Anger mounts over flouting of planning rules for Connel house
NEW social housing in Connel built too close to Ann Colthart’s home due to a council planning blunder was spared demolition last Thursday, when councillors voted five to four to mitigate the mistake at a packed public hearing in Connel Village Hall.
Ms Colthart, a retired teacher, noticed in May that a two-storey semi-detached house in the neighbouring St Oran’s Place development was going up close to her 14-year-old sunroom at Duriehill. The building was 9.3 metres away from her property, when guidelines stated the window to window distance must be at least 18m. She said it invaded her privacy and caused distress.
Argyll and Bute Council planning officers stopped work, apologised and admitted two errors in processing Macleod Construction Ltd’s 2014 planning application. First, they relied on an out-of-date Ordnance Survey map which did not depict the sunroom and, secondly, they did not undertake a site visit, contrary to established practice.
A planning application, submitted by the Lochgilphead-based construction company in July 2016, sought to mitigate the errors by frosting and fixing the glass in the ground floor, moving the top-floor rear windows to the gable end, and erecting a one-metre high wall and leylandii hedge.
But after it drew no letters of support and 51 objections, the council’s 14-strong Planning, Protective Services and Licensing Committee (PPSL) decided to hold a site visit and a public hearing.
Nine councillors and around 80 members of the public packed Connel Village Hall for the decision at 11.30am, when all heard representations by the planning department and Macleod Construction – who both recommended the application for approval – and nine objectors, including Ms Colthart, her friends and neighbours, councillors, an MSP and community councillors. There were no supporters.
Planning officer Ross Macfarlane argued that the mitigating application constituted ‘a minor departure from the local plan’, and said standards may be relaxed due to ‘acute angle of view’ and ‘a difference in ground level’. He added: ‘We do not consider demolition proportionate.’
Ms Colthart, a resident of Duriehill for 30 years, appealed: ‘These proposals do not alter the fact plot four is far too close. The planners, once they realised the “catalogue of errors, stretching back over years” and arising from “staff changes”, have been helpful and professional. We all make mistakes. But I cannot accept that I and any possible occupants of the houses should be the ones to live with the consequences. If there’s anything positive to have come out of all of this, it is the incredible support.’
Ms Colthart’s representative, Maud Marshall, said ‘the application is not a minor departure’. She said the council’s own 2009 and 2015 local plan guidelines seek an 18m distance between the main windows, yet it consented to Macleod’s 2010 planning application to build four flats and 16 private houses – including one, plot 17, 12m away from Ms Colthart’s home. Eight flats and six semi-detached homes were then granted permission in 2013 and 2014, when ‘non-compliant’ plots three and four were built just 9.35m away.
Therefore, she argued, there were ‘two flawed consents’, ‘two unmonitored departures’ from the local plans, ‘two notable errors’, and a ‘third error’, in not meeting a requirement to submit plans showing the exact position of all adjoining properties and their main windows.
Representing Connel Community Council, Roger Ashworth said: ‘What has been of concern is the manner in which this development became a creeping programme. The rules say a distance of 12m is required between habitable room windows and gable ends or elevations with only non-habitable room windows. The main issue – that plot four is just too close to Duriehill – is not addressed by the remedial action.’
Michael Russell MSP submitted a statement: ‘It cannot be corrected by the changes applied for and indeed they would only compound the problem by constantly reminding Ann and her neighbours of what had gone wrong and the refusal to set it right. I do hope the committee will do the proper, human and legally correct thing and ensure that this application is rejected and the properties are demolished.’
Three councillors, George Freeman, Neil MacIntyre and Gordon Blair, who all believed consent should be refused, and a fourth, vice chairman Alex McNaughton, voted for Mr Freeman’s amendment to continue deliberation, but it was defeated by five councillors: chairman David Kinniburgh, Rory Colville, Alistair MacDougall, Donald MacMillan and James McQueen.
Mr Kinniburgh said: ‘ There have been shortcomings with the planning officer and there are attempts to mitigate that. If the property were 2.7m further over, would it make a huge difference? I do not think it will.’
Ms Colthart said: ‘I am very disappointed, but the hearing gave us the opportunity we wanted to put our case, which I think was strong and reflected the feelings of the community in Connel.
‘We have right on our side. We need to sit down, think things over and decide what to do next. This is not over. I’d just like to thank again everyone who supported me.’
Supporters of Ann Colthart, inset, packed Connel Village Hall for the planning hearing.