Agenda item

DM/20/03644/FPA - Units 1-6 Gas Lane Industrial Estate, Gas Lane, Middleton in Teesdale

Demolition of existing toolroom and warehouse and construction of new warehouse, change of use of existing warehouse to offices and tool room (amended plans reducing height of western warehouse to 6.6m ridge and 5m eaves, drainage scheme, construction management plan, revised site layout plan depicting car and cycle parking received 1.3.2021)


The Committee considered a report of the Senior Planning Officer in relation to the demolition of existing toolroom and warehouse and construction of new warehouse, change of use of existing warehouse to offices and tool room (amended plans reducing height of western warehouse to 6.6m ridge and 5m eaves, drainage scheme, construction management plan, revised site layout plan depicting car and cycle parking received 1.3.2021) (for copy see file of minutes).


The Principal Planning Officer, Steven Pilkington gave a detailed presentation which included a site location plan, aerial and site photographs, and noted the application was recommended for approval subject to conditions as set out in the report.


The Chair thanked the Principal Planning Officer and asked Judith Mashiter, Clerk to Middleton-in-Teesdale and Newbiggin Parish Council to speak in relation to the application.


Parish Clerk, J Mashiter thanked the Chair and noted that the application had generated significant interest within the local community and had polarised views, noting there were those that sought economic development, to preserve local jobs and welcomed the creation of new jobs; and on the other hand there were those that wished to protect the amenity of residents in close proximity to the site.  She added, that while not stated within the Officer’s report, the Parish Council had also requested that the application be brought to Committee to allow all issues to be explored, given the significance and scale of the proposed development and interest it had generated.


It was explained that upon receipt of the application, the Parish Council called and extraordinary meeting, specifically to listen to views of members of the public, held on 8 February 2021.  Parish Clerk, J Mashiter explained that the Planning Officer had attended the meeting and had been able to clarify several issues of procedure and specifics relating to the proposed development.  She noted that the meeting had been held remotely and between 18 and 21 members of the public had joined the meeting, 13 of which spoke in relation to the application.  She explained that Middleton-in-Teesdale and Newbiggin Parish Council comprised of 12 seats, eight for the Middleton-in-Teesdale ward and four for the Newbiggin ward.  Parish Clerk, J Mashiter noted that as of 8 February 2021 11 of the Parish Council seats were filled and nine of those Parish Councillors were in attendance at the extraordinary meeting. 


She explained one of the Parish Councillors, as an employee of the applicant, declared and interest and left the meeting while the application was being considered.  Parish Clerk, J Mashiter explained that the decision of the Parish Council, by a vote of six to one, with one abstention, was to support the application. 


Notwithstanding the clear vote in favour of supporting the application, Parish Clerk, J Mashiter explained that the Parish Council also sought to echo the concerns of residents who had made representations to Parish Councillors.  She noted that specifically the Parish Council asked: that the possibility of lowering the height of the buildings overall be explored; that the addition of stone cladding be considered to reduce the visual impact; that the light pollution and light levels in general from the site and the blocking of street lighting on Gas Lane be considered further; that the issue of noise reduction or minimisation be addressed; that the impact of traffic to and from the site and of construction traffic be carefully considered, especially during school drop off and pick up times; and that sufficient space was ensured for boundary tree planting and that mature or semi-mature trees were planted, not whips, to quickly create effective screening. 


Parish Clerk, J Mashiter noted in conclusion that the Parish Council supported the application, however, urged that conditions were attached to any permission such that the potential adverse effects on neighbouring residents might be mitigated or avoided.


The Chair thanked the Parish Clerk and asked the Principal Planning Officer to respond to the points raised.


The Principal Planning Officer explained that amended plans had been received during the course of the application, amending the western most part of the building, resulting in a reduction in ridge and eave heights.  He referred Members to the conditions recommended to be attached to any planning approval, noting that condition six required a scheme of lighting to be submitted to, and approved by, the Local Planning Authority, adding that could apply to the wider site.  He noted that there was landscaping as set out on the submitted plans, however, condition seven required the submission of a landscaping scheme, ensuring that appropriate specimens were planted at the appropriate time.  The Principal Planning Officer noted there was a Construction Management Plan (CMP), which had been agreed by Officers from Environmental Health and the Highways Section, that was acceptable and help to mitigate the impacts of construction.  He added that the Highways Section had offered no objections to the application when consulted upon the application.




