Planning Report and Presentation - The Head of Planning Services submitted a report in respect of application 21/00068/FULL – Recreation Ground, Southwood Road, Rusthall, Tunbridge Wells, Kent and this was summarised by Richard Hazelgrove, Principal Planning Officer and illustrated by means of a visual presentation.
Updates and additional representation – Since publication of the agenda report, the presenter updated as follows:
- Two further objections had been received. The first raising similar issues to those already noted in Part 6 of the report. The second made reference to the TWBC Air Quality Action Plan 2018-2023. However the site was not within an area specifically identified by TWBC as requiring intervention pursuant to the Environment Act 1995 owing to current air quality issues (unlike the A26 which was a designated air quality management area).
- This was not a matter which the existing allocation in the 2016 Site Allocation Local Plan policy required to be addressed. Nor was it required to be addressed by the extant planning permission. The AQAP does not advise that any planning application that resulted in an increase in traffic should be refused on the basis of additional air quality impacts, as most developments result in a traffic increase.
- In addition, the conditions require details of cycle storage and EV charging points plus the site was very close to a regular bus route running between Rusthall, the town centre and High Brooms.
Registered Speakers – There were 4 speakers registered in accordance with the Council’s Constitution (Planning Committee Procedure Rules).
- Mrs Angela Funnell, a local resident
- Mr David Rusbridge, a local resident
- Ms Felicity Howe, a local resident
- Mr Dean Jacquin, a local resident
Matters of Clarification by Officers and Committee Members’ Question to Officers – Members raised a number of questions and officers confirmed the following:
- Although the Transport Report stated that the site was not in a highly sustainable location, the report further added that the site was bounded to the south and east by residential areas and that there were a large number of residential areas within 2km and was therefore accessible to many by cycle and on foot. The report also detailed the provision of secure and covered cycle facilities, the presence of cycle routes and a regular bus service.
- It was important to note that there was no policy requirement for the development to be in a highly sustainable location. It was still sustainable by virtue of being on the edge of the LBD which by definition was the most sustainable location within the Borough.
- Paragraphs 10.46 and 10.47 dealt with the management of traffic and in particular at change over times. This would be secured by Condition 9.
- The traffic survey undertaken by Kent CC was conducted at various locations around Rusthall and was done to determine whether the area was suitable for a 20mph speed limit. It was not connected to this particular development. Kent CC had not raised any objections to this application.
- The survey took account of vehicles that travelled through Rusthall. It did not measure traffic going through Southwood Road.
- Paragraphs 10.01 to 10.04 stated that notice had been served on the freehold landowner of Jockey Farm but the applicant (TWBC) did not have the right to access the land to undertake development. This was not a CPO which stood outside the planning process.
- The Playing Pitch Strategy published in 2017 was the most recent (non-planning) document that addressed the need for additional playing pitches.
- There was a current allocation, adopted in July 2016, for this land for use as playing pitches in the Site Allocations DPD.
- The original allocation for this site had been in force since 2006.
- Paragraph 10.25 made clear the details related to the site being specifically allocated for this use and that the legislation was clear, proposals should be assessed in line with adopted development plan policy unless material considerations indicated otherwise.
- Site notices were put up – Tuxford Road, Southwood Road, within the Recreation Ground, plus outside the entrance to Jockey Farm. It was also advertised in the press.
- Sport England were very particular about changing room requirements and would have objected if the provisions included in the application were not up to the required standard.
- Condition 3 prevented the installation of any floodlights in the area without prior written planning permission.
- Condition 12 dealt with the requirements of a noise impact assessment.
- Granting this planning application would not enable the Council to undertake any development on land outside its ownership without the owner’s consent. This would require a CPO. Any financial loss (compensation) to parties would be assessed and resolved as part of the CPO process. It was not possible to predict in advance the value of any compensation.
- The site had been assessed as part of the Local Plan process as suitable for recreation purposes since 2006. The planning use being applied for was for recreation, there was no such planning use for ‘football pitches’. It would be for the Council as the applicant to determine how it wished to use the area of land e.g. football, rugby, hockey or cricket pitches, or as an open field. The planning use class allowed for a variety of uses within the same class.
- The reason a lot of the assessment had been done with regard to football pitches was because it was currently the applicants view as to its future use and it provided the worst case scenario in terms of traffic assessment.
- Paragraphs 10.17 to 10.23 provided details of the assessment of development on the Greenbelt. 145B of the NPPF stated that recreation was appropriate in the Greenbelt as long as the openness of the Greenbelt was preserved.
- Minor impacts on openness were set out in Paragraph 10.21. This related to the introduction of small scale structures e.g. goal posts.
- There was an extant planning permission for this site which expired on 1 May 2021. The extant planning permission was identical to the one currently being considered. This would carry significant weight should the current application go to appeal.
- The proposed use of this site had been reviewed on more than one occasion since 2006 – in 2016 and again as part of the emerging Local Plan. On each occasion it had remained in the plan.
- Decisions were taken based on the approved development plan unless there were material considerations to the contrary. In this instance there was an adopted planning policy that covered this area of land for which this application was proposing to use it for.
- It was not possible to attach a condition relating to further consultation with the local community as one of the tests of a condition was that it was necessary in order to make an unacceptable development acceptable in planning terms. However, it would be possible to include an informative that the applicant was strongly encouraged to engage with the local community. This would allow the community to have a say in the future use of this site.
- It was confirmed that Rusthall did not yet have a Neighbourhood Plan.
- It was not the role of the local planning authority to consider alternative places for the playing pitches. This would be a matter for the applicant (TWBC).
