I’ve always been quite impressed by Bexley council’s planning officers at planning committee meetings but goodness knows what they were thinking of yesterday evening when they recommended approval of 8·3 hectares (more than 20 acres) of 10 foot high polytunnels on Honeydale Farm on Maidstone Road, Sidcup.
The owner wanted to fill the whole of the big square to the north west of the
(black) rectangular pool outlined by red dots on the image above (scroll down to see) and
provide the houses behind North Cray Road with an outlook of a wall of plastic
only 50 metres or so from their back windows.
According to the farm owners’ supporting agent Mr. F. Robinson the council’s Head of Building Control “welcomed the application” and he was “surprised by the opposition”. The mass of plastic which must change the skyline for ever would have “no adverse visual impact” and in the chosen position “be less visible than anywhere else”. There would be “no environmental harm, only benefit”. The tunnels would be “unobtrusive” and “there are no reasons for refusal”. Is he totally mad?
Maybe he is, for as he returned to his seat he picked a verbal fight with John Watson who had earlier in the day presented a legal challenge. viz. the fact that no one had thought to produce an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). For this outburst Mick Barnbrook was reprimanded by the planning committee chairman, councillor Peter Reader. From where I was sitting I could see no reason for it.
A couple of local residents offered objections but it fell to councillor Don Massey to do the real demolition job which he did with aplomb.
Don Massey reminded the committee that Honeydale Farm has a long history of non-compliance with planning permissions. In this case they had made no attempt to speak to residents or to ward councillors and had not produced any form of Environmental Impact Statement. It was simply “not good enough” said councillor Massey who is clearly a master of the understatement. But he wasn’t finished.
Such an expanse of polytunnels would require a large labour force. Where would they be accommodated? In a proliferation of unauthorised mobile homes like had happened before? The application was “ridiculous and condescending”. “It beggars belief.” The claim it would not be visible to residents was “tosh”. It will have “significant visual impact”.
By comparison councillor Mike Slaughter’s assertion that the tunnels would be “a blot on the landscape” like the accumulated rubbish already strewn around the farm was a bit of an anti-climax.
Councillor Simon Windle wanted to know why no EIA had been produced and Mrs. Clark, the Head of Building Control, didn’t think one was needed although when the councillors voted to defer consideration of the application she thought it “would be a good idea to get one”. It all seemed very unprofessional to me.
If you have ever wondered if Bexley’s planning department would be amenable to the occasional brown envelope then this case would not be one to set your mind at rest. As Don Massey said, the application and the claims made for it, beggared belief - and it was recommended for approval!