The Chair asked as regards the point raised in respect of boundary planting and mature trees rather than whips.  The Principal Planning Officer reiterated that there was a comprehensive condition requiring the applicant to submit the landscaping details and that as part of that, suitable specimens could be specified to be planted at the appropriate times in order to mature at an appropriate rate, as advised by Landscape Officers.


The Principal DM Engineer, David Stewart noted paragraph 154 of the Officer’s report summarised the application in terms of it being an expansion of an existing industrial facility and the constraints of Gas Lane were known in terms of the other places it served.  He added the amount of additional traffic was relatively modest and, in that context, it could not be seen as an issue that could sustain a refusal reason.  He noted the content of the CMP was quite specific and fully acknowledged the school on Gas Lane and as much as possible tried to mitigate issues, such as having construction traffic away from peak periods of the school.


The Chair thanked the Principal DM Engineer and asked Mrs Judith Tarn, a local resident speaking in objection, to address the Committee.  The Chair noted that the remote connection with Mrs J Tarn had been lost and, after taking advice from the Solicitor – Planning and Development, Clare Cuskin, he proposed that the Committee move on to the submission from the Local Members and Applicant while attempts were made to arrange for a copy of representations to be read out on the behalf of Mrs J Tarn.


The Senior Committee Services Officer, Ian Croft read out a statement on behalf of Councillors R Bell and T Henderson, Local Members for Barnard Castle West.


The building of industrial units in the field next to them is understandably an undesirable development from the perspective of the residents of Newtown and River Terrace.


On the other hand, Technimark are a major local employer, providing quality technical jobs at a time when GSK are laying off.  Technimark have reduced the height of a building in response to a suggestion made by myself during an open public virtual meeting.


The question seems to be "at what point does the loss of a view have such a severe visual impact on a private property such that it may affect the residential amenity of a dwelling?".  That is a matter of judgment for the Committee, but we would support the residents' request for a deferment to enable a site visit by Councillors as it is hard to judge this from photographs and drawings alone”.


The Chair thanked the Senior Committee Services Officer and asked Mr Stephen Shaw representing the applicant, Technimark, to address the Committee.


Mr S Shaw thanked the Chair and Committee for the opportunity to speak in support of the application and explained he was the Managing Director for Technimark UK, a US owned company involved in the manufacturer of plastic injection moulded components used in the medical, pharmaceutical and healthcare industry.  He explained that in 2020 the business had been deemed “essential” as it was involved in manufacturing components directly used in the treatment of COVID-19 patients.  He added the facility had remained open 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout the pandemic and more recently some of the product the company manufactured had been identified for use in the manufacture of the COVID-19 vaccine.


Mr S Shaw explained the company had been operating from the current site in Middleton-in-Teesdale for over 25 years, currently providing permanent, full-time employment for over 90 people, many of which had worked for the company for a number of years.  He added 75 percent of employees lived within 15 miles radius of the site and 30 percent of those lived within one mile of the site.  He added the company supported the local economy through their business interactions with local shops, pubs, hotels, and many other trades.  He noted Technimark and its staff had a proud history of supporting the local community and every year fundraising events were held, raising thousands of pounds to help support of local charities and causes.


Mr S Shaw explained Technimark had invested heavily in all aspects of the business, including staff training; energy efficient equipment; and in their facilities to help maximise the utilisation of space.  He explained the business had grown “double digits” in percentage terms and had a lack of space meant that the expansion was urgently required in order to cater for further growth over the next five to ten years.  He noted the owners had committed to invest over £1.1 million this year in the expansion, work which would be carried out by local businesses employing local people.  He added that a further £1 million was expected to be invested in the next 12-18 months in respect of new equipment and infrastructure.  Mr S Shaw explained that the planned growth would also bring employment opportunities for more than 30-40 new people over the next five years with jobs ranging from operating staff to highly skilled trained engineers, including the growth of the company’s youth training apprenticeship scheme.


Mr S Shaw noted that Technimark had worked with Council Members for many years to seek solutions to the company’s growing needs.  He explained this had included extensive reviews of potential sites, including the Harmire site, adding that while as good as the opportunities were, they had not proven to provide a viable solution for the business.


Mr S Shaw explained a brownfield site had been identified, a one hour drive from the existing site, and that opportunity had been put on hold due to Brexit.  He noted that subsequently, as the business had continued to grow, that opportunity was no longer viable given the lead-time of the project development.  It was explained that expansion at the company’s current location was the most viable opportunity to be able to keep the business local.  He noted that without the ability to grow at the current site that there was the possibility and risk that the business would need to relocate to secure a larger location outside of the Dales. 


