I attended last night’s planning meeting only because one of the applications to be
considered was from councillor Margaret O’Neill (Labour, Erith) who hoped to be able to
build a small house at the end of her long garden in Bexleyheath. The application had been
featured more than once in the News Shopper and
personally I couldn’t see why - apart from the councillor’s involvement. It was a perfectly ordinary
proposal, no different to many others and in accordance with the rules would be considered
by the planning committee in the absence of councillor O’Neill who is the lone
Labour member on the committee. The application was likely to be considered in a
straight forward manner and in my view would become interesting only if it
wasn’t. I went along to make sure that everything appeared to be above board.
On arrival the doorman, Mal Chivers, asked if I would like to be provided with a table but I declined his kind offer. Once inside the chamber Mike Summerskill, the Committee Officer who organises the planning meeting, was equally attentive making sure I was content to sit among the 30 or so ‘protestors’. Through him I passed a message to the chairman, councillor Peter Reader, that I would not be taking any photographs but I would use my audio recorder as a notebook. This is a far cry from the sort of treatment that used to be meted out by officers working for different chairmen and it definitely helps to make one feel better disposed towards Bexley council. Cheryl Bacon please note. Having said that I find Peter Reader’s chairmanship to be consistently somewhere between the strict and the downright aggressive.
The first item on the Agenda was the demolition of The Woodman public house in Watling Street, Bexleyheath which closed a year ago. The proposal was to build a nice looking small block of flats and a couple of bungalows on the site. There were no objections so it should have been pretty much an open and shut case but that would be to discount the inquisitive minds of councillors Mike Slaughter and Simon Windle who can be relied upon to probe where others fear to tread.
They began by asking for the distance between the new structures and the existing neighbours. “15·3 metres” said the council’s planning officer knowing full well that the guidelines dictate a 16 metre minimum when one is a blank wall and therefore does not have privacy implications. However further questioning revealed that the true distance was only 12·4 metres because no one was considering the existing neighbour’s conservatory. This was dismissed as inconsequential as a conservatory is not a habitable room. Earlier this month a kitchen was ruled to be uninhabitable.
Things then got even sillier. Apparently the new flats do not present a blank wall to the existing houses, for the walls include windows! However they weren’t being counted because they were going to be opaque. Opaque windows in a main living room? That’s a new one on me. Councillor Windle said that allowing such things was a “slippery slope” designed to get around the regulations. That didn’t stop councillor John Waters jumping in with a proposal that the plans be passed which they duly were. I’m beginning to think that John Waters is there only to propose a vote as soon as decently possible and get the business over and done with as quickly as he can. I am also becoming a lot less sure than I used to be that “funny business” does not lurk just below the surface in the planning department.
Next up was the main event and councillor Margaret O’Neill left the chamber. Her house in Garden Avenue has a very long garden which extends through to Palmar Road which is a cul-de-sac. The proposed dwelling would have access to the hammerhead at the end of Palmar Road with its own off-street parking. It is a two bedroom design cunningly designed to have a lower than usual roof line and its own rear ten metre garden.
The objections were principally that the new house would restrict sunlight into the recreational areas of the gardens to the rear of Garden Avenue and make parking and garage access difficult for residents of Palmar Road. Concern was also expressed for the local sparrow population.
The supplied map was a puzzle to me as it showed the new house to be north (NNW for the pedants) of Garden Avenue and I failed to see how it could block light to the south. Even if the map had been misinterpreted the elevation of the summer sun would be high enough to get into all but the far end of existing gardens and as they are very long the simple solution would be to move the sun loungers.
Few of us likes change and probably I would be apprehensive if someone tried to squeeze an extra house into my own small cul-de-sac but I just couldn’t see any legal reason for this application to be refused.
The councillors had similar views to my own regarding sunlight and were not at all interested in the sparrows. There was some debate about parking in Palmar Road sparked off by councillor Slaughter but photographs suggested that residents might be expecting to park where they shouldn’t and it was agreed that it might be better to slightly move the vehicle access to the new building. With that in mind councillor John Waters proposed approval and everyone raised their hand. Thanks John, I was home by nine o'clock.
Probably my report will not be popular in Garden Avenue but however high the emotions may be running, the planning process is a largely statutory affair and there was nothing in the long list of objections (page 65 of the Agenda) which got anywhere near being a show stopper. “A colony of sparrows is suspected of nesting in the vegetation” and “the proposals may affect my pond which is home to various animals” are not going to win the arguments. Next time make it Avocets and Great Crested Newts. That might do the trick.
Yesterday’s News Shopper report. Today’s News Shopper report.