Shock Council decision on St Michael’s

In a shock decision on 21 June 2012, West Dorset District Council’s Development Control Committee approved Hayward & Co.’s controversial current planning applications for the St Michael’s Trading Estate.

The Stover Building - scheduled for demolition

The two applications given approval (subject to a number of conditions), were an Outline consent for a redevelopment incorporating the creation of 105 residential units, and a Conservation Area application for the demolition of twelve commercial units including several buildings registered as having local significance.

Committee members voted to reject their own planning officers’ recommendation to refuse the applications.  Case officer Andrew Martin’s detailed and carefully considered report gave eight separate reasons for refusal and cited eleven Local Plan policies which he stated would be contravened by the proposals.  In reaching their decision, according to the Minutes of the meeting, members omitted to give any reasons other than “the need for investment”.

Since the meeting, hopes of getting the committee’s decision reversed or overturned appear to be fading.  In the absence on leave of Planning Director David Evans, who has the power to call decisions of the committee in for review by the full council, WDDC Chief Executive David Clarke wrote to members on 28 June 2012, saying that having taken advice he did not consider that the decision represented a “significant departure from the development Plan”, and that “Members of the Committee were perfectly entitled to have an alternative judgement and use that as the basis for their decision”.  Accordingly the decision would not be called in to the full council.

In the meantime a number of letters, including one from the Bridport Area Development Trust, were sent to the National Planning Casework Unit, which can request the Secretary of State (for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles) to call in the decision.

A standard reply has now been received by objectors, reporting the Secretary of State’s decision not to opt for call-in, on the basis that “the proposals do not: involve a conflict with national policies on important matters; have significant effects beyond their immediate locality; give rise to substantial regional or national controversy; raise significant architectural and urban design issues; or involve the interests of national security or of Foreign Governments…. He has therefore decided the application should be determined at local level,” (“at local level” in this case appears to mean by a group of councillors belonging to his own Party, only one of whom represents a Bridport constituency, at a meeting held in the County Council Chamber in Dorchester).

As previously reported on this website the Bridport Area Development Trust has offered to engage in discussions with the landowners and others about an alternative approach to the restoration and development of the St Michael’s Estate – an approach which would promote longer term regeneration and investment opportunities as opposed to the short term residential approach currently being pursued.  No response has been so far received, but the BADT remains committed to seeking an alternative to the current plans.