Agenda item

DM/20/03699/FPA - Land to the south of the Telephone Exchange, Durham Road, Chilton

1no. dwelling with associated access and tree works


The Committee considered a report of the Senior Planning Officer, Mark O’Sullivan relating to the construction of 1no. dwelling with associated access and tree works (for copy see file of minutes).


Councillor J Blakey left the meeting at 10.09am


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


The Chair thanked the Senior Planning Officer and asked if any Members of the Committee had any questions of clarification in relation to the presentation.


Councillor L Brown asked if the temporary Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs) would be turned into permanent TPOs in future.  The Senior Planning Officer noted that the TPO for the site was originally put in place after the first application for development at the site had been withdrawn.  He noted it was temporary in that it would be reassessed in August 2021, in line with the usual process for TPOs, and he reiterated that there currently was a TPO in place for the site.


The Chair thanked the Senior Planning Officer and asked Councillor C Potts, Local Member, to speak in relation to the application.


Councillor C Potts thanked the Chair and Members for the opportunity to have the item brought to Committee.  She explained that as Local Member, and resident of Meadowdale, she wished to outline her concerns and objections to the application.  She noted she had communicated with the residents of Meadowdale, whose properties would be adversely impacted by the erection of the proposed development, adding she completely understood and shared their views.  Councillor C Potts noted the application was on a site which was not allocated for housing within Policy 4 of the CDP and should only be considered if it met the criteria determined against Policy 6 of the CDP.  She noted Policy 6(c) stated that development should “not result in the loss of open land that has… ecological…  value…” and she added she truly believed the site had such value.  She explained that it was a long-established area of woodland, comprising of 72 mature trees and was a haven for local wildlife.  Councillor C Potts noted the huge variety of native birds, including owls and woodpeckers as well as more common nesting birds.  She added the site also attracted foxes, squirrels, hedgehogs and especially bats, in addition to providing a carpet for a variety of wildflowers and ferns.


Councillor C Potts noted that many of the trees were subject to a second temporary TPO, which was hoped to become permanent in due course.  She explained she had no doubt that the felling of 40 of the 72 trees, and the removal of hedgerows, as outlined in the application, would decimate the biodiversity of that unique part of Chilton. 


She added that the copse of trees also provided a much needed landscape buffer from the noise of the adjacent busy road as well as helping to tackle carbon emissions, air pollution and assisting with the natural drainage of the land. 


Councillor C Potts noted DCC were passionately committed to the climate change agenda and were proactively planting vast quantities of trees to assist with that initiative.  She added that therefore it seemed very contradictory to approve the loss of 40 trees to justify the erection of one dwelling.  Councillor C Potts noted Members would be aware that over the past few years Chilton had seen an unprecedented growth in housing on its greenfield sites to the south, north and west of the town, with a significant amount currently going through the planning process.  She noted she believed Chilton had done its fair share in contributing to the County’s target in respect of new housing. 


In conclusion, Councillor C Potts noted she felt passionate in respect of protecting long-established areas of natural habitat, such as the site being considered, and added that the site had always been a much welcomed, much valued integral part of the community which all would be devastated to lose.


The Chair thanked Councillor C Potts and asked Mr Philip Keenan, local resident in objection, to speak in relation to the application.


Mr P Keenan thanked the Chair for the opportunity to allow Members to listen to the concerns of residents.  He explained that he believed that the Committee’s decision would ultimately be based upon the environmental impact and the value Members placed on the woodland trees within the copse, the habitat it supported and the devastation that would be caused upon its removal.  He added that the Senior Planning Officer’s report stated that, as a county, there was more than enough deliverable housing land and that Councillor C Potts would be able to confirm that Chilton had exceeded the quota in terms of new housing. 


Mr P Keenan noted the Committee report referred to an Arboricultural Impact Assessment which was paid for by the developer, however, there was no mention of the points raised in relation to the TPOs placed by colleagues at DCC.  He added that the Senior Planning Officer’s report mentioned the importance of environmental issues 11 times and that they should be taken into consideration.  He noted the site contained 72 trees of which 40 were to be removed and explained that, as someone with experience in respect of groundworks, he had no doubt that the development could not be built without damaging the few remains trees regardless of the methods referred to within the Arboricultural Impact Assessment.  He added that the Assessment sounded plausible on paper, however, he emphasised that the holes being dug around those trees were not being done on paper. 

