Another Wednesday, another Planning meeting. The Ipswich Society tries to attend every meeting of the Planning and Development Committee of Ipswich Borough Council. Either myself or Mike Cook will sit through the discussions for a dozen or so applications which fill a Wednesday morning. Generally there is no particular application of immediate interest but at almost every meeting there is at least one application that we need to keep an eye on, perhaps comment on and occasionally ‘speak' at the meeting.
And members of the committee listen: they value our contribution; they don't always agree but we do help provide a balanced view of the significant developments across the town. Such was the case on November 16 when the application for 179 houses on the St Clement's Hospital site came before the Committee. The officers had recommended approval and the mood of the meeting was probably going the same way until I took the opportunity to speak.
I pointed out certain aspects of the design that we thought could be improved with very little expenditure by the applicant, Bovis Homes. At this stage the application was simply pencil lines on a plan. We suggested they move a road a few meters west (to align with the centre line of the existing hospital), to pave the entire length of the ‘boulevard' in a single material and comply with the Borough's Cycling Strategy (amongst others). The committee agreed and the proposal was deferred to enable the architect to revise these details and bring the application back to the next meeting.
The important point here is that I spoke before the decision to defer had been made. The objectors to any planning application are allowed to speak only once, thus I would not be able to comment on any of the changes made at the subsequent meeting.
If I had wanted to speak during the second consideration, I should have held my comments and not spoken in November. But if I had not spoken I'm sure the application would not have been deferred. The committee would have almost certainly followed the officers' advice and approved the proposal (no doubt with conditions).
Another Wednesday, another Planning meeting. This one is on December 14 and the application by Bovis Homes is back before the committee. It is a long meeting, more ‘garden grabbing' schemes than usual and each takes an hour. The officers present the case for acceptance. I'm fuming, hastily writing notes, hoping I get a chance to present the Society's view.
The report however says it all “the traditional house types are generally disappointing” (how can the officer recommend approval of a housing scheme they suggest is ‘disappointing'?). “Further details of the east-west avenue are required” (how can Councillors make a decision without essential details?). “Some detailed elements of the design could be improved further, particularly in terms of fenestration.” Note that if the scheme as proposed is approved, any changes to design would need to be the subject of an application for a ‘variation' and thus the applicant is unlikely to make changes.
And if the papers provided by the officers did not provide enough evidence to defer the application yet again for some real changes to be made to the scheme, then the minutes of the November meeting should provide the pointer: “Councillor Knowles proposed that the application be deferred to enable discussions to be held with the applicant to resolve these issues, but if the applicant was not willing to accept the deferment due to timescales, then the application be refused on the grounds of poor design that fails to take the opportunities available for improving the character and quality of an area (National Planning Policy Framework), and this was agreed”.
You will gather that I don't believe the applicant made any significant changes to the design and it was approved at the meeting on December 14, 2017.