“The billionaire and the 219 tiny flats: a new low for rabbit-hutch Britain?”

“Campaigners have piled in to criticise plans drawn up by a billionaire property tycoon to cram more than 200 tiny flats into an office building in north London. They describe it as a “human warehouse” that would be filled with people living in “cramped single-occupancy shoeboxes” like “rabbits in hutches”.

Amid claims that some of the planned flats would be as small as 15 sq metres – that’s less than 13ft by 13ft for residents’ entire living space – some locals say the proposal is one of the most shocking examples yet of the phenomenon known as office-to-residential conversion. A typical Premier Inn hotel room is 21 sq metres, while national space standards state that the minimum floor area for a new one-bedroom one-person home is 37 sq metres.

It was 10 years ago that, while London mayor, Boris Johnson pledged an end to “hobbit” homes in the capital, but examples of rabbit-hutch developments keep coming, and one leading architect told Guardian Money: “We’re heading towards the so-called ‘coffin homes’ in Hong Kong.” …”

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2019/nov/23/the-billionaire-and-the-219-tiny-flats-a-new-low-for-rabbit-hutch-britain?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

Maybe not a good idea to build on flood plains …

“Poor management of the rural landscape along with global heating and building on floodplains are the main factors that led to the floods that have engulfed towns in northern England, according to experts.

Sheffield, Rotherham and Doncaster are among the places flooded, 12 years after they were badly hit when the River Don burst its banks in 2007. Many affected areas, including Meadowhall shopping centre, where customers were stranded overnight, lie within the river’s floodplain – low-lying land next to the river that naturally floods during high flow.

“This is only a problem if you develop floodplains by building houses, businesses and factories on them, which is obviously what we have done over the years, so to some degree it’s a problem of our own making,” said Roy Mosley, the head of conservation and land management at Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust.

The risk faced by floodplain communities is exacerbated by the management of land upstream of the city. Intensive animal grazing leads to short grass and compacted soil, which is less able to absorb and hold water. There are no longer enough trees and plants to absorb rain and stop it from running straight into the river, Mosley said.”

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/12/flooding-caused-by-poor-management-and-floodplain-building?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

Urban sprawl – Greater Exeter, Lesser East Devon

From a correspondent:

This correspondent had a beautiful sunny autumn drive through the villages of West Hill and Woodbury yesterday morning. Then the enthusiasm of conservative Cllr Philip Skinner for a “network of linked villages being built in the North West Quadrant area of East Devon” came to mind.

Has not East Devon sacrificed enough Grade 1 agricultural land to build Cranbrook? Were we not told that this sacrifice would be EDDC’s contribution to housing need?

Then we found that Ottery St. Mary was sacrificed.

Feniton was sacrificed.

Exmouth was sacrificed. I could go on.

And now we are told the villages of Poltimore, Huxham, Clyst St Mary, Clyst St George, Ebford, West Hill, Woodbury​, Woodbury Salterton, Exton and Farringdon would be most likely to be sacrificed.

Has the ward councillors of the above villages consulted their constituents? Are the constituents of Ben Ingham and Geoff Jung happy that Woodbury will join Cllr. Skinner’s “bigger vision”?

Why aren’t our independent councillors telling Exeter that East Devon has done their bit, they do not wish urban sprawl and it is now the other surrounding councils turn?

“RIBA slams moves to extend permitted development rights”

“The government’s ambition to simplify the country’s planning system will be wrecked by ministers’ determination to persist with extending permitted development rights, the RIBA has warned.

Alongside a number of other housing initiatives announced earlier this week, including plans to change energy regulations and introduce a new housebuilding standard, the housing secretary Robert Jenrick said the government would be looking to reform the planning system, “making it faster and more efficient for everyone, from households to large developers”.

The government wants to allow homes to be built above existing properties and is seeking views on demolishing old commercial buildings for new housing, a move it claimed would revitalise high streets in the process.

An accelerated green paper on planning reforms will be published next month, outlining ministers’ thinking.

But the RIBA president Alan Jones pointed to a “huge contradiction” at the heart of the government’s ambitions and said moves to create “a planning system that works for society would be undermined by the proposal to extend permitted development rights”.

Jones said the RIBA said it would continue to urge the government to reconsider its plans, since these “would only lead to more homes that sidestep vital quality and environmental standards and inhibit any plans to incite a ‘green housing revolution’”.

The architects’ trade body has been a vociferous critic of those developers who used permitted development rights to turn redundant office and commercial space into residential properties, many of which do not meet minimum space standards.

It backed a Children’s Commissioner report, published in August, which the RIBA said provided “further evidence of the damaging effect that current regulations have on people, including families with children, who end up living in these poor-quality homes, often through no choice of their own”.

Other organisations have warned that prolific use of permitted development rights to convert offices and warehousing space into homes would create the “slums of the future”.

The Labour Party has committed to scrapping permitted development rights if it gets into government, while the Royal Town Planning Institute believed such rights “put housing affordability and design quality at risk” and undermined the planning system.

At the Conservative Party conference earliest this week housing minister Esther McVey said the government would tweak the permitted development rights’ regime but ruled out rolling it back.”

https://www.housingtoday.co.uk/news/riba-slams-moves-to-extend-permitted-development-rights/5101950.article?

The curious case of the missing houses

Many council officers are honourable, many are not. Owl had hoped to to write “most officers are honourable, a few are not” but that hasn’t been Owl’s experience, sadly.

Now, all eyes are on a planning application in Salcombe, for two houses in an exceptionally good location were deleted from plans shown to a “planning workshop” for councillors.

Why? That old chestnut “commercial confidentiallity”.

“A council has been forced to reveal plans for two luxury homes on a beauty spot which were withheld from councillors during a meeting.

Above: original plan and plan shown to councillors and plans shown to councillors

South Hams District Council in Devon cited “commercial confidentiality” in keeping the Salcombe plans under wraps, but a watchdog rejected that excuse.

Environment group South Hams Society urged “more transparency in planning matters” by the council.

The authority said it “did not want the meeting to be sidetracked”.

Drawings of the homes had formed part of draft plans for the hill-top development off Shadycombe Road in the seaside town.

But a council officer told architects in an email on 11 October last year that “at this point” the scale of the four-bed detached houses should be left out of the plans.

He said the scale “concerns me” and added: “It would be a mistake to present this detail.”

In an email response, the architect sent back revised plans with circles instead of drawings of the houses “without being too prescriptive on their size and design”.

The email:

The revised plans were then put before a planning workshop of councillors and local businesses on 17 October.

The council initially refused South Hams Society’s request to reveal the original plans.

However, it appealed and the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) ordered the authority to divulge the omitted details.

In a statement, the council said it had “sought legal advice” and “we were of the view that we were entitled to withhold them”.

“It was clear to us that the plans as they were, would not be recommended for approval by the council.

“We felt that the size of the properties on the plan were inappropriate.”

The workshop had been arranged to talk to key stakeholders about a masterplan for the whole area and we did not want the meeting to be side-tracked by a proposal which we were sure would never come forward in its current state.”

It added it now “fully respects” the demand to release the full plans.”

Above: plans presented to workshop

Didi Alayli, chair of the society, said she hoped the ICO ruling “will lead to real change” in how council planners deal with draft plans.

“The huge profits to be made by landowners and developers in our beautiful area make it all the more important that our planning system is fit for purpose and we are not there yet,” she said.

It is understood landowner Jason Smith, who has not yet responded to a BBC request for comment, has not taken the proposals forward.”

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-devon-49812449

John Loudon (EDDC Sidmouth Rural councillor on Sidford Business Park planning application

From the blog of John Loudon, East Devon Alliance councillor for Sidmouth Rural.

The Sidford Business Park, Chief Executive, Council Leader & Private Eye
The planning applications to build the Business Park in Sidford have received a great deal of local attention and significant opposition, and I was pleased to be able to recently give evidence at the Inquiry in opposition to the proposed development. I believe that it is the wrong thing in the wrong place. Unfortunately, the Planning Inspector who adjudicated at the Inquiry disagreed and has now given the go ahead for the Business Park.

We are where we are because there have been two planning applications submitted by Tim and Mike Ford, in the name of OG Holdings Retirement Benefits Scheme, to build this Business Park. The first of these applications was submitted in 2016 and rejected by East Devon District Council. The second was then submitted in 2018 and was again rejected by the District Council.

In listening to the evidence at the Inquiry I, and many others, were taken aback to learn a claim arising from the evidence given by a key witness for the Fords, their agent Joseph Marchant, which was repeated by their QC and which wasn’t challenged by the Council.

The claim was set out at paragraph 6.0.1 in Mr Marchant’s written evidence “Subsequent to the refusal of the 2016 application, an approach was made to Members (Councillors) including Councillor Hughes and the CEO (Chief Executive) of EDDC, Mark Williams”.

This is continued in paragraph 6.0.2 of Mr Marchant’s written evidence “We were advised by Mark Williams…. that in his opinion, the applicant (the Fords) may make more advance in progress towards delivery through appealing (the Council’s decision to refuse the 2016 planning application) rather than resubmission”.

This claim was also clearly set out in paragraphs 13 and 14 of the Fords’ QC’s final closing arguments at the Inquiry “After the 2016 application was refused, there was a meeting with Councillor Hughes and the CEO of the Council”. “The CEO advised that the way to progress was to appeal. That is an extraordinary state of affairs”.

In my opinion all of this raised serious questions, not for the first time, about the links between the District Council and developers. It could be construed that the Chief Executive’s actions and advice undermined the authority and responsibilities of not only the Council’s planning officers, but also that of the elected Members, particularly those with responsibility for oversight and decision making on planning applications.

I therefore took this matter up with the Leader of the Council and in doing so I asked him a number of questions about how this meeting, involving the District Council’s Chief Executive and the developers, came about, what was discussed at it and who was present. After a bit of toing and froing I received answers to some of my questions, and as a result I believe that this is what happened –

After the 2016 planning application to build the Business Park was turned down by the District Council Tim Ford contacted the Chief Executive’s PA on Thursday 3 November 2016 seeking a meeting with the Chief Executive. This request appears to have been acted up very quickly as the meeting took place on Tuesday 8 November at 8.30 am in the Chief Executive’s office.

Present at the meeting were the Chief Executive, Mark Williams, Paul Diviani, the then Conservative Leader of the District Council, Councillor Stuart Hughes plus the developers Tim and Mike Ford and their agent Joseph Marchant, the one and the same person who’s witness statement led to this meeting being made public. The reason for the meeting is recorded as “To discuss the Sidford Business Park”.

The District Council is unable to confirm how long this meeting took. In addition, the District Council appears to have no formal, or informal, record of what was discussed or any decisions that were reached.

I find this situation concerning. It is amazing that within 4 working days of requesting a meeting that a developer can hold a meeting involving the Chief Executive and Leader of the Council, the two most senior people within the Council, to discuss a planning application that their Council had refused. I wonder how many members of the public can get that sort of high-level access so quickly?

I am concerned that at this meeting there was no planning officer, legal adviser nor the Council’s Monitoring Officer present. Surely, any discussion about a matter relating to a planning application should have the input of a planning officer. Wouldn’t the Council be best protected by having a legal adviser present? Surely, the Monitoring Officer, who is responsible for the probity of the Council, ought to be in attendance?

There was no record of the meeting’s discussions made on behalf of the Council. I cannot understand why this was so. Surely, it’s important that a record of such a meeting is made and then shared with the planning officers? Surely, a record of the meeting should have been placed with all the other related documents in the planning application file? It’s almost as if no one wanted the meeting to have been known about by anyone else, or otherwise why not keep a record of its discussions?

My role as a campaigner against the Business Park and as a District Councillor pursing this matter has been challenged by the District Council. The Business Park is within my Ward. Local residents within my Ward and within a neighbouring Ward at Sidford have expressed concern at the proposed Business Park and the involvement of the Chief Executive in this matter. It is therefore only right and proper that I have pursued this on their behalf.

Afterall, the Local Government Association’s Guidance for new Councillors 2019/20, which the District Council provided to me upon taking office in May, states at page 7, in the section headed “The Councillor’s role” that –

“A councillor’s primary role is to represent their ward or division and the people who live in it. Councillors provide a bridge between the community and the council. As well as being an advocate for your local residents and signposting them to the right people at the council, you will need to keep them informed about the issues that affect them”.

It goes on to explain that –

“As a local councillor, your residents will expect you to: … know your patch and be aware of any problems … represent their views at council meetings … lead local campaigns on their behalf”.

This guidance was reinforced to Councillors through the training that it provided in May 2019.

I don’t feel comfortable with some aspects of how the District Council has handled this planning application. I don’t feel comfortable about –

how quickly a developer was able to gain swift access to the most senior people in the Council.
that other key Officers weren’t present at the meeting.
that no record of the meeting was made by the Council.
I know for sure that many local residents remain uncomfortable too. As does Private Eye which has picked up on this story on 20 September.”

The Sidford Business Park, Chief Executive, Council Leader & Private Eye

“Pre-Application Openness And Transparency”

A useful guide from the South Hams Society on what developers and officers can co-operate on before a planning application goes in and what rights residents have to know what they are doung.

” …You are entitled to ask the district council:

If you suspect that discussion is being held on a proposal for development that hasn’t yet been published as a planning application, you are perfectly entitled to ask the district council, as the planning authority, what it knows about it.

The Environmental Information Regulations of 2004 require public bodies, if asked, to release to the requester, within 20 working days, any information they have on proposals for the land.

There are certain defined circumstances in which they can withhold it but they wouldn’t often apply in the cases in which the ordinary resident would be interested.

The rules cover pre-application discussions and any other less formal enquiries. Your request needn’t be in writing, it can be oral, for instance, by asking a councillor, in or out of a meeting, and the rules would equally apply to a town or parish council as well as to a district council.

Any blanket response such as ‘Pre-Application discussions are confidential’ is misconceived and should be challenged.

Your enquiry can be submitted online through the council’s Freedom of Information portal, citing the Environmental Information Regulations.

Requests are perhaps best framed in relation to an area or place and a time period, without any reference to the parties you think might be involved. For instance “Could I please be informed of any proposal of which the council has become aware in the last year, in the form of a pre-application request or otherwise, for development in the field of which the centre is at SX66805021? Please include the record of any advice the council may have given.”

Make sure your request is acknowledged, and follow it up if you haven’t had a reply within 20 working days.

[A model letter example from South Hams can be found here]:
https://southhamssociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/SHS-ICO-pre-application-ruling-Councillors-letter-230919.pdf

https://ico.org.uk/media/action-weve-taken/decision-notices/2019/2615823/fer0829003.pdf