(Director of Governance) To consider the attached report for a hybrid application requesting:
(i) Full planning permission for an assisted living development comprising of apartments and integrated communal and support facilities; landscaped residents gardens; staff areas; refuse storage; construction of a new site access; a sustainable urban drainage system; a new sub-station and associated infrastructure and services, and;
(ii) outline planning permission for a 0.45 hectare extension to Chigwell Cemetery.
The Principal Planning Officer (Development Management) presented a report for an assisted living development comprising of apartments and integrated communal and support facilities, landscaped residents’ gardens, staff areas, refuse storage, construction of a new site access, a sustainable urban drainage system, a new sub-station and associated infrastructure and services. The application also included outline planning permission for a 0.45 hectare extension to Chigwell Cemetery. These applications had been considered by Area Planning Sub-Committee South at its meeting on 23 August 2017, when they had been refused permission as per the Officer’s recommendation. However, four Members of that Sub-Committee then invoked the Minority Reference rules within the Council’s Constitution to refer the applications to this Committee for a final decision.
The Principal Planning Officer stated that the application site comprised approximately 2.8 hectares situated west of Froghall Lane, between Chigwell Cemetery to the north and residential development to the south. The northern part of the site extended up to land that was part of the Central Line railway, the reminder of the site was set approximately 100 metres east of the existing turning head between 33 and 35 Mount Pleasant Road. Land levels fell 9 metres over a distance of 175 metres from the main eastern site boundary to Froghall Lane, and 1.5 metres over a distance of 30 metres in the north west corner of the site. Presently, the site was unused scrubland and was entirely within the Metropolitan Green Belt. The site was not in a conservation area but was in a Flood Risk Zone 1 area.
The Principal Planning Officer clarified that the site would be laid out as five buildings (blocks A – E), with each building having four floors containing a mixture of one and two bedroomed apartments. This would give a total of 105 apartments: 94 two-bedroomed apartments and 11 one-bedroomed apartments. Blocks B, D and E would stand alone in the central and eastern part of the application site, whilst blocks A and C would be situated on higher ground in the western area of the site. Each block was designed to have steeply pitched roofs with prominent gable features, and ridge heights would typically be between 16.5 and 17.5 metres above ground level.
The Principal Planning Officer explained that the proposed community facilities rooms would extend beyond each building on both ground floor levels, such that they would form a two-storey link between the blocks; the link building would also contain a reception / office area. The submitted planning statement had stated that the community facilities to be provided would include a library, restaurant, gymnasium and cinema. The Committee was also informed that the second reason for refusal should be amended by removing the second part of the first sentence which read “…and by restricting that contribution towards provision for older people only the proposal fails to make appropriate provision for affordable housing. …”.
The Principal Planning Officer stated that as part of the application, the Applicant had offered the following financial contributions to be secured by way of Section 106 Agreement under the Town & Country Planning Act 1990:
(i) £488,526 towards the provision of affordable housing within the District;
(ii) £105,000 towards the running costs of the Chigwell Hoppa Bus service over a ten-year period; and
(iii) £24,909 towards the provision of primary health care services.
These contributions would be in addition to the transfer of land to Chigwell Parish Council for an extension to Chigwell Cemetery.
The Principal Planning Officer remarked that, in order to ascertain whether an appropriate contribution for affordable housing was being made, the opinion of the Council’s Director of Communities was requested. Following an analysis of the proposed scheme, the Director of Communities had advised Planning Officers that the scheme would generate sufficient surplus to enable a contribution of £8,755,981 to be made in lieu of the provision of on-site housing, which reflected the subsidy to be provided by the Developer if the affordable housing was provided on-site. This was considerably more than the £488,526 offered by the Applicant.
The Principal Planning Officer reported that the conclusion of Officers was the proposal would cause considerable harm to the Green Belt by way of the development as a whole being inappropriate, causing a severe reduction in openness and by conflicting with the purposes of including land in the Metropolitan Green Belt. Moreover, the application failed to make adequate provision for affordable housing. The benefits of the proposal in providing for the expansion of Chigwell Cemetery and specialist housing for the elderly were insufficient to overcome the harm from the proposed development to the Green Belt and the failure to make adequate provision for affordable housing. Consequently, the application had not demonstrated any very special circumstances to mitigate the harm to the Green Belt, and it was recommended that planning permission be refused.
