Saturday, July 13, 2024

Swimming pool permission could land council in deep water

AN impassioned plea by a veteran councillor that found sympathetic ears among his colleagues has landed Thurrock Council in a planning quandary.

At last week’s meeting of the authority’s planning committee, a majority of councillors voted against of their own rules and planning officers’ advice to given permission to a family man to build a swimming pool in his back garden.

The only problem with the plan is that it is a new building in a designated green belt area and after the councillors voted, planning chief Andy Millard stepped in to defer the matter – while the Council’s legal advisor said he had “grave concerns.”

The application came from local businessman Steve Wilson, who wants to build the swimming pool for his family’s use in the grounds of a derelict farm that he has painstakingly and expensively restored.

His work in bringing the buildings at Little Mollands Farm, South Ockendon, has won praise from English Heritage and local planning officers and won Mr Wilson an overwhelming vote of sympathy in the Council Chamber last week.

Some were swayed to vote in favour of the scheme for a pool and gymnasium, in the end coming up with an argument they accepted was spurious in a bid to get round clear planning rules.

Mr Wilson’s home on Mollands Lane dates from the early nineteeth century and the farm house that has been restored is Grade II listed.

He told the meeting that when he had bought the site it was dilapidated but he had made it a labour of love to restore the building, spending many thousands on aesthetic additions to the site such as roofing the building with thousands of very expensive titles to match how it would have looked originally.

He added: “Everyone was delighted with what I did and the planning inspector said if everyone paid such attention to detail with their projects, he would be out of a job.”

Several councillors then queued up to led their support to Mr Wilson, with Cllr Martin Healy quizzing planning officer Catherine Blow and asking: “I’m confused, you say it’s Metropolitan Green bet but it’s someone’s garden?

“Pass,” came the succinct reply.

Cllr Healy then added: “Five months ago the coalition government urged people to develop their homes, employ local builders and create business and wealth. This could be a prime example here. I believe it’s a shallow excuse to call it green belt.”

That was an argument that really didn’t cut it with Tory Cllr Phil Anderson, who said: “The recent changes relating to Green belt are about reuse of buildings, there is more flexibility for the use of old buildings.

“Some of the mood music may have changed but that doesn’t apply to this building. Green Belt is Green belt. We have always been very clear. There need to be special circumstances that outweigh harm in the Green Belt.”

Veteran Cllr Charlie Curtis weighed in with an emotional plea for Mr Wilson to be granted permission for the pool. “When he bought it this place was a tip. Now it’s one of the nicest places in the area.

“I can’t give you any planning reasons but surely we should support this. He is not asking to build homes or make money, just build a swimming pool for his family.

“Mr Wilson is passionate about his home. He loves it. So what do we do – we punish him!”

Cllr Shane Hebb saw Cllr Curtis’s argument, but added: “We are blurring emotion with planning regulations. We have to judge this on material matters. To do otherwise would send out a catastrophic message.”

Cllr Barry Palmer backed Cllr Curtis, paying tribute to “people who restore building in the Green Belt.” He added:

“This man has gone to great length to restore this building. I think we should be looking sympathetically and allow the pool to be built as a way of saying thanks for restoring the property.

“We have lost too many buildings in the past by being philistine.”

Cllr Anderson came back into the debate to say: “Restoring buildings is absolutely to be commended but the precedent really scares me, the precedent for people with less scruples.”.

Cllr Barry Johnson made the point that “If he had put this into the plans he submitted for the original application we would be in a different position,” while Cllr Richard Speight spoke of his concerns, echoing Cllr Anderson by saying: “It sets a really dangerous precedent.”

Councillors sought advice from legal expert Philip Cunliffe-Jones who said: “To allow a new building in Green Belt requires very special circumstances and to allow this would be very grave in my view.”

Despite that warning, when it came to a vote, Cllrs Curtis, Palmer, Healy and committee chairman Terry Hipsey voted to overturn the officer recommendation for refusal and then, under council procedures, produced a motion citing economic regeneration, which Cllr Healy had earlier conceded was meant as a humorous proposition, as the reason for giving approval.

That was carried by another 4-3 margin, with two abstentions, prompting Mr Millard to intervene saying he was duty bound to intervene and the matter would be brought to the next planning meeting for further consideration.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Surely the swimming pool would be built in his garden? Or is he intending to build the swimming pool in the middle of a field near his property? If it is just a swimming pool near the house then I really do not see a reason to object. As for precedents being set….I think the council have missed the boat on that one…Aveley by pass springs to mind and thats will be a great deal more detrimental to the green belt than a pool.

  2. I have a bit of sympathy for this guy. The property is near where I live and he has totally transformed it, it’s really quite nice now. However, rules are rules and, as hard as it may be on the guy, if the plans for the pool are not within the law then he can’t build it. You can’t waive the rules just because the case is sympathetic.

  3. Seems like double standards here, this person cannot build a pool in his back garden as it is deemed Green Belt yet councils and government up and down the country continue to build housing and rail lines on Green Belt, surely if Green Belt means no building then it means that for all??

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