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Current Planning Issues

Posted by on October 11, 2015 in News - No comments

I am glad to report that some improvements have been made to 117 Kenwyn Street. The site has been leased to the Hub Box, which occupies the old chapel next door, and a new wall with metal gate has been erected which fits in much better with the street scene. More substantial wooden structures are being erected and the site generally tidied up to provide an annex to the Hub Box. After such a long period of problems and inertia this is a good sign. Thanks to the Hub Box proprietors for taking the initiative, and to the owners for enabling this new situation to occur.

Less good news about 15/16 St Clement Street – well, actually, no news at all. This site, which received Conservation Area consent to demolish Mr Tapp’s house and neighbouring house with the proviso that a new row, with offset access arch, would be erected, remains undeveloped, functioning as an untidy car park and storage yard. The attritive stand-off on this site is now long-standing. The planning department is constrained in its power to act, although technically it should be able to enforce since the consent was implemented with the demolition. It remains not simply a blot on the street scene but also a gap in the historical narrative of the town as these cottages provided grooms’ quarters for the Red Lion Hotel.

The appearance of plastic fascia signage in King Street and Victoria Square, erected to replace long-standing wooden hand-painted signage is a signal that the close watch over detail in the Conservation Area has been abandoned by the Planning Department and the character and distinctiveness of the Conservation Area is being quickly eroded. In a period of austerity it is adherence to principle and quality which offers the best route towards prosperity – there can be little excuse for neglect and lack of due care and attention.

A further example is the trashing of the shop on the corner of Little Castle Street and Frances Street (the former health food shop). This has been a serial destruction with interior featured that have long been protected by Conservation Officers being destroyed without comment, whilst the outer appearance of the building seems to being summarily ‘modernised’ – we must wait to see the eventual outcome.

Current Government policy is to allow as much as possible without interference. The promise of a ‘Brownfield Register’ to include land able to be developed without an application or approval process is now being ‘promised’ by DCLG. As far as I can see the entire planning system is being dismembered by decree of successive Secretaries of State, without recourse to Parliament, with no respect to principles of good design or conservation. The ability of planning committees to regulate land use is being bullied away by high levels of costs being found against Councils at appeals.

I suspect that Committees are showing signs of collective depression, which might some way to explaining the incredible decisions, against officers advice, that have allowed two supermarkets, a shopping village, two ‘stadiums’ and a further 400+ houses to add to the 1500 as yet unbuilt – and all we have to show for this is football crowds persisting at about 3-400, and a big sign in a field.

Meanwhile, earth moving has finished at the top of Arch Hill and so has all sign of activity. Design work to replace the eminently successful Arch Hill Junction now appears to be being aided and abetted by the Higher Newham development which is claiming that wild flowers will slow down traffic as it nears the pedestrian crossing and ‘domestic’ success for 150 houses, a rural education establishment (including small community ‘farm’) and a restaurant.

More on the Higher Newham proposals at a later date.

Bert Biscoe

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