Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Planning problems - dealing with a 'brutalist concrete box' in the greenbelt

CWaC Planning Committee had a knotty problem to resolve last night.  It was a planning application I had called into committee on the grounds of conflicting development policies.

What do you do with a 'drab box' in the green belt?

This particular 'drab box' was constructed as an indoor squash court having gained planning permission for that use in 1977.  As with most, if not all squash courts of that date it doesn't have windows!  It literally is a concrete box with a typical 1970s brutalist styling.

So this drab box... how about you convert it into holiday flats?  Well in 2004 a planning application was turned down by a planning inspector on grounds which included the fact that this sort of development was inappropriate in the green belt.

Time passed.

The applicants applied again - this time seeking to convert the building into a single holiday let.

Holiday lets in the green belt are supported in our local plan as such development supports tourism.  There is an interesting debate and judgment to make as to whether piercing the 'drab box' to create doors and windows more in keeping with a house is an improvement and how much of a change to the exterior and outbuildings is acceptable.  New government planning guidance encourages the re-use of buildings in the green belt.

The locals were very much opposed to this development proposal.  They saw this as getting a new dwelling in the greenbelt.  Certainly had an application come forward for a single dwelling on this site it would, almost certainly, have been turned down.

Then there is the issue that if the holiday let business proves to be unsustainable which planning committee or planning inspector would refuse a planning application to change the use of the house into an ordinary dwelling house for occupation by a family?

I described this proposal as an application in search of a policy.  However leaving aside that soundbite - I fully respect the applicants right to submit an application and to bring the development scheme with the local plan policy documentation - after all that is why the local plan exists in the first place!

And the result - a unanimous decision by the planning committee to grant approval.

And the question I don't know the answer to - is a brutalist 1970s box in the green belt better or worse when it has windows, a door and tourists visiting?  

I think I was right to call this matter in to the committee - I think the debate had to be aired in public.