Following the planning committee meeting of Thursday (24 March) where the Enforcement Report over the unauthorised lorry park at the West Thurrock Power Station site in Oliver Road was discussed, members agreed to release a “statement of facts” on an investigation into issues surrounding the West Thurrock Power Station site.
Statement of Facts
1: Industrial Chemical Group Ltd (ICG) uses the West Thurrock Power Station site as an unauthorised lorry park. This unauthorised use commenced some time in 2006 and began at least by October 2006.
2: Thurrock Thames Gateway Development Corporation, the planning authority for this site, brought the unauthorised use to the Council’s attention as the enforcing authority. They brought this matter to our attention in writing on 28 June 2007, informing us that 9 months previously it was brought to their attention that a lorry park was being constructed and enquiries were made as to whether planning permission had or had not been granted. The matter was previously raised verbally in March 2007, and at various intervals via planning liaison meetings until December 2009.
3: Both the council as the enforcing authority and the development corporation as the planning authority met with ICG in order to assist them to submit an application to regularise the unauthorised use. The first recorded meeting about this was on 26 January 2007 and the last meeting / communication about a potential planning application was 4 November 2009
4: In the meantime the cross-party Local Development Framework (LDF) and HGV working groups were meeting regarding the core strategy and HGV issues respectively. Both groups discussed the issue of this site and enforcement and members of these cross-party working groups were concerned about the negative effect of enforcement action on the residents of the borough through potential indiscriminate parking as there is insufficient authorised lorry parking in Thurrock.
5: Planning Policy Guidance 18 (PPG18) advises that in such situations an unauthorised use or a development without planning permission can be made acceptable by the imposition of planning conditions and if so the authority may invite the owner of occupier of the land to submit an application and pay the appropriate application fee voluntarily. Both the council and the development corporation sought to assist the owners to submit a planning application for formal consideration from 2007 until 2009.
6: In addition to that, the legal position is that just because there is breach of planning control this does not mean an enforcement action needs to be taken immediately. PPG18 indicates that it is not appropriate to serve an enforcement notice solely if a breach has taken place. Injury to amenity, for example, has to be identified in any notice served.
7: This is the expediency test. In the absence of demonstrable harm it was reasonable that the council did not take enforcement action until September 2010.
8: When a petition was presented to the council during August 2010 signed by nearly 2000 residents it gave the council a reasonable cause to bring a report to the Planning Committee recommending enforcement action. The petition was presented in August 2010 and the next scheduled planning committee on 20 September 2010 resolved to take enforcement action. Therefore the council responded to the residents, listened to their concerns and took action as speedily as possible.
9: The concern of the petitioners/residents continued to be expressed and as a result the committee sought to consider taking further steps. However, because the activity had continued for over four years a Stop Notice could not be issued.
10; Since the summer of 2010 there have been a lot of individuals in the community who have sought information under the Freedom of Information Act and have made complaints to members and the Chief Executive. These complaints have been dealt with at various meetings and by email correspondence. However a formal response following a Stage 3 investigation will be provided to one of the complainants within the next few weeks.
11: One of the issues raised as part of the complaint was ICG had constructed other buildings that did not have planning permission and have not been subject to building control. Planning officers recently visited the site accompanied by Building Control officers and the site history has been researched. On the basis of the information available, it is considered that the buildings and plant in question are indeed permitted development. As such, no breach of planning control has been identified. It is correct that buildings and the plant have not been subject to building control, however, no serious breach of those regulations was discovered during the recent inspection and as a consequence no further action is deemed necessary or appropriate at this time.
12: The outcome of the investigation requested by the committee into the correspondence, the COMAH site and the four-year issue confirms there was no wrong doing on the part of any officers or members. This has been a complex and long standing matter where there has been difference of opinion between the various interests.