Basildon councillors reject plan for Wickford flats development

COUNCILLORS have unanimously booted out plans to build 158 flats just outside Wickford High Street.

Basildon Council’s Planning Committee refused planning permission for two blocks – one six-storey, one seven-storey – in Runwell Road, near Wickford Cricket Club.

The proposal was for 142 one-bedroom flats and 16 two-bedroom flats.

More than 30 objections had been received by residents, but council officers had asked councillors to grant planning permission anyway.

A previous application for a smaller development had been refused by councillors in 2007, only for the council to lose an appeal. However, the proposed development never came to fruition after the global banking collapse sent the UK into a recession.

Several members of the public attended last night’s planning meeting to ask councillors to refuse permission.

One pointed out that drawings depicted many of the flats with double beds in, even though the dimensions were below the minimum permitted for a two-person dwelling. He told the meeting he suspected this was a ‘sleight of hand by the applicant’.

Concerns were also raised about waste management and parking.

One resident pointed out that occupants would be required to carry their rubbish more than the maximum 30 metres permitted by Government guidelines. Another said that the planned bin area would require rubbish trucks to park for more than a quarter of an hour just a few metres up the road from a busy town centre roundabout, which they said would inevitably cause traffic jams.

The planning application only included parking spaces for roughly 60 per cent of the proposed flats.

Council officers said this met Government guidelines for housing near town centres, due to their transport links.

‘Officers give advice, members make decisions..’

Cllr Malcolm Buckley

But, said Wickford Tory councillor Malcolm Buckley, “At the weekends there are no trains and if you want to go out after about eight o’clock, there’s no buses. They’ve even cancelled the bus route over to the Festival Leisure Park. So how are those people going to enjoy themselves without a vehicle?”

Cllr Buckley told the meeting: “I’ve always thought this site should be developed. However, in just under 30 years on this council, I think this is probably the worst designed scheme I’ve seen proposed to this council anywhere in the borough.

“A developer is looking to be bailed out of a financial situation because somebody has made a bad investment in the past. That is not the role of this council.

“It’s the role of this council to ensure that housing is delivered that is beneficial to the people of the area, it does not damage the area and it improves the vitality and vibrancy of the area. This fails on all three of those counts.”

Fellow Wickford councillors David Harrison and Eunice Brockman also raised concerns.

A council officer told the committee that almost all of their concerns would not hold up at appeal.

She said concerns over waste could be dealt with by ordering a waste management scheme, parking provision was within the Government guidelines, Essex Council rules meant the committee could not consider any theoretical burden on local schools and the lack of affordable housing was mitigated by a cash donation to the council.

But councillors overruled civil servants.

Independent Derrick Fellowes told the meeting: “This is without doubt the most unpopular planning application that I’ve ever sat on. There is a danger, I we refuse it because of wrong reasons, that the applicant will go to an appeal, may or may not win.

“If they do win, the appeal judge could say, ‘Yes, I find in your favour’, and Basildon Council could pick up charges, which is a shameful waste of residents’ money.

“But I can’t see, given my own personal feelings about this site – I’m having great difficulty in thinking I would put my hand up in favour of this development.

“Yes, there is a development that’s needed – but I feel that this is a poor proposal.”

Cllr Buckley told the meeting: “Officers give advice. Members make decisions.”

He then moved that planning permission be refused, which was unanimously backed.

Councillors refused the proposal on grounds that the design was intrusive and harmful to the character of the area and failed to contribute high quality, well-designed housing.

Charles Thomson

Chief ReporterEmail: [email protected]