I have good news to report this week about a local planning matter which I’ve mentioned before: the application to build 40 serviced apartments at 11 Queen Edith’s Way, the location of the former Hollies care home.
To recap, the application originally came to Planning Committee a month ago, with a recommendation from the Case Officer to approve it.
I spoke against the application, as did Nick, a neighbour to the site. We both referenced many of the points made by objectors to the scheme, whose comments can be seen, along with details of the proposals, on the City Council’s planning portal, ref 20/02172/FUL.
At that meeting, several of the councillors sitting on the Committee starting digging into the details of the construction and subsequent operation of the development, at which point the stand-in Chair (Cllr Baigent) and senior officers decided to suspend the discussion and invite the applicants to augment/refine their proposals and re-submit to a subsequent meeting.
This week, back they came to Planning Committee. I wasn’t able to attend in person this time, but submitted further comments and Nick again took the opportunity to raise residents’ concerns. To our great delight, councillors voted against the officers’ recommendation, unanimously rejecting the application on three grounds:
- By virtue of the scale, massing, siting and design of the buildings, the proposal would result in a form of development that would be out of keeping with the character and appearance of the area, and fail to satisfactorily respond to its context. Consequently, the development would be contrary to Policies 55, 56, 57 and 59 of the Cambridge Local Plan 2018.
- The proposal, which seeks to construct 40 serviced apartments on the site with a low level of communal facilities, would result in an overly intense level of activity on the site and comings and goings, both from occupiers and associated service/delivery vehicles, that would harm the amenities of surrounding residents. Consequently, the development would be contrary to Policies 35 and 56 of the Cambridge Local Plan 2018.
- By virtue of the number of proposed units, the small size of each of the units, and the limited internal and external communal facilities, the development would provide a poor level of accommodation and standard of amenity for future occupants. Consequently, the development would be contrary to Policy 56 of the Cambridge Local Plan 2018.
I think there are some important points to note and build on here.
Firstly, I want to congratulate the local residents who really did their homework and made sure that they not only got their objections recorded in the planning portal, but focused their objections on what are termed material planning considerations. There’s a list of these considerations on the planning portal and these are the only reasons that the planning system may take into account, no matter what other aspects of an application you might find undesirable or unjust.
I am encouraging the Council to publicise these material planning considerations much more widely and attractively, in the same way that it spells out the planning process for applicants, as this would save both residents and officers time and effort.
Secondly, I’m really pleased to see the weight which councillors placed on safeguarding local character, setting and neighbourhood amenity. These concerns apply to so many applications, not only those on the scale of 11 Queen Edith’s Way, but also the tidal wave of substantial (45sq.m or more) self-contained back garden ‘annexes’ currently in the system.
Finally, I hope it encourages the developers of 11 Queen Edith’s Way, CamProp, to think creatively about how to use this site in a manner which benefits both future occupants and the wider community. Of course, they may choose to appeal or to apply again, having made only minor adaptations to the current design – one of the big attractions for them of the current plan is that, being serviced apartments, it’s exempt from the need to provide any affordable housing contribution or make any S106 payments to the City Council’s coffers. But the rejection of the scheme on the basis of both the quality of living space for the occupants and the impact on the neighbourhood will hopefully prompt the desired reconsideration.
Next Local Plan
Looking to the future, the place where we really need to establish strong policies to protect against inappropriate windfall developments, like the one above, is the imminent Greater Cambridge Local Plan. The Greater Cambridge Shared Planning Service this week launched its ‘First Proposals’ consultation for the plan. Everyone with an interest in the future of what’s now called the ‘Greater Cambridge’ area really should be starting to take a look at this now, in order to stand any chance of shaping the final outcomes.
Council officers have just recorded an introductory presentation which is now available to watch online here:
Further online public sessions on different themes are planned including:
- Wednesday 10 November, 12 to 1pm: Explore the numbers for jobs and homes. Join via Zoom passcode 466746
- Thursday 11 November, 12 to 1pm: Explore the sites and spatial strategy. Join via Zoom passcode 390946.
- Wednesday 17 November, 5 to 6pm: Climate change and water. Join via Zoom passcode 643381.
- Wednesday 24 November, 12 to 1pm: Biodiversity and green spaces. Join via Zoom passcode 482734
These will also be recorded and posted to YouTube.
Those of us wanting a more local focus should note that there will be a presentation at the next (online-only) South Area Committee meeting, at 7pm on Monday 29 November. Our nearest in-person event is next Thursday, 11 November, from 4 to 7pm at the Clay Farm community centre in Trumpington. And the Queen Edith’s Community Forum will be holding its own discussion in the week commencing 29 November, so look out for more information about that, and start thinking through your questions!
I add to this blog weekly if there’s something important to report. Get these posts by email by adding your name to the list, using the form on this page.
One question I think needs to be asked is that if members of the public can find fundamental reasons to reject a planning application, which councillors can confirm are correct in a meeting …why have the full-time, professional council officers not already rejected the application before it even reached the meeting stage? It’s their job to do this, surely? Why are they recommending applications which have clear grounds for rejection that the public can see?
Problem is public consultation is an inconvenient box ticking exercise to the Planners. During this whole process, not one of our comments was recognised as valid; they chose only to listen to internal colleagues and work hand in hand with the developers whilst ignoring residents’ concerns (and they certainly don’t think we have any place commenting on planning policy). The whole system is unbalanced – developers have far too much influence, with residents struggling to have a voice. So pleased the Planning Committee could see the flaws in this proposal.
I think the problem comes from the top. If growth is the main objective then an atmosphere is created whereby officers try to facilitate it and so marginal applications are recomended for approval. If we want things to change we need to change this top narrative. So it is a political problem and more independent councillors like Sam may help.
Excellent reporting and detailed observations. You are doing a great job representing Queen Edith’s, Sam. Well done.
Your comments are spot on Sam. It seems often the case that planners and architects are unaware of local issues affecting applications which should be more carefully considered. I also concur strongly with the other comments, especially from Chris Rand.
At last some good news. Well done to you and all of those who put together a comprehensive case against this application. But I echo Chris’ comments about the competence of the Planning Officers.