Bridport: St Michael's Trading Estate plan backed amid 'farcical' scenes (From Bridport and Lyme Regis News)
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Bridport: St Michael's Trading Estate plan backed amid 'farcical' scenes
THE controversial plan for Bridport’s South West Quadrant has been approved by West Dorset planners amid extraordinary scenes at a key meeting in Dorchester.
Members of the district council development control committee voted by six to three to ignore a raft of planning officers’ recommendations to refuse permission for an outline scheme to create 105 homes and workspace units on the St Michael’s Trading Estate.
One of the most important planning decisions for the town in decades was arrived at amid chaotic scenes at the county council chamber.
It has left the owners and developers brothers Clive and Norman Hayward delighted and objectors stunned and furious.
A public gallery packed with both supporters of the development and people opposed to it watched bemused as councillors struggled to establish formal reasons based on planning policy why they had rejected planning officer Andrew Martin’s detailed advice in a 33-page report on why the scheme should be refused.
The two-and-a-half hour meeting heard a range of speakers including residents and traders, town and district councillors and the applicants themselves give their reasons for support or opposition, often to loud applause.
After a proposal to approve the plans from independent Halstock councillor Tony Frost – seconded by Bridport member Conservative Frances McKenzie – was withdrawn because reasons were not forthcoming, the chairman, Chickerell Conservative Coun Ian Gardner suggested that the committee should ‘test the water’ by putting the officers’ recommendation to refuse the plans to the vote.
There were gasps of astonishment in the chamber when the proposal was defeated – effectively granting the planning permission. The committee eventually voted six to five to delegate the final approval to the planning officers, subject to a legally binding agreement and long list of conditions being met.
The report on the application had detailed numerous elements including the type of affordable housing, employment space, noise and the loss of important industrial heritage buildings as grounds for refusal.
Afterwards a statement released by West Dorset District Council said: “The development control committee decided to delegate authority to the development services manager to approve the application to redevelop St Michael’s Trading Estate subject to concluding a section 106 agreement and other outstanding matters. “A number of planning conditions will now be discussed with the developer. The planning permission when issued will be subject to a range of planning conditions addressing matters such as the details of the buildings, landscaping, archaeology and highways matters.”
RIGHT DECISION, SAY OWNERS
ESTATE owners Norman and Clive Hayward welcomed the decision.
After the meeting Norman Hayward said: “It has been a long and frustrating road, but this is a great result for Bridport, for the 80 small businesses on the estate and for the economy of West Dorset.
“We appreciate it was a difficult and complex discussion for the councillors on the planning committee, but we know they have made the right decision.
“We still have a number of issues to resolve and we will soon begin further discussions with West Dorset planning officials.
“During these meetings our objectives will be to continue to get the best outcome for St Michael’s and the town.”
Clive Hayward, who manages the estate on a day-to-day basis, said: “We are pleased to get the go-ahead. It has been a difficult and delicate balance to maintain affordable rents while continuing to invest in this varied and complex site.
“The rate of deterioration had started to outpace our ability to properly maintain the site. “But now we can start to bring forward some of the major investment required.”
Clive Hayward added: “We appreciate that maintaining St Michael’s is like painting the Forth Bridge. It never ends.
“But we firmly believe that investment will create the new job opportunities that everyone wants and at the same time will provide new homes.
“This is a formula where everyone wins.”
And he also insisted:”As we keep saying publicly and privately, St Michael’s is not for sale.”
MIXED REACTION TO SHOCK MOVE
• HUMAN rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, of Symondsbury, who spoke against the application at the meeting, said the decision had made a mockery of promises of localism.
He said that councillors were ‘utterly tongue-tied’ when called upon to give a rationale for their vote.
“I am not sure when I last witnessed such a farce, and I work in some pretty unedifying iterations of the democratic process, the Guantanamo Bay Military Commissions, to name but one.
“We in Bridport now have two challenges – to reverse this illegitimate decision and ask some serious questions about why on earth our ‘representatives’ behaved this way.”
• DISTRICT and town councillor for Bridport David Tett said: “I am pleased and delighted that at long last we have a favourable planning permission to move forward. It has been a long time coming.
“The battle which I have waged since the turn of the 21st century has been won, but I fear there are others to follow. I sincerely hope that we can all, both the fors and against, now ensure that the detailed plans, when approved, are implemented to ensure the town’s lasting prosperity.”
• BUSINESSMAN Rob Barr, managing director of Coastal Nets, carrying on the industrial heritage of the site in the North Lights and part of the Stover building, said he and his staff were very pleased.
“We are looking forward to the development.
“We are operating in what are frankly grotty premises. In winter it is totally miserable.
“I am sure that we would be able to employ more people, but it takes a special kind of person to work in these conditions.
“You can’t keep these buildings as a museum, people have to work in them.”
• BUSINESSMAN Mark Davies, of Bridport Discount Furniture, established more than 20 years ago at St Michael’s, said he and the family business hoped to remain there for many years to come.
“From a personal point of view I am delighted.
“It has been stagnating for so long and the nettle had to be grasped and I hope we can now move forward.”
• ANDREW Leppard, of the Friends of St Michael’s, said: “Not even the council seemed to understand the outcome, although a vote was passed to approve and refer back to the officers.
“A final decision has certainly not been achieved and it is expected that an investigation may have to precede any further decisions.
“Complaints are being lodged with the standards department of West Dorset District Council over procedures which cannot support the legitimacy of this decision.
“Firstly, the committee failed to produce reasons for over-ruling the officers’ recommendation to refuse.
“The member who proposed approval, Tony Frost, announced that his hearing aids were not working when asked to give reasons but it was unlikely that he heard any of the planning arguments given by speakers.
“Frances McKenzie, who currently represents the citizens of Bridport South, and who seconded it, did not speak other than to approve application.”
• DISTRICT and town councillor Ros Kayes said: “People who attended Thursday's meeting are in a state of shock.
“Officers at West Dorset had compiled a flawless report, giving 57 planning reasons against supporting the application.
“I am told that councillors who overturned their recommendation could not give a planning reason for their decision.
“It simply shows contempt for the hard work of the planning department at West Dorset and for the planning process, which is meant to safeguard against political decision making.”
• Development control committee chairman Coun Ian Gardner said afterwards: “The members on my committee carefully considered the application.
“It is up to the elected members, to take account of such representations, consider the planning guidelines and the recommendation of officers, but ultimately it is the responsibility of members to make a decision which in this case was to delegate to officers to approve provided certain conditions required by members are met.
“At times the process may appear laboured but it is important that most if not all issues are taken account of in the decision detail.”
• Councillor Tony Frost said afterwards: “I feel strongly that it was time that St Michael’s is upgraded and becomes a place to be proud of. It gives an impression of Bridport that is not very good.
“I rather agree that the meeting was chaotic. It was unfortunate that problems with the audio system and my hearing aid problems which developed during the planning officer’s presentation meant I rather lost contact.
“Even the Liberal Democrats agreed that something had to be done (at St Michael’s).
“At the end of the day we have achieved the right result but it was disappointing that there were members who supported the application, but had nothing to say on the matter.”