39no. dwellings, including demolition of existing buildings (outline – all matters reserved except access)
The Committee considered a report of the Senior Planning Officer regarding an application for the erection of 39 no. dwellings including demolition of buildings (outline – all matters reserved except access) on land to the rear of Attwood Terrace, Spennymoor (for copy see file of minutes).
The Senior Planning Officer gave a detailed presentation which included a site location plan, aerial photographs and photographs of the site.
Councillor N Foster spoke on behalf of Spennymoor Town Council and stated that as a former County Councillor, he was familiar with the site and its history. He appreciated the application had to be considered on its own merits, but noted that this site had been turned down for planning permission on two separate occasions, by both Sedgefield Borough Council and the County Council, with appeals dismissed. In 1991 an independent inspector had turned down development in the area.
Locals feared that granting permission behind Black Horse Pub and demolishing Tudhoe Victory Club to build bungalows would lead to over-development in the area. This application appeared to confirm those fears. The proposed design appeared to create several opportunities for expansion into neighbouring fields. Following recent development and existing permissions in Spennymoor, he wondered why this greenfield site had been brought forward yet again – it was not recognised as a strategic development site in the County Durham Plan.
The space between Tudhoe Village and Tudhoe Colliery was rural in nature and gave the area its distinction, whilst preventing a level of urban sprawl which had been highlighted by the Inspector. The loss of trees and hedges and resulting loss of the wildlife habitat was also of concern; this was a space for people to enjoy and crowding to rear of Attwood Terrace would create a noise concern, exacerbated throughout the building process.
The plan included the demolition of two retail premises, one of which was the former Coop store which stood in a prominent position in the street, helping to give it its character. There was a commemorative plaque which marked the dropping of a B2 rocket during the second world war which he hoped would receive protection as feature of historical significance.
Councillor Fosters’ main concern was with regards to highways. An additional 40 vehicles could be expected and the development relied on traffic entering and exiting where the two buildings were demolished with several traffic concerns. The junction was near to housing, there was a Methodist Chapel further down street, and within a short distance was the entrance to Tudhoe Industrial Estate. This created a large volume of traffic of all sizes and furthermore, the current right turn entrance to the site was protected and would be at risk should the proposal go ahead.
Councillor Foster referred to the proximity of the bus stop on front street side which was on the main route from Durham, with a steady flow of traffic. A bus parked up on the bus stop would increase vehicles backing up and restrict visability further and there was no space for the provision of a pedestrian crossing. Several years ago Councillor Foster and former Councillor Barbara Graham had arranged for a 30 mph flashing sign to reduce speed but it was still a concern. He hoped the Committee would take on board the concern and passion from residents and refuse the application.
Councillor Gardener, Local Member, confirmed that there were three main issues. Firstly he pointed out that the application site had been referred to as part of Spennymoor, however Attwood Terrace was in Tudhoe Colliery and the residents identified as being from Tudhoe Colliery. Tudhoe Village was the other part of the main objectors which was an entirely separate settlement and identified as such. The two would be joined should this application be approved.
The second area of concern was that the application would create unnecessary encroachment into the Countryside, considering there was already three large brownfield sites which had been identified for development. These sites would create 500-600 houses in addition to the 1000 that had already been built. He continued that the identified sites needed to be utilised before looking at open countryside development. Members had put in a significant amount of time and effort into the County Durham Plan to identify sites for planning and this site had been turned down numerous times and he suggested that the Committee should ensure to stand by what the Council intended to do in future.
Councillor Gardner noted a high number of objections with regards to noise, traffic, countryside, wildlife which confirmed how much locals really cared about the area. He hoped the Committee would refuse the application as per the Officers recommendations.
Mr I Blackburn, objector, confirmed that he was representing many of the 231 petitioners and the 77 written objections, many who lived on Attwood Terrace and Front Street. Much of the feedback was that this development would grossly affect their amenity and the overall feedback was that Members, Officers and residents all wanted the application to be refused.
He defined amenity as a positive element which contributed to the overall character or enjoyment of the area. This was the reason a person wanted to live where they did. The residents of Attwood Terrace lived in a long row of terrace houses with their front door 12 metres from an incredibly busy and noisy road, yet the rear of the houses, away from noise and pollution, were fields of open countryside. This was the amenity that was being threatened, for many people who had lived in the same house for years, some for generations.
Mr Blackburn referred to the application as contrary to Safe policy H17 and agreed with the findings in paragraph 77 of the report.
With regards to coalescence, these two villages were geographically discreet, separated by greenfield and differed in character, with Attwood Terrace being 19th century housing typical of a coalfield terraced house and Tudhoe Village were detached houses built around a green, some of which dated back to 17th century and earlier. This would be latest step in coalescence of the two very distinct villages.
