The text which follows is not an exact note of the speech given. The speech was based on the following open letter to The Courier and KM, filed with the Inspector
Our MP Archie Norman has given magnificent support to local residents opposed to this development proposal. In a letter to me dated 30 March he was quite right in stating as he did in his penultimate paragraph that "unfortunately now it has gone to appeal stage there is not a great deal that can be done."
I accept entirely that this reflects the position obtaining but it is surely a matter of grave concern for us all not only in regard to this site but to any other future site to be developed in a conservation area that we understand just how this most regrettable situation has been engendered.
It is the case officer who in this instance is the senior planning officer working under the direction of the Planning and Building Control Services Manager who between them dealt exclusively and some would say less than even-handedly with the two applications for this sensitive site. The second application now under appeal is but a slight modification of the first which was refused.
Given the history of their conduct in their determination of this application it has become increasingly difficult to avoid the conclusion that the paramount concern of these two officers has been to obtain a benefit for the Borough Council by applying rigidly the guidelines of the various Government directives relating to new development. These guidelines enable them to require from the developers a large percentage of the development to be handed over pro bono for that which is described by the euphemism as affordable housing. In this case it consisted of the entirety of the eight flats in Block D amounting to nearly 20% of the development. These were to be acquired by obliging the developer to enter into a Section 106 Agreement before any consent was endorsed by the Council.
One need not be endowed with any exceptional measure of judgment to have been able to detect that if the developer was to provide a building of inspired design which would enhance the amenity of this central part of the conservation area they would not be able to achieve this if the Council persisted with so onerous a requirement. This notwithstanding the developer was invited by the case officer to make an application such as the one we oppose now under appeal.
The deplorable failure of these two officers to exercise their discretion and relax this requirement for this most sensitive of sites is the fundamental cause of the predicament which confronts us now. In the light of the recommendations which have been advanced by the case officer an Inspector appointed by the Secretary of State to adjudicate this appeal is likely to allow it.
The case officer did not give adequate consideration to the report of the senior conservation officer and furthermore did not properly take account of the most serious and legitimate concerns lodged by the local community whose lives were affected by this development proposal.
I have not yet met one local resident who took the view that the report presented by the case officer at the Planning Committee meeting on the 18 October was well balanced, objective or impartial. Without exception those to whom I have spoken were persuaded entirely that this case officer was supportive of only those considerations which were advantageous to the interests of Crest Homes the developers.
In submitting her Proof of Evidence for the appeal the final paragraph of the case officer’s Introduction states "the views expressed are intended to reflect those of the Members of the Committee and are not necessarily my own." If Members of the Western Area Planning Committee intended with conviction to refuse the latest application they should not identify with this report. Given their lamentable past record of even showing an attendance at such Inquiries combined with the patent strategy of this case officer Crest Homes will hardly require representation.
On Thursday 5 April I spoke to the case officer who was at pains to convey that she would conduct another case in precisely the same way. I had the temerity to suggest to her that perhaps there were lessons to be learnt but her display of an authority which would not tolerate a challenge was more than evident. I was informed in no uncertain terms that it was essential that the democratic process needed to be strictly adhered to in such planning matters.
I trust that you and your readers will understand why we humble local residents are feeling a little uncomfortable.