Recommendation: Conditional approval subject to legal agreement
Proposal: Outline application with Appearance and landscaping reserved for the proposed 57 dwellings suitable for older persons accommodation (Use Class C3) with consideration of means of access, layout and scale to be determined. Following demolition of existing dwellings.
Applicant: Arlington Retirement Lifestyles
The Committee received and reviewed a report about this application, set out in agenda pages 93 to 136.
The Committee were advised that the Members’ Update included:
· Amendment to condition 16;
· Correction to the correct affordable housing contribution in lieu.
Trefor Fisher, Sonning Parish Council, spoke in objection to the application. Trefor stated that Sonning Parish Council were shocked that this application had been recommended for approval, as Sonning was a designated limited development location, and this area in particular was characterised by detached houses with large gardens. Trefor was of the opinion that this development would be an overdevelopment of the site. Trefor stated that a similar proposal at Linkside was refused as the density of 32 dwellings per hectare was regarded as too high, whereas this proposal would result in 48 dwellings per hectare. Trefor stated that Sonning was a very small community, and this development would add almost 10 percent to the total number of households in Sonning. Trefor added that this area was dangerous for pedestrians, and the Parish Council was frequently made aware of speeding vehicles at crossing points. Trefor stated that pedestrians would have to cross the railway bridge with no pedestrian pathway to reach Woodley for shopping and amenities. Trefor added that should this scheme be allowed, many extra vehicles would have to pass over the Sonning Bridge which was already had significant traffic issues. Trefor stated that light pollution was a common complaint for residents, which would be made worse should the application be approved. Trefor added that the neighbourhood development plan was underway, and thus far there were no comments in favour of development at this specific site. Trefor asked that should the Committee be minded to agree to this development proposal, that their decision be delayed until the outcome of the questionnaire be known.
Paul Etherington, resident, spoke in objection to the application. Paul stated that the plan was for large developments to take place on two sides of his property, with the golf course green space being built on and then potentially this development in addition. Paul stated that he had sat on the Planning Committee at Maidenhead for a number of years, and therefore appreciated the large bundle of papers that Members had to consider. Paul felt that it was difficult for Members to get a proper feel for the area, however it was recognised that Sonning had no GP surgery, no dentist, no walkable shops, churches, bars or restaurants. With all of these factors taken into account, this development would create a large number of additional vehicle movements including delivery vehicles. Paul stated that the local rugby club had been enjoying success as of late, and had just built a brand new stand. On match days the entirety of Old Bath Lane, Pound Lane and other surrounding roads had cars parked on the pavements and verges, leaving no room for emergency services vehicles. Paul felt that the lack of local amenities meant that this development would cause many more vehicle movements than stated within the report. Paul stated that although Highways had no objections, they also had no objections to the golf cause scheme whereby a fatality occurred a year after in a spot which locals knew was dangerous. Paul was not convinced that there was a demand for these units, as a similar development in Twyford, close to local amenities, was not fully sold after a couple of years of being open.
Tim Burden, agent, spoke in support of the application. Tim stated that this proposal would meet the needs of a specific sector of the community. Tim added that it was recognised that this was an unusual site, especially when considering the bulk and mass of the adjoining Sunrise care home. Since the submission of this application, the scheme had been amended and consequently there were no outstanding objections from the Council’s internal consultees. Tim stated that Highways officers were satisfied with the approach to car parking provision, as it had been demonstrated that there was a low level of car ownership by residents at retirement schemes. Tim added that the access to the site was deemed acceptable, and the proposals fully complied with all standards and policies. Tim stated that the proposal would be set back from the boundary, and there was planned reinforcing of trees and hedgerows in addition to enhanced planting. Tim added that high quality trees, and trees of value, would be retained. Tim stated that full contributions would be made in terms of affordable housing, and the proposals would cause no material harm to amenity values and the character of the area.
