Anger mounts over flout­ing of plan­ning rules for Con­nel house

The Oban Times - - NEWS - SANDY NEIL sneil@oban­

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 First, they re­lied on an out-of-date Ord­nance Sur­vey map which did not de­pict the sun­room and, sec­ondly, they did not un­der­take a site visit, con­trary to es­tab­lished prac­tice.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.

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