Developers’ appeal threat to Peterborough council over controversial affordable homes application
Developers threatened an appeal against Peterborough City Council over a controversial application for affordable homes in Glinton.
Larkfleet Homes said the time taken to make a decision over its plans for 34 affordable rent and shared ownership homes on farmland off Lincoln Road was “unacceptable” and that it was putting the local authority “on notice for an appeal”.
Planning manager Hannah Guy emailed the council on September 14, 2020, adding: “It is unfortunate that PCC have not collaborated on this development, to either express concern over layout, content, policy or anything really. Or offer any positive feedback.”
An apology was issued by a council planning officer 11 days later while the application was later rejected for several reasons, including that it would cause “substantial” harm to the village.
The appeal threat is contained in a series of emails released following a Freedom of Information request to the council.
The emails reveal that Bourne-based housebuilders Larkfleet enquired as to whether there was any “tolerance” with regards to meeting minimum national standards over the size of the proposed affordable homes, as well as anger among residents Glinton who pushed for the application to be rejected and became frustrated by the time taken to make a decision.
Many of the 138 pages of correspondence are heavily redacted but, overall, they highlight the pressures faced by the local authority over the controversial application which was described as “an act of piracy” by council leader (and chair of Glinton Parish Council) Cllr John Holdich.
The majority of emails were sent to the council by Ms Guy who on July 23 expressed indignation to planning officer Amanda McSherry, stating: “I have emailed a significant amount of times on this application. I am increasingly getting concerned that NO contact/feedback/communication is being made on this application.
“Then on my Facebook feed there is the attached. I think its wholly unprecedented that I should learn of a potential Council Formal decision via social media when NO CONTACT whatso ever has been received from the council since validation…..this is a serious development, that we have paid a significant fee for.
“I completely understand that it’s a contentious development but that doesn’t negate the council’s duty to contact or communicate with the applicant. I am considering making a formal compliant if this continues.”
Ms McSherry apologised the same day, adding: “It was not any attempt to deliberately ignore you, but just as a result of being very busy.” She also promised to call the following day.
Then on September 4 Ms Guy emailed her frustration at the progress of the application since it had been submitted on April 24.
She said: “I’ve only had one email from you in that time and no formal response or opinion as to the development itself. There maybe design issues that you want to see amended and not to mention that fact that its more than likely required to go before Planning committee.
“I appreciate that work loads are high but to be no further forward on a valid acceptable application for which a substantive fee was required…..is unacceptable.”
She emailed Ms McSherry again 10 days later, adding: “I am really sorry but given the time elapsed and given the lack of response and comment from PCC with regard to the proposed application, I have been instructed to put you on notice for an appeal.
“We will be pursuing an appeal for NON-Determination and I have a QC opinion with the merits of the case. It is unfortunate that PCC have not collaborated on this development, to either express concern over layout, content, policy or anything really. Or offer any positive feedback…….”
Council development management team manager Louise Simmonds replied on September 15: “I’m not entirely sure what has happened to result in the current situation. However I would like to extend the sincere apologies of the department to you, as the level of service you have been provided is not what we would wish to deliver.
“However I will be picking this application back up and am keen to try and work with you, if possible, to resolve the situation. This is being very much treated as a priority now and we are keen to ensure that no further undue delays result.”
After proposing a virtual meeting, the Ms Simmonds adds: “Please also do let me know if you would be open to the idea of resolving some matters ahead of an appeal, with a tightly controlled time period of course given the delays you have already experienced.
“I look forward to hearing from you soon (and please do ignore my out of office auto response as I will be picking up your emails).”
The council also came under pressure from residents in Glinton, in particular from the parish council which urged the planning department to reject the application.
An email from the clerk (whose name is redacted) on August 12 highlights an announcement from the Government of upcoming planning changes as a reason to make a quick decision.
It states: “Given the news on relaxaon of planning law the parish council and residents are geng very nervous and feel that further delay is to the advantage of the developer, if not now then on appeal.
“I have been asked to write to you urging that the planning applicaon be refused in the immediate future.”
And on September 29, in response to an email from a resident in Glinton who was concerned about the time taken over the application, the council’s head of planning Nick Harding replied: “We have fed back to Larkfleet our concerns on the proposed development and some of these are technical in nature and capable of resolution and some we think not.
“Larkfleet are considering these and will be making a decision on whether or not to revise the scheme.
“Whilst I appreciate that many will consider that this approach has the effect of giving Larkfleet ‘a foot in the door’, it is established Govt policy that Council’s work with applicants to resolve as many issues as reasonably possible.
“If we did not take the approach we have then, the Council would be at risk of an award of cost in the event of a successful planning appeal.”
Larkfleet was given a time extension to submit revisions to its plans, although it comfortably missed its November 30 deadline.
One email from Ms Simmonds to Ms Guy on November 10 states: “I‘m afraid that I am being placed under considerable pressure to resolve this matter.”
A further email from Larkfleet’s development funding manager (whose name is redacted) back on May 22 also asks “is there any tolerance?” with regards to meeting minimum national space standards for the proposed properties.
In the end, a failure to meet the standards was listed by the council as one of several reasons why it refused the application.
In a damning assessment the authority said “little to no regard” had been paid by Larkfleet to the site’s rural setting, while the company had failed to “adequately address potential risks of crime and anti-social behaviour” and demonstrate that the development “would not be at unacceptable risk from flooding”.
Other concerns included road safety, no visitor parking and a lack of open space provision.
Larkfleet had previously been refused plans for 78 homes at the same site, as well as sporting facilities for Glinton & Northborough Football Club, a decision which was upheld by a government inspector following an appeal.