Agenda item

Planning Application No. 21/1014/FUL - 68-72 Howell Road, Exeter

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



Councillor M. Mitchell declared an interest and did not participate in the debate or vote. He spoke on this matter from the floor as a member of the public.


The Service Lead City Development presented the planning application for the demolition of the garage workshop and construction of four three-storey (plus basement) purpose-built student accommodation units, numbering 26 bedrooms.


At the Planning Committee held on 8 February 2023, Members were minded to refuse the application. Accordingly, it was moved that the Service Lead City Development be requested to report back to the next meeting of the Committee with the full technical reasons for refusal based on the following concerns:


·         using the site for student housing would lead to a further concentration of this use in this particular area of the city, resulting in an increased population imbalance within the local community; and

·         Members wished the refusal reason to reflect the overarching aim of the St. James Neighbourhood Plan to create a vibrant community that ensures an appropriate balance between student and permanent resident populations.


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


·         views in opposition to the application were clearly expressed at the 8 February 2023 meeting, reflecting the opposition to this development within the St. James Neighbourhood;

·         data shows a clear imbalance of student numbers within the community which could equally be said for the city as a whole, with some 35,000 students out of a total population of 133,000; and

·         the reference in the proposed refusal reason to students should refer instead to 18-25-year-olds.


The Service Lead City Development stated that the proposed refusal reason referred to student accommodation and not simply to students; a Member commented that the issue was concerning the type of tenure, not the age group, as students could be of any age.


Councillor M. Mitchell, speaking as a member of the public, made the following points:-


·         Members have already come to a clear view requesting on 8 February 2023 a report on refusal reasons;

·         the refusal reasons should relate to both the Local Plan and the St. James Neighbourhood Plan;

·         regard should be had to the planning permission refused in respect of student accommodation on a garage site at 36-38 Well Street; it was based on Local Plan Policy H5(b) and Policy C2(a) of the St. James Neighbourhood plan;

·         the refusal relating to the Howell Road application is mentioned in a generalised statement rather than a specific point;

·         there is a strong local feeling regarding community balance; and

·         Members should support both 5H(b) of the Local Plan and Policy C2 of the Neighbourhood Plan.


Ms Connett, speaking against the application, made the following points:-


·         the Council was thanked for the consideration given to the Neighbourhood Plan (NP) and for voting not to accept the recommendation for approval;

·         further consideration of specific NP policy clauses as reasons for the refusal was urged;

·         the NP must be recognised in its statutory status as part of the Development Plan, and the report must include evidence of professional scrutiny against relevant NP policies, including consideration of the objections and claims of Exeter St. James Forum as a statutory consultee, with a rationale justifying officer conclusions in each case;

·         no NP policy had even been considered when assessing this application;

·         Policy C2(a) is particularly relevant;

·         the Independent Examiner of the NP should not be doubted; he scrutinised and approved the wording of the draft Policies C1, 2 and 3 without amendment, satisfied that decisions on planning applications should be easy to predict where these clauses were relevant. He stated that the supporting text, other policies and the overarching aims of the Plan were expected to be used to help interpret specific policies;

·         the preamble to C2 as well as the policy, showed non-compliance of this application to C2(a), and the applicant's barrister, therefore, must have misread the policy and overlooked the preamble;

·         C1e does not permit the change of use of any property to HMO where it undermines the maintenance of a balanced and mixed local community. The Inspector stated that this policy was a sensible approach to the local issue of community balance and had no concerns with the wording;

·         this application comprises four houses in multiple occupation according to the Government definition, and as there is an over-concentration already in the vicinity, the proposal is non-compliant with Policy C1(e); and

·         for robustness and accuracy C2(a) and also C1(e) should be cited as additional reasons for refusal.


The Service Lead City Development summarised the three elements of Policy C2 and advised that these were not applicable in respect of this application as reasons for refusal. Instead, citing the overarching aims of the Exeter St James Neighbourhood Plan was appropriate. Reference should also be made to the Neighbourhood Plan forming part of the Local Plan.


Sam Williams, speaking in support of the application, made the following points:-


·         I am the owner of the site at Howell Road;

·         the site was recommended for approval at the Committee on 8 February 2023, but the decision was deferred for a reason for refusal to be provided. The sole reason was policy H5(b) of the Local Plan - the balance of communities;

·         every time the Council had fought an appeal on the issue of imbalance and Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA), it had lost;

·         this month, the Council approved a 107-bed PBSA only 350 metres from the site, the report stating that the Council did not currently define community imbalance in any planning documents. An ongoing need for student accommodation had  also referred to;

·         in a planning appeal loss of 2019, the Secretary of State held that local opposition was not itself sufficient grounds to withhold planning permission for student accommodation in Exeter;

·         the St. James Neighbourhood Trust only represented 1% of the ward. Many of the immediate neighbours to the site supported this application;

·         decisions should reflect the needs of all residents in the ward and the city, including the needs of students;

·         the report states that there are no negatives arising from the development, only positives and the development accords with all policies in the Neighbourhood Plan.

·         the upcoming Article 4 review "expressly does not relate to PBSA";

·         it was a good scheme resulting from years of collaboration with the planning department. Every change requested had been accommodated, and

·         to allay concerns about the management, a warden's flat can be included, which would reduce overall numbers by one, and quarterly management meetings could be held with any neighbourhood group.


The recommendation was for refusal for the reasons set out in the report.


The recommendation was moved and seconded, put to the vote and carried.


RESOLVED that the planning application for the demolition of the garage workshop and construction of four three-storey (plus basement) purpose-built student accommodation units, numbering 26 bedrooms, be REFUSED as the use of the site for student housing would not be appropriate within the St James Ward as it would lead to a further concentration of this use in this particular area of the city, resulting in an increased imbalance of population within the local community, contrary to Policy H5(b) of the Exeter Local Plan First Review 1995-2011 and the overarching aims of the Exeter St James Neighbourhood Plan.


Supporting documents: