Agenda item

Planning Application No. 22/1177/FUL - Land adjacent to Gras Lawn and Fleming Way, Gras Lawn, Exeter

To consider the report of the Director City Development and Housing.




The Principal Project Manager (Development Management) (CC) presented the application for the construction of two, one bedroom, two person dwellings with external space, landscaping and associated works.


·         the application was for two dwellings in land adjacent to Gras Lawn and Fleming Way. It was a windfall, vacant site, fenced off and not publically accessible, bordered by a public footpath on one side and a pedestrian/cycle route on the other;

·         it was proposed to create two, two-storey adjoined one-bed dwellings. Whilst appearing on a narrow site, the dwellings exceeded the Nationally Described Space Standards and would each have a private garden area. All habitable rooms were served by windows and would provide a good level of amenity to occupants;

·         in terms of neighbour amenity, the buildings had been designed with narrow window openings on the front and rear elevations to reduce intervisibility with neighbouring properties. This was further assisted by high level boundary walls and the design of the surrounding area with trees and parking areas. It was also proposed to require first floor windows to be obscure glazed and remove the permitted development rights for additional windows;

·         access was from the footpath/cycle route;

·         the primary openings were on the side (east and west) elevations, reducing the size and amount needed on the front and rear that face towards other dwellings. There are still small windows, doors and rainwater goods on the front and rear elevations to add visual interest and the final details of these will be required via condition to ensure they are acceptable; and

·         the development was proposed to be car free, with secure cycle storage for each property. This was considered acceptable considering the scale of development, limited occupation and position adjacent to cycle routes. The surrounding area was subject to permit parking and the Highway Authority would decide whether permits could be issued.


In conclusion, the proposal was considered to make a modest contribution to housing supply in the city. The one-bed dwellings proposed were underprovided in the area and would help to alleviate this shortfall.The design was suitable for such a unique site position and would provide suitable occupant amenity whilst avoiding significant impacts to neighbours.The proposal was therefore recommended to the Committee for conditional approval.


Members were advised that the site was not in a Conservation Area and that the hedge would be retained.


Councillor Vizard, having given notice under Standing Order No. 44, spoke on the item. He raised the following points:-


·         thank-you all who visited the site, many being surprised by the narrow dimensions of the strip of land;

·         44 public objections, including from the Gras Lawn Residents’ Association, was a very significant number for an application of this scale;

·         the site provided important green visual amenity and some biodiversity value. The simplest visual aid was that it was narrower than this Rennes room;

·         along the rear of the piece of land was a hedgerow and development would mean damage or loss to this valuable natural heritage. This was in addition to the loss of the green space itself which the Campaign to Protect Rural England had objected to. They had also shared residents’ concerns about the break in the tree-lined green corridor and the loss of wildlife. While the Ecological Assessment Report and mitigation, including recommendations to retain a qualified ecologist is noted, if this were to be approved, it would notmitigate the overall loss of the spatial flow and amenity of the design of Gras Lawn and Fleming Way;

·         small green spaces were of substantial value to the amenity of the neighbourhood and general wellbeing. The pedestrian and cycle path were also of critical visual and social value;

·         the openness of this site detracted from potential anti-social behaviour and closing it would create a claustrophobic corridor or alleyway in its place;

·         it was not a good design principle and given their location and the rental market, were unlikely to provide a genuinely affordable housing option. It was overdevelopment;

·         the Gras Lawn Residents’ Association had offered to work with the applicant to landscape and enhance the area, as it could be of community benefit;

·         a lack of a five year housing supply had been cited. Whilst the applicant might have good intentions regarding environmental aspects of the construction, it was also important to consider what homes were actually like to live in. The design of these homes was dictated by the space on this extremely narrow site, and as such, were seriously compromised and feel barely adequate for happy living;

·         residents have strongly expressed their view that the proposed dwellings were not in keeping with the surrounding brick-built houses and referred to Gras Lawn as a strong sense of place created by a formal, planned character;

·         neighbours were concerned at the loss of privacy and did not feel that the design adequately expressed the impact the proposed dwellings would have in terms of overlooking, overshadowing and loss of light;

·         the reasons for a planning refusal on this site in 2008 underlined the residents’ points. In 2008, a 1.9 metre close boarded timber fence had been erected around the same area without planning permission. A retrospective application had been refused on the grounds that it “would set an undesirable precedent for similar visually harmful boundary treatments in the vicinity” and that the "siting and constituent materials are intrusive features in the street scene which detract from the character and appearance of the area".

·         a subsequent decision by the Planning Inspectorate dismissed an appeal citing the Development Plan policy that “new development should maintain and improve the quality of Devon’s environment and that all designs should promote local distinctiveness and contribute to the amenity of the townscape.” The Inspector had stated that there was one main issue in the appeal, namely “the impact of this fence on the character and appearance of the surrounding residential area.” The Inspector concluded that “The fence that has been erected is highly visible both in the street scene and in longer range views down the footpath and in my opinion, it is seen as a harsh and completely alien feature. It also acts as an intrusive visual barrier. I therefore have no doubt that this structure has seriously harmed the character and appearance of this attractive residential area.”; and

·         given the Planning Inspector’s statement about a mere 1.9 metre timber fence a two double-storey timber-clad houses would also be detrimental.


Caroline Millar spoke against the application. She raised the following points:-


·         she represented the Gras Lawn Residents’ Association and speaking on behalf of Gras Lawn and those affected in Fleming Way;

·         thank you if you were able to visit the site, and for reading the many objections raised - all show tremendous opposition from local residents. Small spaces matter and this was an overdevelopment of a small space. The proposed dwellings were too big in mass and scale for the footprint of the site;

·         because the site is so small and narrow, the design would have a significant overbearing impact - a two-storey, flat roofed block, with galvanised steel and corrugated zinc features, intrusively shoe-horned at the end of a tree lined avenue, an avenue that has enormous visual amenity;

·         the Exeter Planning Policy states that developments should be sympathetic to the surrounding built environment. The design and materials used were unsympathetic, visually jarring, and out of character. The narrative in the Design and Access Statement that it makes the public space safer and more enjoyable was not an opinion shared by any residents. These dwellings would result in the loss of amenity to surrounding properties. In terms of privacy, all the first floor windows eitherlooked into the properties at 33 or 68 Fleming Way, or they overlooked the various bedrooms and outside spaces of five Gras Lawn properties. Those residents felt that obscured glass did not help as windows can be opened;

·         in terms of loss of daylight and overshadowing, 33 and 68 Fleming Way would be particularly affected for several months of the year. The owners of 33 were having their own right to light survey done as their property was particularly affected;

·         the PV panels would be visually intrusive to the Gras Lawn properties, and their reverse steel frame would be an eyesore to Fleming Way. An appeal to keep a 1.9 metre fence around the boundary had failed. The Planning Inspector’s decision stated that it acted as “an intrusive visual barrier” and “this structure has seriously harmed the character and appearance of this attractive residential area”; and

·         Exeter has plenty of decent accommodation where the internal living spaces are of meaningful size. Residents feel that, despite a housing shortage, there was no excuse for overdevelopment, or an unsympathetic design which resulted from an inadequate footprint, or loss of visual amenity for a great many people,


Nigel Grainge spoke in support of the application. He raised the following points:-


·         having two, one bedroom, two person houses would modestly help to address housing need for small homes;

·         there had been early consultation with neighbours and officers and there was a positive end-result after a thorough and caring process;

·         space standards are generous with good sized gardens;

·         the design was of a high standard, yet simple and understated. Its small scale defers to the adjacent Gras Lawn and Fleming Way housing;

·         the east and west aspects are orientated away from the existing residential properties, so the primary windows and principal outlook from the main ground floor living areas and bedrooms above do not overlook nearby dwellings. Ground floor windows face into hedging, brick walls or other boundary features and so would not cause harm to privacy in neighbouring properties;

·         the presence and design of these two houses would enhance natural surveillance where little exists: over the adjacent footpath and cycle route as well as the areas of nearby car parking;

·         the development would not cause undue harm to wildlife habitats and could achieve a net gain in green infrastructure and biodiversity value; and

·         a windfall site will be developed and no planning policy reasons for refusal have been identified.


He responded as follows to Members’ queries:-


·         the Design and Access Statement explained the design options;

·         the aim was to deliver two ‘net zero carbon homes’ with a ‘fabric first’ approach with air sourced heat pumps, mechanical ventilation and photovoltaics, exceeding Building Regulations requirements;

·         the width varies between 7 metres to 7.5 metres, narrowing to 4.5 metres at one end with an overall length of 37.5 metres;

·         the gap from the building to the hedge varies between 2 metres and 2.5 metres;

·         there would not be a need to build deep foundations;

·         the materials would reflect the bark of neighbouring trees; and

·         the use of timber frame and cladding with wood fibre insulation, not only minimised embodied carbon, but enabled off-site manufacture reducing disruption of site works and wastage of materials.


Members expressed the following views:-


·         it was the right building but in the wrong place;

·         support refusal on the grounds of the impact on the immediate area as it would not be appropriate for the neighbourhood, loss of privacy and light to neighbouring properties, poor design and inappropriate materials;

·         it was a computer led development and there were ecological concerns including the impact on hedges during construction;

·         the reasons for refusal had been well represented by the objector and the Councillor speaking under Standing Orders, the latter referring in particular to an Inspector’s decision regarding an application for a fence which had been dismissed on appeal on the grounds of the impact it would have had on the character and appearance of the area. The reasons for dismissing the appeal on that occasion remain pertinent to this application; and

·         the development should be refused on grounds of design and over development.


The recommendation was for approval, subject to the conditions as set out in the report.


The recommendation to approve the application was moved, seconded voted upon and LOST unanimously.


The meeting adjourned at 20:06 and re-convened at 20:17.


Members were minded to refuse the application, and accordingly, it was moved that the application be deferred and the Service Lead City Development be requested to report back to the next meeting of this Committee with the full technical reasons for refusal. The motion was seconded, voted upon and carried unanimously.


RESOLVED that the application be DEFERRED for the Service Lead City Development to report reasons for refusal to the next meeting.



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