• The appeal is made under section 78 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990
against a failure to give notice within the prescribed period of a decision on an
application for planning permission.
• The appeal is made by Summerfield Developments (SW) Ltd against North Somerset
• The application ref: 07/P/0160/F, is dated 17 January 2007.
• The development proposed is the demolition of an existing workshop and associated
storage buildings and the erection of residential development comprising 14 dwellings
and associated parking.
1. I dismiss the appeal and refuse planning permission for the development
2. Since the appeal was made the Council have indicated that, had they still been
able to, they would have refused permission on the following grounds:
i. non-compliance with housing policy which seeks to minimise commuting and
avoid providing for urban housing needs in rural settlements;
ii. loss of an existing employment use without sufficient evidence to establish
that the site is no longer suitable for business use;
iii. lack of a legally binding undertaking to contribute towards the cost of
providing necessary facilities for the occupiers of the development; and
iv. over dense development leading to unsatisfactory landscaping and over
prominent car parking to the detriment of the Conservation Area.
3. The appellants have subsequently submitted a unilateral undertaking. This has
now been signed and dated and appears to deal adequately with the Council’s
4. Taking the above into account, together with the representations made by local
residents and others, I consider that the main issues are:
• whether the proposal complies with local policy and national advice on the
location of housing and sustainable development;
• whether loss of the site for employment purposes would conflict with local
planning policy on this matter or have any other adverse effects;
• the effect on the character and appearance of the area, especially the
Wrington Conservation Area in which the site is located;
• the adequacy of the access arrangements; and
• the effect on the living conditions of local residents, having particular regard
to any effects on privacy.
Housing policy matters
5. Policies GDP/1 and H/1 of the North Somerset Replacement Local Plan (the
RLP) seek to concentrate development, including housing, in the 4 main towns.
Policy H/1 does allow housing development in other settlements such as
Wrington, but this is the least preferred option. Moreover, various criteria must
be met. In particular, access to jobs and services by means other than the
private car must be satisfactory; the development should not simply add to or
contribute to creating a dormitory settlement with high-levels of outcommuting;
and facilities and infrastructure (including roads) must not be overloaded. This policy thrust generally reflects that in the Joint Structure Plan and, especially, the Regional Spatial Strategy, which seeks to discourage expansion of dormitory towns within easy commuting distance of Principal Urban Areas such as Bristol and Weston super Mare.
6. New housing outside the 4 main towns is dealt with more specifically in RLP
Policy H/7. The text to this policy advises that windfall sites within these
settlements make a useful contribution to overall housing land supply and that
a positive approach to them will be adopted. However, the appellants suggest
that the approach has changed and that the policy is now being applied so as
to amount almost to an embargo on housing outside the main towns, except
for rural needs housing, retirement accommodation and live-work units.
7. Be that as it may, I have dealt with the appeal on the basis of the actual
wording of Policy H/7 and its supporting text, having taken into account how it
has been interpreted in other appeals, particularly one concerning 12 dwellings
at Silver Street, Wrington (ref: APP/D0121/A/07/2036212). I note that the
policy remains positively worded, indicating that residential development will
be permitted provided 5 criteria are met. To a large extent the first 4 criteria
relate to matters of detail that I deal with, as necessary, elsewhere. That said,
I consider that Wrington has relatively good facilities for its size and I see no
reason to expect a development of 14 dwellings to over stretch them. Neither
do I consider that a development of this size would be intrinsically out of scale
in this village of, apparently, about 3000 inhabitants.
8. It is the fifth criterion that appears most significant. This seeks to ensure that
proposals ‘would not lead to urban housing needs being met in locations
outside the 4 main towns where employment opportunities are more limited
and which would add to or contribute to creating a dormitory settlement with
high levels of out-commuting.’
9. Unfortunately the RLP appears to provide little guidance on how this criterion is
to be applied. In particular there seems no clear definition of what is meant by
‘urban housing needs’. Moreover, sizeable villages like Wrington may have
housing needs of their own that are not limited solely to affordable housing and
it seems to have been accepted in another appeal that Wrington would ‘need’
more housing to retain its existing level of population. Taking all of this into
account I consider that there may be a case for allowing some new housing of
an open market nature in Wrington to avoid it declining and becoming a less
sustainable settlement. In my view, it would be too simplistic to assume that
all such housing would inevitably cater solely for urban needs, especially as
Wrington seems reasonably well supplied with jobs by the standards of many
settlements in North Somerset.
10. That said, even in the main North Somerset towns a high proportion of the
residents commute elsewhere to work, particularly to the Bristol area. In
addition, whilst the self containment level in Wrington may be similar to that in
some of those larger settlements, the overall number of jobs is less, suggesting
that there is less choice. Furthermore, a high proportion of the jobs in Wrington
parish appear to be at Bristol airport which is well away from the village and
not readily accessible except by private car, especially for shift workers.