Mr P Keenan noted a recent article in the Northern Echo, approximately two weeks ago, that was headlined “Planting trees to fight climate emergency” and explained it had outlined the proposals and measures to plant tree cover in County Durham in relation to the climate emergency response plan. 


He added that if the application was approved it would make a mockery of the DCC policy, however, there was equal concern that it would set a precedent for any developer that wished to remove trees for development, giving them effectively a 40 tree head start even if the trees were protected.


Mr P Keenan explained the development had no gain or benefit for anyone other than the developer, adding that regardless of political party, all would have their own environmental policies and that there was a platform for encouraging the younger generation to get involved in politics, as they were very passionate about the environment.  He noted that all had seen Councillors in the media planting trees and bushes over the years, and he asked: if Members had the enthusiasm for photo opportunities when planting trees, would they have the same enthusiasm to be photographed alongside 40 cut down trees with a suggested accompanying headline of “Climate emergency response plan”.


The Chair thanked Mr P Keenan and asked Mr Barry Porter, local resident in objection, to speak in relation to the application.


Mr B Porter thanked the Committee for the opportunity to speak and noted that the size of the proposed development was such it would be oppressive to the neighbouring properties in Meadowdale.  He added that the Officer had noted the impact upon the amount of sunlight could be explained further if required and noted that screening out of sunlight, and the oppressive size of the building, could have adverse effects on some residents to the east of the proposed development.  He noted the report mentioned light level measurements that had been recorded, however, those had been collected in the summer and did not reflect autumnal or winter sunlight levels, which would be different due to the lower elevation of the sun.


Mr B Porter noted that, given the number of trees to be removed to make space for the development, he felt the impacts would not be within acceptable limits.  He noted within the ecology section of the report there was no mention of invertebrates, bats or breeding mammals, adding that the indication that the wall distances had been reduced suggested that the proposed house design was too large for the plot and had required other compromises such as extra tree removal to be considered.  He noted that the stairwell of the proposed dwelling was not a habitable room, however, if built he felt that it should contain obscure glazing as that would be the only way that nearby houses would be able to not feel overlooked, as the stairwell faced habitable rooms of the properties opposite.


Mr B Porter reiterated that the small group of trees was a very scarce resource in Chilton and that any reduction or modification of it would be a great loss to the town.  He added that the local wildlife, insects, other invertebrates, bats, mice, voles, birds, foxes, hedgehogs and so on were all attracted to such areas for a variety of reasons and they were reliant upon the endemic flora and related fauna for their survival. 


He concluded by noting that allowing the proposal to be passed would create a precedent for the county allowing for the removal of trees from other sites which should be protected from unnecessary development including in areas where housing quotas had already been fulfilled.


The Chair thanked Mr B Porter and asked the Senior Planning Officer to respond to the points raised by the objectors.


The Senior Planning Officer noted comments in relation to the ecology of the site, it currently comprising of trees and unmanaged grassland, and explained that as part of all planning applications, the Council’s in-house Ecology Team would be consulted.  He explained the Ecology Team had viewed the site, viewed the application and supporting documentation, had seen all neighbour and Town Council objections, and had raised no objections throughout the application.  He noted they were views of qualified professionals who had taken on board the information presented to them within professional reports.  He reiterated that, if the Council’s in-house Ecologists were raising no objections to the application, subject to a breeding birds informative, then that would be the professional advice followed by Planning Officers.  He added that the in addition to offering no objections, the Ecology Team had suggested the trees to be removed had no value in terms of species living within them.  The Senior Planning Officer noted that was not to say there would not be animals using the area, however, the view of the Ecology Team was that there was no ecological objection. 


