The Senior Planning Officer presented the report and referred to the slides that had previously been circulated to the Committee. He recommended the refusal of this application as set out in the report.
Mo Anderson-Dungar (Colby with Banningham Parish Council) (also speaking in respect of PF/20/0708 below.)
Ann Bartaby (supporting)
Councillor J Toye, the local Member, referred to the history of this site and the circumstances that had led to the current application. He stated that the design of the proposed building was the same as had been permitted under the prior notification application, in the same location and with the same layout, and had there not been a poor survey and miscommunication regarding underpinning of the building the family would now be living in the dwellings. He considered that the site was in a sustainable location as it was close to regular bus routes into Aylsham and North Walsham, and a school, garage and restaurant were within a short walking distance. He considered that the issue was not about building in the countryside; it was enabling a family to build what had been approved under a different set of rules, and listening to local people and the support they had given to this application. He considered that the application should be approved as it was sustainable development, it would improve the local environment and employ local people.
Councillor P Heinrich stated that two prior notifications had been approved and the barn structure had been deemed suitable for conversion at the time. Two dwellings would have existed on the site if problems had not occurred. The application merely replicated what would have been created by the prior notifications. He considered that there were exceptional circumstances in this case. Whilst it could be argued whether or not Policy SS2 was applicable, the applicant’s agent had cited an appeal decision, there was case law and paragraph 79 of the NPPF gave a definition of ‘isolated’. He stated that this was not an isolated greenfield site in the open countryside. It was a brownfield site on the edge of a cluster of houses which was typical of this part of North Norfolk, there were facilities nearby and the site was on a bus route between two market towns with good facilities. He considered there would be planning gain in removing an eyesore building and replacing it with two good quality, modern, sustainable dwellings. There was support for the application from the Parish Council and no local objections. He considered that natural justice was relevant in this case and to prevent a house being built where a house might rightly exist was against natural justice. He would therefore vote against the officer’s recommendation.
The Development Manager explained that the previous permissions had been granted under prior notification which allowed the conversion of existing buildings. The buildings no longer existed and the permission could no longer be implemented. The proposal was therefore new build. The application site was in the defined Countryside policy area and not within a defined settlement. The Council regularly won planning appeals on Policy SS2 grounds and the policy had very recently been upheld as being in line with national policy and could be afforded full weight. Applications should be determined in accordance with the adopted Development Plan unless there were other material considerations to outweigh it. The location was not sustainable for the reasons given in the report. Whilst she had every sympathy with the applicants and their situation, natural justice could not be afforded any weight in planning considerations.
Councillor G Mancini-Boyle asked if concerns regarding car use could be addressed by charging points and electric vehicle use. He considered that the issue regarding the environment had been addressed by the use of heat source pumps and renewable energy. He asked if the Committee was obliged to cite a policy in the event of a contrary view being taken.
The Head of Planning explained that any decision must be made on planning policy and must be evidenced on its interpretation. Planning policy did not recognise whether vehicles were electric or not, and the use of electric vehicles would not necessarily make a development sustainable as it required a journey by private car. Such a condition would have little weight in planning law.
The Principal Lawyer confirmed that the role of planning was to determine whether a development in a particular location was right for its foreseeable lifetime. Personal circumstances were not planning considerations and the decision had to be taken in accordance with the adopted Development Plan unless other material considerations indicated otherwise.
Councillor N Pearce referred to conflicting comments as to whether or not the site was in the Countryside, and requested confirmation as to its status.
The Development Manager confirmed that the site was within the Countryside Policy Area in the adopted Local Plan.
Councillor C Cushing considered that this was a difficult matter. He stated that the applicants had reached this situation through no fault of their own and had been honest and stopped work when they realised there was a problem. He expressed support for the application.
Councillor R Kershaw stated that he was very sympathetic to the applicants. However, this was a new build in policy terms and he supported the Officer’s recommendation.
Councillor A Varley asked what would happen to the land and building if the application were refused. He referred to the Council’s obligation to find suitable plots of land to provide housing for its residents and he was concerned that it would be harsh to adhere to policy as the land was previously considered suitable for a dwelling. He considered that the Committee should be open minded, and apply common sense as well as looking at its policies.
The Development Manager reiterated that there was no structure left on the site which was capable of conversion. The previous application had been approved on the basis of the conversion of an existing building, which no longer existed. The current application was for a new build dwelling in the Countryside and it was necessary for it to be sustainable. Whilst the Council was obligated to find sites for housing, this was a matter for the Local Plan.
Councillor N Pearce considered that common sense should be followed and stated that he wanted to propose the approval of this application.
Councillor C Stockton considered that the interpretation of sustainability was key. He referred to the rural nature of North Norfolk. Given that there were public rights of way and a bus service into two towns, he considered that, in North Norfolk terms, the site was sustainable. He supported Councillor Pearce.
Councillor R Kershaw proposed that the application be refused in accordance with the recommendation of the Head of Planning, which was seconded by Councillor A Brown.
The Head of Planning responded to the point raised by Councillor Varley. He stated that officers would work with the applicants to find an alternative use for the building. Refusal of this application did not mean that other uses would not be acceptable in policy terms in the Countryside. If this were not possible then enforcement powers could be used if absolutely necessary.
The proposal to refuse this application in accordance with the recommendation of the Head of Planning was put to the vote and declared lost with 5 Members voting in favour and 8 against. Councillor P Bütikofer had left the meeting temporarily due to technical issues and did not vote.
The Head of Planning advised the Committee that its decision must be led by national and local planning policies. He summarised the issues that had been put forward by the applicants’ agent and by Members. He advised caution with regard to personal circumstances as they could be argued in other cases in the future.
Councillor Pearce referred to the report, which stated that the proposal met the requirements of EN4, CT5, CT6, EN2 and EN9.
The Development Manager stated that officers had not said that the proposal was contrary to the policies quoted by Councillor Pearce. The Committee was making an alternative decision based on principle so principle reasons were required.
The Head of Planning advised that Policies SS1 and SS2 were the principle policies in this case, together with paragraph 79 of the NPPF based on the sustainability issues put forward by Members.
It was proposed by Councillor C Cushing, seconded by Councillor A Varley and
RESOLVED by 8 votes to 5
That this application be approved on the grounds that the development is sustainable in accordance with Local Plan Policies SS1 and SS2, subject to conditions considered to be appropriate by the Head of Planning.