Weymouth Civic Society
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Planning and Environment Committee
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Planning News & Notes
September - October 2020
Click HERE to download the original PDF version of these notes
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THE PORTLAND INCINERATOR – ENERGY RECOVERY FACILITY
The Planning and Environment Committee are objecting to the planning application for this very controversial project. Whatever the merits of incinerating waste to reduce using it as landfill, we believe that the Portland site, approached by a single, already congested road, close to residential areas, surrounded by environmentally sensitive areas and largely dependent on the development of tourism, is not a suitable site for a large incinerator. This is not mere NIMBYism, but well supported by evidence such as the recent County waste plan as detailed below.
We are objecting on clear planning issues:
- The Committee believes that the single route to the island, which is already under great pressure, is inadequate to take the large increase in lorry traffic – up to 80 vehicles a day.
- The 2019 Waste Plan for Dorset, including Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, specifies four potential sites which it regards as suitable for processing waste, and it states that other sites should only be considered in exceptional circumstances. All these sites are nearer the main areas which will generate the county’s waste and have better road access.
- The size of the proposed plant and chimney stack, which would emit a plume while in operation, would be overbearing and visually intrusive in this position close to the World -Heritage Jurassic Coast and to other sensitive sites.
We are consulting members on their views on the environmental issues which many would argue are equally important, but are less easily argued on strict planning grounds.
Weymouth Town Centre ‘At Risk’
People will have seen the headline in the Dorset Echo that Weymouth Town Centre Conservation Area is declared as ‘At Risk’ described as in ‘very bad’ condition and ‘deteriorating significantly’ in Historic England’s Register of Heritage at Risk. Now, with shops and other businesses closing at an alarming rate, the situation looks like becoming even more worrying. Our July/August Planning News referred to this, but also to the major study and action carried out by Dorset Council to seek improvements and repairs. It is a huge task when there is limited staffing and shortage of funds, and much must rely on the property owners themselves to co-operate.
Over the years our Society has acted by highlighting individual buildings in poor repair, commending good restoration work in our Annual Awards, and commenting on unsuitable planning applications where appropriate. We have always stressed the need to support the town centre’s ‘vitality and viability’, which is one of the keys to maintaining the fabric of the buildings.
The Old Assembly Rooms, Trinity Street.
We have long been concerned about the neglected condition of this important historic building, as reported in the July/August News.
The Society’s Board members have now contacted the owners Greene King, but in this unprecedented situation for their industry they could not give us any firm information on possible measures. Since then some action has been observed – the buddleia bush growing out of the roof has been removed, and the roof repaired where it had been. We welcome this, but would like to see much further work done to bring it back to a good condition.
Bath Street and Wesley Street
Some concern has been raised with us about the condition of a few buildings in Bath Street, which was laid out in the early-mid 1800s. We have contacted the Council about this. Bath and Wesley Street are two small streets linking Park Street and Commercial Road. While Wesley Street is pedestrianised and is bedecked with flower tubs, Bath Street remains open to vehicles.
Beach Office/ Superloo - TIC
In the summer we reported our disappointment that a space had not been allocated for a small Tourist Information Centre in the Beach Office building as we had hoped for. We have now approached Weymouth Council again, who have responded that the only suitable space remaining in the building will be for the Council’s own cafe facilities; but that Councillors continue to discuss a TIC for the area, and will consider options in the future. Dorset Council is reviewing ways of providing information, including online, and has launched a survey to find the public’s opinions.
Ferrybridge Inn – Proposed Housing Development
This rumbles on. Further amendments have been applied for, which look like practical adjustments to make the development more liveable, and which seem acceptable to us - the most noticeable being deepening the windows. At the same time we have seen the renewal of calls for the Inn to be saved and brought back into full use again, although considering this recent series of detailed proposals and design modifications, it seems more likely that work on it will finally begin.
96 and 98 Buxton Road – Proposal for Ten Houses.
The developers for this site, reported in our July/August News, have now appealed against the refusal of permission to demolish the pair of semi-detached houses and replace them by ten houses - five in a continuous line across much of the frontage and five more behind. There seems to be an increasing tendency for developers to go to appeal, perhaps banking on the government’s weakening of planning controls in areas where a five-year supply of development-ready residential land is not available -apparently the case in our area.
23 Greenhill – Extension and Conversion to 2 Flats, with new house at the rear.
This planning application for the house with the distinctive tower feature, has now been refused, for reasons which include our own concerns that the building at the rear would be out of keeping and would leave inadequate open space for the three quite substantial properties proposed.
PLANNING APPEALS DISMISSED
We are pleased at the outcome of two appeals, in which the Inspector has upheld the Council’s decision to refuse permission for housing development. We had objected to these applications, both for land outside the Defined Development Boundary and in specially designated areas: -
Five Houses proposed on a small bosky piece of land in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty east of the railway line between Upwey and Bincombe. Appeal dismissed.
Four Houses proposed at the edge of Wyke overlooking the Fleet and Lyme Bay, within the designated Heritage Coast. Appeal dismissed.
CURRENT PLANNING APPLICATIONS
Care Home, Radipole Lane.