11. The reality seems to be that some two thirds of Wrington residents who have
jobs commute elsewhere to work. In my judgement that constitutes a high
level of out-commuting. Moreover, I would expect that ratio to be reflected
amongst occupiers of open market housing on the appeal site unless some
positive measures were taken. In forming this view I have taken into account
the allocation of additional employment land in Wrington. However in my
experience small industrial sites in rural locations can take a long time to
develop. Although the Silver Street inspector seems to have been more
optimistic, I am not convinced, on the limited information available to me, that,
in the absence of any linkage mechanism, jobs are likely to be provided on the
employment site as quickly as houses would be built on the appeal site.
12. In the absence of any such linkage or the provision of at least some live-work
units and/or retirement accommodation, I consider that on balance the appeal
proposal would be likely to add to the existing high level of out-commuting.
his would increase the dormitory nature of Wrington and conflict with local
and national aims for more sustainable patterns of development. Moreover, the
loss of the appeal site for employment use could increase that effect. I conclude that in its present form the proposal would, to a significant degree, be likely to serve the needs of urban workers contrary to the thrust of Policy H/7. This in itself is a serious objection to it.
Employment land matters
13. The appeal site is currently occupied in part by a car workshop. RLP Policy E/5
seeks to retain existing employment areas unless certain criteria are met. Of
particular relevance to this appeal, development for other purposes may be
allowed if the site is no longer capable of offering accommodation for business
use development or the proposals would lead to the removal of incompatible
development resulting in overall benefits in community or sustainability terms.
14. In this case, there appears to have been no attempt to market the site for
business use. However, in my view that that is not necessary where removal of
a non-conforming use would bring overall community benefits. I understand
that there have been few if any complaints in recent years about this garage.
However, that may well reflect the apparent low level of activity. Given the
close proximity of the buildings and access to adjoining dwellings I consider
that there is a very real risk that a more active motor repair garage would
cause considerable problems of noise and disturbance to local residents.
15. That would not require planning permission and is not in my view a far fetched
outcome if the appeal is dismissed. The Council themselves have not ruled out
the prospect of a continuing commercial use of some sort and I note that
another garage operates nearby, suggesting that the location is not wholly
unsuitable from a commercial viewpoint. Taking all this into account, I consider
that there are significant potential benefits in a residential redevelopment and I
do not consider that in principle there is an overriding conflict with Policy E/5.
Effect on the character and appearance of the area
16. Wrington Conservation Area, in which the appeal site is located, includes much
of the older built up part of the village as well as some open areas that are
closely related to it. The appeal site is located off Broad Street which appears
to be the commercial core of the settlement and is fronted for the most part by
terraced development of a relatively urban nature. However, here and in other
parts of the Conservation Area, the historic terraced properties generally have
long rear gardens so that the overall density of development does not seem to
be particularly high. Moreover, whilst this is sometimes hidden from public
view, the various open areas, some of them treed, help to give Wrington as a
whole a rural rather than an urban character.
17. The appeal scheme, reasonably enough, reflects the terraced form of
development along Broad Street. However, it combines it with some very short
rear gardens giving the development a density that appears somewhat higher
than the adjoining areas. Without necessarily being unacceptable in itself, this
means that the grain of development does not fully reflect that which is typical
of the older parts of Wrington.
18. In addition, the rear part of the site is one of the areas of open land that occur
within the Conservation Area. Even if this is not fully appreciated from public
places, it is apparent from adjoining dwellings and the car park to the adjoining
public house. Moreover, the newer housing beyond this part of the appeal site
has a relatively low density. All of this suggests to me that a reduction in the
proposed density, particularly in those parts of the site furthest from Broad
Street, would be considerably more in keeping with the existing grain and form
19. Such a reduction would also increase the scope for trees to be retained, or, if
they have to be felled for other reasons, the potential for replacements to be
planted. That is important as, even if the site itself is not readily visible from
many public viewpoints, there are large trees on and around it that are, and
which, in my judgement, make a significant contribution to the character of the
Conservation Area. I appreciate that it would take some time for new trees to
grow so as to be readily visible from outside the site. However, with a lower
density there would be some prospect of that being achieved in the longer term
whereas with the scheme proposed any new planting would most likely have to
be of a sort that would have only a very localised impact.
20. Furthermore, the density proposed means that much of the parking for the new
dwellings would be close to and prominent in views from the road accessing
them. I appreciate that parked cars are a feature of the Conservation Area, but
they are not an attractive one and this is not part of the character of the area
that, in my judgement, it is desirable to replicate. This adds to my conclusion
that in its present form the density proposed is too high to fit comfortably into
its context. Accordingly I consider that the proposal does not represent good
design and would not preserve or enhance the character or appearance of the
Conservation Area. Accordingly it would conflict with those development plan
policies that deal with these matters, in particular Policies GDP/3 and ECH/3 of
Access and parking matters
21. The site is accessed off Broad Street, which is both the main shopping area of
the village and part of the main route through it. It is not, however, part of any
long distance route and is not an A or B class road. The access itself has to
pass through a narrow gap between existing buildings fronting Broad Street.
