There was a very unusual planning application at the District Council Development Committee last night. Why was it unusual ? We’ll explain later.
The application was to convert an old house in Rochford from office use into 9 flats. Council officers were in favour of the scheme. However many councillors were unhappy with it for planning reasons. The number of parking spaces was only 9, instead of the usual requirement of 13. There wasn’t much amenity space, just a bit of grass at the far end of the car park. The recycling bins would need to be moved 10 metres each week by residents – and these weren’t ordinary wheelie bins, they were big bins used for flats.
Taken individually, each of these problems could maybe be ignored . It’s a town centre location with a railway station and a public car park, so maybe we could overlook the shortfall in parking spaces. There’s a park within walking distance , so we maybe we could overlook the lack of amenity space. And maybe the recycling bin problem could be overcome somehow. But putting all of these problems together, many councillors were frowning. Cllr Simon Smith (past Chair of Development) was clearly uneasy, and Chris Black, John Mason, Jim Grey and Christine Mason spoke outright against the scheme. The new chair of the committee, Phil Capon, was also unhappy. Even though it was a suitable location for flats, councillors felt that passing the scheme as it was would set a bad precedent that would encourage other developers to try poorly-designed schemes. So councillors decided to defer a decision to allow time for the scheme to be redesigned.
So what was so very unusual about this? Well, the old house was Acacia House in Rochford, which used to be the offices of the planning department! And the applicant was the district council itself. You might have expected that when the council puts forward a scheme for the old headquarters of its own bloomin’ planning department, it would be a sort of flagship scheme showing other applicants to do things properly. Sadly, that wasn’t the case… But there’s still time to improve things…