HBC Planning Committee makes another flawed decision

(Given pressing personal distractions, this article is rather ‘late to the press’. However, last week’s HCS ‘Open Community Forum’ highlighted once again the need for a freshly educated Planning Committee under a new chair.)

On September 29, the HBC Planning Committee once again delivered the wrong verdict on a significant local planning application by following the direction of its Chair, who once again invited accusations of incompetence by risking a costly and almost certainly successful appeal by a developer.

The full detail is given below, but if you just want to get a feel for just how far adrift the current HBC Planning Committee is, this two-minute clip should be enough. Credit must be given to the council officers for attempting to keep this meeting on the rails.

A brief clip

The proposal in question first came to public attention back in October 2020. At the time, the development plan featured an uninspiring design cramming 191 flats onto the old Southern Electricity site on the Petersfield Road. HCS objected to the original plans given the inclusion of a pair of ‘drive-thru’ outlets, McDonalds and Costa, at the site entrance. At the time of the original planning submission however, the fast-food outlets were deemed essential by the developer in order to render the development commercially viable.

In the months which followed, further negotiations resulted in an improved plan. The number of dwellings was reduced to 175, the fast-food outlets were taken out – to be replaced potentially by an incoming application for an 80-bed care home – and despite the increased cost in construction materials, the revised development was still considered ‘viable’.

Proposed elevation style

Beauty is, as they say, in the eye of the beholder and regardless of your personal opinion of the design, this proposal had much in its favour. The developer proposed to develop a long-vacant ‘brownfield site’ for which the original Local Plan allocation had been for 90 dwellings. Some may question the shoehorning of almost double that number of 1 and 2 bedroom apartments into the space, but with the level of housing need that we have in the borough, 175 dwellings should be welcomed. Particularly given the developers’ stated intention that “Each home will be fitted with an Air Source Heat Pump capable of meeting all heating and hot water demands, with no reliance on a gas supply”. Positive news, on the face of it.

The full recording of the meeting is available in the following viewer. At 1 hour 34 minutes, it’s something of a marathon. However, as usual, we’ve given you some short cuts in the table of links below the recording.

HBC Planning Committee – 29/9/2020

Despite the application ticking all of the draft Local Plan’s boxes for development of a brownfield site, in a location allocated for housing, to a design offering biodiversity net gain with a low carbon footprint for heating, the chairman of the Planning Committee, Cllr. Crellin, steered a course onto the rocks in her usual style.

LinkSection summary
Part 1After a delayed start, the process gets under way with avoidable technology issues setting the scene.

Mr. Eaves, as the responsible Planning Officer, outlines the proposal and summarises his report.
Part 2Deputation by, and questions to, the developer.
Questions, for example Cllr. Tindall‘s ‘Why did you have to make this development 5 storey instead of 3 storey?’, simply go to show that some of those present had either not bothered to read the application package or simply lack the capacity to understand it. Of minor interest is the discussion of whether or not the bedrooms in the ‘single-occupancy’ units are big enough for a ‘small double bed’.

The deputation submitted by Pat Brooks on behalf of Havant Climate Alliance and Friends of the Earth, was sadly not read in person. Once again, a clearly articulated demonstration of the level to which some members of the public actually do read the material provided. Sometimes, it seems as if we’re the only people who do.
Part 3Questions to the officers.
The long-suffering Mr. Weaver and Mr. Eaves have to explain points more revealing of the questioners’ level of preparation and comprehension. Notable low-lights include Cllr. Tindall‘s ‘How would this help with our housing situation?’ and Cllr. Milne‘s question on viability assessments.
Cllr. Richardson, thankfully on hand with Cllr. Bowdell as standing deputies, raises the standard, not that the bar is particularly high.
Part 4Cllr. Crellin – “The floor is open…. We’re now in debate, so you can talk as much as you like”.

Cllrs. Tindall and Weeks set the low bar, while Cllrs. Richardson and Bowdell try to inject some reality.
Part 5Cllr. Crellin gets out her soap box.
Part 6Cllr. Richardson provides a voice of sanity again before Cllr. Crellin climbs back on her box again with ‘I don’t believe people are going to come into Leigh Park to buy property’. That really is an astonishing comment given the large number of hard-working, Council tax paying homeowners in Leigh Park.

Cllr. Bowdell suggests that the development could uplift the area, ‘in the same way as Gunwharf did to Portsea’.
Part 7Cllr. Crellin, inexplicably the Chair of the Planning Committee, flounders over a proposal.
An unidentified voice off asks ‘Can the developers leave the room?’
(a short period of silence, with the microphones off)
Part 8Cllr. Crellin, ‘What are we doing here?’ I’m sure the officers were wondering the same at this point, but for rather different reasons.
There then follows ‘a proposal’ and a hung vote before Cllr. Crellin uses ‘her deciding vote to vote against’.
Mr. Weaver – ‘We’ll need reasons’.
Part 9Mr. Weaver, aided by Mr. Gregory, tries to rescue the meeting from the deep pit that the Chair has got it into.
Part 10Mr. Gregory eventually grasps the reigns, then hands over to Mr. Weaver to try and sweep up the mess.
———— The recording closes after 1 hour and 34 minutes.

The case for appeal?

We would be astonished if the developer does not appeal this decision given this recorded performance by the Planning Committee.

Under the chairmanship of Cllr. Crellin there have, of course, been other occasions on which a refusal of the officer’s recommendation would have been appropriate. While it may have suited HBC to have an incompetent Planning Committee to nod through the first ’32 New Lane’ application, the real grounds for refusal of the second application on that site were irrefutable. While the ‘intended occupier’ would have appealed any overturning of the officer’s recommendation for the first application, an appeal against refusal of the second would have exposed the obvious inadequacies of the transport documentation and the lack of associated diligence by HBC/HCC.

That story still has legs, as they say…