During my visit this gap was measured and the parties agreed it to be about
3.2m wide at its narrowest, albeit this is for only a short length.
22. There seems no realistic prospect of widening the access, even if this would be
acceptable visually. As a result, development of the site would be likely to
result in conflict between vehicles entering and leaving it, as they could not
pass, and between vehicles and pedestrians, who would not be segregated.
Moreover, whilst I am satisfied that emergency vehicles would be able to pass
through such a gap, I consider that in practice most large vehicles, including
those collecting refuse, would not attempt to do so but would park in Broad
Street, where conditions are such that double parking would be likely to result.
Broad Street is wide enough to permit this without the road being blocked;
indeed double parking already occurs. However, it is not something that I
consider it desirable to add to.
23. For all these reasons there are many situations in which such an arrangement
is likely to be unacceptable. However, in this particular case I consider that
there are a number of mitigating factors. The access is in the centre of a village
where non-standard junctions and road layouts (including sections with no
footway) are not uncommon. Moreover, given the likely limited amount of
through traffic, I would expect a high proportion of drivers to be aware of the
conditions and to drive accordingly. In these circumstances adding another
substandard junction is likely to be less harmful than in many others.
24. In addition, this is an existing access serving commercial premises. Although it
may have seen only limited use in recent years I consider it most unlikely that
commercial activity would simply wither away if the appeal is dismissed.
Accordingly I consider that the proper comparison is not between the proposed
junction and no junction at all but between a substandard junction serving a
commercial use and one serving a residential development. Moreover, I have
been provided with no clear and compelling information to suggest that the
proposed scheme would generate significantly more traffic than could result
from an intensification, to ‘normal’ levels, of the existing use.
25. I conclude that, whilst a reduction in the scale of development might have
highway benefits in addition to those I have already identified, these matters
are not of sufficient weight to be a fatal objection to the proposal and there is
no overriding conflict with those development plan policies that deal with this
matter. I note that the Council, as both planning and highway authority, seem
to have come to a similar conclusion.
26. I am, if anything, rather more concerned about the level of parking proposed.
Again this is not a matter that has been raised by the Council, but it is of
considerable concern to local residents.
27. In effect the parking provision, including garaging, equates to 1.5 spaces per
dwelling. This is broadly in line with national advice and, I understand,
complies with the RLP. Nevertheless, I consider that in a village where two
thirds of workers commute elsewhere (and seem likely to do so overwhelmingly
by private car), and where the proposal does nothing to address this, the
proportion of households having more than one car is likely to exceed the
general average. Moreover, additional parking within the site would be likely to
create difficulties for manoeuvring and turning, whilst parking elsewhere would
exacerbate the high level of on-street parking that already occurs within the
centre of the village. Without necessarily being decisive in itself this adds to my
concerns that the proposal does not represent a well thought out and high
Effect on the living conditions of local residents
28. A further consequence of the density being proposed is that many of the
dwellings would be close to boundaries of the site. As a result there are several
instances where windows in them would overlook gardens or other dwellings at
distances less than in my experience is usually considered necessary to avoid
overlooking problems. In particular, the residential rear garden of the Post
Office would have the bedrooms of no less than 5 houses overlooking it at
distances of between about 6m and 8m. In addition, the houses on plots 5 and
6 would also be within about 17m of windows in an adjoining property and
closer still to its conservatory, whilst some of the intervening trees would be
lost. There are other instances of windows close to boundaries but these
generally give me less concern given the use and layout of the areas
overlooked. Nevertheless, I consider that the appeal proposal would result in a
considerable loss of privacy to at least 2 adjoining properties.
29. No other effects would in my judgement be particularly serious and I have
taken into account that residential redevelopment of the site could be expected
to have benefits in terms of reduced noise and pollution compared to an
intensification of the garage use. However, if the conflict with Policy H/7 could
be resolved, my concern is not so much with the principle of housing on the
site but with the form of development currently being proposed. Moreover, I
have been provided with no evidence that the current density and layout, or
something like it, is essential for a viable scheme, though clearly a reduction in
the number of units could affect the viability of redevelopment.
30. I conclude that the scheme proposed would have a serious detrimental effect
on the living conditions of the occupiers of some of the adjoining properties.
This would be contrary to another of the aims of RLP Policy GDP/3 and is a
further reason why the proposal should not go ahead as currently proposed.
Other matters and overall conclusions
31. I have considered all the other matters raised including the encouragement
given in national advice to the efficient use of brownfield sites. However, they
have not, either individually or in combination, contributed materially to my
conclusions on the main issues. On those issues, I consider that the proposal is
acceptable in terms of employment land policy and that, despite some
concerns, there is no overriding objection in terms of access and parking.
However, this is outweighed by the conflict that I consider there would be with
the aims of Policy H/7 together with the harm that I consider there would be to
the character and appearance of the area and the living conditions of some
adjoining residents. For the reasons set out above and having has regard to all
other relevant considerations I conclude that the appeal should not succeed.