

 

Mr J Ashby thanked the Committee for the opportunity to speak and noted he was speaking on behalf of the City of Durham Parish Council to object to the application to extend an existing HMO at 8 The Hallgarth, Durham City.

He noted that the Applicant suggested that an extension to create just one additional bedroom was so marginal as to be acceptable, with an appeal decision being quoted as evidence.  Mr J Ashby noted that, as Members would know, a decision of an Appeal Inspector does not create a precedent and that indeed, the awkward fact was that often one decision apparently contradicts another.  He added that Appeal decisions do not change a policy and that line of reasoning must therefore be set aside.

Mr J Ashby explained that the County Council’s Interim Policy had been upheld in many appeal decisions and it rightly could therefore be given weight.  He added that the key question was whether there were any compelling grounds for making an exception in this case.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Members were asked to note the relevant part of the County Council’s Interim Policy on Student Accommodation which stated:

 

“In order to promote the creation of sustainable, inclusive and mixed communities and maintain an appropriate housing mix, applications for ….extensions (to HMOs)   that result in additional bed spaces……… will not be permitted if more than 10% of the total number of properties within 100 metres of the application site are already in use as HMOs or student accommodation exempt from council tax charges.”

Mr J Ashby noted that the application was for an extension of an existing HMO into the back garden and therefore must be assessed under the above those criteria.  He added that according to the County Council’s Officers the percentage of properties within 100 metres already converted into HMOs was 36.5 percent, way above the 10 percent threshold and the proposal was therefore contrary to the Interim Policy.

He added that he would add that the extensions on nearby properties pre-date the Interim Policy and so do not assist the application being considered.

Mr J Ashby noted that the City of Durham Parish Council believed that the County Council used its expertise and knowledge in its very careful crafting of the wording of the Interim Policy on HMOs, including what it says about extensions to existing HMOs.

He added that if today the Committee agreed that just one additional bedroom was alright, then why not two or three?  He asked where would the new line be drawn.  Mr J Ashby noted the Committee would in effect be undoing the meticulous work of its own Officers, and of the Cabinet approval given to that wording.  He added that this would mean no-one would know where they stood - residents, developers, professional planners, or legal officers.  Mr J Ashby noted that, in particular, Elected Members would find themselves having to operate in a fog of uncertainty if the Interim Policy did not mean what it said.

Mr J Ashby noted that furthermore, the Applicant also sought to establish a threshold of around 70 percent of properties already being HMOs as the limit of trying to maintain balanced and sustainable communities.  Mr J Ashby noted that that the Applicant was in effect saying that the area was now too far gone to be worth saving as a community - let it all become just students.  Mr J Ashby noted that this was a counsel of despair.

Mr J Ashby explained that in turn this brought in the fundamental question of what is a community.  He suggested that it was not properties that make a community, it was the people within them and that although an additional property was not proposed, so the housing mix is not altered, additional capacity of an existing HMO was proposed and this meant a further intensification of the student part of the local community.

Mr J Ashby proposed that the Council’s Policy on Student Accommodation had to be about buildings but its purpose was to try to maintain balanced communities.  He added that the policy clearly set a 10 percent threshold on HMOs, including extensions in areas at risk of becoming unbalanced.  He noted that this clarity was important to uphold so that everyone could understand where they stood. 

 

 

 

Mr J Ashby noted that accordingly, the Parish Council urged that the application be refused on the grounds that it was an extension to an existing HMO where significantly more than 10 percent of the properties within a 100 metre radius were already HMOs and was therefore contrary to the County Council’s Interim Policy on Student Accommodation.

 

The Chairman thanked Mr J Ashby and asked Members of the Committee for their comments and questions.

 

Councillor O Temple noted his focus on paragraph 36 of the report, with the percentages as reported by the Council’s Spatial Policy Section.  He noted he felt it was clear from this paragraph that the application was contrary to the Interim Policy, however, he felt the issue needed to be further unpacked and for further explanation in relation to the appeal decision relating to Hawthorn Terrace being referenced.

 

The Solicitor – Planning and Development noted that within that appeal decision, the Planning Inspector had given a guide as to how the Interim Policy should be interpreted.  He added that when assessing the application against saved Policy H9 relating to HMOs, which was considered to be afforded full weight, and also the Interim Policy on Student Accommodation, saved Policy H9 was part of the statutory development plan and therefore should be given more weight than the Interim Policy.

 

Councillor O Temple asked in what way the Interim Policy was in conflict with Policy H9.  The Solicitor – Planning and Development noted that the saved policy was more permissive, with the Interim Policy being more specific.  

 

Councillor O Temple noted he struggled with the idea that if an area had “gone beyond a point we gave up” and that he felt it would be illogical as the current student density was 3.6 times greater than the threshold set out in the Interim Policy.

 

The Area Team Leader (Central and East), Sarah Eldridge noted that the specifics in relation to the Hawthorn Terrace appeal were a two storey extension with an additional three bed spaces.  She added that the Inspector had noted that the evidence base that had been used had been for the number of properties and referred to new developments.  It was noted the Inspector had added that for extensions to existing properties it was the number of people which was the factor, which was not referred to within the evidence base.    

 

Councillor M Davinson noted that, similar to the application considered at the last meeting of the Committee, he felt that while Members may not wish to have more student accommodation in such areas, the advice from Officers and reference to the Inspector’s comments on the appeal regarding Hawthorn Terrace suggested that any refusal would likely be overturned at any appeal.  He added that while it was frustrating to Members in respect to the Interim Policy and its application in these cases, on the basis of the Officers report and the debate by Members he would propose that the application be approved as set out within the Officer’s report. 

Councillor D Freeman noted that Officers seemed to suggest that while the Interim Policy stated the application should be refused, Policy H9 deemed the application to be acceptable.  He contended that in fact the application was contrary to Policy H9 in that the amenity of permanent residents would be affected and that direct comparison with Hawthorn Terrace was not possible as the two area were not the same.

 

Councillor J Robinson left the meeting at 2.25pm

 

The Solicitor – Planning and Development noted that Mr J Ashby had noted that a Planning Inspectorate decision was not binding, however, there was a need to give some regard to such decisions.  The Solicitor – Planning and Development noted that it was his opinion that if the application was refused on the reasons suggested so far, and in the context of the steer given by the Inspector’s decision on the Hawthorn Terrace appeal, it would be a struggle to defend that decision at appeal.

 

Councillor J Clark noted she agreed with Councillor M Davinson in that it was an awkward position, however, she seconded that the application be approved as per the Officer’s recommendation.

 

RESOLVED

 

That the application be APPROVED subject to the conditions as detailed in the Officer’s report.

Supporting documents:

 

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