Michael Firmager, Ward Member, spoke in objection the application. Michael stated that he was extremely surprised that this application was recommended for approval, as the development was out of character with the area. Michael added that the proposals were overbearing at a height of 3 storeys, in an area where properties were predominantly 2 storeys in height. Michael felt that the overbearing nature of the development would result in a loss of privacy for local houses, especially due to the proposed balconies. Michael stated that this development would result in overdevelopment of an already congested area, especially when considering that the side road to the development already provided access to the busy rugby club. Michael added that the access to this proposed development would be onto the A4, which was an already extremely busy road with speeding traffic. In addition the site had poor bus links, and was located far away from any local amenities which would result in many additional vehicle movements. Michael was of the opinion that the parking allocation of 63 spaces for 57 flats was not acceptable, and there was not enough visitor parking provision. Michael added that removal of trees went against the declared climate emergency, in addition to the resulting loss of natural habitation and biodiversity should this application be approved. Michael stated that there was a strength of feeling across the whole village against this development.
Simon Weeks asked for confirmation that the site had outline planning permission for 6 large detached dwellings, and queried whether the bulk and mass of the adjacent sunrise building made this proposal acceptable. Andrew Chugg, case officer, confirmed that the site had outline consent for 6 detached dwellings. Andrew stated that the adjacent building was a very significant building, and therefore in part formed the context for the acceptance of the proposals.
Andrew Mickleburgh felt that the nature of the adjacent Sunrise building meant that this development would not have a significant impact on the character of the area. Andrew queried why some or all affordable housing could not be provided onsite, queried whether analysis of highways safety had been carried out in terms of access to the site, and queried whether the unsustainability of the site could warrant refusal. Andrew Chugg stated that the Wokingham Borough Council (WBC) affordable housing team requested a financial contribution rather than onsite provision of affordable housing, in part due to service charges and sustainability issues. Judy Kelly, Highways Development Manager, stated that the proposals would result in an additional 8 vehicle movements in the morning peak and 6 movements in the evening peak. Offsetting this against the existing 3 houses would result in an additional 6 vehicle movements in the morning peak and 4 in the evening peak. Judy added that the infrastructure could be improved in the area, however officers had to consider the proportionality of this compared to the existing vehicle movements that the proposal would create. As such, it was not for this scheme to provide solutions to existing problems faced by residents. Judy added that it would be a requirement for the applicant to develop a travel plan. Judy stated that the NPPF only allowed for developments to be refused in highways terms if the cumulative impact of them was severe, which was not a sustainable point in this case.
Chris Bowring queried whether Members were being asked to approve the employment skills plan, queried whether the age restriction which allowed for more choice by older people was a positive for the application, queried whether the adjacent Sunrise building was taller in height than the proposed building, queried whether the Sonning golf club provided any context for this application, queried whether the parking was compliant with WBC parking standards, and queried what considerations had been given to cycle parking on the proposed development site. Andrew Chugg clarified that Members were not approving an employments skills plan as such, but instead the applicant would pay for officers to produce one on their behalf. Relating to the age restriction element, Andrew stated that he wanted to make clear in the report that there was no significant weight applied to the fact that the development would be for residents of 60 years and older, and there was no care need associated with the site. With this being said, the development would provide more choice for older people looking for accommodation. Andrew stated that the adjacent Sunrise property was higher than the proposed development, and the neighbouring residential dwellings were lower than the proposed height of block A. Referring to the Sonning Golf club development, Andrew clarified that this gave some context to this application as that development was allowed at appeal despite encroachment into the countryside. Judy Kelly confirmed that the parking was fully policy compliant, and as the parking was controlled by one entity then some of the disabled spaces could be reassigned should there not be a need for all of them. In addition, Judy confirmed that 12 cycle spaces were proposed and this number could be further increased should the travel plan indicate an increased need.
