Diary of a Sutton Councillor

Wednesday 18th November 7.30pm

Development Control Committee

The applications under consideration at this meeting were the North Site of the Institute of Cancer Research Campus, The Royal Marsden Hospital, 40 Coleridge Avenue, 11 Park Hill treeworks application and 2 Beggars Roost Lane.

We ran out of time to consider the Beggars Roost application so this was postponed.

Although item 5 on the agenda, a number of residents attended the meeting to hear the Coleridge Avenue application so this was taken first.

This was a back garden development which through subsequent refusals had been pared back from a proposal for seven houses and a block of garages to the current application for four three-bedroomed detached houses. In order to mitigate disturbance to neighbouring houses the developers had agreed to put up a 2.4 metre high acoustic fence as well as significant planting along the southern boundary with no. 38 Coleridge Avenue. Objections to the application were stated as loss of privacy for neighbouring houses, change to the character of the area, flooding problems and the location of the access on the corner of the road.

I asked questions about the Council’s responsibility in respect of permitting building in the vicinity of a public sewer as mentioned in the papers. I learnt that the Council had satisfied its obligations by notifying Thames Water and the matter had to be sorted out between the applicant and Thames Water. If Thames Water were not happy with the applicant’s proposals for the site in respect of the sewer then the applicant would have to revise the plans and submit a further application.

I was also concerned that the height of the planting and acoustic barrier required to ensure the privacy of the neighbours would make the access into the site more dangerous by obscuring sightlines.

Much was made of the potential flood risk by councillor representatives however the Environment Agency had no objections to the application and a condition imposed on the application ensured that all flood risk issues would need to be addressed before work could commence.

I was desperately trying to find planning grounds on which to refuse this application, but could see none. The appeal decision of the planning inspector on the previous application for four four-bedroomed houses on the site also left nothing unaddressed that we could use. I could see no grounds for refusal but I could not bring myself to vote in favour of this loss of garden land. I therefore abstained but the application was granted on a majority vote.

There were two applications from the Institute of Cancer Research, one for landscaping of the north end part of the site on Cotswold Road, and one for phased development of part of the north site and car parking spaces. The proposal was to landscape the land north of the site to minimise the impact of the development on nearby residents by providing screening. The development was to allow expansion of the Centre’s research and development facilities. I had had feedback from local residents that the Institute had talked to them about the development and had been quite good at trying to respond to their concerns. The landscaping, to be undertaken before any building works commenced, was part of that compromise. One resident spoke to the meeting to say that he was still unhappy that the height of the building meant he would be able to see it from his property and felt that the screening offered was inadequate.

I learnt from questioning that existing parking for staff was adequate and the new spaces to be provided were expected to be able to meet future demand.

There was no doubt that the expansion of the facilities on this site of medical excellence in cancer research would benefit many people all over the country. I noted that we needed to balance the benefits of this facility to the majority against the loss of amenity to the individual and voted in favour of both applications. The applications were both passed unanimously.

The Royal Marsden Hospital had submitted an application to build a translational research centre on the site of an existing staff car park. The displacement of existing staff parking space and the estimated prediction of additional parking spaces required for the new centre resulted in a net loss of 70 staff parking spaces from the Royal Marsden site. The planning officers’ recommendation to approve stated that a condition attached to the application for the applicant to make a financial contribution towards extending the existing Controlled Parking Zone (CPZ) in the residential areas surrounding the site would mitigate this loss of parking spaces.

No one on the committee had any problem with the design of the new building but there was a lot of concern about the effect of the loss of parking spaces on local residents. I asked if there were figures showing where staff currently parked: how many on site and how many used the local streets? Despite a large Transport Assessment document and a Travel Plan no one knew these crucial figures. It was explained that members of staff were allocated site parking permits if they met certain criteria which established by implication that not all staff parked on site and so must use the surrounding residential streets. Many of the members of the committee expressed similar concerns to me that the extension of the CPZ would not mitigate the loss of spaces but simply push the existing parking pressures onto residential streets further from the hospital. We learnt that there had been some discussion between the Royal Marsden and the Epsom & St Helier NHS Trust, about renting or purchasing some of the Sutton Hospital land for parking purposes, but that Epsom & St Helier had not been very forthcoming in these negotiations.

I asked whether there were any further plans for expansion on the site and if so how they would address the increased parking problems this would bring. The response was that yes they did foresee more development in the long term but they felt that as a body heavily reliant on charitable donations they could not justify spending such money on car parking spaces for staff.

Members of the committee were well aware of the existing problems with staff and patients parking in the residential streets adjacent to the site, and felt that the area and the residents just could not cope with any more pressure. The suggested extension of the CPZ would not solve any problems but just introduce parking misery to yet more local residents.

It was therefore decided at the Chair’s suggestion that consideration of the application should be deferred until the February meeting of the committee to enable further discussions to take place with Epsom & St Helier, with the strong warning that the application was unlikely to be approved without reasonable plans to provide adequate parking for staff. This was unanimously agreed.

The final application of the night was from a resident in Park Hill who wanted to fell two yew trees in his rear garden. The householder explained that the trees were breaking the boundary wall between his property and his neighbour and cast deep shade over his garden and even more so over his neighbour’s making them very gloomy. The trees had a Tree Preservation Order on them which is why the resident had to obtain approval to fell or do any works to the trees. The resident had originally applied to fell the trees in 2002 and the tree preservation officer at the time had not objected to this and permission had been granted. Due to lack of money the householder had not had the trees felled within the time limits of the permission and so had to reapply to have the trees felled. The current tree preservation officer this time objected to the work and placed a Tree Preservation Order on the trees. The recommendation was to refuse permission to fell the trees because of their contribution to the overall look of the area. A couple of councillors spoke of the merits of yew trees and their longevity outliving both ourselves and probably the surrounding buildings and felt that they should be preserved at all costs.

I had visited the site and noted that the resident had very many trees in his garden in addition to the two yew trees, including an enormous tree in his front garden which overhung the road almost to the other side. There were also six or seven mature street trees alongside the property boundary in Wales Road. It was difficult to pick out the yew trees from Wales Avenue with only part of the crown being visible, and it would not be seen at all from the front of the property.

I stated that whilst I fully appreciate both the beauty and environmental benefits of trees, as a Liberal Democrat I feel uncomfortable telling people what plants they can and can’t have in the garden of their own private property. This was not a development, the tree wasn’t a particularly attractive example of a yew, and there were sufficient existing trees on the site & nearby to preserve the character of the area. I felt that the removal of the tree at the front of the property would have a much greater impact on the character of the area but there was no Tree Preservation Order on that one. I also noted that there had been no Preservation Order on the Trees when the resident purchased the property, and the previous Officer had not felt that the trees were of sufficient merit to have one. It was therefore a matter of the current Tree Preservation Officer’s opinion overriding this resident’s, and his neighbour’s, enjoyment of their house and garden. I therefore voted against the recommendation, but every other member of the committee voted to allow the tree to be pruned but not felled.

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November 30, 2009 - Posted by | Committee Meeting

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