Category Archives: Planning Applications

34 North Hinksey Lane – my comments 2015

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.

  1. 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?
  2. 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.

Other issues:

  1. 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?
  2. I can’t see any amenity space for residents. Where will they BBQ, or watch their children play?
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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:


My response to the 50 Laburnum Road Appeal

50 Laburnum RdThe applicant for 9 flats at the corner of Lime Rd and Laburnum Rd has appealed against Vale’s decision to refuse permission. Applicant was previously granted permission for 7 flats there. Vale felt that 9 flats was a bridge too far, or one storey too high, as it were – that it was too big and bulky for the context in which it was sited.

You can read the applicants Full Statement here:

Applicant/Agent particularly pointed a finger at me, because I used to be a lodger there. Applicant/Agent also seems to think I had a hand in organising the community objection to this behemoth. Actually, I didn’t, specifically due to the potential that I could be perceived to be biased in some way.

So here’s what I told the inspector:

APP/V3120/W/15/3103232 – 50 Laburnum Road

I support the Vale’s decision to refuse this application for the reasons summarised in the Decision Notice and discussed in the officers’ delegated report.

I’m surprised and disappointed to learn from the appellant’s appeal statement that she never intended to build the approved plans for 7 flats, as that was too small a development to be viable. This is a significant waste of council and community time and money. There should be recourse for a LPA to take action against such time wasters.

Appellant’s agent makes it sound like I have an interest in the property. I do not. In 1997-98 I was one of three lodgers there for approx 8 months, after I arrived in this country. I moved out in August 1998, and I’ve not seen or spoken to her since. I disclosed this to the Vale planning department when the first application was submitted.

Appellant’s agent condemns organised community activism and treats community-wide objection as if it’s illegal, or immoral, or something. It’s puzzling why he would include this in his argument to an inspector (repeatedly), as if it’s a material consideration in this decision. Notwithstanding the fact that I did not organise or participate in any community-wide activism (due to my links to the applicant) , I think it’s actually useful and good for communities to organise their efforts. At planning committee meetings, objectors only have 3 minutes to make their case. Objectors therefore MUST be organised. Applicants have an obvious unfair advantage in access to planning officers and knowledgeable assistance with many meetings and discussions that ordinary residents simply do not. In fact, in this case, the LPA planning department even advised the applicant/agent during the process that this plan did not meet the criteria for acceptance, but the applicant offered no changes in mitigation.

As to the details of this application –

One main worry for me is the quality of the design, which includes (un-)spaciousness of the living areas and private amenity space for each household. Does each bedroom have a proper window? Does each flat have an outdoor space to keep and use for their private enjoyment? A patio or a balcony would suffice. A place to put up a table and chairs, or a BBQ, or for children to play? My concern is that this proposal doesn’t offer living spaces that improve the area, not only for this generation, but for all people who live here in the future. Small flats with few amenities in a large building that over-dominates this main corner of the estate is not a quality addition to the area. Vale was right to refuse.

And finally, I am glad to hear that the opinions of local people about inappropriate development in their local area are taken seriously in some cases. Localism is a real scheme, intended to empower local people to make the decisions that affect their daily lives. If local objections have raised the design and amenity standards of this profit-focussed development and made it a better place for people to live AND live near, then good.





How to make a planning application decision

Only properly trained councillors may serve or substitute on the Planning Committee. So we’ve been undergoing the required training.

Here are the policy priorities for deciding whether planning permission should be granted or refused.

  1. NPPF. (National Planning Policy Framework) This has a bias in favour of sustainable development. In the current situation where Vale doesn’t have a 5 year supply of housing land identified, basically every location is sustainable unless it’s the middle of nowhere. Vale tends to focus heavily on ease of access to transport and shops. I’ve not heard any attention paid to environmental sustainability, and Vale continues to build houses in areas with poor air quality. (I’m not clear if all of the official Planning Guidance docs issued by government are considered part of NPPF, for this purpose. I suppose they are.)
  2. Local Plan. Right now, we do not have an in-force local plan. We only have some saved policies from Local Plan 2011 – this is our OLD Local Plan. The saved policies have all been determined to be in accordance with NPPF. These saved policies are currently our only local plan policies.
  3. Neighbourhood Plan. A few communities have an adopted Neighbourhood Plan. A few more have begun the process of creating a neighbourhood Plan. You can see about it on the Vale website, although the information is out of date.
  4. SPD. (Supplementary Planning Document). This Vale webpage explains what SPDs are, but the info is out of date.


