Agenda item

DM/21/02577/FPA - Land Opposite 'The Waggon Inn, West Road, Tantobie, DH9 9SL

Construction of 9no. residential dwellings (Use Class C3) with associated access and landscaping works


The Committee considered a report of the Senior Planning Officer which sought approval of the construction of 9no. residential dwellings (Use Class C3) with associated access and landscaping works in respect of land opposite The Waggon Inn, West Road, Tantobie (for copy see file of Minutes).


The Senior Planning Officer provided a detailed presentation of the application which included a site plan, site photographs and the existing and proposed layout. Members had visited the site the previous day.


Rachel Gladstone-Heighton addressed the Committee on behalf of the Residents Association. Members were referred to their letter of objection which raised many material considerations and policy matters which  would have been impossible to condense into the Committee report.


Whether the application should be considered against Policy 6 or Policy 10 of the County Durham Plan was a matter of opinion. Officers had acknowledged that there was a judgement to be made on this issue and the Residents Association challenged the reason behind the decision to assess the proposal against Policy 6, especially given that the site was deemed to be countryside in a previous planning application.


Residents considered that the judgement on whether the site related to the existing settlement was largely based on nearby properties which had been built very recently and did not take into account the open space to the east and south of the site. Members were referred to an on-screen plan which showed the most recently built properties by the applicant and developer who had then used these to make a further case for development into the countryside and to conjoin the small cluster of houses on the south of the site to the village of White-le-Head. This would have an enormous impact on its character. Residents had purchased their homes in what looked and felt like a hamlet with widely spaced properties, large gardens and open spaces.


The visual amenity of the site would be greatly compromised and the expansive public views from West Road would be blocked. The report used the history of the site as a reason to consider this application against Policy 6. As acknowledged in the Committee report the site was greenfield given the significant amount of time that had passed. The Residents Association believed that assessment against Policy 6 and the issue of conjoining should not be based on the site and surroundings many years ago.


Referring to Policy 6 against which the application had been assessed Rachel Gladstone-Heighton stated that residents believed that it fell short of paragraphs 6(b),(c),(d), and (i).


The Landscape Officer had stated in the report that the proposals would cause harm to the local landscape and it was unlikely that this could be reduced other than through substantial design changes or additional mitigation. Policy 39 was therefore relevant.


The County Ecologist gave advice based upon the reports by OS Ecology which they admitted were limited due to the time they took place and she believed that they may have come to a different conclusion had they had the local knowledge highlighted in the Residents Association’s letter, which included the priority species listed in the on-screen presentation. The clump of trees to the south of the site was home to priority species and would face harm or destruction due to the routing of the sewer line and the proximity of the foundations of Plot 4, upon which the roots would encroach.


In accordance with NPPF paragraph 182, because a priority habitat would be completely destroyed there could be no presumption in favour of sustainable development. The on-screen presentation also showed other relevant NPPF policies relating to priority habitats and ecological considerations which showed that a priority habitat should only be destroyed when a development was very much needed. Only then should financial mitigation be considered, and only as a last resort.


There were many objectors to this development and a petition of over 120 signatures which showed that this development was neither needed or wanted. The average salary in the area was £26,000; locals could not afford these houses. The County Durham Plan supporting documents included the Strategic Housing Market assessment which stated that the annual housing need for four bedroomed homes in County Durham was -4. This development contained six. There was no legitimate justification to destroy a priority habitat, impact on priority species and potentially a SSSI impact zone for a development that was demonstrably not needed. Paying to mitigate here would be against the spirit and wording of the various policies and a slap in the face to sustainability and forward thinking. Policy framework should guide the decision-making process alongside common sense.


Residents asked what would be the best use of this land; as a valued landscape, natural capital, a rare priority habitat in the impact zone of an SSSI and in good condition which was rare for this type of habitat; or as a development of densely packed, expensive, under-occupied homes that would destroy the character of the area, negatively affect the community and only benefit the landowner and developer.


Mark Ketley, Agent addressed the Committee on behalf of the applicant Mr Forster.  The application before members was the culmination of nine months of working closely with Planning Officers and other Officers throughout the application process. There had been various design iterations to ultimately arrive at the scheme before Members, and the recommendation for approval.


Mark Ketley addressed the key points within the report and the objectors’ representations, and the fundamental starting point was whether the application fell within Policy 6 or Policy 10 of the County Durham Plan. Policy 6 allowed development to take place both within and on the edge of settlements provided it related well in physical and functional terms to the existing settlement. The site could not be considered to fall in the open countryside and therefore Members were duty bound to consider it against Policy 6. Paragraph 80 of the report stated why the site formed part of the settlement, which could be seen on the aerial photograph, and which showed that the site was surrounded on three sides by existing development.


The site was also a sustainable location for new housing. It had excellent access to services and facilities, and two bus stops immediately to the north east corner of the site, which offered excellent transport links not only to the wider area of County Durham, but also the Tyneside conurbation, and the employment opportunities and services that offered.