The Committee noted the summary of representations received in respect of this application, including support for the revised application from Chigwell Parish Council and the receipt of identical letters of objection from 139 local addresses. The Committee heard from an Objector and the Applicant before proceeding to debate the application.
Cllr Knapman, a local ward Member for Chigwell Village, felt that there were two key considerations for this application: the class of land use; and whether the application attracted the need to provide affordable housing. The Councillor felt that the sui generis use class (unique, of its own kind) attributed to this application was not compatible with recent rulings, and should not be applied to a facility intended to provide 24-hour care. There was a chronic lack of this kind of facility throughout the whole country, and Cllr Knapman felt that this application should be classified as C2 (Residential Institutions, including Care Homes) use and a decision made on the level of affordable housing required as a result.
Cllr Knapman accepted that this was inappropriate development within the Green Belt; however, as virtually all of Chigwell Parish was within the Metropolitan Green Belt, then there were not many alternative sites. The access to the site was not perceived as a problem, there would not be much of an impact on the neighbours as most of the existing surrounding houses would only see the top of the proposed buildings, and the communal area would provide facilities for local residents to use as well. In addition, the application would provide support for the Chigwell Hopper Bus, and it might provide some additional affordable housing for the District. The site was in the Parish Council’s Neighbourhood Plan, but not the District Local Plan, and the site was better suited for development than Limes Farm. The very special circumstance was that the application would assist in relieving the chronic shortage of such facilities, and the Councillor would support the application.
Cllr Philip countered that the Parish Neighbourhood Plan and District Local Plan were not adopted documents, and therefore the Committee could not give any weight to them in determining this application. The Councillor could understand why this application was classified as sui generis, and the independent Viability Assessment gave a different view to that presented within the Application. Cllr Philip felt that the Application had not demonstrated any special circumstances to outweigh the harm to the Green Belt, this was neither the right place nor the right way to combat the perceived lack of such facilities, and there were simply not enough planning merits to support the Application.
The Principal Planning Officer explained that Planning Officers had taken advice from Counsel on the sui generis use, and there was no guarantee that all of the residents would be in need of care nor was there any requirement for them to be in need of such care. The proposed other facilities for the site had not been set out in the report, so it could not be confirmed as to whether a swimming pool for example would be provided as part of the application.
Cllr Jones stated that she agreed with the professional advice received by the Committee. Although the District needed this sort of facility, there was also a requirement for affordable housing and therefore the Councillor could not support this application. Cllr C C Pond also agreed with the Officer recommendation to refuse permission, and commented that the prime purpose of the Green Belt was to prevent urban sprawl, which was clearly applicable in this case. Cllr Kauffman felt that this was a site within the Green Belt, no special circumstances had been demonstrated, and there was no proven need to extend the Cemetery at the current time. The Councillor commented that perhaps this site would come forward in the future as part of the District Local Plan, but not at the current time.
Cllr Heap expressed some surprise that the Officer recommendation for this application had been to refuse permission. The Committee had previously considered an application at a different site for a similar development (EPF/2473/16 – Woodview, Lambourne Road, Chigwell) which had been recommended for and granted approval. The Chairman stated that he had visited the site and had been surprised at how the site would not cause any problems in terms of the Green Belt as no other areas close to the site had been built on. The Chairman was aware of the need for this type of facility and would support the application.
(1) That planning application EPF/3386/16 at Land West of Froghall Lane, South of Chigwell Cemetery in Chigwell be refused permission for the following reasons:
1. The proposal as a whole was inappropriate development in the Green Belt, that was by definition harmful to it. Furthermore, by reason of the scale, bulk and height of the proposed buildings together with associated works, the proposal would cause considerable harm to the openness of the Green Belt. The proposed development amounted to a substantial intrusion of built form into the countryside and therefore conflicted with two of the purposes of including the land within the Green Belt: to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built up areas and to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment. The benefits of the proposal were insufficient to overcome the harm it would cause to the Green Belt, and therefore the application did not demonstrate very special circumstances in favour of granting planning permission. Accordingly, the proposal was contrary to the Local Plan and Alterations policies GB2A and GB7A, which were consistent with the policies of the National Planning Policy Framework.
2. By reason of making an insufficient contribution towards the provision of off-site affordable housing. It was therefore contrary to the Local Plan and Alterations policies H5A, H6A, H7A and H8A, which were consistent with the National Planning Policy Framework.