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Agenda item

DM/18/01333/FPA - East Durham Cathedral Farm, High Pittington, Durham

Erection of dwelling.


The Principal Planning Officer, Alan Dobie, 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 Principal Planning Officer, AD advised that Members of the Committee had visited the site and were familiar with the location and setting.  The application was for the erection of a dwelling and was recommended for refusal.


The Principal Planning Officer, AD referred to plans, images and aerial photographs to show the context of the site, being set within the countryside to the north of Sherburn Village.  He explained to Members that there were three businesses operating at the site: the main facility operating as an engineering business; an equestrian business; and a small agricultural business.  Members noted that in 2013 retrospective consent was granted for those uses.  The Principal Planning Officer, AD noted the application for a dwelling was to support those businesses.  Members noted the buildings that already existed on the larger site, including an amenity building adjacent to the application site itself, used as a support facility for the engineering business, with a meeting room, kitchen and toilet facilities.  The Principal Planning Officer, AD referred Members to proposed floor plan and elevations, noting a typical layout and design, with dormer style windows. 


In respect of consultation with statutory and internal consultees it was noted there had been objections from the Highways Section as the development was in an unsustainable location.  The Principal Planning Officer, AD explained that the Environmental Health section noted a condition should be added in relation to contaminated land. 

Councillor were informed that the Landscape Officer had objected to the original scheme as being too large, and in respect of the amended scheme had noted that it should be accompanied by a landscaping scheme.


It was explained that Business Durham had commented that the information provided did not show a functional need for industrial premises, though a temporary structure could be considered in respect of the animal business. 

The Principal Planning Officer, AD noted that there had been no objections from the public, no objections from Pittington Parish Council, no objections from Sherburn Village Parish Council and no objections from Local Member Councillor D Hall.


The Principal Planning Officer, AD noted that the development was in the countryside and both the NPPF and saved local plan policies were against residential development unless there was an agricultural need and a financial justification.


It was noted that in terms of the agricultural business there were around 25 animals on site, and not the type that would require a need for a worker on site.  The Principal Planning Officer, AD noted that it was also felt the business in its current position did not justify an on-site presence, and that there had been a separate consent for an agricultural building on land to the south of Sherburn Village which had been accompanied by a statement as regards expansion of this business at this site, away from the current application site.


In respect of the equestrian business, the Principal Planning Officer, AD noted that there was training facilities and a number of therapeutic activities including a horse spa, plate massage and equine hydrotherapy.  He noted that the applicant had stated a need for 24-hour cover, especially in the context of the valuable nature of the horses being cared for and the nature of the care being given.  The Principal Planning Officer, AD added that while it was agreed that there was a functional justification, at the current point there was not a financial justification in terms of the equine business.  It was reiterated that the Planning Authority would support a temporary structure, such as a caravan, on a semi-permanent basis until such time that the financial justification was met by this business.  The Principal Planning Officer, AD noted that the engineering business did meet the financial justification, however, the nature of the business and the close proximity of the current address of the applicant meant that it did not meet the functional justification.


The Principal Planning Officer, AD noted that recent figures showed that County Durham could demonstrate a supply of housing greater than five years and therefore the consideration of the application helping in terms of housing need would not carry significant weight.  Councillors learned that Officers considered there was no impact on residential amenity, due to the lack of residential properties within the vicinity.


The Principal Planning Officer, AD explained that in terms of impact upon the streetscene/landscape the existing buildings on the site already intruded on the main views from Sherburn Village and Pittington Road, however, the proposed development would not impact significantly and that with a suitable landscaping scheme there would not be sufficient grounds in this respect to warrant refusal.

Members noted in respect of highways, specifically access and parking, there had been no objections. 


The Principal Planning Officer, AD reiterated that in terms of the site being a sustainable location, the Highway Section had objected in terms of lack of public transport, services and amenities.


It was noted there would be a distance in terms of shops and schools, the site being clearly reliant upon the use of a private car.  It was added that the applicant had offered to carry out works to improve footpath links, however, this was not felt to be necessary as the benefits would be limited and would not warrant an approval of the application and would also include works to land outside the ownership of the applicant and therefore may not be able to be achieved.  The Principal Planning Officer, AD noted that the Contaminated Land Section had no objection to the application, subject to an appropriate condition regarding remediation.


