Monday, July 27, 2009

Tiverton House Planning Battle Hots up

The planners at the City Council must dread opening their inbox when they see an email from Coleridge Councillors at the moment, but there are similar concerns to those expressed in the Mill Road Tesco situation over at Tiverton House. In both cases the developers, large enterprises that should know what they are doing, are just going ahead with plans that they arguably don't have permission for.

To recap - the new owners of Tiverton house are carrying out extensive works on the building, for which they have not applied for a certificate of lawful use, nor received any planning permission (yet).

What they have done is to work from very early in the morning, sometimes until 9.30pm at night, put velux windows in the roof, installed huge steel girders, created vast amounts of additional bedroom space, and the only planning application is to convert the warden's flat into 2 flats, and to create cycle parking for about a dozen bikes - they think they can get away without planning permission for any of the other works.

The developers wanted the Council's opinion on the relevant planning issues, so the Council has written to them and placed their response on the planning file. Some extracts from the letter and my comments:

"I see from the drawings submitted that there are more external changes than were suggested when we met. For all that, the changes to openings within the walls and the introduction of some glazing to existing doors (albeit that they were previously fire doors), appears to me to be minor and not to, “materially affect the external appearance of the building”. Clearly however, this can be a personal view and not one necessarily shared by others."

On its own maybe, but not immaterial in the context of all the other changes.

"The alteration to the roof by the introduction of the velux rooflights is, again, a change, but the issue is whether it is one that, “materially affect(s) the external appearance of the building”. The legal test is whether the change will be visible from a number of normal vantage points and the materiality of the change must be assessed in relation to the building as a whole and not to a part of the building in isolation. Having had the advantage of seeing the rooflights in situ, which clearly can be seen from a number of normal vantage points, I am personally of the view that given the expanse of roof involved, and the angles at which much of the roof is seen, the rooflights do not materially affect the external appearance of the building taken as a whole. However, as I said when we met, that is a personal judgement only and may not be shared by others, including Members."

Indeed, this member of the Council does think there is a significant visual impact.

"As a general matter, it would appear that there are inconsistencies between your earlier drawings and what is happening on site and it would be useful to have a correct set of drawings with the planning application."

It would indeed be useful.

"As the planning application already addresses the matter of some cycle provision, I am of the opinion that those matters could be included within the current planning application and considered by Committee on 3 September, provided the information is forwarded shortly. In saying this I am conscious that the current application shows very different provision from that shown on the plans that accompanied your letter.

It is also my understanding that the provision being shown is considerably less than that being suggested by Environmental Health colleagues and I have some reservations about location relative to some of the accommodation. In visiting other accommodation (albeit occupied by students), I have been very conscious of how much space is required and how a site can rapidly deteriorate when the proper provision is not made at the outset."

It is going to be very difficult to get appropriate levels of cycle parking, car parking and refuse collection areas on such a small site considering the increase in bed spaces planned.

"What is also at issue, however, is whether the changes being undertaken are an intensification of the use of the site that constitutes a change of use requiring planning permission. As I have said before, it is a matter of fact and degree. On the surface, the increase in numbers of bedspaces from in the order of perhaps 40 to 96 bedspaces would appear to be significant and would constitute a change of use"

I couldn't agree more - 40 bedspaces of sheltered housing to 96 bedrooms likely to be occupied by students - surely this intensification constitutes a change of use that requires a planning application covering the whole scheme, so that residents and Councillors can get across the view that what is planned for the site it totally inappropriate and shouldn't be allowed.

I hope there are some Lib Dem Councillors reading this - to understand how angry local residents are with their decision to flog off Tiverton House to the highest bidder with no regard for the use planned for the site, and see how the planning situation is now panning out, with local ward Councillors desperately fighting to ensure there is some form of meaningful input for local residents on the substantive plans for the site through the planning system.

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