Here’s my response to the planning application consultation for 34 North Hinksey Lane.
In it, I state that I believe the fact that the last decision was quashed by judicial review shouldn’t be a consideration for planning committee members this time. I suggest that officers shouldn’t use it nor accept it as a relevant argument to the approval of this one. I strongly believe that, in the interests of fair play, we start from a clean slate.
My previous comments from March 2014 still apply. I write as the local member for Botley & Sunningwell ward.
The fact that this application has reached planning committee for the third time is irrelevant to the committee’s consideration of this one. In order to be fair, that fact should be not in the officers’ report to committee and should be refuted anywhere it comes up as an argument in this application. (I understand committee members rarely read the consultation comments, so I should be safe in mentioning it here).
This is a new application, with a new planning officer, and a (somewhat) new planning committee. In fact, a good case could be made for excusing from planning committee any member who was present for the site visit that resulted in the quashing of the previous decision by the court.
I’m studying the plans, trying to envision what this development will look like when complete, and how it will affect the streetscape. I can’t exactly imagine it; applicants have previously declared their intention to put angled solar panels on the roof. That’s a fine green thing to do. But it will raise the profile of the building and make it taller than its neighbours. How much taller will the solar panels make it?
Approvals in the area over recent years have brought a mishmash of design styles and quality to North Hinksey, and not all to our benefit. We have faux art-deco flats on Yarnells Hill, modern and boxy flats on West Way that loom over the neighbouring bungalow, and three storeys of flats where residents’ balconies overlook the A34 from a few meters away. This is not evidence of quality mixed neighbourhoods. It’s evidence of lack of vision and decision making to support development that improves the quality of an area. The more Vale allows applications for design that doesn’t respond to the character of the area, the more these outliers are used as precedent to propose even more of them.
NPPF explicitly supports a mix of housing based on demographics and need, so I can support flats in this low-density area. But NPPF section 58 demands two important things: high quality design that adds to the quality of the area, and new builds that respond to the character of the area.
- High quality design that adds to the quality of the area. To my knowledge we currently have no standard for quality of design. This comes up repeatedly. The architects panel, is, I believe, intended to fulfil this role. But the process of review by the architect panel is so casual as to be sloppy; no minutes of what was considered, no re-check that the changes they recommend are implemented to their satisfaction, no consistency in their views (two separate reports have conflicting opinions, and their report is scrawled on a piece of scratch paper. (Others have complained about this process.) To my eye, this proposed development is a standard design to put up as many small flats as can be squeezed on a site. It’s not easy to see where there is a concern for quality of design or construction. Show me where I err?
- Responding to the local character. This is low density, semi-rural area of large plots with semi-detached and detached homes with pitched tile roofs. A flatted development should harmonise with those characteristics. (I’ve heard planning committee members refer to the appearance of the site now: ‘Anything is better than this.’ That’s disingenuous. If more developers heard members utter this sort of foolishness, we’d have a new strategy for gaining planning approval: Partially demolish a house and leave it to nature for two years, out up an ugly corrugated tin fence and then claim your ‘exciting, bold’ design is a welcome improvement.) Note the new builds just opposite and toward Botley; these fit into the character of the area. I urge committee to pressure all developers to build in quality, but producing a design that respects the character of the area. The benefit to that is for both current residents, and also those who will live here in the future.
- There will be massive soil removal, according to the plans. How does this threaten neighbouring properties? Is there history of underground water courses that will be altered in unpredictable ways by excavation such as this, threatening nearby properties as well as the viability of this one?
- I can’t see any amenity space for residents. Where will they BBQ, or watch their children play?
- Boundaries seem to be not correct, or at least still disputed (after two years). Vale officers could facilitate the resolution of this. It should be resolved before permission is granted, because it will be impossible to correct after the boundary has been exceeded.
- Residents of these flats to not have right of way access across the property of 18 Yarnells Rd. This has been made clear to the applicant for two years or more, and still he insists on having it in the plan. Do not approve this. It is not good enough to come along later and try to enforce it; resolve it at the beginning and prevent it from being a problem in real life.
- Residents of these fats will have no right to use the private Yarnells Road for anything, whether parking or bin collection. Do not allow the plans to consider this, but prevent it at the outset.
And finally, I see no reference to the Vale Design Guide, or that the applicant worked though any sort of checklist for this with officers. The Design Guide assumes a collaborative process has been followed, where officers and applicants sit down to look at what’s expected. I can’t see any evidence that’s happened.
I am encouraged by the response of the Vale’s Urban Design Officer, which I only found after I had finished struggling with my comment. You can see hers here, where I downloaded it to my Dropbox: Urban Design Officer Response
(I wonder if she responded to the Botley SPD consultation?)
To see all responses, go here and scroll down: http://www.whitehorsedc.gov.uk/java/support/Main.jsp?MODULE=ApplicationDetails&REF=P13/V2428/FUL