Mr Blackburn confirmed that three fields that formed an L shape around the application site had recently been sold from its historical use as farm land, and residents were concerned that if this application was allowed, it would provide precedent for further development that would entirely lose the separation of the villages.
In 1990 a similar application for the site went to planning inspectorate and the development was described has having an unacceptably detrimental impact on the character and form of Tudhoe Colliery. The Planning Inspectorate went on to say that modern suburban housing would not relate satisfactory to terraces or the houses of Tudhoe Village and it would create an undesirable encroachment into open countryside – fundamental findings which were just as consistent in the current day, very little had changed.
Mr Blackburn continued that development in the countryside on a greenfield site was not needed and of the 6.3 year supply and demand, the Council had committed to 16000 dwellings, of which 1500 were in Spennymoor. There were two identified brownfield sites within close proximity. The emerging County Durham Plan did not make provision for the site and it did not pass the conditions necessary to provide an exception to the plan, therefore Mr Blackburn asked that the application be refused on behalf of all residents and objectors.
Ms J Matchett of Litchfields spoke on behalf of the Applicant. The first reason for refusal alleged harm to the character and urban form of Tudhoe Colliery, encroachment into the open countryside, and coalescence with Tudhoe Village. Despite regular engagement with planning officers they had not recently voiced such concerns. The Landscape Officer had provided some detailed design comments, but there was no landscape objection to the principal of this development and the introduction at this late stage was concerning and not consistent with either the emerging or adopted planning policies. Whilst the indicative layout had been submitted, the detailed design was a matter for reserved matters and shouldn’t be used as the basis to refuse outline planning permission.
With regards to the second reason for refusal, noted that the displacement of on street parking would adversely impact the amenity of residents of Attwood Terrace and highway safety. The proposed access arrangements had been put forward by Councils’ own highways department and the agent advised that all concerns had been addressed. In response to the loss of parking for residents of Attwood Terrace, five affected properties would each be provided with their own parking bay, and a shared visitor bay – an improvement on the existing parking bays which were substandard by the Councils own standards, with no guarantee of a space.
With regards to the final reason for refusal, Ms Matchett confirmed that the flood authority did not object to the development but simply sought reassurance that SUDs would be included at reserved matters. This outline plan was illustrative and drainage details would have been of limited value at this time. It had been confirmed that drives would be permeable paving, and swales, filter drains and rain gardens would be considered within the drainage proposals and this could be secured with a condition.
The NPPF was clear that decision takers were able to give weight to relevant policies in emerging plans but advice from Officers’ was that the County Durham Plan should not be given any weight, instead using the Sedgefield Borough Plan which had been drafted 25 years ago.
If the Committee accepted the recommendation and refused the application, there would undoubtedly be another appeal and by the time it was heard, the new County Durham Plan would have been adopted and this would be the criteria assessed. The key emerging policy was policy 6 which related to development on unallocated sites, which were outside of the built up area but well within settlement, such as this application site. Ms Matchett was satisfied this application fully accorded with all the elements of Policy 6 and as the County Durham Plan was at an advanced stage, with the Inspector having confirmed Policy 6 as sound, she suggested that considerable weight should be afforded to it. Failure to do so risked the being judged as unreasonable by an inspector.
The proposal had social economic, environmental benefits and ecological gains. It would provide 39 new homes, some affordable and help to sustain the local community. The scheme would also bring huge financial benefits, financial contributions and economic benefits, which Ms Matchett believed should be given additional weight, especially due to the impact of the current Covid 19 pandemic which was having a significant economic impact which would be felt for some time. Schemes such as this supported the housebuilding sector, boosted the economy and stemmed unemployment. The Committee should support the housebuilding and construction industries and support the application.
The Senior Planning Officer confirmed that the application had to be determined on relevant policies in place at the time and although the County Durham Plan would be coming into play, it could not be afforded any any weight, therefore weight had been given to the Sedgefield Local Plan which was still relevant. In terms of the drainage issues, this was an outline application and there was still a lot of information required to make the application sound; the drainage section had not been satisfied with the information given. With regards to ecological gain, the Senior Planning Officer reminded Members that this was already an open field with huge ecological benefits and alluded to the impact of building 39 houses with the provision of some offset. With regards to Covid 19; houses needed to be built in the right place, but the local planning authority was arguing that this was not the right place for all the reasons as per the case officers report. Highways were happy with the access that was shown as long as it had the necessary visibility splays, however this would come at the expense of local amenity. To improve the amenity, would come at the expense of highway safety as it would not have the necessary visibility splays.
Councillor Blakey agreed with the Officers recommendation and moved the recommendation to refuse, seconded by Councillor Shuttleworth.
Councillor Jewell confirmed that Local Members had put forward valid planning objections and he supported the recommendation to refuse.
That the application be REFUSED as per the recommendation in the report.