COUNCILLORS in Stanford-le-Hope succeeded in overturning plans to build two new homes in The Homesteads.
Ward councillor Sue MacPherson spoke passionately against the scheme, which she described as “garden grabbing” and members of Thurrock Council’s planning committee backed her by going against the recommendation for approval.
Even though it seems likely the landowner will now take his case to appeal as the councillors went against officers’ planning advice – as well as the council’s own guidelines which identify the site as permissible for development – the vote against was seen by some as a victory for democracy.
Veteran councillor Barry Palmer, summed up the mood of a majority of councillors brushing off the threat of the Council incurring big costs in a legal battle by saying: “If we are going to have the Sword of Damocles hanging over our heads we will never make any decisions.”
The plan for two five bedroom homes at 183 Southend Road, accessed via St Martin’s Close, was first debated in June, but councillors deferred a decision for a site meeting.
At the first meeting Cllr MacPherson made an impassioned plea against the proposal and last Thursday, when the committee convened again, she was joined by Paul Wilson, who lives next door to the site.
He had not spoken at the first meeting, but invited councillors into his home on the site visit and told them how the new houses would impact on him.
He told the meeting: “This backs on to my property within six feet, blocking the view from my en-suite and landing.” He also detailed his fears about issues during construction including vehicle movements onto the site and problems caused by builders’ parking.
The site agent, Alan King, then put his case, saying Mr Wilson’s fears over light being blocked were not justified as the aspect of the new building would not impinge on his light. He said his client could have gone for more homes on the site but instead had tried to work with the authority to produce an acceptable scheme in an area already designated as appropriate.
“We have worked with officers throughout to meet their needs. Our client didn’t wish to over develop this site, which has gardens twice the minimum size that could be allowed,” he said.
That cut little ice with Cllr MacPherson who wanted to concentrate on the wider picture.
“Historically you have to think where the forward thinking is in this ward. The Homesteads is already disadvantaged, why disadvantage it more?
“This plan should not just be waved through. Garden space in this ward is diminishing, this application is harmful to the area and we should protect gardens from inappropriate development.”
Her words were in spite of a long-agreed local plan which designates certain areas in The Homesteads as suitable for development, including the area covered by the application in which other schemes have already been approved.
However, the authority also has a draft policy, called H11, which restricts what can and can’t be built – and where.
It is a document that appears to cause confusion, a problem identified by Cllr Steve Veryard who said: “We often hear abut H11 but I’m struggling to come to terms with it. I’m struggling with the consistency of its policy. It approves this yet I find this application is very uncomforting in a tight-fitting space.”
However, Cllr Phil Anderson, who later voted in favour of the development, appeared to back the H11 strategy , saying: “When it comes to making decisions, it’s a judgement. It’s not down to opinions, it’s down to a judgement against policy and this complies with policy. Everything is falling on that side of the scales.”
But he seemed to be in opposition to colleagues on the committee, with Cllr Shane Hebb saying: “I think one of the main points is the abrupt proximity of the premises in situ,” and Cllr Palmer adding: “I share concerns about H11 and what was said then does not stand now.”
Cllr Gerard Rice did stick up for the development, saying: “We always talk about the need for executive style developments and the need for them, then we oppose this.”
Chairman Cllr Terry Hipsey summed up by saying: “The size of the buildings concern me and we are talking about postage stamp sized gardens, density is a problem here.”
He also identified problems with parking and access, despite the fact they had been discounted by highways officers, saying: “We must not forget we have five two bedroom houses. In this day and age a family of five has five vehicles and I just feel for the people of St Martin’s Close with people jamming up their roads.”
In the end councillors voted 5-4 to reject their officers’ recommendation and instead backed a resolution which said: “This is refusal purely on density issues and 183 Southend Road and parking issues.”
After the meeting Cllr MacPherson, who said she was working with fellow ward councillors James Halden and Pauline Tolson, said: “We contacted everyone in Martins Close prior to the planning meeting so that we were acting on behalf of our residents.
“We listened to their concerns and we are pleased that the planning committee could see this infill was not going to benefit the residents and was going to be detrimental to The Homesteads Ward.
“While I am a ward councillor I will continue to protect The Homesteads and will continue to work for the residents against infill. When I say no I mean it.”