The Principal Planning Officer, AD noted in summary that while the businesses on the site helped support the local economy, the application overall in planning and sustainability terms would be assessed in terms of NPPF Paragraph 11.  He added that the potential benefits in terms of the minimal boost to housing supply and personal benefit to the applicant were felt to be outweighed by the adverse impacts in terms of the application not being in a sustainable location, within the countryside and relying upon private vehicles, and with some adverse impact visually, albeit with some mitigation.  Accordingly, the Principal Planning Officer, AD reiterated that the application was recommended for refusal.


The Chairman thanked the Principal Planning Officer, AD and asked Local Member, Councillor D Hall to speak in support of the application.


Councillor D Hall thanked the Chairman and Committee for the opportunity to speak and noted he had read and welcomed the Officer’s report and understood that Officers would be cautious as regards granting permission for a new farmhouse.  He added that the proposal was small in scale and noted there were few applications he would anticipate supporting as a local County Councillor, but he believed the application justified the granting of permission.


Councillor D Hall noted the owner had come from a humble background to build three, family-run, thriving and growing businesses.  He added the applicant was the type of person who lived for their work, keeping himself, his family and growing number of employees very busy.  He added that, for a rural business near to Sherburn Village properties, there had been no noticeable impact.


Councillor D Hall noted the three businesses included a steel fabrication business, which could operate up to 24 hours a day, carrying out work for some of the largest companies in the north east, such as Nissan and Jaguar Land Rover.  He added the business built and trained skills within its workforce that could otherwise be difficult to find.  Councillor D Hall noted the equestrian business provided training and specialist 24-hour care for horses and the growing agricultural business was having new livestock added. 

He noted that in the past the site has suffered significant thefts and a business such as that was an obvious target with significant and expensive animal, metal and machinery on site.  Councillor D Hall noted rural crime was a major problem and that a large theft had the potential to force a business such as this to close.


Councillor D Hall noted that application has no local objections and the business worked with local communities.


He added that there were a growing number of employees and there were apprenticeships for local young people and offered opportunities to those that may otherwise find accessing work difficult.  He noted that the businesses sponsored local community and sports clubs, including local boxing champions, and its facilities have been used by local groups, including a local Parish Council and environment and walking group.


Councillor D Hall noted the Officer’s report stated the NPPF “does not give any detail on how to assess whether there is an essential need or not for a person to live permanently at or near their place of work.”  He added that he believed the Officer’s report explained the issue in a fair and balanced way although he felt it created an unfair scenario where each business was looked at separately as if they were on separate similar sites, not actually on the same site.  He added that in his view that unfairly masked a clear justification for a dwelling on the site. 


Councillor D Hall also noted the Officer’s report set out that the main argument for refusal was that some elements of the businesses on site needed to be a little bigger, he added he felt this was clearly happening already.  He noted that, while creating a “chicken and egg” scenario where a refusal recommendation used the potential growth it may block as a reason to recommend refusal, if the real situation on the ground was acknowledged with three very busy businesses that need a dwelling on site he hoped the committee will agree there is no real reason to refuse.


Councillor D Hall noted that the remainder of the Officer’s report set out there were no other significant reasons for refusal.  He added that applications were to be taken on a case by case basis and therefore, as there would be no precedent set were this application to be granted, he noted no reason he could see to refuse the application.


Councillor D Hall explained he felt such businesses were best served by having a dwelling on site, helping to ensure current and future operations and growth, and to help address some employment and skills challenges of our County and region.  He added that small local businesses that were filling the supply chains should be encouraged and supported, including the hard-working, skills developing, flexible, gap-filling, competitive and community friendly business at the heart of the application.


Councillor D Hall added that if the Committee were minded to grant the application, as they were free to do so, it would protect the businesses mentioned and their beneficial activities, allowing them to grow sustainably within their low impact and cohesive site. 

He noted that should Members choose not to grant permission, this could severely limit the potential of the businesses concerned and added that he did not want such a restrained, respectful, understandable and needed application to fail or any of the current benefits and significant future potential of this business to be put at risk.  Councillor D Hall concluded by respectfully asking for the Committee to agree and grant the application.


The Chairman thanked Councillor D Hall and asked Local Member, Councillor B Kellett to speak in objection to the application.


Councillor B Kellett thanked the Chairman and Committee for the opportunity to speak in objection to the application.  He explained that he had gone through the Officer’s report and found it to be fair and balanced and supported the recommendation as set out for refusal.


Councillor B Kellett added that he had lived in the local area for 40 years and noted that the field had originally been owned by a larger farm and he had witnessed the site deteriorate into the state it was in now.  He quoted a conversation he had with a local resident, an elderly lady who had asked “who was responsible for that eyesore?”. 


