On Thursday the 7th of January I attended the North Area Committee, where councillors were considering an application for planning permission to turn the ex car showroom on Chesterton Road into a shop. The Co-Op are proposing to move their shop to the other side of the road. All councillors were in agreement that the new location would be better for deliveries and an altogether more practical location for the shop. The application was approved unanimously.
Noise from deliveries was a concern of residents and councillors. The planning permission was approved with a condition stating:
All deliveries should be to the front of the premises on Chesterton Road and there should be no deliveries to the site outside the hours of 0700 hrs and 2100 hrs on Monday – Saturday and there should be no collections or deliveries on Sundays or Bank and public holidays.
Cllr Clare Blair had proposed expanding this further and banning all deliveries before 9am in the morning. I think this would have been an excessive restriction; it would also have had the effect of preventing deliveries of fresh bread and daily newspapers being made to the shop in-time for many people’s morning routines. Noise from other activities on the street, such as deliveries to other establishments, and waste collection often starts just after 0700 so I can’t see a significant problem. Deliveries of goods in metal cages cause most noise problems so had Cllr Blair wanted to prevent noisy deliveries she could have been more specific in her conditions, but even that would have only made her proposal marginally less ridiculous.
No councillors were prepared to argue against Cllr Blair, however all but Cllr Levy voted against her proposal.
Councillors did not insist on delivery vehicles not delivering from the road. As it is such a large site I would have thought this would have been reasonable to require delivery lorries pull onto the forecourt. The officers’ report says that deliveries from lorries parked on the road isn’t a problem due to the fact the road is wide. No consideration was given in the report to the fact the shop is just after a sharp and blind corner so drivers have little time to react to the presence of a vehicle outside. In terms of making the city cycle friendly where it is possible to keep delivery vehicles off main roads I think that ought be done.
City Councillor Max Boyce lives immediately behind the site, he stayed outside the room while the item was discussed. County councillor Wilkins was also outside the room; he wouldn’t have had a vote but could, as I understand it from other area committees, have participated in discussion. Cllr Ian Nimmo-Smith however did take part despite a section of the report stating:
“Letters of support from local people, including Cllr. Ian Nimmo-Smith have been received via the applicant, there were not the result of our consultation process and therefore I have not referred to them in my report.”
It is unusual in Cambridge for a councillor who has expressed support or an objection to an application to take part in its determination. While councillors need to go into planning meetings open-minded and prepared to engage in debate I think it is entirely right for councillors to express their views, so their constituents can discuss them, in advance of planning meetings. I would like to see councillors set free from the strict rules they have set for themselves on planning matters. I think planning ought be a democratic process, and not a quasi-judicial one, as our Cambridge’s Liberal Democrats believe. (For more on this see Cllr Mike Todd-Jones’ Statement on Planning Matters and my comments on it. )
Another concerning element of the above quote is the statement saying that representations not resulting from the council’s own consultation processes are ignored by planning officers. I’m not sure that’s generally actually the case, but I think it would be a terrible position for the council to be taking. What about comments precipitated by online articles, facebook, bloggers, or coverage of planning applications in the local newspaper? The council’s formal consultation processes are very narrowly focused on near neighbours and the council makes it very hard to keep track of planning applications online, for details one has to physically visit the council. Email alerts are offered to councillors and others such as residents associations but not the general public.