PLANNING councillors have roundly condemned an “opportunist” bid to build bungalows in the greenbelt and thrown out the controversial application.
At last week’s meeting of Thurrock Council’s planning committee members debated an application to build 11 bungalows on the site of Kemps Farm on Dennises Lane, South Ockendon. Last year they agreed a different development of the site, which includes a Grade II listed farmhouse, because it was a conversion of existing buildings.
However, the new scheme took a different approach with new buildings and consumed some of the space previously allocated for gardens.
Officers recommended refusal of the new application, criticising the design of the new buildings and concluding the development would be harmful to the character and openness of the greenbelt and detrimental to the listed building.
The agent for the developers, Mr John Pittaway, spoke up for the scheme, saying: “In approving the previous application members have recognised the site’s potential for high quality development and the committee recognised the principle of residential development in this location.
“In redeveloping this site to form a sensitive residential community the proposal would be significantly beneficial to the setting and character of the greenbelt in comparison to the existing site.
“The proposed development would contribute to the delivery of new homes in the Borough of which there is an established and pressing need.
“The design team is disappointed that officers consider the design of the scheme is harmful to the character of the main farmhouse. The design for the proposed new bungalows was led by the design of the restored units to the north in terms of their scale, lay-out, material and design and is sympathetic to existing buildings. The scheme layout will not affect the main farmhouse but will deliver a high quality development and enhance the approved residential development.
“The proposed single storey bungalows are to be warden controlled for elderly occupants, which we know there is a need within the Borough for. The designers note officers’ comments about gardens but feel we can deliver enough private gardens within the accommodation.”
In the debate that followed, just one councillor, Barry Johnson, spoke up in favour of the new scheme, though he had reservations about the number of new homes, saying: “I made my feelings clear when it first came through. It’s a nice place to live and I like the idea of bungalows but I am not sure about the numbers.
” I’m not sure I’m with the refusal, but I’m also not sure I can go with 11 in there.”
Cllr Phil Anderson was particularly critical of the new scheme, saying: “The previous application, which was quite controversial and went backwards and forwards for some time, but it fitted fully into the envelope of what was already there was a good use. It was close to the edge but we did feel it was something that was appropriate to do.
“This is a completely different proposition. It is proposing to double the size of the development by sticking in a new housing estate.
“It feels entirely opportunistic and chancing its arm a little bit. Basically they are saying, ‘having got something that squeezed its way through on conservation grounds, now let’s now see if we can double it and make some extra money.’
“I don’t welcome this approach and if this was the development they wanted they should have applied for it in the first place rather than try and squeeze it through by little steps.
“This doesn’t come close to special circumstances. This idea that if I dump enough junk and lorries on my site I can then put in an application to clean it up again just feels like planning by ransom and we mustn’t give in to it. This form of hostage taking, if you allow it, just encourages the next one to come along and people will be dumping things in fields all over the place.
“This is a very weak case that is opportunistically chancing its arm.”
Cllr Barry Palmer saw some merit in the scheme but agreed it was outside permissible development, saying:”There are welcome things in this, like building of bungalows rather than five story blocks of flats that we see so much of. It would also clear up an untidy site but this is pushing the boundaries too far. They should stick to the original permission.”
And Cllr Charlie Curtis said: “I struggled with the last application but this is too much of an intrusion.”
Cllr Tunde Ojetola was also against the new application, saying: “This is pushing it over the edge in terms of special circumstances. I am concerned about this one. While I don’t dispute the need for bungalows they need to be in the right place and of the right design and I am inclined to go with the officers’ recommendation. ”
Committee chairman Cllr Terry Hipsey proposed backing the officers’ recommendation to refuse permission, saying: “I did support the original application because I am a great believer in not losing our heritage. The farm conversion won my support but this is over development of the site.”
Only Cllr Johnson, who voted against refusal, disagreed and the plans were thrown out.