Mr S Shaw concluded by noting Technimark respectfully requested that Members of the Committee looked to support the application to help support and secure employment and future employment at the site.


The Chair thanked Mr S Shaw and noted that the representations had not yet been received from Mrs J Tarn.  After taking advice from the Solicitor – Planning and Development, he proposed that the Committee move on to the next application while attempts were made to obtain a copy of the representations from Mrs J Tarn, to allow them to be read out by an Officer on her behalf.


Consideration of Item 5a was paused and Item 5b was presented for consideration by the Committee (see Item 5b).


Following the determination of Item 5b, consideration of Item 5a was continued.


The Chair noted the representations from Mrs J Tarn had been now been received.  The Senior Committee Service Officer read out the statement on behalf of Mrs J Tarn:


Chairman and Members of the Planning Committee, thank you for letting me speak at your meeting.  I represent the residents of Middleton-in-Teesdale who are very concerned about this planning application.  Initially, as you would expect, many of our concerns were about how the proposed development would affect our lives and property.  All of these have been listed in the Planning Officer’s Report under Public Responses Items 66 and 68 so I won’t repeat them here.  But they still stand and despite some suggested mitigation in the Report, we still remain very concerned.  We are therefore grateful to Councillor Bell for recognising our concerns about the scale of the proposed development and calling this application to Committee for consideration.


As we learned more about the proposed development, we read in the Teesdale Mercury that Technimark’s American owners, who only moved the company to Middleton in 2016, had made a thinly-veiled threat that if they didn’t receive permission to expand, they would take the factory elsewhere, leading to loss of jobs for our friends and neighbours in the village.  This caused both consternation and division amongst our close-knit community. Technimark further claimed that there wasn’t suitable development land within 30 miles of Middleton.


This, we found disingenuous because we know that the Durham County Plan describes Employment Land Allocation sites at both Shaw Bank and Harmire Industrial Estates in Barnard Castle – a mere 10 miles away and situated on much better-served bus routes.  Durham County Council’s (DCC’s) Steve Pilkington confirmed at the Public Consultation meeting that DCC has a bespoke Business Team that works with companies to suitably accommodate them using these sites.  However, there is no indication in the Report that Policy 11f of the Durham County Plan [it could not be more appropriately situated on an existing or allocated industrial estate, an existing suitable building or other land within other settlements in the vicinity] has been considered.  This is disappointing as local relocation would both save current jobs and provide opportunities for the estimated 6 possible new positions per annum as a result of the expansion. The claimed good relationships with local businesses could also continue, though interestingly there have been no letters of support for Technimark from these local businesses nor from the school.


The Report clearly sets out DCC’s obligations under the NPPF and the resulting Durham County Plan. Policy 39 of the Durham County Plan states that “the development affecting Areas of High Landscape Value will only be permitted where it conserves and, where appropriate enhances, the special qualities of landscape, unless the benefits of the development in that location clearly outweigh the harm”.  We believe the Report has not given adequate weight in this planning balance, to the adverse visual impact of the proposed development on the Middleton-in-Teesdale Conservation Area and North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, to safety on our roads and to the impact on residential amenity.  We respectively request that alternative sites better suited for this expansion and improved job security be investigated.


Finally, when Councillor Bell held a site visit with local residents, he gave the impression that the true impact of the development could not be appreciated without seeing the proposals on the ground.


We would therefore respectfully request that the Committee defer their decision in order to carry out a site visit to both the proposed site and perhaps the alternative sites available in Barnard Castle.  Thank you”.

The Chair thanked the Senior Committee Services Officer and noted that it was not within the brief of the Planning Committee to examine alternative sites, the application before Members was the proposal for consideration.  He asked the Principal Planning Officer to respond to the points raised within the statement from Mrs J Tarn in objection to the application.


The Principal Planning Officer reiterated the point made by the Chair in terms of consideration of application before Committee rather than other potential applications or sites.  He explained that the applicant had worked with Business Durham to explore other potential sites within the county, however, they had not proved to be viable or would have required a significant relocation from the existing site.  He noted reference to Policy 11 – Rural Exception Sites, with objectors stating it should be applied to the application, however, he explained that policy was only relevant where an application would fail to satisfy the criteria of Policy 6 of the local plan.  The Principal Planning Officer noted that Policy 6 effectively required that development was acceptable in principle, where it was well related to an existing settlement and he noted Officers felt that was the case in terms of the application and that therefore the suitability of the proposal should be considered against Policy 6 of the CDP.


