Planning Decisions

On Monday 28th July, I joined the bus taking Planning Committee members to see the sites.  It’s all taken very seriously and, at each site, we are reminded of the rules of engagement, including that the objectors are not allowed to address us and we do not make any decision on the spot but wait until the committee meets later in the week. A neighbour was objecting to the erection of a two-storey extension that would replace a smaller one.  Bus rolled up to a very smart part of Mold and we all trooped into the applicant’s garden to have the facts explained by our officers.  We then trotted round the corner to the garden of the objecting neighbours to look at things from their side of the fence.  The neighbours could only stare mutely at us as we wandered around observing and noting, as the rules do not allow objectors to address us.  I thought the objection was unsustainable and wondered how much this visit alone had cost, taking into account the bus, the driver and the time out for officers and councillors alike. Then on to see where a new psychiatric hospital was to be erected.  The plan had been tastefully prepared and I would support it despite numerous objections from a community across the fields that did not want such a hospital on their back yard.  Then onto Flint to look at a garage.  Building had already started thus moving the new building a metre forward from its original footprint.  The neighbour was not at all happy nor would I have been had it been my garden as being much lower down, the garage would have dominated the entire site.  She would lose light and view. Ugg!!  Very senior and experienced councillor marched about and authoritavely announced that there was no significant loss of amenities.  I protested mildly at this strange view and wondered how significant an amenity loss had to be.  When leaving the objector I gave her a winning smile, the closest thing I could do to offer her my support.  “Condition approval” was the advice of officers.  I wrote “refuse” in big letters across that planning application. Working our way through the list took us from Mancot to Mostyn where we had to decide if 6 houses could be built on an area between the Listed Building Clock Tower and a row of cottages.  I could not see a problem but officials felt it did not accord with planning policy and would have a significant impact on this Listed Building.  Surrounded by an ugly fence and close to an electricity pylon, again I could not see the problem. The bus passed thought parts of Flintshire I had never encountered before and the tour ended in Trelawyndd.  What a nice county I live in.  A rather uninspiring bungalow in view from the road wanted to extend to make a bathroom as well as other amenities.  Planners said “No”.  “Far exceeds the general guidelines of a 50% increase in original floor space and being in open countryside was visible from the road”.  Yellow lines had been thoughtfully drawn to show the new footings and it looked reasonable to me.  It was the side away from the on road and again, I wanted to say “Yes”.  The bus went down the road and back again but facing into the sun, the bungalow slid past me in a flash.  No significant impact here, I thought. The Committee met two days later and our Planning officers’ ‘50% increase and no bigger rule’ that had denied the Trelawyndd property was in tatters.  When was a 110% not 110% became the issue!  Item 17 on the agenda had been awarded conditional approval to an extension although the “proposal represents an approximate 110% increase in footprint over the existing ……. it is considered that the proposal will not have an detrimental impact upon the visual appearance of the building itself”. Senior Planner made a valiant attempt to explain that this inexplicable configuration was “in fact not as the report stated as it applied to the whole building”!.  Gulps of disbelief echoed round the chamber at this weird explanation!  Sheer weasel words I thought and incredulity was not mine alone, when the local member weighed in to challenge this departure from usual practice of the 50% rule.  The report admitted that the Ombudsman had previously accused the Council of maladministration and a senior member demanded that the application should be withdrawn, as the report was unreliable.  I also agreed that as the report was flawed, then the application must surely fall.  Why I asked, in true Perry Mason mode, whilst rejecting the Trelawyndd “uninspiring bungalow” application on over 50% of floor space grounds, had Item 17 found such favour.  After intervention from the Legal Officer, item was 17 was deferred for later consideration.  The uninspiring bungalow was refused with instructions to re-submit less ambitious plans. During more Planning Training the next day, whilst discussing how we would handle a case that had been previously decided, light and size was an issue, Cllr.Armstrong Braun knowledgably informed us that loss of light could be appealed under European law. I was amazed as this was contrary to what we had been told.  He also suggested that there was no legislation that determined the policy on the size of an extension.  I recollect that officers did NOT refute his claims in any way!  The body language from the Senior Planner was very revealing.  No wonder more training has been scheduled for the Autumn when I shall certainly grapple more fully with the rules of engagement on “size and light”.  Hopefully another silly 110% that is not 110% situation will not happen again.

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