Penny Ferry Demolition Decision

Thursday, July 26th, 2012. 4:57pm

Proposed Development on the Penny Ferry Site

Proposed Development on the Penny Ferry Site

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.

Conservation Area

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.

Council Policy

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.

Open Minded

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.

Open Space

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.


See Also

11 comments/updates on “Penny Ferry Demolition Decision

  1. Richard Taylor Article author

    I observed the meeting. Councillors voted to refuse conservation area consent for demolition. The vote was 8 to refuse, none for giving consent, and abstentions from Cllr Todd-Jones, and one other. Cllr Brierley arrived too late to participate in the voting. There was no recorded vote.

    One notable thing about the item was none of the city councillors for the ward in which the Penny Ferry pub is situated made any comment at all. I thought this was astonishing. I’ve often commented that East Chesterton elects poor councillors, but to have nothing to say on such a key decision for the area surprised me.

    Cllr Todd-Jones stood down as chair for the item, as on principle he doesn’t vote on planning items. Vice chair, Cllr Price, took his place.

    Two councillors declared an interest as members of the Campaign for Real Ale. One of the CAMRA members was Cllr Manning who also declared that he lives opposite the pub. Cllr Manning’s page on the County Council’s website gives his address as 28 Pepys Court, Chesterton and his his entry on the register of interests states he has an interest in “The VIE development Cambridge (Pepys Court, CB4 1GF)” and states he is a member, or in a position of control over, The VIE Management Company (Cambridge) Ltd.

    There is no mention of any address on Fen Road or Water Lane.

    Planning officer Tony Collins was invited to introduce the application. He had nothing to say, beyond the title of the application and the fact the recommendation was to give consent for demolition.

    Public speakers were up next. The chair allocated each of the five speakers two minutes.

    First up was ex councillor Clare Blair; she urged councillors to ignore the opinion of the inspector and wrongly stated the “start of the bumps” was at the Penny Ferry.

    Cambridge Past Present and Future focused on the fact the conservation area wasn’t in-force at the time of the inspector’s decision, and stated he could not have been properly aware of the conservation area and able to take it fully into account.

    Lynette Gilbert, chair of the Riverside Residents association spoke. She did not note any public funding which had gone towards the preparation of her objection, so perhaps it can be assumed there was none, despite her association seeking funding to pay its members professional fees for their work opposing planning applications, and her refusal to let me know either way when I recently asked her about this at the private local plan briefing she attended.

    The comments from the Riverside Residents association focused on section 8.2 of the planning officer’s report which says:

    The key issue for consideration is the impact of the loss of the building on the character and appearance of the Conservation Area.

    It was noted that it is both character and appearance which need to be assessed, the suggestion was made that the inspector had not properly considered the benefits, beyond the aesthetic, that a pub brings to the character of an area.

    A representative of Save our Green Spaces expressed concerns on the impact on views from Stourbridge Common, which she described as the city’s only “wild green space”.

    Resident Mr Bond said the loss of the pub would affect the “jiz of the place”.

    The applicant’s agent was given ten minutes to address the committee. He introduced himself as “Don Proctor” and said he was a planning consultant.

    The consultant told councillors the redevelopment had planning permission in full and the design of the proposed development should not be one of their considerations. He stated he had obtained a legal opinion which stated councillors were not entitled to refuse the application for conservation area consent and threatend councillors by saying that his legal opinion stated an appeal against a refusal of permission was bound to succeed.

    Cllr Mike Pitt addressed Mr Proctor and suggested to him that trying to tell councillors what they can and can’t do was not a good way to persuade people.

    Mr Proctor left the meeting with a very wide grin on his face, while his clients looked dejected. It may be that the prospect of more fees from a further appeal is actually a very good outcome from Mr Proctor’s point of view.

    Cllr Manning spoke to say that he knew some people, one of whom he named as David Taylor, who would be prepared to run the premises as a community boathouse and bar.

    Cllr Todd-Jones spoke to say he thought demolishing the pub, and replacing it with the proposed development would be detrimental to the conservation area. Cllr Todd-Jones mentioned paragraph 126 of the National Planning Policy Framework which he said amounted to a duty to protect pubs.

    Cllr Ward spoke as Executive Councillor for planning, saying it would be his budget which would fund defending any appeal to the planning inspector and he urged councillors to make a the right decision regardless of any consideration about costs of an appeal.

    Cllr Ward refered to paragraphs 69-70 of the National Planning Policy Framework (in a section titled “Promoting healthy communities) and sections 128-135 about the protection of heritage assets.

    Cllr Pitt asked for, and obtained, confirmation that they were assessing the application under current planning law, not that in-force at the time of the application. Cllr Pitt picked up on the point about character and appearance being two separate things, and stressed the pub was an important contributor to character as well as appearance.

    Planning Officer Mr Collins urged councillors to following the officer recommendation to give consent to the demolition.

    A vote was held, there were none in favour, and eight against the officer recommendation to give the consent.

    Officer Mr Collins then said he had thought that might happen and had drafted some reasons for the committee to consider. Cllr Blencowe (a member of the council’s main planning committee, who was observing stated: “he can’t do that”).

    Mr Collins said his draft was in the form a “fill in the blanks” document. Cllr Pitt joked it was like a school worksheet, and he volunteered, to start filling it in, Cllr Damien Tunnacliffe helped him.

    They came up with something along the lines that the pub contributes positively to the Riverside and Chesterton environment, given the scale of the building and its context, set back from the river, giving views from Stourbridge Common and Fen Road.

    Polices cited were East of England Plan Policy ENV 7 and policy 4/11 of the Cambridge Local Plan (which itself refers to 4/10 which I quoted in the article above) and S12 of the National Planning Policy Framework (which states the local plan is still the starting point for consideration).

    The vote on accepting the reasons was passed again, eight to none, this time the abstentions were from Cllr Todd-Jones and Cllr Bird. Cllr Bird did not explain why she did not support the reasons.

  2. BrianLJ

    And, for those who may not be able to access the costs award PDF on their mobile or whatever, here is an extract:

    “24 For the reasons given above, I consider that unreasonable behaviour resulting
    in unnecessary expense, as described in Circular 03/2009, has been
    demonstrated and I, therefore, conclude that an award of costs is justified.
    Costs Order
    25. In exercise of the powers under section 250(5) of the Local Government Act
    1972 and Schedule 6 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 as amended,
    and all other enabling powers in that behalf, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that
    Cambridge City Council shall pay to Mr S Covell and Ms C Macdonald, the costs
    of the appeal proceedings described in the heading of this decision.”

  3. Richard Taylor Article author

    On the “appearances” page of the inspector’s decision, under “interested parties” there’s someone called “Richard Taylor”.

    I’m wondering if this refers to me. I didn’t “appear” at the inspector’s hearing.

  4. Brian Johnson

    There’s a discrepancy between the final Drainage Plans (which show a “NEW 1.8M CBF” close-boarded fence at the sides of the site) and the earlier Revised Site plan (which shows the then existing mixture of “C/link Ht 1.3m” chain-link fence and “Hedge Ht 3m” further towards the river). Those existing fences and hedges have now been largely removed.

    In the interests of flood protection, the EA require that no structures be placed closer than 9m (or is it 7m?) to the rver bank. No sheds, BBQ stands, etc will be allowed on the grounds between the houses and the river. This is to allow potential flood waters to pass unimpeded and to this end, the boundaries *between* the properties are to be merely lines of brick buried flush with the lawn.

    The existence of plans showing a new solid 6ft fence at the *sides* of the site seems to be an oversight.

  5. Brian Johnson

    The Environment Agency have now replied to say that no fence has been approved as it is ‘within 9 mtrs of a watercourse’. I’ll assume they’re already on the case but I’ll watch out for any big posts going in!

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