An application for Conservation Area consent to demolish the Penny Ferry pub is to be considered by Cambridge’s North Area Committee at 18.30 on the 26th of July 2012 at Shirley Primary School, Nuffield Road.
The application to demolish the pub and replace it with five houses was rejected in a 7:3 vote of the North Area Committee on the 24th of March 2011. The applicants appealed this though, and an unelected unaccountable planning inspector overturned the decision of our local councillors.
My view is planning ought be a democratic process, and unelected inspectors should not be involved. I think the appeals should only be considered if there are procedural failings, and then the first tier of appeal ought be to another panel of elected councillors.
The decision is back with of our local councillors because councillors have placed the site into a conservation area since the inspector gave his approval to the plans, and now the demolition additionally needs conservation area consent. The inspector knew this conservation area designation was potentially coming, and made clear he had taken that into account when making his decision. This means councillors will need to be even stronger in standing up to the inspector if they decide to vote against the demolition.
I have expanded on my views on Conservation areas in my comments on the Castle and Victoria Road Conservation Area and the Romsey Conservation Area. I think the introduction of conservation areas generally should not interfere with applications and work in progress in this way, and this reconsideration process is generally undesirable. Revising the same decision multiple times is in no-one’s interests. The process is broken.
In this specific case though, as I support the decision my local councillors took in March 2011 to refuse the application, I think its positive that they’ve got another opportunity to take a decision in the interests of those they represent.
It is notable that the inspector did not award costs against the council when he allowed the developer’s appeal; however if councillors at the North Area committee again go against his clearly expressed views they might well consider the risk of costs being awarded against them if their decision is again appealed. My view is councillors need to put that consideration aside, and simply make the right decision. An estimate of the degree of risk being taken by doing the right thing might be of interest; but the importance of making the right planning decision for such a key site in the city ought outweigh the financial consideration.
Policy 4/10 of the local plan, which officers have advised should guide this decision, states demolition will not be permitted unless one of the following applies:
- a. the building is structurally unsound for reasons other than deliberate damage or neglect; or
- b. it cannot continue in its current use and there are no viable alternative uses; and
- c. wider public benefits will accrue from redevelopment.
There is no suggestion the building is structurally unsound. It has not been shown the most recent uses, or similar, could not continue, and there are no wider public benefits which would accrue from redevelopment.
I do not think councillors considering this application should feel constrained by the unelected, unaccountable, planning inspector’s view that demolition to enable redevelopment would be acceptable. The widest public benefits would accrue from a use of the site which resulted in a degree of public access, such as for example, but not limited to, a pub or restaurant. The city needs new homes, particularly four bedroom homes, which those proposed would be, but the benefits in relation to this specific site are to a small group and not the public at large.
Operation of a public house on the site provided semi-public access to this key riverside location, something which would be lost with the proposed change of use to just private housing. I think this is an area where the planning inspector got it wrong, he claimed there had previously been no public access to the site and didn’t appreciate in his decision the semi-public nature of a use such as pub.
I would like to see councillors (ab)use the planning meeting to make clear they are prepared to view potential future uses of the site with an open mind. A mixed use development, as seen on the site previously, with accommodation, a pub, and a take-away might well suit the site, as could other innovative uses, I don’t think councillors should be overly prescriptive and send out the message that all they will accept on the site is a pub, this is what’s happening in general around the city and it has resulted in lots of boarded up buildings many of which have great, untapped, potential.
My overall view on planning is that councillors should generally not seek to interfere with economics, and when they do decide to, as sometimes they should, there need to be very good reasons. Properties change uses over time as demand changes, councillors shouldn’t try and set the city in stone as it is through the planning process as that constrains innovation and restricts people’s rights to do generally what they like with their property, as long as its not going to unduly go against the interests of others and the wider interests of the city.
In this case we’re looking at a highly important site, the gateway to the city as one approaches by river. I think design of proposed new properties is not sufficiently excellent given the location. There is some consideration given in the design to their riverside location, but not in my view enough. I also note the councils officers say that there insufficient detail about the plans is available. I agree. I think responsible developers who really thought their proposals would add to the character of the area and have a positive impact would have sought to demonstrate this with more information on the intended building’s finish, and perhaps with the presentation of artists impressions and similar. I think it would be reasonable for councillors to reject the application to demolish on the grounds that the proposed replacement buildings are not of a sufficiently high architectural standard.
Cycling, Road Safety and Development Taxes
The council is seeking to levy development taxes; including for informal open space, on the development. I think this is crazy as there is a fantastic opportunity on this site to require on-site provision, in the form of some additional publicly accessible to the riverside land, and/or greater highway space. An opportunity is being lost to improve safety for cyclists travelling up and down the river, from Stourbridge Common to the hailing-way.
A tiny sliver of extra land is being offered to the public highway; I would have liked to see the council not seek to levy a tax in cash, but to instead seek concessions on site.
It has been pointed out to me that this is the kind of thing which dedicated cycling officers, if they were still present, in the City Council could have fed into the planning process and ensured was considered in the report.
Again I would like to see councillors (ab)use the planning meeting and point out this potential.
Recompense and Land Rights
The rights of landowners are very important. When wider society decides to deprive someone of land they own, or takes a decision which significantly and extraordinary restricts what they can do with it, I think they should be compensated. In this case, if councillors were to decide the building has to be a pub then they should I think compensate the landowner. Councillors might pay for this out of development taxes raised nearby but elsewhere – I think this would be reasonable. The logic could go along the lines of – we can’t permit the building of X thousand new homes say in Chesterton/Science Park station area unless you either provide community facilities on site or nearby, and the developer could offer to pay for the nearby riverside premises to be acquired for and dedicated to, community use, enabling their nearby profitable development to be given the go-ahead.
If we elected really good local councillors, they could be considering spending some of the development taxes they’ve been amassing in lieu of open space to buy the site themselves, they could then give the public, including cyclists, a right of access over the site.
We do have one councillor, Cllr Price, who has recently said he wants to see the council owning and renting out pubs again, that could be one option. Some housing development on the site, and rental income from the existing premises (for a range of potential uses), could also defray some of the costs of bringing it into public ownership.
If I was a councillor and a developer offered public, cycling and pedestrian, access along the river as part of a well designed housing development I think there’s a good chance such a scheme would get my approval.
There is an astonishing waste of public money, and a waste of some poor people’s time, in the inept, often plain stupid, redactions of personal information from representations on the planning application. The most absurd is the removal of the names of those who publicly signed the online petition, names which can be viewed online by all, and which were purposely placed in the public domain by those who signed up.
Also Cllr Ian Manning’s name is full name has been removed from one of his representations; though he is identified as “Ian” and as the local councillor. These are just examples of the absurdity, there are many more.