Last night’s Planning Committee meeting to reconsider Bexley Council’s own
plan to transfer the two Wilde Road open spaces to their subsidiary company
BexleyCo and wreck the local environment by building all over it was weird to
say the least, or maybe just a money-wasting fisaco.
Back in March Councillors were not enthusiastic about the scheme for a variety of reasons, but traffic and transport figured largely, however they lacked the courage to reject it outright. Councillor Danny Hackett proposed that they should do so but Committee Chairman Val Clark was having none of it; according to her the scheme was not that bad.
The Committee eventually asked for some of their reservations to be addressed. Last night the new and improved plan was put before the Committee again and Councillor Clark - not chairing the meeting this time - did not say a word in its support. Weird when she was not against a rather worse scheme four months ago.
Since March the six flats have been given two extra parking spaces, a three bed unit has become a one bed unit and the building height has been reduced, so things are much better now, right?
Well apparently not. There was not even one Committee Member who could find any redeeming features at all. No one stepped forward to propose its acceptance, not even Councillor Val Clarke who had previously thought a few tweaks here and there might do the trick.
The objecting residents, as always, were ably led by Chris Brown. I understand he had help from Labour Leader Daniel Francis and his Conservative ward Councillor John Fuller but he was perhaps helped most of all by Bexley’s Planning Officers who, presumably directed by their Dear Leader, had broken just about every bit of Bexley’s Planning guidance. Maybe their hearts were not in it and they were under duress because they managed to appear incompetent several times.
Chris, as in March, galloped through his catalogue of transport based objections in order to fit them all in to his allotted four minutes.
The existing development has one parking space per dwelling and there was a covenant about street parking because the roads were very narrow. Increased car ownership has inevitably seen that stipulation fall by the wayside. It is on the record that Bexley has known of the problems for at least twelve years and done nothing about them and now they plan to make the situation worse.
A recent survey has shown vehicle ownership in the area to have risen close to two per household and the school within the estate has doubled in size putting further pressure on the roads. School staff can no longer park on site and now add to the street congestion as do the third of pupils delivered by car. The nearby public car park has been closed. None of these facts are mentioned in the official planning report. It does however recommend parking on corners in contravention of the Highway Code and cars are shown parking nose to tail with no room to manoeuvre. No allowance is made for the accommodation of larger trade vehicles rather than cars.
As is often the case in my own road there can be insufficient room to turn into drive ways because of cars parked opposite. Under the proposed plans some vehicles would have to negotiate bends on the wrong side of the road. “With so many policies ignored and failed, is this the standard Bexley wishes to set?”
Another resident. Mrs. Viv Waters took a different tack and took the opportunity to thank Teresa Pearce, MP for Erith & Thamesmead for he support and assiatnce.
She said the new street scene would not be in keeping with the surrounding area and suggested instead “a couple of semi-detached houses that would blend in”. She pointed out that the plan was based on the standards pertaining to main roads and those in question were certainly nothing of the kind.
Agreed standards were also breached by the close proximity of adjacent walls and windows and the building density per hectare and the report strays towards untruthfulness when it says “the site is within a reasonable walking distance of public transport” when TfL classes it as being in the very worst category for transport accessibility. “This application blatantly fails to meet Bexley’s own Planning Guidelines.”
Mrs. Jenny Turner the Planning Agent spoke in favour of the plans, she said the six proposed dwellings would help to tackle “the significant housing needs”. She had been working on the scheme for the past eighteen months to provide the housing “and protect neighbours”.
She said that all local and national policy requirements were met and the buildings were “sympathetic to the local character”. Someone at this meeting must be fibbing, but who?
There was no mention whatever of the transport issues which were of such concern to residents and offered the opinion that six new homes, three affordable, outweighed the impact on several hundreds of existing residents. I felt a bit sorry for Mrs. Turner as she walked off, hers was a very unconvincing performance.
Bexley’s Planning Officer was no better. He was “confident” that parking provision was “sufficient. It is not used by teachers”. He was also confident that the remaining open space was sufficient too.
Councillor John Fuller spoke in support of residents. He made some new points.
The traffic survey did not allow for growth, young people now drive cars. The new buildings might generate another 17 cars.
When he visited last week there were only two free parking spaces on the entire estate.
Various access points were near impossible to negotiate.
School expansion had increased first year pupil numbers by 30 but four years of the new stream has seen that figure increase to 120. At 08:30 traffic is impossible. “Wilde Road will soon become a wild road.”
The images of the proposed houses were selective and deceptive and failed to show the entire street scene. “The view now is OK but in the future it will be just brick walls. Residents will just have a mass sitting in front of them. Couldn’t something sympathetic have been put there? Semi-detached houses perhaps with long drives that actually blend in. Let’s enhance the area and keep people happy.”
Committee Members were then invited to speak but there was silence for six seconds, none seemed especially keen to have their say, however Councillor Slaughter (Conservative, Sidcup) remarking on there being “no rush to step in” decided to “start off”.
She had been to Wilde Road and had “thought what a pleasant looking site this was. The trees are there and maturing nicely and they are obviously going to go”. She wanted to know what would be going in their place.
“What will be the effect of the proposed development on the balconies at the rear of Byron Drive? Seems to me they will look straight into the windows of the east block flats.”
“Time and time we are told of the sufficiency of parking but time and time again we know from experience that the proposals are simply unrealistic. I know what the Mayor of London wants to do but it defies reason.”
The area is “very attractive but the roads are very small and I can imagine at busy times how bad the situation is”. The parking proposals are “an absolute nonsense”.
“The design [of the proposed buildings] is terribly bland and does nothing to enhance the area whereas the existing houses are very attractive properties.”
Speaking of housing density she said “we are trying to cram in numbers which I do not think the site supports. The amenity space is frankly miserable. Just look at it, there is no real amount of amenity space, you can’t really say that [the bits around the edge] is amenity space. It’s not somewhere you could take a chair and read a book. Amenity space is not an optional extra.” We are told that “the proposals do not fully meet policy. They don’t meet policy, they don’t meet the policy and we shouldn’t be approving a development where amenity space is less than the minimum that we consider should be there. When we see that flats on the upper floors do not have any private amenity space I think What Are We Doing?”.
“I applaud the provision of affordable housing and we need to do it but we shouldn’t do it where the density is so great that it is likely to become the social problem of the future. The amenity space is miserable, it is not sufficient and I do not think we should approve this. I am terribly disappointed with what has come forward”.
A planning officer said that ten trees would be removed, a figure which proved to be wrong. There are twelve. He said the distance from the balcony to the new development was 21 metres. It is actually 20, he said so at the previous meeting.
Councillor Nicola Taylor (Labour, Erith) spoke next. She queried the claim that the social housing provision exceeded requirements. “My understanding is that Council land has to have 50% and not 35 and therefore it doesn’t exceed.”
The Council officer responded by saying that the eastern block is the affordable block “and our local target for affordable housing is 35% but the London Plan encourages 50%”. The audience corrected the Council officer, it is the western block which is affordable.
Councillor Taylor referred to the loss of a play area required by the 1995 application “so what guarantees are there that the seven pages of conditions on this application will be enforced”. The 1995 conditions were not enforced, “it is the local authority policing itself and with this application we have seen how the authority negotiates with itself. We need transparency.”
“I see the need for affordable housing and we need additional social housing but we are talking of only six units and the report says that is significant and only one property meets the London Plan [space] definition for affordable homes. We have over 2,000 people in temporary accommodation, [at this rate] it will take over 200 years to clear.”
Wilde Road residents were, she said “paying the price of the Council’s failure” to provide sufficient affordable housing on other sites such as the old Civic Centre.
“We condemn garden grabbing but for the flats around there it [the open space] is their garden. If it is not acceptable to build on one family’s garden why is it acceptable to build on the gardens of many many more?”
The Council officer excused the failure to enforce the 1995 conditions “they were made quite some time ago, the new terms here would be enforced but maybe not in perpetuity.”
No other Committee Member wished to speak, so Chairman Peter Reader added a few words. He was in favour of “the development of these two sites but the right development of these two sites. My main concern is the highway issues. The statistics offered are not enough to make me change my mind”.
“Sometimes we have to step back and think about residents and the problems they do have”. (What? Only sometimes?)
“I am not happy that what we have here convinces me that we have resolved the highways issues or that we ever can do to be quite honest. I have no compunction in saying that I cannot support the application.”
“We do however need to vote on the application for approval because that is our procedure, do I have a a proposer and seconder?” The Chairman did not, instead the Committee voted to reject, proposed and seconded by the cross party alliance of Councillors Slaughter and Taylor.
June Slaughter proposed rejection, Nicola Taylor (Labour) seconded and they were backed by every Committee Member.
Note that Chairman Reader does not vote unlike when Councillor Clark is in the Chair. If it was not for her double voting the Eastside eye sore would not have been approved.
Wow! how much has that farce cost the taxpayer?
For eighteen months or more the Planning Officers, no doubt under the watchful eye of Council Leader Teresa O’Neill, employed agents and experts to cobble together a plan which broke many of their own rules only to see the Planning Committee honourably stand their ground and refuse to accept the recommendation to approve it. Twice! An application which if submitted by a private individual would not have progressed beyond stage one.
The waste of money should surely be investigated as should the possibility of undue pressure being applied to Planning officers who so often seemed to be out of their depth when questioned. A sure sign that thay were uneasy about the whole sorry thing.
But for now rejoice for the residents of Wilde Road and Byron Drive. They have won a major victory. Will it be permanent?
Something else that needs investigating is Cabinet Member Philip Read. As soon as his Cabinet’s favourite BexleyCo had in effect been kicked in the teeth on its first outing he was busy trying to make out on Twitter that defeat was victory. However isn’t it going a bit too far to claim that the Labour Councillor who seconded the rejection proposal was not objecting to it? He is just a pathetic fool isn’t he, or as my companion at the planning meeting said, “totally unprofessional”.