To consider a report by the Head of Planning
The Committee considered planning application 6/2019/0553, for the removal of a condition to allow unrestricted occupation of the dwellings at former West Lulworth Primary School, School Lane, West Lulworth. Planning permission had been granted for the erection of six two storey dwellinghouses, and the conversion of the existing school buildings into another three dwellinghouses by the Eastern Planning Committee of Dorset Council in July 2019. Moreover, following officer’s recommendation, a condition requiring the homes to be occupied as a principal residence were included: condition 13 of planning permission 6/2018/0653.
With the aid of a visual presentation, and having regard to the provisions of the Update Sheet, officers explained what the reasoning for the recommendation was, what the planning issues of the development were; how these were to be progressed; and what the provisions of the development entailed. Plans and photographs provided an illustration of the location, dimensions and design of the development and how the housing would look, purely to provide for some context in member’s understanding and so they had some incisive perspective of what this entailed. The basis of the recommendation was not for the Committee to consider the merits of the development, nor for this to have any bearing on their deliberations, but solely to decide whether Condition 13 should be maintained or not in this particular circumstance.
The application sought to remove Condition 13 of planning permission 6/2018/0653, which would then allow the properties to be occupied either as a principal residence or a second home. That condition stated that the properties should only be occupied by a person as their principal home. This was designed to ensure that the socio-economic viability of the village could be maintained, which might otherwise prove to be more challenging. Officers explained that under delegated authority, the principle of that condition had been applied, by way of condition, to similar development throughout the Purbeck part of the Dorset AONB as contained within, and derived from, Policy H14 of the emerging Purbeck Local Plan. This stated that “proposals for all new housing in the Dorset AONB would only be supported where there was a restriction in perpetuity to ensure that such homes were occupied only as a principal residence..….” with that restriction being imposed through a planning condition attached to the planning permission or by a planning obligation. This policy had been agreed by the former Purbeck District Council in light of evidence showing that there was a significant number of unoccupied homes in the Plan area.
What the Plan was designed to achieve; how this would be done; and the reasoning for this was all explained in detail by officers so that members had a clear understanding of how it applied to this application and why the officer’s recommendation was being made as it was.
The decision taken by the former Purbeck District Council’s Planning Committee to pursue the imposition of this condition was taken in light of legal advice that the emerging Local Plan was at an advanced stage of preparation - currently awaiting the outcome of the public examination - and what weight could be given to this in determining further applications. In particular, a number of responses received to the consultation had objected on the basis that the policy did not embrace Purbeck as a whole and was only being restricted to its Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB)
On the basis of advice that weight could be applied to the emerging Plan policy and its provisions, this had been duly enacted and, subsequently, extended to delegated planning applications. A consequence of this was that this development in West Lulworth was conditional upon Condition 13 - based on Policy H14 - being applied. Moreover, this condition was being applied on the same grounds to other delegated decisions affecting development in the Dorset AONB.
Subsequently however, the imposition of this condition on permissions for three separate, individual properties in Swanage, had all given rise to challenges, by appeal. Whilst the Planning Authority had submitted documentary evidence to support their stance, and although the Planning Inspector acknowledged what weight could be given to relevant policies in the emerging Plan, given there remained a number of unresolved objections,
the weight that could be applied to Policy H14 in determining planning applications was compromised significantly and therefore could not be given significant weight. This resulted in the three appeals being allowed. As there had been no material change in circumstances in respect of pending decisions on applications across the Dorset AONB since those recent rulings, that condition had been subsequently removed in all cases.
Therefore, given that there was no material difference between this application and the appeal decisions, there could be no justification for maintaining Condition 13 in this case.
What weight should be given to the provisions of the Plan was explained by officers. Whilst it was at an advanced stage – in currently still being assessed and examined by the Planning Inspectorate – the decisions made by the Planning Inspectors on the imposition of this particular provision still remained valid and should be applied.
Officer’s justification for their recommendation was that given the successful appeals contrary to the Council’s policy, a precedent had been set, so any further limitation could well result in similar successful appeals. As a result of the series of appeal decisions made by the Planning Inspectorate against the condition to prevent second homes, officers were now recommending that Condition 13 be lifted to relax that particular prescription.
Speakers then had the opportunity to address the Committee. Members first heard from Adam Bennett, the applicant’s agent, who considered that given those recent successful appeals, there was no justification for this limitation to still be imposed on this application. There was no material difference between them. He considered the condition to be unreasonable and inappropriate given that there were still unresolved objections which significantly compromised the weight which could be given to the provisions of the Plan. To impose such a condition, six tests would need wholly to be met, and he considered that it would fail one of those tests: in being reasonable or necessary. For that reason, he asked that the recommendation be supported.
Parish Councillor Sarah Jackson was of the view that the condition should be retained so as to provide for a sustainable means of development in maintaining the village’s viability. There was a critical need to address the issue of second homes, which already was a challenging proposition for the village. If this restriction was lifted, the ability for housing to be delivered to ensure local need was met would be severely compromised. She raised the issue of whether council tax was levied on holiday lets, as she believed this to not be case. Officers confirmed that whilst council tax relief was available on holiday lets as a business, council tax was levied in full on second homes, where this applied. She considered that Dorset Council had a moral duty to provide sufficient homes for local need where practical and to uphold the principles of the Plan and therefore considered that the recommendation should not be supported.
One of the local ward members, Councillor Laura Miller -speaking in her own right and on behalf of the other Ward member, Councillor Peter Wharf - supported what the Parish Council had to say, in that there was good reason that the Local Plan addressed the issue of the prevalence of second homes and that these should be regulated. The opportunity to develop land in West Lulworth was at a premium and if this condition was to be relaxed, there would be fewer opportunities to be able to deliver affordable homes to meet local need. She understood what risks there may be with any challenge to this, but considered that the Planning Authority had a duty to maintain the viability of villages such as West Lulworth as best they could and maintaining this condition would go some considerable way to doing that. She therefore asked the Committee to refuse the application.
As part of the debate, the Committee were then provided with the opportunity to ask questions of the officer’s presentation and what they had heard from invited speakers, with officer’s providing clarification in respect of the points raised. In response to one member’s question, officer’s confirmed that the Plan’s progress in the adoption process was as advanced as it could be at this stage. The Planning Inspectorate would make its decision on it early in 2020, but when exactly this would be could not be determined with any certainty. Accordingly, there was no opportunity, as suggested by one member, for the application to be withdrawn and submitted again, once this decision was known, as a case could be made for non determination. There was a need to address the application as it stood, as the Authority had an obligation to determine applications as soon as practicable.
Whilst members understood the reasoning for the officer’s recommendation and what they considered to be the justification for this, the policies within the local Plan now being examined had been made with all good intent by elected members and, as such, still held true. The majority of members felt that Dorset Council had a duty to ensure villages such as West Lulworth maintained their viability and there was now an opportunity to act progressively to uphold the principles for which it stood, particularly as the Parish Council - acting on behalf of its community - were of that opinion too.
Moreover, members were mindful that, of the unresolved objections made to the Plan, none were against the policy in its own right; rather that it was not as inclusive as they would like.
However other members, whilst understanding the noble reasoning being made, felt they should support the officer’s recommendation on the basis of the outcomes of the successful appeals and the consequence of this.
Notwithstanding the assessment made by officer’s in coming to their recommendation, nor the implications for not according with that view or that taken by other members, the majority of members were of the view that the principle behind Condition 13, what it stood for and what it was designed to achieve, still remained valid, relevant and applicable and so they considered there was a need for this to be maintained, in protecting the interests of local communities and the viability and vitality of this small, rural village. The examples which were cited by officers where this could more readily be seen to not apply or have the same impact, related only to individual properties in a much larger town. Given this, there was seen to be greater scope for the implications of this to be more readily absorbed by that community, whereas such an infliction in West Lulworth would be considerably detrimental and have a fundamental impact and adverse effect on the community and in its ability to gain access to the housing market. The Committee considered that this upheld the principles of the Plan and could be seen to be justified.
Having had the opportunity to discuss the merits of the application, having
understood what was being proposed and the reasoning for this; having taken
into account the officer’s report, what they had heard at the meeting from the
case officer, legal advisor and those invited speakers - particularly the views of the Parish Council and local ward Member - the Committee were satisfied in their understanding of what all of this entailed. On being put to the vote the Committee considered that, notwithstanding the assessments made by officers or the risks associated with any successful appeal, they could not agree to what was being recommended on the basis that the adverse impact this would have on West Lulworth would be considerable; that the principles of the Plan – which had been made, democratically with all good intentions - should be upheld and that as the Plan was at such an advanced stage in its progression, there still was weight that could be given to this provision, albeit not necessarily significant weight. Accordingly, it was agreed
That planning application 6/2019/0553 be refused.
Reason for Decision
The proposal, by means of the potential for vacant properties would result in harm to the character and vitality of West Lulworth, contrary to Policy H14 of the emerging Purbeck Local Plan. The Council considered that as the Plan was at an advanced stage of preparation, that this Policy could be given weight, in accordance with Paragraph 48 of the NPPF, and that the condition was reasonable and necessary in order to maintain the character and vitality of West Lulworth, in accordance with Paragraph 55 of the NPPF. The proposal was therefore contrary to Policy H14 of the emerging Local Plan, and paragraphs 48 and 55 of the NPPF.