Seacourt Retail Centre – my comments 2015

I’ve just submitted my comments for the current Seacourt Retail Centre planning application:

I write as the local Vale council member from this area.

Previous permissions have had two relevant conditions that this application seeks to change:
1. Planning permission is required for sale of food and drink.
2. No more than 10 retail units, none less than 465 sq meters.

In addition to those two points, the other key issues are the closure of the petrol station, new access via the A420 slip road, and pedestrian access.

Closure of the petrol station: I commented on this in 2013, and recognised at that time it was a business decision not a planning one. But now, with the in-force NPPF and its focus on sustainability, there is a clear need to consider the environmantal effects of the closure of the petrol station. There are no other petrol stations nearby, and this closure will have the negative effect of adding a lot of extra drving along the A34. That seems relevant to environmental sustainabillity measurements.

New access via A420 slip road. I think this is a welome change, however, I think there should be a signalled controlled entry somewhere into this centre, for cars, cycles, and pedestrians. The current access near the A34 flyover on West Way is congested, the road narrows there so that the buses must merge temporarilty with cars, and there are no pedestrian crossings. It’s most difficult to leave Seacourt from there, particularly to turn right onto West Way.

Pedestrian crossing to access this centre. The nearby west bound bus stop is just east of McDonalds, at the Old Botley North Hinksey Lane junction. There is no controlled pedestrian crossing there, and it’s 5 lanes of heavy traffic. If there is to be a major retaill centre here in Seacourt, some sort of controlled pedestrian and car access should be provided. Perhaps fix the major signal controlled intersection to provide safe pedestrian crossing between McDonalds and Seacourt Retail?

Re: increase from 10 to 12 units, some of them smaller than is currently allowed. I think I accept their argument that this would cause no harm. However, this restriction has been on this site for many decades, so I’m prepared to be convinced otherwise. Have small business owners nearby been consulted?

Re: sale of food and drink. In all my reading I didn’t find anywhere that argued why this constraint should be lifted. It was put in place to protect the food and drink businesses in Botley and Oxford City centre. It may well be true that conditions have changed since the constraint was first imposed in 1986. But I’d like to see the argument. It appears from the drawings that the stand alone business closest to the A420 slip road is to have tables outside, so I assume a restauraunt business. More info is needed before I would be happy to say yes to a food and drinks business in this location.

Seacourt Retail Centre – my comments 2013

In 2013, I submitted comments about the proposed demolition of the petrol station at Seacourt Retail Centre. This is from 28 Feb 2013:

It’s understandable that residents don’t want to lose the last remaining petrol station within miles. It’s also understandable that this is a commercial decision and beyond the control of the planning department. However, it points out a policy problem: that in this day of green concerns and over-congestion of our roads, the removal of this petrol station has a large and negative impact on the community. Such an impact *should* be part of the concern and responsibility of Planning. That it is not is a policy problem. I agree with the resident who points out that this project and the West Way redevelopment are an example of a failure of joined up thinking. When I spoke to Doric about it at their open house, they were unaware of the Seacourt Retail property vacancies and plans. Is this something that, had we had an effective neighbourhood plan in place, could have been managed better? Could we have identified the petrol station as a vital community service? Anything the Vale can do to encourage the developers to keep the petrol station would be gratefully looked upon by those of us who will have to drive miles out of our way on the A34 or Botley Road to buy petrol
once it closes. There’s been no opportunity from the developers for a community consultation on the loss of this service, which is too bad.

To my knowledge, no action has been taken to consider, in policy terms, the impact of the loss of the last petrol station, and its effect on miles driven to fill the tank. There is still no joined up thinking across Botley in terms of retail offer. Our next planning application for West Way will probably still have development suggestions that could be better positioned at Seacourt Retail, with its ample parking and site remote from people’s houses.

Goodbye to the last petrol station in Botley

The last remaining petrol station in Botley is to be demolished. The BP station in Seacourt Retail Centre is to be taken down as part of the next phase of improvements there. It was covered in a recent Oxford Times story.

A planning application is in consultation with the public. You can see the details and leave a comment for the planning officers on the Vale’s planning register. The deadline for comments is 11 Jun 2015. A decision is expected by 11 Aug 15.

There have been (at least) two previous applications approved (2011, 2013) that included demolition of the petrol station. At the time of each of those, there was some objection by local people to the closure of the BP station. The probem is that once this station is closed, our nearest opportunities to fill our tanks are at Peartree, Heyford Hill, or in Oxpens Road in Oxford (near the rail station). That’s quite a few miles to drive, and quite a contribution to the extant congestion and pollution. In two of those options, you need to navigate the A34. That’s one of the most congested roads in the country. If you are heading south, you travel through the Botley AQMA, with its illegal levels of air pollution. Or, you must travel into town on the bumper-to-bumper Botley Rd. When something goes wrong there, it can take an hour or more to get to the petrol station in Oxpens Rd and back.

The main problem is that loss of a petrol station is not a material planning consideration. It’s not a planning decision; it’s a business decision, between the landowners and the owners or operators of the petrol station.

Planning policy gives some protection to pubs as a community asset, but apparently none to the last petrol station in the area. That seems short sighted to me, especially in this age of environmental legistaltion in all kinds of areas. I think the policy needs to be changed. But I’m unaware that any policy body is looking at this. (I had thought to see if we Lib Dems could do something about changing this policy. But we lost the election.)

In the years since we’ve been aware of the plan to remove the petrol station, no organised community activism has come to light to try to save it, that I’m aware of. I think now it’s too late and this is a done deal. I’d love to be wrong.



81 Hurst Rise Rd – My Comments

Here are the comments I filed for the planning application at 81 Hurst Rise Rd.

I write as the local councillor for this area.

In considering raising the roofline of any uphill property, I think particular sensitivity is required to the loss of sky and sunlight to the downhill property. In this case, the downhill property is also to the north, and so will suffer from this loss of light. The homeowner there has provided compelling photographs to demonstrate the impact.

Please note is is recommended in Vale’s Design Guide that windows of habitable rooms be 12 meters away from the flank of neighbouring house. And habitable rooms must be 21 meters away from each other if they overlook. In this case, there seem to be existing bedrooms that are too close already. We can’t remedy that, but we should be certain not to add to the design problems.

Is it the case that previous work on this house was not carried out to the plans that were given permission? What was the outcome of enforcement action then?

The proposed windows in the roof are velux roof windows, so would not (I think) be a window that one could stand and peer out of. As such, they are not objectionable.

But the loss of sky and sunlight and daylight appears to me to be considerable, and I think the design should be re-addressed to see what can be done to allow the applicant his exta room and still preserve daylight inside number 79.

13 Cumnor Hill redux: my comments

Here are the comments I submitted in April 2015 to the most recentl application for flats on 13 Cumnor Hill. And this was no April Fool’s joke! And I intend to follow up on the request in my last pargraph.

Location : 13 Cumnor Hill Oxford OX2 9EU
Proposal : Demolition of existing dwelling and annex. Erection of a part two-storey,
part one and a half storey principal building containing 6 x 2 and 1 x 1 bed flats and a
one storey building containing 1 x 2 bed and 1 x 1 bed flats. Improvements to
existing access and provision of 9 parking spaces. Cycle parking, bin storage and
landscaping. (Re-submission of refused application P13/V1860/FUL)

Cllr Debby Hallett
01 April 2015
I write as the local member of the Vale council for this area.

VOWH has adopted a new Design Guide within recent weeks, and the section
on rural and lower density areas explicitly pertains to Cumnor Hill. Those design
criteria are a valuable checklist with which to evaluate this application. Height,
mass, how this design will fit into the area, density, parking location and
screening and design principles, etc. are there to ensure our communities’
development is managed well. This highly visible development must conform to
the Vale’s design standards.

Car parking on this corner of Hurst Rise Road and Cumnor Hill has been a
problem for years. Our County Councillor, Janet Godden, working on behalf of
local people, managed to get the county to provide that white stripe on the
kerbs nearest the corner, to ‘suggest’ to drivers that they park further back from
the intersection. These days, the west side of Hurst Rise Road is nearly always
parked up, essentially turning HRR into a one-lane road there. It’s at best a
nuisance, at worst, a danger. This corner needs to be double yellow striped.
That would improve the safety of any access to this property from HRR.
I object to this application on the grounds that it doesn’t confirm to our Design
Guide, parking there is dangerous (although that could be addressed), height
and mass and scale are inapprorptiate for this area, and the buildings are too
close to the neighbours.

Please could the Vale publicly address the issue of the oft-repeated request
from parish council(s) and residents for a proper drainage study for Cumnor Hill
area? What would be the cost of that? What approaches has the Vale
considered, and why has nothing been done or discussed? Does the Vale
agree that it would be agood thing to do?

My Wins in Planning

I spend time thinking about why people should vote for me.

The main thing I’m proud of is that I’ve been an effective councillor in helping people to object to or fight against unreasonable planning applications. The biggest success was, of course, the  fight against the Doric plans for West Way. Many hands made light the work.

Jerry Patterson, most recenlty the Vale councillor for South Hinksey, said of me:

[Debby]quickly acquired a grasp of how the planning system works, and has helped many Botley residents with planning issues…

Learning about how the planning process works was the most diffcult task I undertook. The process isn’t documented anywhere, and I had to learn how it works by asking questions. If I was asking awkward questions, it was even tougher. I once asked the Cabinet Member for planning if I could have a flow chart of the process, so that I could better help resident to understand how it all works, and the points in the process where they could have an effect on the outcome. He rolled his eyes at me. lol!

I learned how the planning timetable works, so can now I can help people to know the right time to get invovled and how to present your concerns so that they have a better chance of being heard.

I can intervene when things aren’t running along as they should, to get updates or encourage actions or decisions.

I learned that many of my assumptions about how things worked simply weren’t true. For example, I assumed all members of the planning committee read all of the Comments posted on the planning website. Of course, they don’t. They can’t. There wouldn’t be enough hours in the day. So they have to rely on the planning officer’s synopsis and they take it for granted that the planning officer has understood the details of everything. Of course, the planning officer  doesn’t always get it right. They couldn’t. Same problem of not enough hours in the day.

So I learned how to draw committee’s attention to what I think are relevant concerns and to link them to policy and guidelines.

We’ve had some successes when we work together as a community and a councillor.

  • Greenacre – 3 refusals
  • 26-28 Westminster Way – Refusal
  • Bovis Homes – some helpful conditions attached to approval
  • Doric’s Plans for West Way – refusal
  • Little Dene – some helpful conditions attached to approval
  • 13 Cumnor Hill – refusal
  • 54 Hurst Rise Rd – 3 refusals, and at least one withdrawn
  • Oxford Brookes University Master Plan – withdrawn

If I’m re-elected, I plan to continue to help residents more effectively resist bad developments.

One particular problem I’ve noticed was highlighted by the Inspector on an appeal against the  refusal at 26-28 Westminster Way. She pointed out that there’s a confusion between the County’s parking standards that define a maximum number of parking spaces (a policy intended to encourage lower car-ownership rates by under-provision of on-site parking) and local reality checks that need a minimum number of car parking sapces (a view that’s intended to ease on-street parking congestion). These two intentions work against each other. I’d lke to open discussions with Vale Planning and County as Local Highway Authority, and see what can be done.


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Doric Appeal their Refusal

Doric officially lodged their appeal today against the decision to refuse their West Way planning application. This was expected.

You can read the Vale press release here:

We’ll all be notified of the details — dates, deadlines and things like that. Best opinion at the Vale is that it won’t be heard until after the election. (That’s 7 May!)

So for now, our Main Thing is to have a wonderful holiday break!