Officers minded to recommend refusal for speculative development on the Mansfield open space

posted 10 May 2013, 19:04 by dartmouth park   [ updated 10 May 2013, 19:45 ]

Proposed speculative housing development on the Mansfield designated open space

Comment by the Dartmouth Park Conservation Area Advisory Committee

Both the National Planning Policy Framework and planning law require that applications for planning permission must be determined in accordance with the development plan unless material conditions indicate otherwise. [1]  The Officers’ recommendation to refuse permission shouldn’t, therefore, come as any real surprise.

The site has been designated as open space in successive development plans, most recently in the Local Development Framework.  The importance of the site to the character of the Conservation Area features strongly in our Statement.  Each of these plans was subjected to full public consultation.

No matter how much money the property speculators throw at their highly misleading propaganda, remodelling a bit of that huge white elephant of a club house to include a small gym facility simply can’t be a ‘material condition’ permitting a major departure from the provisions of the LDF.

There isn’t any planning reason why MBC shouldn’t devote part of its huge club house to an indoor gym within.  Never has been.  No planning application is/was required to do it.

The club house, the bauble offered for allowing a previous speculative development, is only forty years old.  The claim that eight large luxury houses with associated private gardens, private roads and private off street parking occupying most of what is left of the real open space is necessary to ‘enable’ the remodelling and equipping of a small area of the club for an indoor gym is laughable.  If MBC had proposed a change of use of a bit of the huge club house so it could be sold off for housing, one might have looked sympathetically at the proposal.  What the speculators are proposing has absolutely nothing to do with ‘enabling’ a gym.  Only a fraction of the huge profits envisaged would be spent on securing the future of the club house.

Even had this not been designated open space, the site has been dedicated to outdoor sport and recreation for almost a hundred and forty years when Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts first made it available for community use, the proposed ending of all outdoor sport and recreation in favour of a small indoor gym with a doubtful future would be contrary to planning policy.  As the LDF makes clear, we are pretty much at saturation point in terms of small gyms which charge for admission.  As a joint NHS/Camden study shows, what we need is more outdoor sport and recreation.  The last thing the site needs is more land buried under tarmac and concrete.

The reality is almost half the site has already, in effect, been sold off to the property speculators subject only to the grant of planning permission.  You wouldn’t credit it from either the application or the propaganda but it is the speculators who are in control not MBC.  As we know from the block of flats on the Athlone House site, so called ‘enabling’ developments don’t always deliver.

Allowing speculative development on this designated open space to ‘enable’ something people might be persuaded is a good thing would set a terrible precedent which would eventually fatally undermine the character of the Conservation Area.  Residents at the western end of Croftdown Road have only to look out of their back windows to see how true this is.

Speculative planning applications by developers hoping to make a killing isn’t anyway the right way to move forward.  In the words of the first of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) core principles (para 17) future land use must  

be genuinely plan-led, empowering local people to shape their surroundings, with succinct local and neighbourhood plans setting out a             positive vision for the future of the area. Plans should be kept up-to-date, and be based on joint working and co-operation to address                 larger than local issues. They should provide a practical framework within which decisions on planning applications can be made with a             high degree of predictability and efficiency

The confirmation on Friday that the site has been designated as a community asset adds an important new tool to the community’s armoury.  This is Camden’s first designation of a private site under the recent Localism Act and one of the first in the country.  This provision of the Localism Act has yet to be tested.  We will have to wait and see how important it is.  It will certainly give the community access to the resources it needs to ensure a positive future for the site if the MBC fails.  Access which the current private company can’t, by definition, have.

It is not over yet.  The Development Control Committee has still to confirm the refusal and the community will want to make its voice heard when it does.  There is still time for those opposed to the scheme to stand up and be counted.  There will doubtless also be an appeal but the Inspector too is required to determine in accordance with the development plan unless material conditions indicate otherwise.  An experienced Planning Inspector shouldn’t have any problem seeing through the propaganda the developers have used to try to divide our community.

Patrick Lefevre
Dartmouth Park Conservation Area Advisory Committee

[1]               Section 38 (6) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 and Section 70 (2) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.