Plans to build 30 new dwellings in three terraces at an “iconic” position on the site of North Cliff Lodge on Penarth Head are being opposed by Penarth Town Council’s planning committee.
The development – in three blocks – would be built at three stepped levels in the grounds of North Cliff Lodge on the steep escarpment overlooking the Custom House and would provide residents with uninterrupted views of Cardiff Barrage, Cardiff Bay and the Bristol Channel.
What the development would do is effectively remove the bulk of the natural greenery and trees from the Headland when viewed from Cardiff Bay or the Barrage – destroying the familiar aspect of the Headland – the iconic “Bear’s Head” of Penarth itself (after which the town is said to be named).
Members of Penarth Town Council planning committee, who carried out a site inspection yesterday, said they were concerned that long-established oak trees would be amongst the trees removed for the development .
The scheme also involves the demolition of North Cliff Lodge itself – the Swiss-chalet style 5 bedroom mini-mansion which was on the market for £1,200,000. The architectural style of the lodge is the last remaining echo of the much larger “Northcliff House” or “Cliff Villa” – a mansion which was demolished in 1968. This was the former home of one of the ship-building Batchelor brothers – John Batchelor – whose statue stands in the Hayes in Cardiff. [Batchelor later moved to Uppercliff House – another mansion demolished in the 1960s]
Prior to the debate on the project in last night’s meeting of the Penarth Town Council’s planning committee the leader of the council, Cllr Mike Cuddy (Labour St Augustines) declared an interest “the reason being the proximity of my own residence to the application which is likely to be regarded as a prejudicial interest “. Cllr Cuddy lives in Paget Place . He left the council chamber and took no part in the proceedings.
Cllr Amber Courtney (Labour Stanwell) also declared an interest on the grounds that her husband works for consultancy that represents the developers of the site. Neither took part in the ensuing discussion.
Cllr Neil Thomas (Labour Cornerswell) in the chair called for observations.
Cllr Martin Turner (Conservative Plymouth Ward) who had been on that’s day’s visit to the North Cliff Lodge site said it was an interesting site and a difficult one . It was he said ” a big site which is under-utilised at the moment – to say the least. In principle if they comply with all the requirements it’s going to perhaps be an important part of Penarth”. However Cllr Turner said he was not “particularly enamoured” of the designs of the apartments but “in principle” he couldn’t see why “some sort of building work couldn’t go on there”.
Cllr Gwyn Roberts (Labour St Augustine’s) said this was a heavily wooded site with mature oak trees growing on it. It was “all very well saying you’d replace them – you tell me how you’d replace a mature oak”. He reminded fellow councillors of adverse public reaction in the Marina area where work was underway “pollarding and coppicing trees for safety reasons – yet here you are with the wholesale development of a heavily wooded area “.
The new development, he said , would “totally dominate the vision of the Custom House underneath it” . To be fair to the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation, they had preserved that building to bring it back into use. This proposed development would dominate it so much it could well – he said – “encourage the demolition of that building and endangers the continued existence of that building” .
Whereas now the building was seen against a green background, the North Cliff Lodge development would completely dominate it – he said . The Headland was “The Bear’s Head . That is the vision that names Penarth – and it is green and it is seen right across Cardiff. it’s a part of Penarth . If you take that away it looks a very crowded and built up site. It’s not attractive and i think it really does spoil the image of Penarth from across the whole of Cardiff and in that respect I have real concerns about it.”
Cllr Roberts said he thought the development would “detrimentally affect the lives of people in Northcliff” and there had been an interesting proposal “to try to reduce the number of objections from people in Northcliff” .
Cllr Philip Rapier (Labour St Augustines) said “the matter must be handled with respect and care by all concerned”. The sight lines followed directly from the Cardiff Pier Head building opposite to the Marina building and the Custom House. ” It would “he said “create an unsightly sandwich”. He said the international famous St Augustine’s church came into this “wonderful vista – that is now at risk” .
Cllr Rapier said “the significance and security of the former Penarth Dock Maritime Buildings are essential to the maritime heritage of our ambitions as a tourist destination”. He felt the development should not proceed without – at the very least a conservation architect and structural engineer’s report. This – he said ” is a county treasure on a very vulnerable spot” . He said the development would cause “quite serious depreciation to the vistas of the barrage and the Bay” . There was a possible subterranean underground stream beneath the site which should be diverted to protect the listed buildings and “convincing evidence of that groundwater diversion should be provided” . It was not known what seepage there was beneath the wall erected to protect the cliff
Cllr Rapier also felt overcrowding was an issue – the general area was overcrowded and there seemed to be a lack of amenity space . There appeared to be provision for some sort of “cliff-lift” to be installed for residents . “They might as well be living in a high-rise” Cllr Rapier said . He also said he saw no reason to depart from the ratio of 50% social housing as required by the leading authority.
Cllr Anthony Ernest (Conservative Plymouth Ward) said the entire ridge line from the new flats at Penarth Heights to the end of Penarth Head was quite distinctive. most of the properties currently there fitted quite well into that context. The proposed North Cliff Lodge blocks would stand out “in the wrong sort of way”.
The skyline of Penarth would be altered with the proposed north CLiff Lodge blocks projecting above the top . There would also be the loss of an iconic House North Cliff Lodge itself which was the last vestige of the old Swiss-chalet style Northcliff Villa. he would be “sorry to see that go”. Cllr Ernest also queried why the developers wanted to take out mature trees and replace them with sub-species. On balance he said he was against the proposals on the grounds of design, harmony with the environment and the proposed construction materials to be used – white bricks and zinc cladding.
The Mayor Cllr Rosemary Cook (Labour St Augustines) said she would be worried about the “wholesale removal of mature trees and the possible destabilisation of the land “
Cllr Neil Thomas said he was concerned about the ecology survey which had been carried out one day in October last year . It was – he said – “an inadequate survey“ .
Cllr Thomas said the top of the roof line of the proposed new blocks would not be higher than the ridge line of the Penarth escarpment and “is certainly not going to obscure St Augustines.”. [ PDN Note: The watercolour by the scheme architect (see top illustration) appears to indicate the opposite].
Cllr Thomas said discussions were in progress with the owners of the Custom House and some of the questions raised had been answered. He thought the Vale Council would approve the scheme possibly in some modified way. He thought Penarth Council should urge the Vale to look again , carry out their own surveys and “mitigate the damage that’s likely to be done – particularly in terms of the ecology”.
Cllr Thomas said Penarth Council should reserve its rights to discuss the disposition of Section 106 money (money that would be paid by the developers for improvements in the locality) to a later date.
Cllr Gwyn Roberts said that he had the impression that most members were against the scheme – as was he at this point . The developers might be in discussion [with the Custom House owners] about party walls but were not in any discussion about the way the development would visually dominate those iconic buildings. He said he had also been told by local residents there was a very strong bat colony in the area. – a point denied by the developers according to Cllr Neil Thomas.
Cllr Roberts proposed that the planning committee should object to the development.
Cllr Martin Turner asked whether the objections were being made on sound planning reasons or just that Cllr Roberts did not like the look of it because it might overlook the “so-called iconic buildings”.
Both Cllr Rapier and Cllr Thomas said that they were . “Un-neighbourliness” was a sound ground for objection Cllr Thomas said.
Cllr Turner asked how this was defined. Cllr Roberts said the development would cause “severe detriment to the eponymous landscape of Penarth. This is Penarth Head. This is Penarth. It is detrimental to an iconic landscape”.
Cllr Ernest cited the example of the overbearing tower block of Penarth Heights which dominated the landscape ion that area. “That’s what happens with bad developement” – he said. That one block destroys the entire sight line” .
It was recorded that the consensus of the planning committee was to object to the North Cliff Lodge Development. The final decision will rest with the Vale of Glamrogan Council.