In reference to the footprint of the proposed building, the Senior Planning Officer noted the application was a revision of a previously withdrawn application, the previous application being for a larger building, with the current application representing a compromise.  He added that it was accepted that the footprint of the proposed dwelling would be larger than properties at Meadowdale to the east, however, it was important to note that the proposed property would be viewed from Durham Road, where properties of similar and even larger footprints could be found to the north-west, west and south-west.  He added that it would be in the context of those dwellings that the proposed development would be viewed.  It was noted that the property would be behind a row of trees, which were to be retained, and new planting. 


The Senior Planning Officer reiterated there was a group TPO in place on the site and Members were referred to a slide highlighting all the trees to be retained and their respective canopies.  He noted the Arboricultural Impact Assessment was written by a qualified professional, with the ability to calculate root protection areas.  He added that the proposed dwelling had been positioned to avoid root protection areas of the trees to be retained. 


The Senior Planning Officer noted the trees to be removed were required to be removed for development, and those to be retained would protected by the TPO, together with the conditions proposed to be attached to any permission that would ensure that the protective measures were in place throughout the course of development.  He explained that the TPO was first imposed upon the site in the interest of ensuring future control over the retention of the trees during the application process.  He noted the presence of a TPO did not mean a site could not be developed, and in the case of the application, the most suitable trees would be retained and the removal of those less suitable from the wider group would help promote the future growth of the retained species, thereby improving the integrity of the wider tree group value as a whole.  The Senior Planning Officer noted the proposed new planting, as detailed upon submitted plans, would mitigate the loss of the trees to be removed and therefore could not be seen a biodiversity impact, noting Landscape and Arboricultural Officers had not objected to the application.  He reiterated that the group TPO was applied in the interest of future control over the retention of the trees during the application process, in that respect it had been successful, and it would be reassessed in the future.


The Senior Planning Officer noted issues raised in respect of overlooking and overshadowing and referred to elevations highlighting upper floor windows on the east elevation, facing Meadowdale, that would both serve bathrooms and would be obscured glazed by condition.  He noted those windows, together with the central stairwell window, were not classed as habitable windows.  He explained the Residential Amenity Standards Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) specifically mentioned a 21 metre separating distance between main facing elevations containing windows serving habitable rooms.  He reiterated the windows mentioned were not serving habitable rooms and therefore the standards could not be applied.  Members were referred to a slide within the presentation setting out the shadows cast throughout the day by the proposed development.  The Senior Planning Officer noted as the sun moved east to west, there was no shadow on properties to the east until midday, however, the level of the shadow was already that caused by the boundary fence, not the proposed building. 


In reference to the Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA), the Senior Planning Officer noted that as the site was relatively small it would not have been assessed within the SHLAA, however, that did not mean that the site could not be developed.  He explained the application was for an unallocated site and therefore Policy 6 of the CDP applied, and the application had been considered against the merits of Policy 6 and Officers had felt that it was an acceptable site.  He noted that when considering those points, in conjunction with Paragraph 11(c) of the NPPF “applications in accordance with an up-to-date plan should be approved without delay”.


The Chair thanked the Senior Planning Officer and asked Mr Steven Longstaff, Agent for the applicant to speak in support of the application.


Mr S Longstaff thanked the Chair and Committee and noted he was a Director at ELG Planning, acting on behalf of the applicant, alongside Mr Matthew Lee of Glasper Lee Design.  He explained that the Officer’s recommendation to grant full planning permission for a single dwelling was fully endorsed and explained they had worked with Officers during the pre-planning and planning process to achieve an acceptable design that addressed all technical matters.  He noted that, as set out within the Committee report, Officers were satisfied that the proposals had addressed all the issues raised in the previously withdrawn application as well as comments raised during the course of the application.  He added the application was recommended for approval on that basis.  Mr S Longstaff noted the scheme was for a high quality dwelling on an in-fill site, that Officers confirm as being a sustainable location, surrounded by existing residential development.  He added that the proposals were therefore acceptable in principle, in line with Policy 6 of the CDP. 


In relation to objections raised in respect of tree loss, impact upon biodiversity and amenity, Mr S Longstaff noted the issues had been comprehensively addressed within the application submission and also by Officers within the Committee report.  He noted that the detailed landscaping scheme demonstrated that new planting would mitigate the loss of the trees to be removed, which were young and of limited value.  He explained the scale and massing of the proposed dwelling had been significantly reduced since the previously withdrawn application and the proposed dwelling would be set down within the ground level of the existing plot.  He noted the windows to the rear would serve bathrooms and a staircase and, as Members had already been informed, did not serve habitable rooms, with the bathroom windows being obscure glazed.  He noted the careful design of the scheme meant that there would not be any loss of privacy or amenity issues for neighbouring residents, in accordance with the CPD and Residential Amenity Standards SPD.


Mr S Longstaff noted in conclusion that there had been no objections from statutory or internal consultees, and he would respectfully request that the Committee endorse the Officer’s recommendation and approve the application.


The Chair thanked Mr S Longstaff and asked as regards insulation quality, emissions, and the quality of the house to be developed.  Mr M Lee, Lead for Architectural Design for the project noted he had experience in building highly air-tight, highly insulated buildings which reduced the amount of energy required to heat the property.  He added there was the possibility of using highly insulated timber panels, and potential renewable technologies such as an air-source heat pump, mechanically ventilation with heat recovery and solar photovoltaic panels.


Councillor G Richardson noted the proposal was for the building to be sunk into the ground and asked if there was potential for water entering the foundations.  Mr M Lee noted that there would be no water ingress, the design was for the property to be partially set in the ground as the site was sloping and there would be a small retaining wall.  He noted that surface water details would be submitted to be agreed by the Council, in line with the condition as set out within the Officer’s report.


Councillor L Brown asked as regards bats, as they had been mentioned by objectors, however, not within the report.  She also asked when the sunlight surveys had been undertaken.  The Senior Planning Officer explained the Ecology Section had assessed the application site using their knowledge and skills and it was noted they had not raised the issue of bats on the site.  He added they had concluded that the trees to be removed were not capable of supporting bats and, while that did not mean bats would not be flying in the area, as the site would not contain bats, a bat survey had not requested.  The Senior Planning Officer noted the sunlight survey had been conducted 21 March 2021.


The Chair noted there were no further questions from Members for the speakers and he asked the Committee for their comments and questions in determining the application.


Councillor G Richardson noted it was for Planning Committee Members to decide upon a difficult application, and thanked Councillor L Brown for raising the issue of bats as it had been consistently mentioned within the representations.  He noted bats were shy creatures and added he would have been surprised if any were within the site, other than those flying in the area as noted by the Senior Planning Officer.  He explained that he understood local residents’ feelings, however, he did not feel there was any reasons for the Committee to stop the application from progressing.


Councillor I Jewell noted he had some concerns as local residents were noting a significant amount of wildlife within the application site, whereas the various reports did not seem to identify such amounts, and therefore he asked for clarification on the facts in relation to wildlife.  He noted the application site was an in-fill site, surrounded by a number of houses, and was not located on the fringes of the countryside.  He noted that it had been explained that 40 trees were to be removed and asked how many were proposed to be planted. 


The Senior Planning Officer noted that the site was an in-fill site and added that the Ecology Section screened applications to determine whether an ecology survey was required, and they had not requested such a survey for the application.  He noted the number of additional trees was contained within the arboricultural statement, and while he did not have the number to hand, the additional trees to be planted were to mitigate and offset the loss.


The Chair noted the site was deeply valued by the local community for what they saw as its ecological value, however, that was not supported by the arboricultural and ecological reports, as indicated by Councillor I Jewell.


Councillor G Richardson noted he had listened with interest to Councillor C Potts as regards the wildlife of Chilton, however, having listened to the application in full he felt he could only move the Officer’s recommendation for approval.


Councillor I Jewell noted the difficulty for Members in reaching decisions, as was often the case at Committee, however, he felt it was necessary to come to a decision based upon planning legislation.  He added that if an application conformed with planning rules then he felt Members had little choice other than to go with the Officer’s recommendation.  He noted he did not feel that a refusal could be defended and therefore he seconded Councillor G Richardson’s proposal for approval.


Upon a vote being taken it was:




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


Supporting documents: