A rarely used part of the constitution of Peterborough City Council is being used to try and overturn a planning committee which refused a 15-acre business park between Whittlesey and Peterborough.
Among objectors was Fenland District Council who fear it could signal erosion of the border between Whittlesey and Peterborough.
The site lies on the northern side of the A605 Peterborough to Whittlesey road, with the River Nene/Kings Dyke running along the northern boundary and a tributary of the river forming the western boundary.
Barnack Estates believes they could create around 400 jobs if they are allowed to build it, and while city council officers believe these estimates “are considered to be a best-case scenario, nonetheless the quantum of economic benefit to the local economy is likely to be considerable”.
Last month the city council planning voted 6-2 (with one abstention) to refuse the application for the land at Horsey Bridge claiming Barnack Estates had failed to demonstrate there was insufficient land elsewhere in the city.
And the committee said the company had failed to demonstrate it would not cause harm to the Fens landscape including it “special character, local distinctiveness, features of historical importance and important views and vistas”.
Cllr Chris Harper, chair of the planning committee, said: “After the decision, the committee members that didn’t support the refusal have called in the decision to the planning review committee.
Extremely unusual but permissible
“This, whilst extremely unusual, is permissible under the constitution.
“But to me it displays a complete lack of respect for the democratic decision-making process of the planning committee after they voted 6 to 2 with 1 abstention to refuse the application”.
Cllr Harper said it also showed “a lack of respect towards the more than 200 objectors who raised concerns, a lack of respect towards Cllr Brian Rush (the local Stanground member) and his valid reasons for objection, and a total lack of respect for the people of this city”.
The call-in to the appeals committee was signed by Cllrs Ishfaq Hussain, Scott Warren, and Lindsay Sharp.
However, Cllr Harper believes there are issues with both Cllr Hussain and Cllr Warren supporting the call-in.
He said both are members of Peterborough Conservative Association and the president of that association is also the chairman of Barnack Estates Rob Facer (the applicant).
“This means this should have led them to believe that public perception would likely conclude there was a clear conflict of interest,” said Cllr Harper.
“And that therefore they should therefore have declared this when given the opportunity to do so at the start of the hearing and taken no part in the decision-making process or indeed consequently agree to sign the call-in document.”
Cllr Harper says he also concerned about the timing of the call-in document (it must be signed within the two days required).
“Additional information has come my way as to when the call-in document was signed and who else was involved which raises some serious questions although I need to be clear on the facts first,” said Cllr Harper.
Plea to legal officer to refuse request
“We can only hope the legal officer refuses to accept the call-in particularly as there was no claim of procedural error and the suggestion the committee failed to consider all the evidence being unfounded or the review committee endorse the original planning committee decision.”
The call-in has raised questions about its validity, including that of the Fews Lane Consortium, a local activist group that has in the past challenged decisions by South Cambridgeshire District Council.
In a series of tweets, Fews Lane questions how such an appeals committee could have been set up in the first place.
“It is very, very wrong in every conceivable way. I do not understand how the joint monitoring officer at Cambridgeshire County Council and Peterborough City Council upheld this arrangement for years,” Fews Lane tweeted.
“It is merely being used as a way of granting approval without a planning appeal (mostly because an inspector would almost certainly refuse the application as being contrary to the development plan).
“All delegations of non-executive council functions must be made in accordance with section 101 of the Local Government Act 1972, which the council’s appeals ‘panel’ scheme violates in a mind-boggling number of ways.”
Which is for another day since the appeals panel is now unlikely to meet until after May 4 and fresh elections for Peterborough City Council.
But clearly within the timeframe from refusing the application to lodging an internal appeal, a lot of thought went into the grounds for wanting the decision over turned.
Grounds for challenge
The ‘grounds for call in’ document released by the city council says the reasons for refusal “were not evidenced by the committee and there were no objections by the relevant expert bodies”.
The document claims Peterborough needs more sites for employment land, existing sites had low vacancy rates, and the supply of employment land is nearly exhausted.
It claims the committee was “clearly and demonstrably wrong and misdirected itself despite clear advice from the head of planning by setting aside the evidence without providing any robust evidence to support its own position to refuse permission”.
The trio of councillors also claimed that “the head of planning clearly articulated that the landscape and visual impact, archaeology, scheduled monument and (very) long views to the cathedral had all been satisfactorily addressed”.
One of the local Tory party’s biggest donors (owner of Barnack estates) will have to wait until after elections for a decision on potential Stanground development – a reminder that there are over 200 objections & it contravenes
Peterborough’s Local Plan https://t.co/MkDvz42sDO
— Paul Stainton (@PaulStainton) April 14, 2023
They add: “The committee failed to provide robust evidence to support this reason for refusal and as such has misdirected itself by relying on it to support a decision to refuse planning permission.
“The decision and the thought process that was followed by the committee to reach the decision were both defective.”
Addressing the issue of it being outside the local plan, the trio allege that new unallocated sites can be supported where it can be demonstrated no other sites are available.
“The issue of precedent was also repeatedly raised, despite the head of planning having explained the established planning principle that each site is considered on its own merits.
“The committee incorrectly took both demonstrably irrelevant factors into account when reaching its view.”
Here’s what the business park is all about
So, what of the proposals that were considered and refused.
To the north of is housing and open space whilst on the northern boundary, on the the opposite side of Kings Dyke is a crane depot along with industrial uses.
To the south of the A605 is agricultural land and Horsey Grange Farm, from which rises the former Civil War hill fort known as Horsey Hill which is a scheduled monument.
A pair of semidetached houses at Toll Cottages is on the road frontage to the west of Horsey Hill, as well as a bungalow.
The committee was asked to approve the principle of development and means of access, with all other matters being reserved for future consideration.
The sole means of vehicular access would be via a new priority junction on the A605 towards the eastern end of the site, with the existing crane depot access rerouted through the site and its existing access closed.
A footway/cycleway is proposed to run through the site in a broadly east west direction.
An illustrative site layout plan shows this arranged in 20 individual buildings ranging in size from 265sqm to 2,000sqm, aimed at the small/medium enterprise business sector.
“The transport assessment demonstrates that the development could be accommodated without causing significant capacity or safety issues on the A605,” said a report to committee.
Historic England, the committee was told, maintains its concerns about the application on heritage grounds.
High significance and buried archaeological finds
They explained the “high significance and potential of the buried archaeological and paleoenvironmental remains at the site” and felt it had not been shown how they could effectively be preserved in situ.
“We remain concerned about the impact of the proposed development and the associated mitigation planting would have on the setting and significance of the Horsey Hill Fort scheduled monument,” said Historic England.
“The proposed development would result in the introduction of an arc of new built infrastructure to the north of the scheduled monument, shortening the views northwards from the fort across what is currently open arable.
“This would have an adverse impact on the setting of the fort and cause harm to its significance.”
Middle Level Commissioners says as it stands the development “contravenes the commissioners byelaws and is considered would detrimentally affect both navigation, the aquatic environment, water level and flood risk management both locally and within the adjacent Fenland and Huntingdonshire District Council areas.
“In view of the size of the development and the possible adverse effect on the respective systems, the applicant is urged to discuss this with the commissioners via the post-application consultation procedure.”
Reasons to object
Stanground councillor Brian Rush had numerous reasons to object.
“The land is not allocated for development in the local plan,” he said.
Cllr Rush said the proposed business park is to be built on agricultural land not allocated in the local plan.
He felt that the access point will bring extra traffic on to an already busy road and will nullify the £millions spent on the Pondersbridge project to ease the build-up of traffic on to the Cardea by-pass and in to Stanground.
And he argued that any excavation could destroy unearthed Bronze Age artefacts near or on the course of the old course of the river that runs from Must Farm to Horsey Toll Fort and across to Flag Fen. Uncovered artefacts could be destroyed.
Fenland District Council felt that the proposal would introduce a new and markedly different character of built development to the area.
This, the council claims, would be “at odds with the existing built environment and the urban extension of the city allocated in the development plan.
“The proposed development appears to project out from the existing planned edge of the settlement along the route of the A605 as it runs between Peterborough and Whittlesey.
“The further development of the city in this direction would result in the reduction of the separation between the two settlements, in particular due to the proximity of the site boundary to the existing built development to the west of Whittlesey along Kings Delph.
“If development is permitted in this location, then it will contribute towards the coalescence of the two settlements, which is contrary to good planning practice and policies of both the Peterborough Local Plan and the Fenland Local Plan.”
But it was among the local residents/interested parties that opposition was noticeable.
Of 206 responses, 204 opposed the business park, only two supported it.
Total number of responses: 206. Total number of objections: 204.
Here’s a flavour of the objections:
1: Land is not allocated for development in the local plan
2: Plenty of vacant commercial premises are available elsewhere in the city
3: Commercial uses are not appropriate in this location, near existing housing – need has not been demonstrated
4: Applicant’s commercial justification report is biased – other commercial development applications nearby have been refused
5: This is not brownfield land in need of regeneration, such as the greyhound track – city centre brownfield sites (for example, around the railway station) should be redeveloped in preference to this greenfield site.
6: Better locations closer to the A1 exist
7: Increased traffic using an already busy road – proposed junction location is inappropriate – proposed junction design is inappropriate.
8: Round-the-clock traffic generation from the type of uses proposed – already difficult for residents to enter/exit their private driveways – Cardea bypass should be dualled
9: Proposed bus stop locations are inappropriate.
10: Insufficient local wastewater capacity – surface water runoff may cause localised flooding – existing run-off from the A605 would be exacerbated
11: The site is low-lying and flood risk here is likely to increase with climate change
12: Noise and disturbance to nearby residents, loss of existing tranquillity – disturbance and potential property damage caused by piling
13: Overbearing impact and loss of outlook – light pollution – potential odour pollution
14: Vibration disturbance caused by piling or heavy vehicles during operation – disruption during construction
15: Insufficient new planting is proposed to properly shield the development from nearby properties
16: Bats have been seen flying across the site – often heron, hedgehogs, pheasants, or swans seen on this land – loss of existing trees – loss of grassland habitat – no biodiversity net gain assessment has been submitted
17: Effect on retained archaeology – insufficient archaeological investigation has taken place
18: The site layout takes no account of what archaeology might yet be uncovered
The case officer pointed out that a number of consultees have raised concerns as to the effect of the proposed development on their own private property values.
“This is a not a material consideration,” the committee heard.
Two letters of support were received but only in some instance if changes are made.
- Speed limit from Kings Dyke to Park Farm/Cardea is reduced to 30mph.
- Foot path extended from Kings Delph to Park Farm.
- Cycle lane incorporated with Footpath, Kings Delph to Park Farm.
- A605 through Kings Delph, when it rains, considerable water floods onto properties, 107 to 127. This must be resolved.
5: More jobs within the area are needed for the younger generation to go to and learn different skills instead of the Amazon and IKEA warehouses
6: Would help with money spent within local businesses in Stanground, including retailers
Planning chiefs told the committee that Barnack Estates acknowledged that the site is not allocated for development and lies outside the urban area boundary.
They had sought to justify their application by demonstrating that the city’s supply of employment land available for development will be exhausted well before the end of the current local plan period (2036).
“The effect of such a shortfall, should one exist, would be that prospective employers would be likely to have difficulty developing or finding employment premises in the city,” said the officers’ report.
That could mean existing employers looking to enlarge, downsize or simply move premises would also be likely to encounter difficulties.
In these instances, employers may be forced to look elsewhere for their new premises, with an associated placement of employment opportunities outside of Peterborough.
“The applicant has submitted a detailed and extensive employment land report which, following careful review, is considered to substantiate their case,” said the report.
“The applicant’s assessment demonstrates that Peterborough, having been successful to date in delivering new employment development on the sites allocated in the local plan for that purpose, now has limited remaining opportunities left for employment development.
“Of the 160 hectares allocated for employment development, only 49.5 hectares of this currently remains – mainly at the 30-hectare Red Brick Farm site.
“Even with some redevelopment of existing employment premises within the general employment areas or elsewhere in the city (such as the land south of Hotpoint or at the greyhound stadium), market demand evidence submitted by the applicant demonstrates that this will not be sufficient to meet the demand for employment land by the time the current local plan period ends in 13 years’ time.”
Officers said the absence of sufficient employment development opportunities can justify the release of additional (unallocated) sites for employment development ahead of the next local plan review.
“In such instances the local planning authority must consider each application that comes forward on its own merits, in light of the employment land demand and availability evidence available at that time,” noted the report.
They added that as a matter of both planning law and planning policy, a departure from the policies of an adopted local plan is permissible when material considerations indicate this is justified.
Planning officers concluded that the main benefits of the proposed development are economic ones and national policy “directs the decision-maker to give ‘significant weigh’.
“These include job creation, the provision of additional land for employment development in light of an identified but unexpected shortfall, construction expenditure, a significant forecast quantum of gross added value to the local economy, and additional tax receipts.
“Improved footway/cycleway connections are a benefit of more limited weight.
Barnack Estates UK Ltd started building industrial warehouses in 1997 when it built premises for itself to trade from. At that stage the Barnack business consisted of a confectionery and storage and logistics business.
It was founded by Rob Facer in Shrewsbury Avenue, Peterborough and has since moved premises 5 times as it has expanded. Currently the head office is in Orton Southgate, Peterborough.
Between 2004 and present day we have built over 2 million square feet of quality warehousing in Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Northamptonshire, and Bedfordshire“Set against these benefits are the less-than-substantial harm to the setting of the scheduled monument, risks to archaeology, additional traffic loading on the highway network, changes to onsite habitats, effect on the landscape, and effects on the living conditions of residents.
“Subject to the recommended conditions, and careful consideration of matters of detail at reserved matters stage, the adverse impacts are considered to be capable of mitigation (both individually and cumulatively) such that adverse impacts would not ‘significantly and demonstrably’ outweigh the benefits.
“Officers therefore consider that the planning balance points to planning permission being granted as a departure from the adopted local plan.”
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