The Principal Planning Officer noted objectors had referenced Policy 39 of the CDP in relation to landscape harm and that the levels of impact had not been fully considered.  He noted he respectfully disagreed with that assessment and explained the report articulated the level of harm and that had been weighed against the benefits of the proposal, as set out within the report.  In terms of the statement from the Local Members, Councillors R Bell and T Henderson, the Principal Planning Officer noted that it distilled the suitability of the site down to whether the loss of a view from a private property had a severe visual impact and whether that outweighed any benefits from the development.  He reminded the Committee that loss of view was not a material planning consideration and though impact upon amenity was a material planning consideration, it was considered that the separation distances of approximately 50 metres between the western elevation to the proposed development and the residential properties of Newtown was sufficient to protect residential amenity.  He referred Members to the paragraphs from 127 onward within Committee report which considered those issues and highlighted the Council’s residential standards document which sets out that, between residential properties, a separation distance of 21 metres was considered acceptable.  He noted the eave and ridge heights of the proposed development were representative of what could be expected from a terraced property and within the residential amenity standards document that separation distance with facing windows could be acceptable and therefore a separation distance of almost double that distance was considered acceptable in terms of the application.


In reference to the proposed deferral of the application within the representations, the Principal Planning Officer respectfully suggested that Members had been provided with sufficient information to be able to make a decision upon the proposals, noting site photographs, plans, and the presentation, the latter being a summary of the information on file that Members would have reviewed prior to the meeting.


The Chair thanked the Principal Planning Officer and asked the Committee for their comments and questions.


Councillor I Jewell noted the Principal DM Engineer had spoken as regards construction traffic, though not operational traffic, and therefore asked as regards that element.  He also asked as regards what the operational hours of the proposed development would be and what level of noise would be generated.


The Principal DM Engineer explained that figures provided were for an additional nine to ten commercial vehicles movements per day, across a working day of 8.00am to 7.00pm, broken down between heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) and light goods or transit sized vehicles.  He noted the additional number of employees that had been referred to was around 30-40 over the next five years, the bulk of which had been described as being employed across shift patterns.  He added that in essence the conclusion of the Highway Authority was that the amount of additional traffic was deemed not material to the continued safe operation of Gas Lane.


The Principal Planning Officer noted that the site was a 24 hour operation and it was proposed to continue operation on that basis.  He added that the applicant had produced a Noise Impact Assessment in support of the application, and it had been deemed acceptable upon review by Officers from Environmental Health.  He noted there was a condition that the development was carried out in accordance with that Assessment which included mitigation in terms of insulation in the construction of the warehouse building.  He noted that subject to that condition, Environmental Health had offered no objections to the scheme and added it was an existing site with no history of noise complaints.


Councillor J Maitland asked if the expansion of the business was linked to the ongoing pandemic and whether any easing of the pandemic would mean the expansion would no longer be necessary.  The Chair noted he would allow the applicant to respond.  Mr S Shaw reiterated that the company had experienced double digit percentage growth in previous years, with the pandemic representing a further 10-15 percent growth.  He added he was confident in the growth of the business and while the COVID-19 related products represented a small percentage of the overall products, he felt they would be needed for some years to come.


Mr S Shaw emphasised that if the growth of the business had been deemed a blip, the company would not have over 90 full-time position.


Councillor G Richardson noted the decision was a difficult one and in considering the application he felt that it would not be possible to defend a refusal of the application at appeal.  He noted the positive aspects of the proposals in terms of employment and separation distances of around double of that required and therefore he moved that the application be approved as per the report.


Councillor I Jewell noted he agreed with Councillor G Richardson and that it appeared that the majority of local people supported the application, albeit there were a number that were in objection to the proposals.  He added he felt the application had many benefits, although there was the issue of the view being affected, however, he felt the positives outweighed the negatives and he seconded that the application be approved as per the recommendation.


Councillor S Quinn left the meeting at 11.08am


Councillor F Tinsley noted there was a balance to be had and the decision in relation to the application was difficult.  He noted that, while there may be impacts in particular for residents nearby, there was a risk that the business may cease to exist in that location and that would also have impacts in the area. 


The Chair noted that Councillor G Richardson had moved that the application be approved, and he was seconded by Councillor I Jewell and upon a vote being taken it was:




That the application be APPROVED subject to the conditions as set out within the report.


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