A positive result across boundary lines in North Herts and Central Beds
Lower Stondon is a good example of the difficulties that can arise when an application through no fault of its own falls between the cracks of disparate local responsibilities. The site is located in North Herts District Council near the boundaries of three parishes: two in North Herts and one in Central Bedfordshire. While the site is within the county of Hertfordshire the nearest schools are over the boundary in county of Bedfordshire and when it was reported to North Herts Development Management Committee it was the first major application to appear on the agenda in an authority transformed by a dramatic and unexpected change of control following the local elections on 2 May 2019.
Lower Stondon involved an outline application for 144 new homes and the site was allocated within the draft North Herts Local Plan. There were already very significant local concerns about traffic congestion on the A600 Bedford Road and a previous application had been refused on the grounds of adverse impact on the nearby Grade 2* Ramerick Manor. The application was strongly contested by local residents.
MPC proposed a comprehensive programme of stakeholder and community engagement which would inform people of the significant changes that had been made to the earlier proposal. Barratt David Wilson changed the design team to give the new application a fresh look and studiously addressed the concerns raised by residents and local councillors. A local exhibition and consultation event was accompanied by prolonged and detailed consideration of the issues separately with all three parish councils. The housing numbers were reduced and a development-free buffer introduced around Ramerick Manor.
Notwithstanding this, the application was delayed by a clash between the two County Council’ about how the substantial s106 contributions would be divided between them – an issue that was later to crop up at committee. Barratt David Wilson agreed the sums and was keen to ensure that all relevant authorities received their fair share.
Once seemingly resolved, the application was submitted to the North Herts Development Control Committee in November 2018 only to be withdrawn at the last moment when the agreement between the two County Council’s broke down. Further detailed negotiations followed but by the time the application could appear on the agenda again, the Conservatives had lost control of the council and a joint administration led by the Labour and LibDems had taken over. On 30 May 2019, with many newly trained members, despite a clear committee brief and a recommendation from officers, the Development Management Committee struggled to comprehend the division of the s106 contribution and were wary of agreeing a major application that remained unpopular with residents immediately after an election which has seen them push concerns about development high up the political agenda.
While accepting that the application had merit and could not be refused on planning grounds members perversely agreed to defer the application until they had seen the final report of the planning inspector in the draft local plan.
Barratt David Wilson immediately appealed the decision on the grounds that they had agreed the required education contributions and their allocation was simply a matter for the County Councils. They argued a deferral for an unlimited period while the Planning reported on an unrelated matter was simply unreasonable. Officers agreed and fast-tracked it back to committee on 20 July 2019 where members agreed that had they not deferred the application it would have been approved and that they did not want to contest the appeal.