A 66-bedroom care home for older people is proposed for land immediately to the east of the Police Headquarters on Radipole Lane. While we support the provision of care homes, we think that this is the wrong location. It is rather isolated, away from normal facilities and regular public transport.
The site is outside the Local Plan’s Defined Development Boundary, on one corner of a large meadow, bounded by mature hedgerows, where there is a real sense of countryside. The long and bulky building proposed would be an intrusive presence and have a considerable visual impact.
There are also concerns about the access, on this well used through route in a location near to the football stadium, which can generate considerable traffic and car parking.
Unit 1, Jubilee Retail Park (former ALDI) - Signs.
It is good to see that a new store – ‘The Food Warehouse’ - is to come into the former Aldi premises, as we had been concerned at the potential loss of a food store in this area.
However, we are not so happy with the signs proposed for the building – large bright red wall signs, vastly larger than Aldi’s had been, looking particularly dominant on the gabled building in its setting next to Radipole Park Gardens and Radipole Lake.
VAT ON LISTED BUILDINGS
In 2012 the government made a decision to rescind the zero rating for VAT on works to listed buildings, resulting in the full 20% charged on much of the repair and restoration work carried out. This was a significant blow to those involved, and is a serious burden on owners, many of whom are not wealthy, yet are responsible for maintaining the historic heritage of the nation. Now an All-Party Parliamentary Group for Listed Properties is considering the whole situation.
We have added our voice to those of others and written to the Chancellor, conveying our own concern as it affects our historic buildings at the local level, and this has been supported by our MP Richard Drax. This has, however, met with a firm No – partly for reasons of cost to the Exchequer - a disappointing but not too surprising result.
Two major documents have been out on consultation during the last few months, and we have responded to both. We are very concerned at the ongoing loosening of the planning system, to which we believe that these two papers will contribute in a major way. They are designed to allow for more and speedier housing development to meet the needs of people, and for more beautiful places - laudable goals, but there seems great doubt whether these proposals are the way to achieve them.
1. ‘CHANGES TO THE CURRENT PLANNING SYSTEM’.
This paper deals mainly with a relatively recent measure that provides a rapid route to gaining ‘Permission in Principle’ for proposed housing developments, allowing only five weeks for authorities to determine whether the site is suitable, and 14 days for the public and statutory consultees to respond. If permission in principle is granted, the second stage can decide on technical details only. We have grave concerns at this time scale and the limited range of issues that can be considered, and also at the further proposals consulted on in this paper. These include extending permission in principle to cover major sites, and the inclusion of an unlimited amount of commercial development, provided that housing still occupies the majority of the floorspace.
2. THE PLANNING WHITE PAPER – ‘PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE’.
On behalf of the Society we have written a long response to the government on this large and complicated document. It is difficult to judge how it will work out in practice, but we have serious concerns as to the potential loss of local democracy that various aspects appear to represent. The whole concept of loosening controls is risky, and in our view would not achieve the objectives.
Our full response can be emailed to anyone interested. Please let us know if you’d like a copy by sending a message to the Planning Secretary at email@example.com.
We support the aims to speed up the planning system, and some aspects of the proposals, such as tightening up on unnecessary verbiage in documents, which we have always found very lengthy. But we are worried at many of the proposals, which we think will mean that local decision making is more limited, will result in inadequate control over development, and other matters, and is likely to reduce public participation. We support the emphasis on beauty and good design, but do not see how such subjective qualities can be regulated nor how this could be implemented, especially when other ideas in the document would reduce the control necessary to achieve that beauty. On the contrary we are afraid that it is more likely to open the gates to more unsuitable development.
The proposals as a whole would involve an enormous and unnecessary upheaval and disruption, placing heavy burdens on already overstretched staff, yet in our view they would still be unlikely to succeed in the primary purposes of the document.
The suggestion for some sort of zoning system could build another unwieldy and complicated layer of controls for each zone, in order to cover all eventualities. The present system where there are general principles for each designation (always within the national framework), with planning applications then assessed individually on their merits, seems much more flexible and efficient.
Although it is difficult to judge how proposals will work out in practice, we have concerns about plans for three categories of land – for growth, renewal and protection. In ‘Growth Areas’, suitable for substantial development, outline permission for the principle of development would be conferred by adoption of the local plan, with only outstanding issues to be decided. In ‘Renewal Areas’ – an unfortunate term for normal areas where we live - ideas such as ‘automatic consent’ for ‘pre-specified forms of development’ are particularly worrying.
We have reservations regarding some of the ideas for solving the housing situation. The problem of the large shortfall of genuinely affordable housing, for sale or to rent, is not effectively addressed. We can see no prospect of these measures ameliorating this situation. Nor do we think that the amount of development to be accommodated should be decided from above and directed to expensive and populous areas, as seems to be suggested.
It is our view that local authorities should not be penalised for lack of progress in house-building, as in the recently introduced ‘Housing Delivery Test’, since they have no control over how quickly, or indeed whether, the development will take place, once the applicant has received permission.
In the preparation of Local Plans, we are most concerned at the suggested removal of the stage where the public are consulted on draft plans before they go to an Inspector. All local considerations, objections and alternative ideas should be hammered out before the stage where the Inspector assesses the ‘sustainability’ of the plans.
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