Councillors back down over planning battle

THURROCK councillors have backed down and agreed to refuse permission to a new development in Stanford-le-Hope just weeks after their attempts at approving it were blocked by planning officers.

The three dwelling development proposed for Branksome Avenue, Stanford-le-Hope, had been debated at a planning meeting at the beginning of April where councillors had attempted to go against officers’ advice and approve the plans.

Committee chairman Cllr Terry Hipsey gave a casting vote in favour of approval before he was stopped by chief planning officer Andrew Millard and a compromise agreement was made to postpone the decision until Thursday, 28 April.

At an extraordinary meeting of the planning committee on Thursday evening councillors eventually backed down accepting planning officers’ recommendations to refuse the application by five votes to three (one abstention).

Cllr Gerard Rice described the decision as a ‘farce’ after an earlier attempt to approve the plans was voted down by five votes to three (one abstention).

Reporting back to the planning committee on Thursday, planning officers warned members that if approved this development “would set very dangerous precedents” for future planning decisions.

They also described reasons given by members for approval previously as ‘tentative’ before once again recommending refusal.

Ward councillor James Halden spoke first to complain of the high levels of congestion in the local area arguing further development would only increase the problems.

Cllr Rice was quick to challenge Cllr Halden on his objection asking: “How many letters of objection to this development have you received?”

To which he replied tentatively: “No letters in rejection to this application specifically, but to do with infill – many.”

Cllr Stephen Veryard then went on to put his backing behind the development arguing the plans “ticked all the boxes of a high quality development”.

Cllr Barry Palmer responded angrily to these suggestions saying: “If we are going to completely ignore policy then we might as well concrete over all of these areas. Every single space would soon be considered fair game to developers.”

Cllr Rice defended his view arguing this development would prevent any future development of the site – although Cllr Phil Anderson was quick to criticise his ‘emotive’ arguments for development.

“We need to remain vigilant as if this application is approved someone could come straight back in and decisions to refuse applications could become much harder to defend as we will have lowered the bar for developers,” said Cllr Anderson.

Cllr Rice said that councillors were not voted in to be ‘yes men’ for planning officers, although chief planning officer Andrew Millard quickly intervened reminding members: “You are bound by the policies in the development plan”.

Suggestions of a ‘ransom strip’ of land surrounding the development to prevent further development were discussed with legal advice being sought but, after an unsuccessful motion was raised to approve the plans, councillors took the decision to a second vote and agreed refusal by five votes to three.

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