Abdul Loyes queried whether policy TBO6 was relevant to this application, as the application appeared to cause harm to the local area. Simon Weeks stated that any harm caused must be viewed in the context of the adjacent Sunrise building. Andrew Chugg stated that although TBO6 set a higher standard for redevelopment of residential land, this had to be viewed in the context of the adjacent Sunrise building. As such, it was deemed that the proposal would not be out of keeping with the character of the area, and the blocks of flats would be sufficiently spaced.
Carl Doran welcomed the provision of 40% affordable housing, though stated that he would prefer to have seen it provided on site. Carl was of the opinion that due to the adjacent Sunrise building, it was hard to argue that this property would be out of character with the area. Carl felt that due to the lack of amenities, parking provision should be higher as residents would require vehicles for everyday activities such as shopping and healthcare appointments. Carl queried whether this application would return to the Committee at the reserved matters stage if approved on the evening. Connor Corrigan, Service Manager – Planning and Delivery, stated that as a major application this item would return at the reserved matters stage.
Gary Cowan noted a Wokingham Town site, which had low parking provision, which had to expand the age range of residents and then did not meet parking standards. Gary had concerns that a similar issue could occur at this site, if approved. Gary queried whether affordable housing could be conditioned to be provided onsite. Simon Weeks stated that as WBC officers had asked for an affordable housing contribution, it would put WBC at a difficult position should this go to appeal.
Angus Ross stated his growing unease with this proposal. Angus stated that the proposal was not out of keeping with the area due to the context of the adjacent Sunrise building, met affordable housing requirements, and met WBC parking standards. Angus felt that the use of the term ‘retirement’ was misleading in this instance, as many residents would still be working within this age range. Angus queried whether there was sufficient turning space for delivery lorries and refuse lorries, queried whether the overlooking element had taken into account that this was a three storey building, and was of the opinion that the unsustainable nature of this site would warrant a reason for refusal. Angus asked that an informative be added to encourage the installation of sprinklers. Judy Kelly stated that the site layout had been tracked for a WBC refuse vehicle, which showed that the vehicle could travel to the southern part of the site and use the turning head at that point. In addition, the access road was 5.5m which would allow for two vehicles to pass each other. Regarding the overlooking comment, Andrew Chugg stated that the Borough Design Guide broke down the side to side and back to back distances. As such, the criteria for flats to dwellings back to back came to 30m. The closest relationship with number 4 Sonning Gate was 31.6m. In respect of Redgrave, the back to side arrangement was 19m, which was in excess of the 15m distance required by policy. Regarding sustainability, officers accepted that there were not many local shops however it was not unusual for new housing to be located this distance from shops, and it was located within settlement which made it hard to argue that it was located within an unsustainable location.
Malcolm Richards raised concerns regarding the sustainability of the site, especially considering that many residents would be of working age which would require them to travel to and from their place of work. Malcolm commented that the pedestrian routes within the locality were not safe, and would not be suitable to travel with a reasonable amount of shopping.
Angus Ross queried where the nearest shops were located. Judy Kelly stated that there were a number of amenities and facilities within the area, and the nearest shop was approximately 1.1km from the proposed development site. Connor Corrigan stated that officers understood concerns regarding sustainability, however it was very difficult to object to the application on these grounds as it was no different from many brand new housing developments. Chris Bowring commented that the sustainability would be the same for existing dwellings in the area.
Due to concerns raised relating to any potential change of conditions in the future to allow the facility to operate as, for example, sheltered accommodation, Simon Weeks proposed officers ensure that any change of conditions would return to the Planning Committee for approval. This proposal was agreed by Members and noted by officers.
Angus Ross proposed an additional informative, which encouraged the applicant to install sprinklers within the facility. This proposals was agreed by the Committee and added to the list of informatives.
RESOLVED That application number 201833 be approved, subject to conditions and informatives as set out in agenda pages 94 to 103, amended condition 16 as set out in the Members’ Update, and additional informative encouraging the installation of sprinklers as resolved by the Committee.