‘Too tall and dominant’ – application to demolish old car dealership to build 111 flats rejected

A proposed 3D image of what the block of apartments would look like. Picture: Bryant+Moore Architect

A proposed 3D image of what the block of apartments would look like - Credit: Bryant+Moore Architects

A scheme to build 111 flats across two tower blocks in the heart of Welwyn Garden City has been rejected by councillors.

The development management committee voted eight votes to five against proposals to demolish the old Land Rover garage on 73 Bridge Road East to build blocks of one and two bedroom flats.

A bird's-eye view of the proposed buildings. Picture: Bryant+Moore Architects

A bird's-eye view of the proposed buildings - Credit: Bryant+Moore Architects

The decision to have the committee review the application was due to former Peartree councillor Malcolm Cowan ‘calling in’ the decision – otherwise the planning officers, who were in favour of the application, would have had the final say.

The old Land Rover car dealership would have been demolished and 42 one bedroom flats and 69 two bedroom units would have been built in its place.

The application failed on two major aspects.

Firstly, it didn't meet the council’s parking standards – although officers said it was in a ‘sustainable location’.

The two proposed buildings. Picture: Bryant+Moore Architects

The two proposed buildings - Credit: Bryant+Moore Architects

Secondly it was not compatible with the objectively assessed needs for housing due to the lack of three-bedroom apartments.

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Conservative councillor Samuel Kasumu forwarded the motion to reject the application at the meeting and said: “I’m not sure I’m going to be in the majority here, but I propose we reject the recommendation from the officers.

“The main reasons being that the development is too tall and dominant, at seven storeys it will be out of keeping with other buildings alongside the road.

“Also because it fails to meet the council’s parking standard and also the loss of employment land and it not being in keeping with the OAN for housing mix.”

The motion was seconded by Jayne Ranshaw, who raised the point that the site wasn’t currently vacant and is home to the Forces Support charity shop and also brought up the fact that the nearest amenity is 1.5 miles away.

The height of one of the buildings, seven storeys, was also an issue for Cllr Ranshaw who countered the argument that the nearby Norton building is also tall by highlighting that it is a lot further away from the street.

She said: “I would find the scheme more acceptable if they swapped the taller building with the shorter building.”

The Broadwater Road developments were referenced by the planners as a ‘significant development there close to the road’ in response.

With regards to the charity shop, the leaseholder is letting them use the site for free while the application is ongoing, but it isn’t the building’s technical permitted use.

The chair of the committee, Cllr Jonathon Boulton told councillors: “What I would remind members is that when you judge this you have to judge against planning law and planning policy. So not personal preference, even if you dislike it.

“We’ve heard a number of things from officers: this is a sustainable development, this is a sustainable location, the property has been marketed since 2018 with no firm interest. It’s a sui generis usage so there’s no direct loss of class B employment land – so that meets the criteria with concerns of loss of employment land."

The legal term sui generis means 'of its own kind', and is used to categorise buildings that do not fall within any particular use class for the purposes of planning permission.

He continued to summarise points made by planning officers: that the two step building is in keeping with surrounding designs, the proposed density in keeping, the Highway Authority and Highways England had no objections, there were no objections on noise and air pollution and the project was amended after pre application advice.

The main objections from residents were due to the fact that it was overlooking and there would be a lack of amenities.

However, officers said in planning terms it is not an unacceptable level of impact in terms of overlooking.

Cllr Boulton also shared his personal view: “Whilst instinctively I don’t like the idea of loosing employment space, particularly employment space going to a large number of flats.

“In planning terms, whilst this might be slightly more finely balanced than we might likes and whilst the housing mix might not be quite what we like.

“I think the officers are correct, that this is in planning terms – compliant.”

Nearby, a planning application to demolish B&Q and build 151 flats has received a large number of objections.