New build home in Pett Level approved amid ‘injustice’ concerns

Rother planners have approved proposals for a new build in Pett Level amid concerns the application may have been prejudiced by council advice.

Friday, 12th November 2021, 4:39 pm
Layout and location of the proposed new property in grey

On Thursday (November 11), Rother District Council’s planning committee went against officer advice and approved proposals for a two-storey new build home on land next to a property known as Curlew Cottage in Pett Level Road.

The circumstances surrounding the application were complex. It had been recommended for refusal by officers on the grounds it was outside of any development boundary. 

However, this had only become the case in December 2019, with the council’s adoption of its Development and Site Allocations Local Plan (DaSA). Before this, the site fell within the development boundary of Pett Level. 

According to the applicants they had first sought pre-application advice from the council in 2016 and, after learning of the then-upcoming change in policy, had been advised by officers that the change would not prejudice their case. 

The applicants said they would have submitted their full application sooner in order to avoid the change had they not been given this advice. They also spoke of difficulties and delays in contacting council officers as their plans progressed. 

Rother for its part has no record of this correspondence and cannot confirm or deny such advice was given.

In light of this, several committee members argued the scheme should be approved on a ‘discretionary basis’ despite its failure to comply with local planning policies. Among those to argue for this was ward councillor Andrew Mier (Lib Dem), who said: “This is an extraordinarily difficult application. I feel very internally conflicted on it. Heart and head and policy, fairness and justice all pulling in different directions and I have to admit to losing sleep over this.

“It is a development outside of the development boundary, therefore deemed to be in countryside, although perhaps as you’ve seen not an isolated house.

“In ordinary circumstances I would have no hesitation whatsoever in agreeing with the officers. Our policies would mean, if applied directly, that the application should be rejected. I accept that.”

He added: “Neighbours justifiably fear this could set a precedent, [but] if this were to be allowed by this committee could the notice specifically state we had regard to the circumstances of this application being affected by the change in policy and the assurances which were almost certainly given.

“That would prevent this being used as any sort of precedent in other cases.”

This view was shared by a number of other councillors who argued the application should be approved in light of the potential this advice had been given and the proposals delayed as a result.

John Barnes (Con) said: “I am worried that with a policy shift we seem to be responsible for the delay to the application, which actually has prejudiced the applicant.

“I want to uphold policy, but I have to say, I think in this case we are going to do a gross injustice by doing so.” 

Officers were concerned about granting planning permission, however, saying the scheme could potentially be refused on design grounds as well as principle. 

The committee also heard that the application had been submitted in October 2020, nearly a year after the change in policy

Some other committee members were also more hesitant about the prospect of approving the application on this basis. Others felt the application should be refused outright.

Even so, when put to the vote the committee approved the application, delegating responsibility to officers to draw up conditions. 

For further details of the proposals see application reference RR/2020/1826/P on the Rother District Council website.