AFTER NORTHCLIFF – THE VALE COUNCIL’S PLANNING EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

The Planning Department of the Vale of Glamorgan Council is based in the Kremlinesque Docks Offices at Barry

The Planning Department of the Vale of Glamorgan Council is based in the sprawling Kremlinesque Baroque-style offices at Castle Point Barry which feature a grand staircase.

Following its spectacular defeat at the hands of councillors over the controversial Northcliff Lodge scheme – the Vale of Glamorgan Council’s Planning Department appears to have embarked on a new “get-tough” policy with elected members who have the temerity to challenge its reports.

The majority of planning applications made to the Vale of Glamorgan Council are decided not by councillors in committee, but by the  Vale Planning Department’s own  “professional officers” on a “delegated” basis.

Vale Councillors  have always had the right to “call in” specific applications for consideration, challenge the recommendations of the Planning Department and call for any planning decision to be decided – not by the professionals –  but by the full 22-member Planning Committee.

Now however,  the basis on which Vale Councillors are to be allowed to “call-in” applications which would otherwise be decided by the council’s own planning officers, appears to be being tightened up.

coastguard tower

A 2013 planning application for an extension on the Coastguard Tower at Tower Hill was opposed by Penarth Council but was then approved by a single Vale staff planning officer who dismissed Penarth’s Council’s objections.

The revelation came in last week’s meeting of the Penarth Town Council’s planning committee in a discussion of plans to add extensions to a “County Treasure”  – the former Victorian Coastguard Tower on Tower Hill, Penarth which is in the Penarth Conservation Area. [PDN Note:  Details of this planning application were given in a PDN report earlier this month – see   http://tinyurl.com/gsntuj6 ] .

Cllr Clive Williams (Conservative Plymouth Ward)

Cllr Clive Williams (Conservative Plymouth Ward)

Cllr Clive Williams (Conservative Plymouth Ward) reminded the Penarth planning committee that it had objected to an earlier application made in 2013 to redevelop this building – but in that case Penarth’s Council’s objections had subsequently been over-ridden and set-aside  by a Vale of Glamorgan Council staff planning officer working on a “delegated basis”.

Cllr Williams said that in this case Penarth Council planning committee had been so concerned about its objections being over-ridden, that the matter had been taken up directly with the Head of Planning who had then told Penarth Council there was “nothing he could do” – [ i.e. the “delegated officer’s” decision would  stand] .

This is how the new exstensions to the Coastguard Tower would look - facing North (with the sea on the right hand side)

This is how the proposed new extensions in the latest plans for the Coastguard Tower would look – facing North (with the sea on the right hand side)

When the new planning application to add extensions to Tower Hill had been made, Cllr Williams had contacted the Vale Planning Department and asked to have this application formally “called in” – so that, unlike the previous application, it would be considered by the full Vale Planning Committee.

However the Vale Planning Department has now issued Cllr Williams with what appears to be a new “protocol” on “calling-in” planning applications which reads as follows:-

“Where any Member of the Council requires that a particular application shall be determined by the Planning Committee, the application will be referred to the Committee for consideration subject to the Member contacting a senior Planning Officer within 21 days of latest notification date of the application and such request being substantiated by a good planning reason or demonstration that strong local objections had been received and in the case of a difference of opinion between the relevant officer and any Member the matter shall be referred to the Chairman of the Planning Committee for consideration of the Member’s request.

Cllr Williams  – who says it’s the first time in 34 years as a councillor he’s encountered any such a protocol –  told the Penarth planning committee ” I find this very,very strange”. He said he found that since “Northcliff Lodge [the dramatic overturning of the Vale Council Planning Department’s recommendation to permit the contentious Northcliff Lodge development] there had been what he described as “a vast difference in the attitude of the officers”  

Cllr Williams said the Vale Planning Department had now invoked the new “protocol” on 2 planning applications which he had asked to be “called-in”.

Cllr Williams added that he also had “very strong concerns” that the recommendations of Penarth Town Council’s planning committee – which were often “cross-party” –  were “not given the right of consideration [by the Vale Council] that they deserve ” . Cllr Williams saidWe are the elected officers – who know our patches . We’ve had a couple of recommendations recently which were almost ignored” 

Cllr Neil Thomas (Labour Cornerswell)

Cllr Neil Thomas (Labour Cornerswell) Penarth Council planning chairman

Cllr Neil Thomas (Labour Cornerswell) who is chairman of Penarth Council’s planning committee said “I agree with you” . Cllr Thomas said that under new legislation regarding pre-application consultations Penarth planning committee’s views were becoming “more important”.  If the major new application came in now it would have had to come to Penarth Town Council planning committee as a pre-application and the developers would “have to prove they had taken our views into consideration”.

Cllr Thomas said that in relation to the Tower Hill application he understood Cllr Williams had comments from neighbours and he could represent them. Cllr Thomas said “In  terms of the development, you are at odds with the planning officer  because the officer is minded to allow this” – and that situation was covered by the protocol  – “so you have good reasons to call it in”.

Cllr Thomas added that “At some point we need to have a conversation with the Vale about the weight that our comments are being given.”

Cllr Williams said that the implications of the protocol were that if a ward councillor happened to agree with the delegated planning officer, but nevertheless wished to allow local residents to make their objections in person to the Vale planning committee, he would not be able to do so.

Cllr Phillip Rapier (Labour St Augustines)

Cllr Phillip Rapier (Labour St Augustines)

The new Vale protocol on “calling in “-  said Cllr Philip Rapier (Labour St Augustines) – seemed to suggest that at some stage ‘officer’s opinion’  may over-ride a councillor’s right to call in an application” . If this was in the Standing Orders of the “Lead Authority” [a.k.a. The Vale of Glamorgan Council]  – he would like to see that written down,  because it very much affected Penarth Town Council’s planning committee deliberations.

Cllr Neil Thomas asked members whether they wished to request a formal notification of policy from the Vale of Glamorgan Council on the specific issue [ of “calling in” planning applications].

Cllr Thomas said “It’s not for this meeting to determine what is going on in the Vale” – and deferred further discussion on the matter.

THE NEW TOWER HILL PLANNING APPLICATION

Planning Committee chairman Cllr Neil Thomas said on Tower Hill application itself [as detailed in PDN report  http://tinyurl.com/gsntuj6%5D that the Penarth Council had concerns about the previous application – which was smaller than this – I would suggest that for consistency’s stake we maintain our view on that – only more forcefully [ i.e. recommend refusal].

Cllr Mark Wilson (Labour Stanwell)

Cllr Mark Wilson (Labour Stanwell)

Cllr Mark Wilson (Labour Cornerswell) said that. like Cllr Williams, he would be happy to call in the Tower Hill application  – although he was no longer a member of the Vale planning committee.

Cllr Tracey Alexander (Labour Cornerswell)

Cllr Tracey Alexander (Labour Cornerswell)

Cllr Tracey Alexander (Labour Corneers well) said Tower Hill was a “county treasure” . “This is a beautiful structure. Any new design to extend it should be  subservient “.

The new application, she said,  increased the size of the extension . She said “community input should be a major part  of this application”.

Cllr Philip Rapier (Labour St Augustines)

Cllr Philip Rapier (Labour St Augustines)

Cllr Philip Rapier (Labour St Augustines) said of Tower Hill “We’re fortunate it’s still there.” He said that “preservation bodies under the auspices of Welsh Government have shown an interest  in the continued preservation of the structure.”

Cllr Anthony Ernest (Conservative Plymouth Ward)  said he was “totally against this proposal as it stands”. The Tower was one of the oldest buildings in Penarth – dating back to the 1840s when the Coastguard Service was established . He said the Tower needed to be looked at “in the context of Coastguard Cottages which are a very fine group of dwellings” all of which needed to be looked at as a whole .

Cllr Anthony Ernest (Conservative Plymouth Ward)

Cllr Anthony Ernest (Conservative Plymouth Ward)

Cllr Ernest said that the original Penarth County Treasures Survey which he, Cllr Maureen Kelly-Owen and Cllr Janice Birch had carried out – starting in 1974 – had surveyed the whole of Penarth and identified about 140 “County Treasures” at that time. The Coastguard Tower had been one of the “lead” buildings “and at that time” – Cllr Ernest said ” it was unsullied”  .  In addition, at the end of the lane, there was the “Rocket House ” where coastguard equipment was kept , the look out tower and the cottages. Cllr Ernest said “It would totally destroy that concept ” if the proposed development went ahead.

Cllr Ernest said the proposed development was out of context, would destroy the ambience of the surrounding buildings and he was against it.

Cllr Martin Turner (Conservative Plymouth Ward)

Cllr Martin Turner (Conservative Plymouth Ward)

Cllr Martin Turner ( Conservative Plymouth Ward) said the building was a County Treasure  – “and I think I understand what that means in terms of the architecture of the building” – but questioned whether  the Tower would deteriorate if the development was not carried out and nothing was done.   He said “We may not like it architecturally but somebody is prepared to spend some money on maintaining it “.

Cllr Ian Courtney (Labour Cornerswell)

Cllr Ian Courtney (Labour Cornerswell)

Cllr Ian Courtney (Labour Cornerswell) queried the logic of Cllr Turner’s remarks. He said  “We don’t know the answer – but the logic of what you have just said seems to be predicated on securing the future of this building  – which we all agree is elegant and has great value – is actually contingent on nothing more than this development of it.

Cllr Courtney pointed out that “There are of course a number of ways of securing the building which don’t involve this sort of development”.

In the chair, Cllr Neil Thomas wondered if there was scope to consult someone like the  preservation body Cadw [ Welsh for “Keep”] . Members agreed to this.

The planning committee also agreed that it will recommend refusal of the proposed development and that Cllrs Clive Williams and Mark Wilson would “call-in” the scheme for consideration by the full Vale of Glamorgan Planning Committee.

 

About NewsNet

Penarth Daily News email address dmj@newsnet.uk . Penarth Daily News is an independent free on-line fair and balanced news service published by NewsNet Ltd covering the town of Penarth in the Vale of Glamorgan, Wales, UK. All our news items are based on the information we receive or discover at the time of publication and are published on the basis that they are accurate to the best of our knowledge and belief at that time. Comments posted on the site by commentators reflect their opinions and are not necessarily shared, endorsed or supported by Penarth Daily News.
This entry was posted in Penarth Daily News. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to AFTER NORTHCLIFF – THE VALE COUNCIL’S PLANNING EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

  1. Chris Franks says:

    A little reported attempt by the Officers to further frustrate any rebellious planning committee councillors occurred recently. There was a move to place obstacles in the way of any potential decision that differed from the officers’ recommendation. Fortunately a combination of Plaid, Tories and Independents threw this ‘protocol’ out of the window.

    • JME Snr says:

      The officers occasionally get it wrong but generally they do a good job in very trying circumstances. The capriciousness of certain elected members doesn’t help. Also planning these days is a heavily legally prescribed minefield leaving very little wriggle room for decions which reflect local considerations and issues. Protocols for call in of officer delegated decisions have existed for many years enshrined in Council regulations and terms of reference. It’s the members themselves who ultimately approve these protocols.

  2. John64 says:

    For many years the Vale Council was officer led but this did appear to change when the Conservatives had control. So, back to the “good old days”?

    • AK says:

      The Vale Council Officer led ? Are you serious ?

      My memory of working for them was that you needed at least the permission of the committee chairman, if not the committee or full Council before buying a postage stamp !:

  3. Chris David says:

    Cllr Turner makes a very good point- we’ve seen what happens when buildings under argument linger. “Accidental” damage- left to rot- fait accompli. And CADW I’m informed can be unrealistic and over demanding. Yes we want quality preservation but we don’t want dereliction. Cllr Courtney’s observation and comment in riposte bear equal merit. So what does this tell us? Hmm maybe that the system is not good- to use one of those terrible Government speak clichés “not fit for purpose”. As for the planning department, well they’re just trying to usurp democracy and should be investigated. Take their powers away when/ where they threaten what we the public who employ them want. They appear suspect those planners in the Barry Kremlin. Councillors get a grip on the planning department- it obviously has a tightening grip on you. Now will a labour councillor comment? Or is it true they have been ordered to stay quiet and don’t have the courage to go public? Good we have Cllr Franks, and better because he’s independent,Cllr Mahoney then isn’t it!

  4. Colin Davies says:

    Assuming that all the planning staff have qualifications etc in Town Planning and / or related subjects, and elected members do not. I think the officers are probably best place to make the right decision rather than elected members who are making decisions based on the likelihood of them winning or losing prospected voters as a result. In all fairness you wouldn’t ask a Dentist for advice on how to change the oil in your car so why would you ask a councillor for advice on a planning application or even think that a councillors recommendations would be remotely correct or fair!!

    • Modernist says:

      A good point well made! What qualifications do the Committee members have? I have been to Committee meetings where members have confessed to not being able to understand architects’ drawings. A lack of education and knowledge is going to blight development across the Vale.When an eminent prize-winning architect’s designs are dismissed so lightly (and presumably, ultimately, at the Council’s expense when they lose on Appeal), how will the town survive? Or is the intention to preserve it as a period piece?

  5. Chris David says:

    No correlation Mr Davies. Planners proved inept technically, environmentally and aesthetically over the Northcliffe proposal. They are often architecturally challenged as well. You wouldn’t ask you dentist or garage to paint your house. But you might ask them to paint you a picture! Geddit? Look at the history of planning in the Vale! Some very bad taste houses and developments completely out of character. Allowing developers that are dishonest and care nothing for the community to obtain contracts. No planners in some authorities are by and large plodders with little heart. Leave it to the people through their representatives to have ultimate say where its sensitive. Were a community- we have heart, an environment to protect. Its not changing oil but it does need a filter!

  6. David Moorcraft says:

    Oh! Silly, naive me, I thought that Planners, who are among the many Employed by the Vale Council, would be answerable to elected Councillors, who in the final analysis are supposed to make decisions as to how the Vale is run.
    But no, while I note comments above regarding Planning Legislation, it does seem that the Tail of the overweening Planners are wagging the Elected Dog.

  7. Huw Williams says:

    “Sprawling Kremlinesque Baroqe”? I would have thought that the PDN would be more respectful of the former offices of that exemplar of Victoria entrepreneurship the Barry Docks and Railway Company, the crowning achievement of the career of David Davies who from humble beginnings rose to be one of Wales’ first home grown tycoons and founder of a dynasty of notable philanthropists.

  8. Max Wallis says:

    At Penarth Civic society’s meeting with the Vale Conservation Officer (Peter Thomas) he told us he wouldn’t consider the new plans for the Coastguard Tower house – because the previous plan for a smaller extension had been approved (by his Planning officers). So he’d ignore Cllr Anthony Ernest’s approach – that this County Treasure is important historically and as the ‘setting’ of this part of the Conservation Area and of the listed Coastguard Cottages.
    I see various instances where specialist officers are told not to put objections in the way of the senior planners, who like a monolithic report rather one than balances pro’s and con’s – which would supply critical Cllrs like Clive Williams with “good” planning objections. In the Tower house case, they’d be told the Conservation Officer made no objections, so any historical/conservation objections are invalid.
    Good on Councillors for voting down (as Chris Franks reports) this dangerous “protocol”, where power would be given to an anti-conservationist planning c’ttee chair to block the call-in of such plans that are favoured in-office.

Comments are closed.