Councillor says planning committee has to draw ‘a line in the sand’.
Tired of committee being branded ‘toothless‘ and ‘spineless’.
Council’s planning officers may be unwilling or unable to support councillors’ decisions.
It’s time to draw a line in the sand on planning matters within Hastings in an attempt to change the public’s perception of the council’s planning committee its members were told on Wednesday.
Councillor Ruby Cox, speaking at a meeting of Hastings Borough Council’s (HBC) planning committee said she was fed up seeing the planning committee described as “toothless and spineless”.
Members were discussing a retrospective planning application for changes that have already been made to a new house built last year in Martineau Lane. Those changes mean that it has not built to the original specification the council had approved in 2017. Ms Cox said she found it hard to believe the council had not been, “cynically played” by the developer.
Councillors spent almost two hours debating whether to or not to accept its officers’ recommendation to approve the application or to reject it. Councillor Phil Scott said that he had never known a planning committee to spend so much time debating plans for a single house. In the end the committee came down against granting the retrospective permission with many councillors expressing their concerns that the developer had not played things ‘by-the-book’.
The new house at the heart of the issue was built on land at the rear of 23, Martineau Lane and the committee was being asked to approve changes the developer had made to the design that had originally been approved.
While debate raged about whether or not the councillors should approve or reject the plan their officials warned of potentially expensive consequences were the proposal they were considering be rejected.
Eleanor Evans, HBC’s Planning Services Manager told the committee that if they did reject the application she felt she would be unable to argue against it were it to go to appeal. Later in the meeting she went on to tell councillors that even if they did reject the proposal it was unlikely that her department would actually take enforcement action.
However Ms Evans did say: “It’s unfortunate how the applicant has approached the development of this site. We would have preferred if they had come to us each time they wanted to make a change, they did not do that and it was hard working with these developers and the neighbours have been nothing but patient.”
“For Mr Scott the history of the project was: “Monty Pythonesque… it’s farcical,” he told the meeting.
The application to build a two-storey ‘chalet style’ detached dwelling on the site was originally approved despite many objections .
Then the developers applied for planning permission to amend the original proposal by converting what was described as a ‘void’ to a games room with windows, making a three-floor house, and adding 460 square feet to the property’s floor area. That was was refused, so Councillor Andy Patmore could not understand why the committee was being recommended to give full approval to the retrospective planning application which he believed contradicted the officers’ previous position.
“The application to make these changes was put in and refused and the applicant has gone ahead making the alterations that he wanted anyway,” Mr Patmore said, he went on to tell the meeting that as far as he was concerned the application they were considering and that was being recommended for approval was in no way different to the planning application they had previously turned down and like several of his colleagues he described the actions of the developers as “cynical”.
Councillor Warren Davies drew the committee’s attention to the fact that the original permission had been granted on the basis that alterations could only be made with the “express authority” of the councils planning department and he was angry that that “express authority” had not been recognised by the developers.
“We have been put in an invidious position, and it is invidious, where we are having to weigh up between the sense of natural justice and whether we are going to win this at an appeal,” he said and went on to call for the developer to withdraw the application even at that late stage and begin talks about finding a compromise.
Councillor Sorrel Marlow-Eastwood said she was being made to feel ‘impotent’: “I feel that as a committee we are being pushed away from a decision we would like to make. Then to be told that a refusal would not be enforced by the council makes us completely impotent as a planning committee and I find that quite offensive,” she said.
Councillor Scott said he felt that the developer had; “…one of our arms up behind our back, and he probably has two arms up our back, to say we feel toothless is not far from the truth.”
In the end the committee voted to reject the retrospective planning application, Councillors Andy Patmore, James Bacon, Margi O’Callaghan, Paul Foster, Ruby Cox, Sorrell Marlow-Eastwood, Warren Davies and Phil Scott voted to reject the application with committee Chairman Alan Roberts supporting it and Councillor Heather Bishop abstaining.