Demolition of existing building and provision of car park.
The Senior Planning Officer introduced the application for the demolition of the former Council Offices at North Quay, Weymouth providing slides of the location plan, car park layout, front elevation of building and photographs of the view of the former Council Offices from the Town Bridge, the existing car park and building, historic buildings to the west and the view to Holy Trinity Church. He stated that removal of the building would open up development opportunities, providing an interim step as well as opening up views of the area.
Key planning matters were outlined including the principle of demolition, heritage, archaeology and highways considerations. No cycle store had been included in the proposal due to the conflict with vehicle movements which was in accordance with policy in relation to car parks. Provision of cycle facilities were available at both ends of the Westham Town Bridge which was near the locality.
Since publication of the agenda, the Environmental Health Officer had confirmed that he was content with the scheme and endorsed the conditions in the report.
Nigel Ewens, Founder and Director of Jurassic Coast Holdings, addressed the Committee, saying that it would be irresponsible and a waste of the council's own resources to demolish the building before a planning application for future development was realised and all other options had been evaluated. He questioned why 6 alternative bids in March 2019 had not been given serious consideration.
Rex Johnson referred to National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) Section 14 which encouraged the conversion of existing buildings. He highlighted the need for the Council to act responsibly in light of climate change and stated that the proposal had no environmental benefit, would harm the conservation area and demolish an important part of the town's heritage.
Graham Perry, a resident of Weymouth and shop owner, questioned the demolition of a re-usable building at huge economic and environmental cost. He asked the Committee to consider the application in the context of the climate emergency, the area's economic and housing issues and that getting the building back into use should be a priority.
The Senior Planning Officer outlined the relevant planning history and stated that this application should be viewed as the first step to realise redevelopment of the site. The policy background was clear that this was appropriate in the Conservation Area and in the context of Adopted Local Plan Policy Wey7.
Cllr Louie O'Leary stated that the building was old fashioned and would require money to refurbish. It was now dilapidated and not maintained whereas demolition would allow the site to be redeveloped at a later stage.
However, not all members held this view. They questioned the lack of provision of cycle storage when there was provision at Westham Bridge which was also a car park; encouraging further car use; that the declaration of a climate emergency was a material consideration; re-use of the building; provision of affordable housing in light of the social housing crisis and that if approved now the car park could remain in place for a long time. They drew attention to the concerns of Historic England that a car park would not enhance the Conservation Area and that the building should not be demolished until a new scheme for the site was in place.
Members were advised that they needed to consider the proposal before them and not on any alternatives., that consideration should focus on the planning issues and that ownership and finance were not relevant matters for the consideration of this planning application.
Cllr Nick Ireland proposed the introduction of cycle storage and that 50% of the car parking spaces had electric charging points. It was confirmed that a condition could be added for electric charging points, however, the number of charging points may need further detailed consideration. Cllr Nick Ireland later withdrew this proposal following subsequent debate.
Cllr Kelvin Clayton proposed that the application be refused as it was contrary to NPPF paragraph 148 as it did not encourage the reuse of existing resources and conversion of existing buildings. This was seconded by Cllr Nick Ireland.
The Development Manager read aloud the exact wording of NPPF paragraph148. Legal advice was given that the NPPF was a material consideration but that members would need to reach a conclusion on whether the NPPF outweighed the Adopted West Dorset, Weymouth & Portland Local Plan 2015, recognising the potential tension of policy of redevelopment versus reuse of the building. Members noted this legal advice and considered the NPPF paragraph 148 was applicable and relevant.
Decision: That the application be refused for the reasons outlined in the appendix to these minutes.