I recently had a Planning Application rejected. I've had refusals before, but this one was different.
The Application was for an extension to a typical 1930s semidetached house on Bancroft Avenue in Cheadle Hulme. I knew before the application went in that the Planners were going to recommend rejection on the basis of architectural style alone. I had already submitted a Pre-Application and from the feedback had ironed out any easy-to-reject rule breaking. This was going to be about aesthetics.
I asked some friends to write me letters of support. Stephen Hodder, ex president of the RIBA and inaugural winner of the Stirling Prize. David Rudlin who is Chair of the Academy of Urbanism and winner of the 2014 Wolfson Economic Prize - he has also written books about planning and urbanism. Craig Stott - who runs a unit in Architecture at the University of Leeds.
Because of these letters the Planners were forced to go to committee so the Application could be decided by our elected Councillors.
In an unavoidable twist of fate I ended up in A&E on the night of the meeting. This was unfortunate in light of what transpired. The Conservative chair Brian Bagnall set up an argument around what he called a measurable reason for refusal. The opposing Liberals felt the Planning officer Callum Coyne was being far too subjective in his eagerness to refuse. They argued that rejecting an application based purely on personal architectural taste is unfair. Brian Bagnall sidestepped this by inventing a false measurable fact.
The drawings were sat in front of all who attended showing how the new extension was specifically designed so that the eaves of the new aligned with the eaves of the existing house. Despite this Brian managed to convince everyone there that the extension was higher. The Planning officer who knew the truth wholeheartedly confirmed this lie. The debate was over and the vote was to reject.
A video of the meeting is here. Item 5J - 15 Bancroft Avenue can be found in the agenda column on the right hand side -
I did write to the thirteen people in the meeting pointing out the error, but I only received one reply from Councillor Suzanne Wyatt of the Liberal Democrats. She was supportive of the scheme and voted for Planning Approval.
I was expecting a refusal. The position of the Planners was made very clear at the pre-application stage - 'If you don't replicate the building technology used ninety years ago to construct the original house we will refuse'. What I didn't expect was the debate within the councillors meeting for such a small project - it was very clearly about style, about personal opinions. At one point I thought it might even get an approval. Brian put an end to this as described above.
Matt and Sam, my clients, also expected a refusal and we always intended to go to Appeal. But the way it was refused, based on a lie, was infuriating and unfair. And for this to go unacknowledged by the people in the meeting is outrageous.
And why are these people who are the guardians of our built environment not listening to people as knowledgeable and experienced as David Rudlin, Stephen Hodder, Craig Stott and my myself? No mention of their support for a tiny house extension came up in the meeting. The young Planner who I would guess is in his late twenties who has never built a building in his life was talked about extensively and his opinions give huge weight. These men are in their fifties and sixties and have a lifetime of building Architecture.