Planning Appeal to Build "Titanic next to Row Boat"
Case centres on incorrect information and blunders
An appeal this week against Ealing Council's decision not to allow a developer to re-build a Victorian terrace on Churchfield Road, became at times like a Dickensian court case a la 'Jarndyce versus Jarndyce'.
Councillors at a Planning Committee unanimously rejected the plans last October, to the relief of residents' associations and neighbours who would be directly affected by the development.
The appeal was made by A Miller of Palmfield Ltd, a developer represented by Mr Alun Alesbury. David Leeming, a Planning Inspector appointed by the Secretary of State was officiating over the proceedings and Ms Noreen Dunn represented Ealing Council.
At one point during the appeal, both sides were waving documents, arguing which letters they referred to and were asked by Mr Leeming not to continue the "magical mystery tour" of documents.
The hearing started with a discussion about missing documents from both the Council and A Miller. Mr Leeming then gave a brief outline of the main issues - namely whether the proposed development was unacceptable in terms of bulk, massing and terracing effect; whether it would comply with disabled parking regulations plus additional reasons including provision of amenity space.
A section 106 unilateral agreement was mentioned which needed signing by Northern Rock and Mr Leeming said this would need to be done within 7 working days, or the agreement would not be admissable as evidence.
After both sides had made their opening statements, it immediately became apparent that there was a misunderstanding about the boundaries of the conservation area, with Mr Alesbury insisting that his client had been given incorrect information. Cllr Vlod Barchuk was quick to point out that he had obtained the correct information perfectly easily from Ealing Council's website.
Sandy Stagg, who owns the next-door building and who was also representing Churchfield Community Association and many neighbours who signed a petition, outlined her reasons for agreeing with Ealing Council's conditions for refusal. Ms Stagg said that if the proposed development was built, her building would be like "a row boat next to the Titanic". She described how the proposal contained no Victorian features, how all the gardens and homes backing onto the new building would be overlooked by new balconies and subjected to an increase in noise and loss of privacy. The increased bulk and mass of the new building would be a severe and imposing presence on Churchfield Road.
Cllr Vlod Barchuk said that he could not understand the confusion over the conservation area. "Anyone who chooses to look at the Ealing Council website can see it clearly outlined on the map." He pointed out that the existing building is in good condition and contributes to the surrounding area - and Council policy is to retain existing buildings as much possible. He said that the proposal amounted to "gross overdevelopment" of the land. Parking in the proposed space would be dangerous as it would involve a dangerous reversing manoevre.
Cllr Barchuk also pointed out that the Unitary Development Plan (Council Planning Policy - UDP) sets down maximum guidelines for the density of plot ratios which this proposal exceeds. He said the amenity space generally required for ground floor flats cannot be met in the current proposal and that there was no disabled access for the two offices.
Victor Michiku a campaigner and conservationist from the Covenant Movement, which assists and makes representations on behalf of objectors - particularly when they are fighting back garden developments - then spoke. He pointed out that the development contained 29 bathrooms which indicated that the proposal for 14 flats and 2 offices would be bound to house at least 28-30 residents. He also pointed out that considering the block would be a car-free development, there are no buses running along Churchfield Road, that the planning inspector should take into account the fact that views out of and into the conservation area would be altered, that the privacy of both existing and new neighbours must be taken into account and that the spacing of the floors and windows was not in keeping with the surrounding properties.
After an adjournment, an exchange between the parties about appendices and what they referred to involved much waving around of documents and leafing through one document to see whether it was the same as another. Finally, Mr Leeming said he would prefer this not to become a "magical mystery tour" of documents so the cross examinations then started.
Mr Peter Lee, Planning Teams Manager, was first cross examined by Noreen Dunn, Legal Advisor to Ealing Council. Mr Lee reiterated that this was an inappropriate development, that it was detrimental to the "visual amenity", that it would dominate the street scene and would not meet the minimum standards for parking provision.
Mr Lee also said that it was normal Council practice to take into account the view of residents and of the Planning Committee as well as the opinion of the Planning Officer involved with the case. He also said that the opinions of planning officers can vary and that Mr Fewster, the Planning Officer who had been in charge of this submission, had not been educated in this country. [Mr Fewster has now returned to New Zealand].
Mr Alun Alesbury, questioning Mr Lee for the developer, asked him whether he was disowning Mr Fewster and the other officers who had signed off his report. Mr Lee replied that they were conscientious. During his cross examination it became apparent that there had been errors made by Ealing Council's planning officer and that no advice had been sought from the Conservation team at Ealing Council at any stage. Asked at one point how Mr Fewster had come to recommend the proposal for planning approval, Mr Lee said "I don't quite know how he came to those conclusions."
During Ms Dunn's questioning of Mr Philip Pearlman, the architect of the new development, there was much discussion about the original planning officer's report, recommending the development. Mr Leeming commented that although the report had certainly been prepared after much careful thought and discussion, the evidence about the preparation of the report itself did not add anything to the factors on which his decision should be made.
Mr Alvin Ormonde of Planning and Project Management Services was questioned about his planning qualifications and, according to Ms Dunn, failed to provide detail as opposed to Mr Lee who is fully trained and qualified.
There was disagreement about whether the site qualified for development town centre development site. Mr Alesbury put forward that it was eligible to be developed at a ratio of 3.3, but Mr Lee said that was incorrect, that the correct ratio for the site was 2.1.
The site was visited around 6pm and viewed from the Burial Ground as well as from Ms Stagg's garden.
Ms Stagg, who had confessed to shedding "tears of relief" after the Planning Committee original rejected the proposal commented afterwards: "Let's hope that the Inspector manages to see through the veil of unfortunate council planning muddle on one side and legal flannel on the other."
The points made at the hearing and the views expressed will be taken into account by Mr Leeming when making his decision which is expected no sooner than 6 or 7 weeks from now and could be as late as the end of August.
May 16, 2008