This Planning Committee (4th June 2013) was more interesting than most. There was an unexpected win which created some complex debate on Planning law.
First off was 98 Vallentin Road (2013/0039) an outrageous proposal for a 5 storey block of 9 flats beside the railway embankment at the end of Vallentin Road, E17 3JH. This replaced an earlier application in 2007 for 4 flats. The Chair kicked off giving his view (long gone are the days when the chair was neutral and anyway this was his constituency!). He seemed more impressed by the £44k Section 106 contribution than the look of the building. No local residents had complained and he regarded it as an “iconic development” using good quality materials. The Tories took the view that the under sized amenity space would not be used anyway so it did not matter. The planning policy was all wrong if it allowed this development. The local residents had voted not to have a CPZ so there would be nothing to stop residents parking in the street. Labour made no comment – why should they when their chair had said it all, and when the vote was taken there were 5 in favour Labour and Liberal and 2 abstentions Tory. So a totally unsuitable block of flats will now blight this part of Vallentin Road.
Leytonstone Police Station (2011/1229) change of use to an extension of the Azhar Academy for girls in Forest Gate. It has taken over 2 years to get to the committee. This was clearly an over development of the site leading to a lack of playground space for the girls. The officer’s report recommended approval and indicated there were very few grounds to oppose it. Having made our case using information from the various Ofsted reports I assumed it would be nodded through. In fact all the councillors were opposed for a variety of reasons. Labour kicked off objecting to the lack of parking and that the building was not suitable for converting to a school as it was too cramped. There was no access to the upper floors for the disabled.
The Liberal was unsure but had been given a tour 6 months before and was surprised to find the application was different to what she had been shown. Work has been going on converting the buildings since 2011. There was no need for the nursery as Acacia nursery already has spare places. The staircase to get to the upper floor overlooks the gardens of the surrounding houses.
Tories commented on the officer’s report concerning the Human Rights Act and pointed out it also covered Health and Morals. A school with no space for recreation can hardly be a healthy place. They felt the building could be adapted but this “can’t be a school in this form”. An application should contribute to the area but this proposal did not.
The chair asked questions about the catering and it appeared food would be brought in and a small kitchen would be used to server the food. Further concerns were expressed about disability access. It was also pointed out that local children had been allocated spaces in existing schools so there was no need for extra places.
All the councillors were against the proposal but the Head of Development Management pointed out it was not that easy to legally oppose it. Everyone agreed in principle the redundant Police Station could become a school and anyway from a change of use point of view it would still be a community use building as it was when it was a Police Station. The demand on educational places was not a material consideration. The Government laid down no rules about playground space and the Borough did not have a policy on play space in schools therefore this was not a material consideration. Disabled access was a material consideration although as a locally listed building it would not be possible to install a lift without damaging the historic parts of the building. Traffic and parking were material considerations, but the proposed traffic plan had been accepted by the Highways department. This left 3 options (a) approve the plans (b) Refuse on Material Considerations grounds i.e. access and traffic (c) Defer for further negotiations.
The Councillors were not prepared to support the scheme and felt too many changes would be needed to make it acceptable so (a) and (c) were rejected. It was pointed out that the Equality Act was a material consideration so in the end they voted 6 against and 1 abstention to Refuse the application.