Councillor B Kellett noted he had visited the site on four occasions over the last few years and explained that on a visit with Parish Councillors it had been thought that the amenity building on site had been a bungalow.  He added that on the first visit he had undertaken the site had been very quiet, with no noise coming from the buildings.  He explained that this was because the workers were all away working out at various locales and that upon subsequent visits he had not seen anyone working on site, he had not seen anyone drive into the site, he had noted the garage was empty and did not see any reason for it. 


Councillor B Kellett noted while the stable block was very nice, with room for around five or six horses, the land outside was divided in two by a beck, serving a mill around 100 years ago, and being the site of a historic murder.  He added that in terms of the agricultural business, it comprised a few sheep, not cattle and doubted this supported the application.  He concluded by noting he would ask the Committee to agree with the Officer’s recommendation for refusal.


The Chairman thanked Councillor B Kellett and asked the Committee Services Officer to read out a statement on behalf of Mr Peter Thompson, a speaker who had unfortunately not been able attend the meeting:


“I have been a resident of Durham for over 50 years and have served the community in a variety of settings including as a County, City and Parish Councillor.  I have known Paul Johnson, the applicant, for most of his life.  Paul has always stood out as someone who is hard working and committed to success and his family.  Paul is very much a self-made person and, in my opinion, will go on to be even more successful in the future.  The continuing expansion of the businesses will necessarily place even greater pressure on Paul and the residential application, if successful, will go some way to support his need for a family life.


I am aware that the proposal which the Committee is considering is presented to you without opposition and indeed is supported by a great many, including both Parish Councils.  One of the essential elements to the application is the need to be on hand, responsive and in residence not least to protect the extremely valuable live stock currently housed on the site and which is to be increased in the future.


I have no doubt in my mind that Paul will continue to be successful and that those successes will undoubtedly bring recognition and status to our Region. They most certainly address the County Council’s declared priority to direct and support initiatives which drive forward economic regeneration and job creation.

The decision in relation to the application lies with the Committee. You have had the opportunity to visit the site and observe the thriving and emerging businesses. I sincerely hope that you will be minded to support the application to enable a local and regional business base to continue to develop and invest in the local economy and create even more employment.  Thank you for your time.”.


The Chairman thanked the Committee Services Officer and asked Mr Mark Ketley, agent on behalf of the applicant, to speak in support of the application.


Mr M Ketley noted he had been involved in the design and explained that he was from County Durham and understood the issues and sensitivities of the area.  He thanked the Officer for their balanced report, however, he felt it could be put forward for a different decision in terms of the NPPF balance.  He noted that the recommendation had hinged on two factors, sustainability and function/financial feasibility.


Mr M Ketley noted in respect of sustainability, the site was 300 metres from Sherburn Village and 600 metres from High Pittington, with access to all the services and amenities offered by those villages.  He added that the location was only a few miles from the A1(M) and Durham City, with its train station.


In respect of finance and function, Mr M Ketley noted the comments from the Officer and Councillor D Hall with their views on how each business could be assessed.  He added he disagreed with the Officer’s view of only function in respect of the equine business and finance for the engineering business.  He noted the unit was not a factory, it was the base for PJI Engineering a fabrication support business, which as alluded to previously, serving important local clients such as Nissan and Jaguar/Land Rover.  He added that in order to be able to provide the vital 24 hour a day, 365 days a year rapid response those type of companies required, an on-site presence would be extremely beneficial.  He added that the 25 employees, soon to be 26, demonstrated the element of managing employees and that there was a case in terms of the functional aspect.  He added that the financial aspect was in effect recognition of the functional case for this, in addition to the equine business and therefore, in line with the NPPF, he asked that the Committee grant the application.


The Chairman thanked Mr M Ketley and asked the Principal Planning Officer, AD if he had any comments in terms of the points and issues raised by the speakers.


The Principal Planning Officer, AD noted he had some comments in respect of some of the points raised by Councillor D Hall.  He noted in terms of rural theft, this was an issue, however, this potential in itself did not necessitate a dwelling and noted many other businesses operated satisfactorily with alarms and CCTV equipment at their sites.  In terms of the applicant being a valued local employer, the Principal Planning Officer, AD noted this was laudable and was to be supported, however, this did not override the concerns in terms of planning.  He explained to Members that in respect of the issue of the three businesses being considered separate when looking at financial and functional viability, each element was looked at in this way as if one element were to fail then the whole assessment would fail.  The Principal Planning Officer, AD noted that therefore each business was considered alone.


He reiterated that when looking at the other businesses in terms of financial viability, it had been suggested that more evidence on growth could be gathered over time and that a temporary accommodation on site would be an acceptable way of managing until such evidence was forthcoming.  He added that it was felt any permanent structure was premature at this stage.  The Principal Planning Officer, AD noted that in terms of Councillor D Hall’s comment that not to grant permission would limit the business, he referred back to the advice in terms of temporary accommodation on site, until the relevant profitability evidence was gathered.


The Principal Planning Officer, AD noted in response to issues raised by Mr M Ketley, he would refer Members to paragraph 64 of the report, with the assessment by the Highway Section setting out that: the nearest school in Pittington was 980 metres away from the application site; the nearest school at Sherburn was 1,200 metres away; the closest shops at Sherburn being 1,246 metres away; and the two nearest bus stops being 655 and 760 metres away.


The Principal Planning Officer, AD noted speakers had put forward a case that the engineering business required on site presence as there was a potential for 24 hour a day call out.  He reiterated that the applicant’s current property was approximately seven minutes away from the site and therefore was unconvinced that there was sufficient justification in terms of functional need relating to that business.


The Chairman thanked the Principal Planning Officer, AD for his responses to the points raised and asked the Committee for their comments and questions.


Councillor D Freeman noted the point raised by Councillor B Kellett in terms of an existing bungalow at the site.  The Principal Planning Officer, AD noted there was no bungalow on the application site and explained that the structure referred to, while having the appearance of a bungalow, was an amenity building on adjacent land, providing facilities for employees of the engineering business.


Councillor O Temple noted he had attended the site visit and asked if the site plan, aerial photographs and views could be displayed on the projector screen.  He referred to the views and noted they were dominated by the large agricultural looking building housing the engineering facility.  He noted the “amenity bungalow” that amounted to more than a portaloo, however he felt that given its size it was not dominant in terms of the view. 

Councillor O Temple noted that he had witnessed the amount of investment that had taken place at the site and the equipment that had been purchased.  He added initially he had some cynicism in terms of the requirement for a property on site, however, when looking at all the businesses together he felt it was clear that there was a passion for them.  Councillor O Temple noted that the amenity building was quite well shielded and noted that if the Committee were minded to approve the application, both the Contaminated Land and Landscape Sections had noted no objections subject to conditions. 


He added that he asked himself what potential harm was there from the application, and he saw negligible harm or none.  Councillor O Temple noted each application was to be judged on its own merits and noted the phrase “rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men” and proposed that the application be approved.


Councillor P Jopling seconded that the application be approved.


Councillor D Brown noted the comments of fellow Committee Members and remarked that he had seen no sign of an agricultural building, just the engineering facility, amenity building and the stables.


The Principal Planning Officer, AD noted that should the Committee be minded to approve the application, were they also suggesting that it would be subject to the usual conditions, including those mentioned, and for delegated authority for Officers to draft the appropriate conditions.  He also asked if Members had any specific ideas in terms of any tie-in of the use of the dwelling with the businesses on site.


Councillor O Temple noted he was not sure in terms of any requirement for a tie-in, rather that if the Committee were convinced that there was reason for the dwelling on site, to serve the businesses.  He was not sure there was a need for such a condition.  The Principal Planning Officer, AD noted that it was for the scenario when considering the harm to residential amenity of the dwelling should it be sold on to a third party.  Councillor P Jopling noted an example that if a person purchased a house next to Heathrow they would not realistically be able to complain about aircraft noise in the future.  She added given the amount of investment at the site she felt it was unlikely the applicant was wanting to sell on and commented that she felt that with a sensible landscape scheme the building would be unobtrusive.


The Solicitor – Planning and Development, Neil Carter noted that in terms of the justification for the dwelling linked to any businesses in the countryside, normally one would expect the occupancy to be tied to the business to avoid a future loss of the house to the market and advised that therefore there should be careful thought in terms of how this would be framed.  He suggested that Members could be minded to leave this to be formulated by Officers when looking at the usual conditions for such an application.  Councillor O Temple noted he was happy for Officers to have delegated authority as regards this and the conditions.  Councillor M Davinson suggested delegated authority for Officers in consultation with the Chairman of the Committee, the proposer and seconder agreed.




That the application be APPROVED subject to a suite of conditions to be delegated to the Planning Officer, in consultation with the Chairman of the Committee.

Supporting documents:


Democratic Services
Durham County Council
County Hall
County Durham
03000 269 714