Developer accused of 'deception' in plans for 336 houses in Thornbury
PLANS for 336 homes in Thornbury hang in the balance after a heated meeting where the developer was accused of “arm twisting” and “deception” by campaigners.
Residents and councillors said Miller Homes had tried to evade planning constraints with its detailed design proposals for housing at the planned new Cleve Park neighbourhood, off Morton Way.
Members of the South Gloucestershire Council strategic sites delivery committee said they shared residents’ concerns about the heights of some of the homes when they met on August 19.
They agreed to visit the 22-hectare (54 acre) site to see for themselves the impact of the new housing before making a decision.
The meeting was told some of the homes are up to 0.5m (about 18in) taller than permitted by the original outline planning consent and a condition set by a planning inspector, heard.
Residents and ward councillors also raised a number of other objections, including concerns about the narrowing of a wildlife corridor.
But planning officers, who recommended the design plans for approval, said they thought the “slight deviations” from the original plans were justified and “acceptable”.
They said the plans were the result of “extensive negotiations” with the developer, who submitted eight revisions, as well as a last-minute change to reduce the height of one house.
A Miller Homes representative told the meeting: “Following successive engineering reviews, any deviation has been minimised and it should be noted these rare instances are due to existing topography, the drainage and the incorporation of good design principles.
“The planners accept that the proposals are consistent overall with the earlier parameters.”
But Colin Gardner from campaign group Thornbury Residents Against Poorly Planned Development accused the developer of “deception” and “arm-twisting” to convince officers that the designs (pictured above) accorded with the set height limits.
Thornbury councillor Maggie Tyrrell said she found the developer’s reluctance to comply with planning requirements “rather disturbing”, adding: “It’s been bit-by-bit rather than the applicant accepting right from the beginning what the restraints and constraints were."
Miller Homes bought the land early last year from Landform and Welbeck Strategic Land, who had won planning permission from an inspector at appeal in 2018. The council challenged the inspector’s decision, but it was upheld by a High Court judge in 2019.
The planning inspector imposed a condition requiring buildings to meet the height limits of a maximum of 12m (39ft).
Miller Homes' designs included a number of height “deviations”, according to an officer’s report, which added that the council’s planning team thought the impact would be insignificant and “offset by design quality benefits”.
But Mr Gardner said the designs included no “definite” roof ridge heights and said a chartered building surveyor had calculated that up to half the homes sampled exceeded the height limits by up to 1.8m (almost 6ft).
He said: “The council has simply failed to do its due diligence on this point. Residents will be watching this and wondering on what authority a case officer can overrule a condition set by an inspector.”
Cllr Tyrrell said the site was "very prominent in the landscape", adding: "To suggest that the odd building here and there going above the parameter height is insignificant seems to be completely false.
“A height is a height. It affects the view. It affects the character. It affects the whole outlook from the ridge and across Thornbury, which is acknowledged to be a very special view."
She said there were "reasonable grounds" to turn down the application but the committee voted to delay a decision so they could visit the site first, after a planned site visit had been “called off” two weeks earlier.
The council received 133 letters of objection from local residents about the design proposals. Thornbury Town Council also opposed the plans.
Detailed design plans for the rest of the new neighbourhood, which will also include a 70-unit elderly care facility and community/office buildings, have not yet been submitted.
By Amanda Cameron, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Main picture: Colin Gardner of TRAPP'D addresses the meeting.