One of the most important aspects of being a local politician is to decide on important matters which can be controversial. This happened tonight with one of our planning applications which was decided today by all 40 councillors at a special meeting of Full Council.
Next PLC had put in an application on the current Homebase store along the A30. This would be one of their larger style stores. There were 2 objections – one from The Mall and the other from Rushmoor BC.
Now planning issues of this nature are always meant to be non-political which means that there is never any kind of group whip and so it proved tonight…
Our Head of Planning gave a lengthy overview of the officer view and this was followed by very good speeches from both the applicant (from Next) and from The Mall as an objector.
After much discussion, Cllr Edward Hawkins (who is also the Chair of the Planning Committee) proposed that we accept the officer recommendation (to defer and delegate to officers to approve subject to legal agreements or refuse if legal agreements are not in place) which I decided to second. More debate ensued and a vote was then taken.
The result was this was very interesting:- 24 in favour, 11 against and 1 abstaining. A recorded vote was taken so you can see how your own counciillors voted. Those in favour were 20 Con, 1 Lab, 2 Ind and 1 LD. Those against were 10 Con (including the Leader and other Executive Members and 1 Lab.)
Here’s my personal reasoning….There were 5 issues to consider and they go as follows:
– “Retail Impact and the Sequential Test” – In my view, a Next store would have an impact on Camberley Town Centre and therefore I am sympathetic to the views of The Mall . However, Next PLC can go into the site and operate their store without the need for any planning permission as it is the same planning use as Homebase. The application is basically to extend mezzanine flooring and issues such as changing the shop front. We were NOT therefore deciding on whether to have a Next store on this site – this would go on there anyway. Rushmoor objected because they believed they had 2 sites where this could go but after checking, one was too small and the other was not available at this time.
– “Impact on character” – It would have little impact on the visual character of this area and no objections had been raised on these grounds.
– “Impact on residential amenity” – It is some distance from any residents and therefore impact would be negligible.
– “Impact on highway safety” – A number of members were concerned about possible traffic problems around the Meadows and A30. As someone who regularly drives that route, I do have sympathy with that and the roundabout can be a nightmare at times. However, the proposal would mean a change of only 1 car parking space (from 259 to 260) on the current Homebase site. In addition, there was no objection from our County Highways Dept or anyone else on traffic and highway safety and therefore I couldn’t see how an reasonable argument could be sustained on those grounds without clear evidence. The issues of this roundabout need to be dealt with but refusing this planning application due to 1 extra car parking space was not the way to do it.
– “Impact on flooding” – It does fall in a flood zone but the actual changes would have minimal impact and the Environment Agency raised no objection.
Now that you might agree or disagree with the above reasoning but hopefully it gives you an understanding of the type of decisions that councillors make. Not always popular and often controversial but the least you should get is an explanation!