- Paragraph 10.41 onwards dealt with parking matters. Kent CC had not identified it as a highway safety concern. Parking issues would be mitigated through the management of the site (Condition 9) alongside the expansion of the car park.
Committee Member Debate – Members of the Committee took account of the presentations made and raised a number of questions and issues within their discussions. These included:
- There was doubt that there was a need for these football pitches.
- It had been 15 years since it was first introduced and to date there were no plans to implement.
- There were already football pitches in the vicinity.
- Consideration should be given to remove it from the Plan.
- In addition there were concerns raised about parking, traffic and pollution levels.
- It was suggested that the application should either be deferred or refused.
- There was concern that this site was not a sustainable location for the form of recreation that was currently planned by the applicant.
- A range of alternative recreation uses should have been explored.
- The social impact on the residents of Southwood Road would be unacceptable.
- A decision on the facilities proposed at Hawkenbury should be known before any decision was taken with regards to this site.
- The drainage of the site was an issue.
- The application should be withdrawn until the outcome of the pre-submission Local Plan.
- As the applicant was the Borough Council it was hoped that it would not ignore an informative should one be attached to this application.
- There was recognition that the site was not pre-determined for football as its primary use.
- TWBC confirmed there would need to be a planning reason for any refusal. The land had been identified for recreation use and if refused the Council would not be able to deliver sufficient playing pitches for the Borough. The Playing Pitch Strategy also included the expansion at Hawkenbury – this site would be an additional site.
- TWBC confirmed that these issues were the same issues that were raised when the application came before Members 3 years ago and remained unchanged. Furthermore, the allocation was included in the Reg 18 consultation and again in the Plan that was agreed by Members in at Full Council early in 2021.
- If a deferral was sought, it would need to be clear as to what Members would be seeking from that deferral. The purpose of a deferral was to overcome a particular issue. This was a use application not a development application.
- TWBC confirmed that consultation with the local community was not a valid reason for deferral. A decision was required as the Local Planning Authority and not the applicant.
- If Members wished to add an informative, something along the following lines might be appropriate: ‘ the applicant is strongly encouraged to engage with a consultation process with the local community and Parish prior to any development of the site’.
- It was questioned as to where the signs advertising this application were positioned.
- Car parking when football was taking place at Jockey Farm was already an issue. Any additional pitches would make parking worse for residents.
- The livelihood of the owner of Jockey Farm remained a concern.
- Football pitches did not enhance the AONB.
- The loss of agricultural land should be considered as a material consideration.
- The adoption of the Local Plan accepted that the use of land for recreation and not agriculture was acceptable. In addition the allocation of this site accepted that the impact on the AONB was also acceptable.
- This area of land had been designated for this use since 2006 through to 2016, again in 2017, Reg18 consultation and finally to the adoption of the Local Plan in February 2021. The time to oppose and reason the application had been there for 15 years. No evidence had been heard that matters had changed since the application was submitted in 2017 that would suggest that the planning committee was wrong in awarding permission at that time. The committee had no reason to overturn this application now.
- It was regrettable that Rusthall did not have a Neighbourhood Plan.
- EN25, an extant policy referenced in the report made mention of the use of natural resources and to minimise the loss of Greenfield sites. The site included a hedgerow and rural landscape. Under transport EN25 stated that high trip generating developments should be concentrated in accessible locations. The committee and objectors had argued that this site was not in an accessible location.
- In terms of the impact on the countryside there would be a need to demonstrate that the harm generated by this proposal was greater than that harm that was envisaged by the sites allocation. In addition there would be a need to demonstrate that the harm was different to that approved in 2017.
- The objections were based around the assumption that the land would be used for football pitches, but the use had yet to be determined.
- There was evidence to suggest there was a reduction in demand for full sized football pitches.
- Some of the land came into the Speldhurst Parish Ward. It was confirmed that Speldhurst did not have a Neighbourhood Plan.
- It was suggested the landowner of Jockey Farm would take the case through the courts and the cost the Council would be high.
- To reconfirm the planning use was for recreation – there was no planning use class specific to football pitches.
- The Council’s legal officer confirmed that there was a proposal to refuse the application, but there were no specified reasons to support a refusal. Those reasons would need to be established before a vote was taken. Members should also bear in mind that this was an allocated site, the decision being made related to the use of the land for recreational purposes. Allocation for this use carried great weight.
- It was suggested that material planning reasons for refusal had been evidenced during the meeting. These included a reference to EN25, an unsustainable location, traffic congestion and associated pollution concerns. In addition, a need to minimise the loss of Greenfield sites.
- The Council’s legal officer confirmed that officers had already dealt with the reasons as detailed above and that they had been taken account of in relation to this site. As such, in terms of them being a reason for refusal further explanation would be required to substantiate these reasons when the allocation had already clearly accounted for them.
- It was suggested that based on the advice from the legal officer there was no valid planning grounds for refusing this application.
- Members requested that an informative be added as follows: ‘that the applicant is strongly encouraged to engage with a robust consultation with the community and the landowner so that there is a demonstrable and quantified view is reflected for the future use of this land.’
- TWBC were content with the wording of this informative.
- The inclusion of a condition that prohibited the land from being used for another purpose e.g. development, was not necessary. Any change of use would require planning permission in its own right.
Decision/voting – On the basis that members were satisfied that all relevant planning considerations had been covered within the report, a motion was proposed by Councillor Bland, seconded by Councillor Noakes and a vote was taken to approve the application in line with the officer recommendation and to include an informative as agreed by Members and Officers.
RESOLVED – That application 21/00068/FULL be granted subject to the plans, conditions and informatives as set out in the agenda report.