Agenda item

Planning Application No. 23/0583/OUT - 68-72 Howell Road, Exeter

To consider the report of the Director City Development.



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


The Principal Project Manager (Development Management) (CC) presented the application for outline permission for block of flats following the demolition of the garage workshop (all matters reserved).


Members were provided with a description of the site location through a site plan, site photos, an aerial view, an indicative site plan, indicative elevations and parameter plans, the report also setting out the following key elements:-


·         the principle of development;

·         description changes, site history and outline consent;

·         heritage, design and amenity;

·         highway considerations

·         contamination and ecology;

·         sustainability;

·         waste audit; and

·         financial considerations. 


The Principal Project Manager (Development Management) (CC) provided further detail of the application:-


·         the current lawful use was as a MOT station and garage, although it had ceased operations;

·         there had been a recent refusal at Planning Committee for redevelopment for Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA), which had been refused solely on the grounds of community imbalance and an appeal had been submitted against it;

·         the outline application was for a maximum of nine market flats with all matters reserved;

·         due to the previous refusal reason being community imbalance because of student occupation and the current application being for market housing, it was not considered that any approval of this scheme would weaken the Council's position in reference to the appeal;

·         there had been 19 objections and four mixed comments on the proposal, with the majority of these relating to the use of the property by students, parking issues and community imbalance;

·         the principle of redevelopment of this site was acceptable for the following reasons:-


·   the site was not allocated for development and was considered to be a windfall site. The delivery of flats on this previously developed land would therefore meet Policies H1 and H2 of the Local Plan and CP1 of the Core Strategy;

·   the St. James Neighbourhood Forum Policy SD3 supported proposals on windfall sites providing affordable homes for local people and good quality private residential development;

·  the application was below the 10 dwelling threshold for affordable housing, but would provide private residential development supporting this policy. Details relating to the final design of it would be at reserved matters stage and would need to be of good quality to meet the policy requirements;

·   the existing site is mentioned in the Longbrook Conservation Area Appraisal as not making a positive contribution;

·   the indicative plans were subject to change. Due to the nature of surrounding built form, two parameter plans were agreed which set out the maximum height and positioning of the new building to ensure that the reserved matters which would have suitable restrictions in place;

·  the Highway Authority had no objection to the proposal. The site was within a sustainable location and within a Controlled Parking Zone that would allow car-free development to occur at this site. Any future dwellings on the site would be excluded from obtaining permits by the County Council;

·   the application was not for PBSA but for market housing and had to be assessed as such. All dwellings would be approved as Class C3 market dwellings and would be suitable for occupation. Once built, if any three or more bedroom flats (Class C4) wanted to have three or more unrelated people in them, then a new planning permission would be required in line with the Article 4 Direction; and

·   preventing students occupying the property was not considered to be a reasonable restriction as there was not a suitable justification due to other planning restrictions on use of the flats as Class C4 shared properties.


In conclusion, Members were advised that, overall it was considered that market housing in this location was acceptable and supported Local Plan, Core Strategy and St James Neighbourhood Plan policies. The restriction on height and positioning were considered to ensure that a suitably scaled scheme could come forward.Reserved matters would consist of appearance, access, landscaping, layout and scale subject to parameter details of maximum height of that of neighbouring properties.


It was considered that redevelopment of this site for open residential use would see a negative aspect of the Conservation Area removed with the potential to create an enhancement. A parameter plan has been agreed to ensure the building design was of an appropriate size and position to prevent dominance of the street scene. It was a windfall site to provide up to nine Class C3 dwellings, which met Local Plan, Core Strategy and Neighbourhood Plan policies.


There were no identified reasons for refusal of this scheme in principle and it was considered that the constraints of the surrounding built form and policy requirements would allow a suitable development to come forward at reserved matters.


The application was recommended for approval, subject to the conditions set out in the report.


The Principal Project Manager (Development Management) (CC), in response to Members’ queries, advised that:-


·         the flat designs met the national minimum space standards policy and therefore it was not necessary to add a condition to this effect and that an informative was on the decision notice to advise of the requirement at Reserved Matters stage; and

·         Section 73 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 prevented the amendment of the description.


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


·         whilst additional badly needed housing was welcome there were concerns that, subject to the applicant winning the appeal on PBSA, the student flats would be built instead. If the applicant was genuine in respect of this application the appeal should be withdrawn;

·         the day after the PBSA application was refused by the Committee the site was covered in graffiti creating a negative impact on the area;

·         the applicant did not sufficiently engage with the community in bringing forward these applications;

·         there were some 30,000 students in the city who required short term accommodation at the expense of the wider population. It was a sustainable location close to shops, places of work and the rail station and is therefore ideal for the latter cohort;

·         the application for nine units fell under the requirement to provide affordable housing by one unit; and

·         if approved, conditions should be included at reserved matters to control height, massing etc,.


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


·         a key remaining concern was the potential for this permission to lead to HMO flats;

·         the report implied that Article 4 Direction (A4D) provided the protection needed but this is not the case in Exeter and the recent Futura consultant’s Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) review document stated that properties of three to five unrelated people were described only as ‘private rentals’, as distinct from HMOs, a term the review reserves for licensed HMOs of six or more people. This was not in line with planning law which defines an HMO as a shared property let to three or more unrelated people. Those for three to six people comprise Use Class C4. In practice, the City Council has been turning a blind eye since 2012 to C3 to C4 conversions ignoring the protection Article 4 Direction should provide;

·         not one enforcement of A4D had ever been carried out in this area despite the growth in unlicensed, exempt properties in A4D streets;

·         the applicant was appealing the refusal of the PBSA application and was determined to develop student accommodation. Despite the report’s assurance that A4D would prevent C3 to C4 conversion, the applicant was aware that it would be possible to rearrange the flats to let as HMOs. This could lead to a block, housing up to 30 students despite refusal of a 26 bed PBSA;

·         as well as investigation of alleged breaches, taking action where appropriate, the National Planning Policy Framework states that a Local Planning Authority’s Enforcement Plan should set out how they would monitor the implementation of planning permissions, but this was not mentioned in the Local Plan. Planning Authorities had a statutory responsibility to ensure planning law is upheld; and

·         if in the future, the flats became C4, enforcement action mustbe taken.


She responded as follows to Members’ queries:-


·         the concern remained that even if permission was granted, occupation by students was still likely and the City Council would be unable to enforce the conditions of the application; and

·         she did not object to the design but to the impact on community balance if the units become occupied by students. The St. James Ward could not sustain additional student occupants.


The Service Lead City Development advised that a full time enforcement officer had been recruited, greatly increasing the capacity to respond to breaches of planning conditions. He also referred to an example where enforcement had been undertaken in an Article 4 area and a property being used to accommodate students had been changed back to its lawful use.


Mr Williams, speaking in support of the application, raised the following points:-


·         he had been a resident of the area since 1998;

·         the site was a blight on the area and would be developed;

·         lengthy discussions had been held with planning officers with costs incurred in bringing forward two applications for the site;

·         the current application was a residential scheme and not student housing and accepted that any change to accommodate students would lead to enforcement action; and

·         other, much larger scale housing schemes, had received planning permission and this is for only nine units on a derelict site close to the city centre.  


He responded as follows to Members’ queries:-


·         even if permission was to be granted, the appeal would not be withdrawn; and

·         the appeal could take a number of months and if it is dismissed this scheme for residential homes will proceed instead.


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


·         the previous application by the same developer was refused on the basis of Policy H5b in the Local Plan as it created imbalance in the local community as it was a specific type of accommodation;

·         the community was concerned about the eventual users of this accommodation. If the units were occupied by one or two unrelated persons they were not a house in multiple occupation and Article 4 would not be applicable;

·         if the units were occupied by students, the community would feel let down by the planning authority;

·         local authorities had the powers to introduce a policy requiring developers to sell/rent to people who have a local connection;

·         policies regarding local connection or principal residence could be included in Local Plans, Neighbourhood Plans or supplementary planning documents. The report stated that, currently there were no powers to restrict this type of accommodation on sites in Exeter;

·         the St. James Neighbourhood Plan stated that development of such sites should be for affordable housing for local people or good quality private residential development. The applicant would argue that the development is of good quality; and

·         this issue will become urgent as more applications are received for co-living accommodation.


The Service Lead City Development and the Principal Project Manager (Development Management) (CC) responding to further queries raised by Members, advised that:-


·         the decision on this application would not have an impact on the appeal; and

·         the flats could be occupied by two unrelated people, that is students, which would be lawful.


Members made the following comments:-


·         the applicant was unwilling to withdraw the appeal which, if successful, would further impact adversely on an area already accommodating excessive number of students;

·         the current application could mean occupation of units by two adults with children, which was a potential for 28 individuals;

·         the application design was poor with limited amenity space and should be refused; and

·         as residential accommodation was proposed with this application it should be supported.


The recommendation was moved, seconded, voted upon and CARRIED.


RESOLVED that the application for outline permission for block of flats following the demolition of the garage workshop (all matters reserved) be APPROVED, subject to the conditions as set out in the report.



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