Some (qualified) good news this week. On Tuesday, the City Council’s Planning Committee voted to reject the application to build three new flats on the top of the Edeva Court building (the block behind the Queen Edith pub).
As I mentioned a couple of weeks’ ago, the application proposed that an entire new floor should be built literally and metaphorically ‘over the heads’ of the 12 existing leaseholders, who unanimously objected to this proposal. Moreover, this would have been despite the fact that the leaseholders own around 80% of the value and square footage of the property, and that the building was optimised for the plot when originally constructed only 10 years ago. The application had been recommended for approval by the council’s own planning officers.
You can see the debate, including my contribution, here. (Unfortunately, technical issues meant that the officer’s brief presentation was not fully captured).
I was once again impressed by the attention to detail paid by members of the committee and the rigour with which they interrogated the plans. Three points stood out for me.
1. Some good fortune
As noted by the planning lawyer representing the existing residents, the application was only up for discussion at Committee because Wulfstan Way is within the Air Safeguarding Zone of Cambridge airport (see Policy 37 of the 2018 Local Plan). Otherwise it would have been approved under national ‘Permitted Development rights’, and there would have been no process for objecting to it. I still find this an incredible thought.
2. Seeing through the language
There is much potential for perceptions to be swayed by use of misleading language. For example, one of the councillors’ criticisms of the quality of the design was that obscured glass would have to be used in a bedroom to minimise overlooking of a neighbouring property. When they asked the planning officer about this, she referred to it as ‘spare room’, a description which suggests that it would not be regularly used.
I found this quite confusing, as the room is actually marked on the plans as a bedroom and the officer obviously has absolutely no way of knowing how that room would be used by future occupants. In fact, given housing prices, it seems highly unlikely to be left as a ‘spare room’. But that description of it could well have subconsciously persuaded councillors that the obscured glass was not really an issue. Fortunately that was not the case in this instance.
3. The need for local knowledge
Specific local knowledge is critical in interrogating applicants’ assertions. Councillors asked about parking arrangements, as only one new space was proposed for all three flats. In response, they were told that:
- a parking survey had shown there were on-street spaces available in the vicinity
- the survey had been undertaken in May 2021, so was an up-to-date indicator of parking demand
- it had been carried out during a period when “people would have been working from home” suggesting that demand for spaces would have been at its highest then.
That might be true of some locations, but it’s absolutely not true of Wulfstan Way, which in May 2021 would have seen massively reduced parking from visitors to the nearby Queen Edith’s Medical Practice and also Addenbrooke’s hospital.
Given that I’ve previously helped elderly and disabled residents in the City Council bungalows opposite Edeva Court explain to Housing Officers how parking stress means their carers have trouble visiting them, the impression presented at Planning Committee seemed significantly at odds with local reality.
As we moved towards the summing up, councillors were clear that they had many reservations about the quality of the scheme, the cumulative impact of which left them feeling that this was a poor-quality application, which had cut too many corners in too many areas. However, that cumulative impact is not in itself sufficient to refuse an application. Councillors then had to go through the process of identifying which of the many shortcomings was individually bad enough to fail the policy test before they could finally vote to reject.
And it’s important to note that although this application was refused, the debate was all about the detail of the plans, rather than the principle of building an extra floor or floors. Plus of course the applicant can now decide to appeal, or to resubmit a slightly revised application.
Through the whole Edeva Court process I have struggled to understand how this element of the Permitted Development regime could have been conceived by national government, when it leaves the leaseholders in such a precarious situation. And given how much of the housing built in Cambridge over the last couple of decades is in the form of apartment blocks (below), the risk of a spate of further such applications in the years ahead seems very real.
Source: Cambridgeshire Insight