In terms of design they had worked closely with Officers to produce a high quality scheme. Forric had a proven track record of delivering a high quality housing product across the County and in White-le-Head, and most recently in Witton Gilbert. The scheme was innovative, respected local character and the urban fringe settlement, and created a strong frontage to the street scene, particularly on the properties that faced out, whilst also maintaining residential amenity of the properties opposite.


The scheme was deemed to be acceptable in highway terms, the entrance was from a 30mph road, the access was compliant with the Council’s standards, and there was an over-provision of car parking which should prevent any on-street parking. The Highways Authority had confirmed that it had no objections subject to conditions.


Referring to the ecological issues raised by the objectors, the reference to the destruction of priority habitat needed further exploration in their view. The objectors had referred to it as a lowland meadow priority habitat. The views of their ecological consultant was that it failed to meet the criteria and this was supported by the County’s Ecology Officer. Notwithstanding this the applicant was committed to ensuring ecological enhancement through bio-diversity net gain contributions and open space contributions through a Section 106 Agreement.


Overall, sustainable development would be achieved in social, economic and environmental terms. The scheme was entirely compliant with all relevant national and local plan policies and would deliver high quality housing in a part of the County which needed it in response to the economic profile of the area.


The Senior Planning Officer responded to the representations made. In terms of the comments that the site was within the buffer zones of SSSIs, he explained that these were zones which radiated out from the SSSIs, and the likely impact of development on these was a consideration. The two nearest SSSIs were 2 and 2.4 miles away so were not in the immediate vicinity but in the extended zone of influence.


Secondly there was a need for a strong edge of settlement here and part of the reason that the planting and screening on site was considered to be acceptable was that the existing planting on the other side of the bridleway screened the site entirely, as was seen on the site visit. Planning Officers considered that the necessary screening to meet the Landscape Officers requirements was already in place.


Councillor Simon Wilson stated that he could understand the confliction between the argument that the site was in open countryside and Policy 6. To the north was a recent development and to the east was the existing settlement. He considered that Policy 6 was relevant. The development would not extend any settlement boundary because of the development to the north, east and south of it. He was therefore minded to agree with the recommendation subject to clarification with regard to the ecology survey. He noted that there had been no concerns raised but that a survey had been limited. The Senior Planning Officer clarified that surveys were carried out at different times of the year, and if they were not carried out at the relevant time for a particular species they were deemed to be limited. If the County Ecologist had considered that he did not have sufficient information upon which to make a conclusion he would have requested that the application be put on hold for a further survey.


Councillor Liz Brown stated that having looked at the aerial photograph it would appear that Policy 6 was relevant. However having visited the site she noted how green the location was and considered that the application should be considered against Policy 10, paragraphs 10(m), (n), and (r).


The Senior Planning Officer replied that Policy 6 looked at urban fringe development and Policy 10 related to open countryside, which looked at factors such as agricultural implications. This site was associated with a settlement.


Councillor Kevin Earley stated that he was familiar with the site and struggled to consider it as urban fringe. The Member asked how the determination was made between what was open countryside and what was considered urban fringe. If it was the case that urban fringe meant that development could be within the proximity of other buildings then development could take place almost anywhere in the County. He was also against the loss of open space within villages as it had a detrimental impact on character. Councillor Earley also noted that applications for the site had been refused previously and acknowledged that planning policy framework had changed.


Councillor Joe Quinn asked the developer to clarify the price ranges of the proposed properties and if the applicant believed that residents would be able to afford them.


Tom Forster, the applicant, stated that they had looked at properties that were appropriately sized for the area. The properties would be priced at just under £200,000 to make sure that they were well-priced for families in the area. They would not be large family homes, they would be good-sized three to four bedroomed properties.


Councillor Alex Watson stated that the site visit had been valuable. He knew the area and did not consider that the proposed development was development in the open countryside but an extension of the village. The recent new-builds were of high quality and he believed the development would be good for the area. The site was a grazing area, not a recreation area and he did not consider the development would be of any damage to the village at all. He seconded the application subject to the Legal Agreement for mitigation payments and to the conditions outlined in the report.


Councillor Brown stated that having heard Councillor Wilson and Councillor Watson’s views, if the Committee was minded to approve the application, she asked that a construction plan be added to the conditions. She had noted the objectors’ comments about parking and considered that construction traffic could add to that.


Councillor Wilson agreed the importance of a construction plan and moved that the application be approved subject to an additional condition requiring a construction plan. The wording of the condition to be agreed by Officers in consultation with the Chair of the Committee.


The Officer recommendation for approval having been moved by Councillor Simon Wilson and seconded by Councillor Alex Watson, a vote was taken and it was:




That the application be approved subject to:


a)   the applicant securing a legal agreement for mitigation payments of £15,651 for open space and £13,727 for ecology;

b)   the conditions outlined in the report;

c)    an additional condition requiring the inclusion of a Construction Management Plan. The wording of the condition to be agreed by Planning Officers in consultation with the Chair of the Committee.  

Supporting documents: