Agenda item

Planning Application No. 23/0880/FUL - Former Exeter Royal Academy for the Deaf, 50 Topsham Road, Exeter

To consider the report of the Director City Development


The Principal Project Manager (Development Management) (CMB) presented the application for the development of 65no. units of Use Class C2 Residential Accommodation with Care for the elderly along with associated landscaping, access roads, car parking and services. The applicants were Gladman Retirement Living Ltd.


The Principal Project Manager (Development Management) (CMB) described the development through a site location plan, comparative site layout of the current proposal and extant consent together with comparative elevations, impact on neighbouring amenity, setting out also the following key issues:-


·         character and appearance;

·         residential amenity; and 

·         economy.


The Principal Project Manager (Development Management) (CMB) provided the following additional detail:-


·         the proposed main vehicular access would be off Weirfield Road to the south-west of the site, which would lead to a parking area for 33 cars, of which two. would be accessible, one would be for car club use, and four would be for Weirfield Road residents;

·         there would be a secondary vehicular access to the north of the site off Topsham Road for dropping off;

·         the main building access would be on the southern elevation of the south-west element at lower ground level;

·         there would be two additional entrances on the northern elevation at ground level and some cycle parking;

·         the site had extant consent, ref. 21/1864/FUL, for the erection of a building containing 85no. retirement apartments, together with communal facilities, access, car parking and landscaping. The current scheme was virtually identical to the extant consent;

·         the site also has extant consent, ref. 19/1436/VOC, for the erection of a building containing 63no. C2 assisted living apartments, together with communal facilities, access, car parking and landscaping. This consent had been partially implemented and was very similar to current and subsequent schemes; and

·         there had been no objections from any statutory consultees, including the Highway Authority with only one objection from the Civic Society, a non-statutory consultee.


The Principal Project Manager (Development Management) (CMB) advised that the application had resulted in 123 objections including the St Leonard’s Neighbourhood Association, the main concerns being:-


·         overbearing impact, overshadowing to Weirfield Road;

·         out of character as it would be too tall with the wrong colouring and an  overdevelopment of the site;

·         increased traffic, causing light and air pollution; and

·         access should be on Topsham Road not Weirfield Road for pedestrian safety.


Detail was provided on the impact on neighbouring amenity and it was concluded that the proposal was acceptable regarding the impact on privacy as well as in terms of any harm to outlook. Similarly, it was concluded that the proposal was acceptable in terms of access and parking.


The Principal Project Manager (Development Management) (CMB) acknowledged that 123 letters of objection had been received but that the application was virtually identical to previously approved schemes including extant consents. The concerns raised were considered under the previous scheme and found acceptable, namely the impact on the character of the area, the residential amenity and highways safety. The following concluding points were set out, all providing substantial positive weight cumulatively:-


·         contribution of 65no. new dwellings to current housing shortfall of 457 homes;

·         high density and effective use of land and use of a brownfield site;

·         bringing vacant site back into use;

·         employment opportunities during construction and operation; and

·         developer contributions.


The application was recommended for approval.


Responding to Members’ queries, the Principal Project Manager (Development Management) (CMB) advised that:-


·         details of internal layouts had been provided including details of lifts and stairs but not of internal elevations as these are not required;

·         the development was being progressed by a new provider who were offering slightly larger units as part of a more luxurious retirement offer; and

·         the proposed landscaping would be addressed via condition and there would be a net bio-diversity gain.


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


·         welcomed the engagement by the new developer to meet with residents and the review by the architects to consider different positioning of the property on the site. She was also pleased that the developer had earmarked a possible sum to improve the local amenity through the resurfacing on a pathway opposite the site and for new tree planting;

·         the local community was not against development of the site but were concerned about the relationship between the building and its neighbourhood;

·         the access point down a small residential road had been the major bone of contention in all these applications;

·         alternative access proposals had not been pursued as viability had been prioritised and this would continue to be a problem for the developer as they would also become the operator. Given that the homes would be for older people, many requiring care, regard needed to be given to people with disabilities. The frequency of the road closure could deny people access to onsite or offsite care;

·         the design, bulk and massing were problematic and there was already a significantly detrimental impact from the big beige block of the Acorn development which dominated the skyline above the Ludwell Valley Park and was visible from Conservation Areas opposite;

·         the site was adjacent to the Southernhay and The Friars and the St. Leonards Conservation Areas and there would be an adverse impact on St. Leonards Church, built of limestone with sandstone dressings, with its tall octagonal spire a prominent landmark. Views from a Conservation area were a material consideration and the dramatic views to the south would be obliterated. The relationship of this building to the edges of these Conservation Areas was very important but the density, bulk and relationship would detract from the character of the area and the beige appearance, will create a jarring clash;

·         a city centre vision for as a green capital was a key Council strategy requiring any new development in the city centre to respect the city skyline and reflect the underlying topography. Exeter was a low rise city and tall buildings should only be permitted in special circumstances and be of great architectural quality. Efforts to break up the density and massing had not transformed the proposal into an interesting block of flats;

·         the development was not virtually identical to the previous schemes as there was less thought given to the landscaping, especially on the frontage to Weirfield Road, meaning less space for nature and less ability to help to manage water run off on site. Moreover, there were 19 fewer homes;

·         the proposal was higher by six metres than the existing permission and four metres on the southwest corner;

·         the 17.7 metre distance from to front to front was less than the 22 metre minimum and greater where the new building was higher than existing;

·         affordable housing for older people was also required;

·         a daylight and overshadowing study was requested to assess the impact but the assumption was that this increase in height would not make much difference. This could not be assessed without a study;

·         the scheme was not identical to the existing permission;

·         it was stated that the latest development was acceptable based on the acceptability of each previous scheme but, in fact, each new scheme had continued to nibble away at the local amenity, not improved architectural merit and increases the detrimental impact on the nearest neighbours; and

·         it had not addressed the unacceptable access point. 


Helen Powell, speaking against the application made the following points:-


·         local residents do not object to the Gladman Adlington planning application and have engaged deeply with the three planning applications over the past six years;

·         there were concerns regarding height/density and massing.The height of the building which was excessive and its proximity to St. Leonard’s Church and spire would overshadow Weirfield Road and roads close by. Views from Conservation Areas into the development as well as views from the river up this road were important. The new buildings would transform Weirfield Road into a dark tunnel;

·         the design was of a poor quality and bland beige boxes do not fit with Edwardian houses in this part of the city;

·         the level of density would harm the character of the neighbourhood;

·         the proposal was worse than the previous Churchill application;

·         the proposed development will be the first in this city to impose and overshadow the St. Leonards Church and its spire;

·         there had been a six year resistance by local residents and road users to the opening of an access road in Weirfield Road and this view remained unchanged. The road had been closed or partially blocked 10 times since 2020, totalling six months;

·         hundreds of local people had objected since 2017 including the 2022 ePetition with 952 signatures. This time, there are over 120 objections;

·         reducing the size of the development and setting it back from both Topsham Road and the edge of Weirfield Road with a similar footprint to the Deaf Academy with its entrance on Topsham Road would go a long way to address the issue. It would remove the burden being placed on a narrow, steep Edwardian cul-de-sac where operating two large businesses was never a sound plan;

·         the Department of Health fire code guidance stated that a minimum of two access points must be provided to the site for emergency vehicles. The application, at present, did not comply with those regulations and Weirfield Road was not a blue light route; and

·         the fire service had sent a fire engine down the road to check the turning circle but the access entrance was inaccessible due to the Care Home building works at this time. It was not certain that this small street could withstand a 12 tonne fire engine with modern firefighting equipment trying to reach new residents, turning in on a tight turning circle with parked cars, with a possible road closure.


Responding to a Member’s query, she confirmed her opposition to the choice of brick colour maintaining that red brick should be used reflecting the prominent brick colour in the area.


Rob Gaskell, speaking in support of the application, made the following points:-


·         the site has extant planning permission for 63 Assisted Living units, and more recently 84 retirement apartments. Both present realistic fall-back positions for the applicant which could both be built out. The proposed design, scale, massing, access from Weirfield Road, parking numbers, amenity space etc. were all either the same, not materially different or an improvement, from what has twice been determined to be acceptable – therefore this proposal must also be acceptable;

·         the access was the same as for the two earlier planning permissions, one of which is for 84 units, however there would be fewer vehicle movements arising from this development. The Highway Authority did not object to the access which has undergone a series of Road Safety Audits and access was now built out and an Inspector, confronted with local objections, determined that, owing to the previous permissions, it was impossible to find that the access was unsuitable;

·         in terms of the concern of additional vehicles on Weirfield Road, the peak periods for traffic from the development is between 10.00-11.00am. Even during this peak, there are only 12 vehicle movements, that is, one additional vehicle every five minutes. Likewise, in peak between 4.00-5.00pm, only eight vehicle movements. The impact would clearly be limited;

·         a condition has been suggested by the applicant that would limit the amount of servicing/delivery vehicles that would be able to use Weirfield Road which would reduce any impact/safety concern;

·         the benefits of this development, included a £115,000 affordable housing contribution at a time of critical national and local need, economic benefits to the local community in terms of jobs created during construction, reducing the financial burden on Adult Social Care and NHS budgets and freeing up of existing under-occupied housing stock;

·         it would be finished to a high standard, by an award-winning developer, as quickly as possible;

·         there would be reduced vehicle movements along Weirfield Road compared to the earlier planning permission.


He responded as follows to Members’ queries:-


·         given the concerns regarding access off Weirfield Road, six options had been presented, to see if it was feasible to not take access off Weirfield Road, but no workable solution was found. The footprint of the Acorn development had mitigated against an improved access as had the need to ensure appropriate floor space to achieve commercial viability;

·         the number of road closures to necessitate works to services had been acknowledged and there was sufficient space at the access points to ensure emergency vehicles could enter the site with any equipment necessary;

·         planning conditions required sufficient space to facilitate access by delivery vehicles; and

·         the Topsham Road access was for emergency and refuse vehicles, the Weirfield Road access primarily for private cars.


The Director City Development in conclusion, acknowledged the level of objections received but referred to the application being virtually identical to previously approved schemes dating back to 2018. Access from Weirfield Road was recognised as being of particular concern but had been thoroughly examined and there was no objection from the Highway Authority. It was an application for a care facility for older residents rather than a care home and offered improvements to the previous scheme including the reduction in building heights.


Members expressed the following views:-


·         the difficulties raised previously regarding the access arrangements remained in spite of no objections from the highway authority. The access off Weirfield Road was particularly problematic given that the care facility would generate additional traffic. There remained too many issues to address before the application could be signed off;

·         whilst there were reservations on some issues such as brick colour, the application was substantially similar to the previous extant consent and should be approved; and

·         concerns of residents were sympathised with and, whilst the design and colouring was not unprecedented in the city, it did not reflect that of the St. Leonards area. Refusal would unlikely to be successfully defended at appeal.


The recommendation was moved, seconded and carried.


RESOLVED that, subject to the completion of a Legal Agreement under Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (as amended) to secure development contributions for the following:-


·         NHS healthcare provision of £24,181 for Barnfield Hill Surgery, Southernhay House Surgery and St. Leonards Practice;

·         Planning obligation monitoring fee in accordance with the Council’s published current fees and charges of £612 plus £35 per year up until payment;

·         Affordable Housing contribution of £115,673.13; and

·         Habitats mitigation of £67,289.95.


in the case where developments are not liable or are exempt from paying the Community Infrastructure Levy, it is necessary to levy the Habitats Mitigation contribution through one of two mechanisms:

·         an Undertaking made in accordance with Section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972; or

·         an Unilateral Undertaking made in accordance with Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.


The applicant has confirmed their intention to submit a unilateral undertaking in respect of the Habitats Mitigation contribution. This aspect of the development is, therefore, acceptable subject to the Section 106 agreement.


planning permission for the development of 65no. units of Use Class C2 Residential Accommodation with Care for the elderly along with associated landscaping, access roads, car parking and services be APPROVED, subject to the conditions and the Section 106 Agreement as set out in the report.


Supporting documents: