Cobham Conservation and Heritage Trust

Letter from Cobham Heritage to South Area Planning Sub-committee Ref: 1-7 Holly Parade

The Cobham Conservation and Heritage Trust has analysed the case officer's report which is recommending approval for the planning application 2016/2185 - 1-7 Holly Parade, High Street, Cobham, Surrey KT11 3EE.

We strongly object and have included the main letter below sent to South Area Planning Sub-committee stating why we believe the application should be refused.

Please come and support us at the South Area Planning Sub-Committee on Monday 12th December at 7.45pm at the Civic Centre in Esher.


8th December 2016

Dear Councillors

Application no.2016/2185 - 1-7 Holly Parade, High Street, Cobham, Surrey KT11 3EE

The Trust writes on this application, due for consideration by the South Area Planning Sub-Committee next Monday (12th December). The Trust is asking that the application be refused.

We are fully aware that Councillors may find it difficult to consider long letters close to the hearing date but the case officer’s report has only been available to us for a less than a week and the issues arising are so serious that it is not possible to condense our comments. We would ask you to bear with us in this instance.

The case officer’s report

The Trust cannot accept that the case officer can consider this proposal “in accordance with the development plan”. It is noted that while she refers by title to various policies, she does not go on to recite those in her report. The Trust will do that. This lack of detail is of concern. It can be seen from Paragraph 19 of the report that the Council’s Planning Department gave pre-application advice including on “…..impact on the character of the area……. ” following which “the application was encouraged.” Thus the developers were encouraged to proceed with their model on a major application before any proper engagement with the Cobham community as to what the community would like to see and would be appropriate for this site. The Trust deals with the overall lack of taking into account the views of the community later in this letter under “Unsound Consultation”.

The Trust would also comment here that the case officer looks to have the concept of 4 storeys accepted by saying that the fourth storey will not be “obvious when viewed from street level”. This is simply not true. The applicant’s own view from down the High Street shows the fourth storey (repeated in the inset montage in the addendum to the Design and Access statement). This view and the harmful view from Riverhill (footnote 1) does also show how the new building would tower abruptly and brutally above the Lloyds chemist building next door. The building would be overpowering and out of symmetry with neighbouring buildings and its jarring nature can be seen from the front elevation appended at the end of the case officer’s report.

Apart from saying that the fourth floor will be set back and therefore not visible there is still no justification of why a four storey building should be allowed here. Here is the first opportunity since the Design and Character SPD for Cobham Guide was consulted on and published in 2012 for the redevelopment of a significant site in the centre of Cobham. The applicants (and the case officer in recommending permission) are looking to completely ignore that and other basic guidelines in both the Core Strategy and the Development Management Plan.

Policy

The most important local policies are set out below with the Trust’s comments

CS1 Innovative contemporary design that embraces sustainability and improves local character will be supported and new development should enhance the public realm and street scene, providing a clear distinction between public and private spaces. By any measure, redevelopment of the site is overdue and considered acceptable in principle. However the proposal neither enhances the public realm nor enhances the street scene. The applicants have chosen a “contemporary” design without any consideration of what the Cobham public want. They are relying on acceptance of their model or the public having to bear with the existing eyesore for a longer period. Even in these circumstances the public oppose.

CS10 (which is specific to Cobham) - In all instances, it will be important that all new development is well designed, and integrates with and enhances local character townscape, landscape, and heritage assets. The design does not integrate with or enhance the local character. It at odds with it. The positive features of the area are the pitched roofs and gables to the north and the west of the High Street being generally 2 storeys (Footnote 1).

CS17 - Local Character, Density and Design requiring that new development will be required to deliver high quality and inclusive sustainable design, which maximises the efficient use of urban land whilst responding to the positive features of individual locations, integrating sensitively with the locally distinctive townscape, landscape, and heritage assets, and protecting the amenities of those within the area. The design is not an appropriate response to the site and completely fails to integrate sensitively with the locally distinctive landscape.

DM2 Design and Amenity

All new development should achieve high quality design, which demonstrates environmental awareness and contributes to climate change mitigation and adaptation. The Council will permit development proposals that demonstrate that they have taken full account of the following:

  1. All development proposals must be based on an understanding of local character including any specific local designations and take account of the natural, built and historic environment. Development proposals will be expected to take account of the relevant character assessment companion guide in the Design and Character SPD. The proposals fail to take in the history of the village and the existing character, of the gables and pitched roofs to the north and the west of the High Street being generally 2 storeys.
  2. Proposals should preserve or enhance the character of the area, taking account of design guidance detailed in the Design and Character SPD, with particular regard to the following attributes: • Appearance • Scale • Mass • Height • Levels and topography • Prevailing pattern of built development • Separation distances to plot boundaries • Character of the host building, in the case of extensions. The Proposals do not preserve or enhance the character of the area, taking account of design guidance detailed in the Design and Character SPD. It is out of scale, the height is excessive (Footnote 2 and 3) and the mass represents an increase of almost 400% on the current building (Footnote 3). It fails to follow the prevailing pattern of build, certainly on the west side of the High Street.

Design and Character SPD for the area in which the High Street is situate. In COS01 -
Buildings are rarely more than two and a half storeys with much of the High Street being two storeys (Para 3.15). The applicants look to disregard this guideline by adopting a fourth storey. That should be sufficient to refuse the application. The applicants contend that the fourth floor will not be visible but their own documents show that it will be. See also the view from Riverhill. (Footnote 1)
There is significant use of dormer windows, gables and skylights in roofs”. (Para 3.14) The proposal makes no effort to comply with this and no consideration is given to this guidance as part of the design concept.

Suitability of the site as accommodation for the elderly

The Trust’s initial un-researched reaction to accommodation for the elderly on this site was to be not against it per se. During the course of considering the application it became clear that the site is not suitable for this. There is a letter filed from Transition Cobham Air Quality Group that should be noted (Footnote 4) identifying as it does that the applicants have worked on one year’s figures for air quality in the High Street when those for previous years show that the situation is far worse than portrayed by the applicants.

The case officer refers in paragraph 40 of her report to air quality. The High Street location means that the air quality is poor due to potentially high nitrogen dioxide levels (there would be other toxicants such as particulates that are not monitored). It states that “conventional ventilation of the building through windows and the implementation of balconies, particularly within the frontage facing High Street, may not be appropriate.” Looking at suggested condition 14 relating to Ventilation, what is being proposed is that all habitable rooms on the High Street elevation must have suitable passive or mechanical fresh air ventilation systems when windows are closed. In essence this will mean that a development is built for elderly frail people in a polluted and noisy High Street where in order to protect their health they should not open their windows or use their balconies. With hotter, drier summers and no air conditioning in these dwellings it is wholly unrealistic to expect elderly residents to keep easterly facing windows closed when temperatures are at 30 degrees or more.

The proposal is contrary to Core Strategy objective 3 which aims to “To deliver high quality buildings and neighbourhoods that enhance character, improve people’s sense of safety and security and promote healthier lifestyles” and policy DM5 about Air Quality states that “Planning permission will not be granted for proposals where there is significant adverse impact upon the status of the Air Quality Management Area or where air quality may have a harmful effect on the health of future occupiers of the development, taking into account their sensitivity to pollutants, unless the harm can be suitably mitigated.” The High Street location of the proposed development means that the mitigation measures required by condition 14 will result in a significant loss of amenity for the proposed elderly residents. The level of attractive and usable outdoor amenity space for the residents is reduced by the poor air quality likely to render the use of balconies unsuitable (11 balconies fronting the High Street).

Unsound Consultation.

Paragraphs 19 and 20 of the case officer’s report show that the applicants went straight to Elmbridge for pre-application advice on a settled model and “encouraged” by the Council to make this application. The applicants then had meetings with the Trust, Cobham & Downside Residents Association and the Chamber of Commerce all of whom opposed the plans because of height, mass and design. Nevertheless the applicants proceeded with their fixed plans to a Village Hall display. The responses to that are not as the case officer portrays, the representations in the Statement of Community Involvement being imbalanced. For a fair representation of what was involved the representations of the Trust’s QC (of which the case officer gives no recognition) paragraph 3.2.4 - show a balanced picture (Footnote 5).

Following the application the consultation process has attracted what the case officer describes (in her introduction) as 454 letters of objection from 416 households, 8 observations and 77 letters of support (without specifying from how many households). The Trust has challenged this latter figure because the provenance of many was from the applicants stopping the public in the street and levying and filing a handwritten response that for the respondent there was no opportunity to think out, and relating only to wanting to replace the existing building, not its quality.

The case officer at paragraph 31 of her report refers to amendments to plans but in paragraph 6 agrees that amendments to the scheme were so minor that no further consultation was considered necessary. They make no difference to the views of objectors who are against not only a “box” appearance from a flat roof the case officer identifies but also to the mass, bulk, height and design.

As the Trust’s QC recites at 3.2.5 of representations, it considers that to inflict on the local community a design which has provoked so much criticism would be entirely incompatible with the trend, since the passing of the Localism Act 2011, of allowing the wishes of local people to be given more weight in the decision making process.

What the design process should have involved

The case officer repeats (paragraph 4) the statement of the applicants that there is “no relevant planning history”. There is. There would have been a permission (probably from Esher Urban District Council) for the present building on site and before that the history of the site is relevant. Previously on site was an attractive Victorian building named Holly Lodge, the gardens for which went around to what is now Hollyhedge Road and included the site on which, to the north, Barclays Bank now stands. Holly Lodge was demolished in 1966. The last use was as a showroom for South Eastern Gas Board but prior to that it had been used as a residence.

As the Trust’s QC identified at 3.3.2. of the representations “the applicant for permission appears to consider that it will suffice if the design of the proposed development is better than the existing. In the Trust’s opinion, to approach the matter in that way is entirely misconceived. The correct approach is to regard the availability of the site for redevelopment as an opportunity to begin to correct the mistakes of the past and to develop the site in a manner which will serve as an example for the future. In the Trust’s opinion, since the 1960s, great harm has been done to the High Street by permitting unsympathetic and inappropriate redevelopment”.

To achieve a proportionate and attractive building suitable for its location on Cobham High Street there is therefore needed a serious examination of how the High Street reached the state in which it is today. That is absent from the applicants presentation. In many places the High Street should not have been allowed to develop in the way that it did, particularly as to the scale of buildings on the east side. It is wrong for the applicants to use buildings on that side of the street to justify their proposals but even if that were an approach, there is no justification for advocating similar development on the west side. Even then the applicants are in their proposals looking to magnify even the most excessive development on the east side.

Many of the buildings on the west side of the High Street are 2.5 storeys but if a maximum is looked for, consistency requires the design to be for 3 stories at most and even if built to that height to be of a nature that continues the gabled features to the north and the modest height of the High Street to the south.

The Design Council CABE guide on presentation in Design & Access Statements poses the question “Does the statement show that the scheme has emerged from a rigorous assessment- involvement- evaluation-design process rather than trying to justify retrospectively a predetermined solution?” Unfortunately a predetermined solution is just what the applicants have sought to impose on this Cobham site. The Trust believes there is no scope for the applicants to ameliorate their business model of a certain number of apartments, living accommodation for a carer and a lounge and other facilities for residents. The Trust have been saying to the applicants from the time it has known of the process that the mass and frontage are entirely unacceptable for the village.

Again Paragraph 60 of the NPPF, points to the subjectivity of architecture, and that there should be “no attempt to impose architectural styles of particular tastes". That was a mistake made for the current building on site and it is what the applicants are looking to do which would again be a huge mistake if considered. If the applicants had properly surveyed what is required and overwhelmingly wanted by Cobham people, it is a reinstatement of the older values of the High Street with modest size buildings. This is also what the Design & Character policy document requires.

Summary

As recorded in its representations through Queens Counsel, the Trust accepts that the application site is a previously developed site in an urban area ripe for redevelopment. To that extent, to redevelop it accords with the NPPF and the Local Plan documents. The issue arising therefore is what is the appropriate type and design of development

The massing to four storeys is contrary to local policies and in particular CS10, CS17, DM2 Design and Amenity and the Local Character and Design SPD. Cobham needs to retain its historic character and scale with buildings rarely more than two and a half storeys (with much of the High Street being two storeys only). Even the applicants admit that they would be breaking new ground by looking for 4 storeys. To allow a break with what is clearly required by the local Design & Character document would condemn the village to a future where all scale in the High Street would be lost.

The design needs to be in accordance with the Design & Character document which the contemporary design of the applicants is not.

The applicants’ proposals are not for a sustainable development. When looking at the interconnected aspects of sustainability, any economic aspects that the applicants are advancing for imposing their plans on the community are overwhelmingly outweighed by the damage that would be done to locality, the street scene and the general wellbeing of Cobham residents. Residents have made it clear that they want an attractive traditional building of modest size designed to fit in with neighbouring properties with their dormers and gables. Even if 3 storeys are to be contemplated the design would have to use the pitched and gable roofs suggested by the Design & Character document. The applicant’s proposals are completely insensitive for this site and fail entirely to take in the local character.

High Street shops are coming under increasing pressure from internet purchasing. The High Streets which will survive this transformation will be those that are visited because of their attractiveness. This development, if allowed, would set a precedent for future inappropriate development which would take the heart out of Cobham as a visitor attraction.

The Trust asks that the application be refused.

Yours sincerely

Sir Gerald Acher, Chairman, Cobham Conservation & Heritage Trust
David Tipping, Vice Chairman, Cobham Conservation & Heritage Trust
David Bellchamber, Planning Officer, Cobham Conservation & Heritage Trust
Louise Barnard, Planning Adviser, Cobham Conservation & Heritage Trust

Footnote 1. The Trust attaches the view from the Conservation Area at Riverhill recreated with the proposed development imposed.

Footnote 2. The height of the proposed building would be 13.7m at the fourth floor flat roof parapet level (the present height for buildings presently on the site being about half that) but it does go up even to 14.7m to accommodate service facilities situate on the roof. The height of the neighbouring buildings to what may be termed eaves on the northern boundary and the two storey flat roofed shop units on the southern boundary are approximately 5.5m and 7m respectively. See applicants own plan attached at the end of the case officer’s report.

Footnote 3. There is no attempt to justify the density by comparison with anything locally in the area. The case officer follows the applicants on failing to recite the square meterage involved. Figures that identify the increase in floor area are to be found in the Additional Information Requirement form for Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) that the applicants were required to file. That confirms the total present floor space as being 706 sqm. and then goes on to record the total gross internal floor space proposed as 3,399.95 sqm., an increase of 2,693.95 sqm. or an almost 400% increase.

Footnote 4. This letter from Transition Cobham Air Quality Group dated 30th September 2016 is attached

Footnote 5. The representations settled by Matthew Horton QC are attached.

Queens Award for Voluntary Service

Riverhill Greenflag Award

Green Flag Award

Open Spaces Award

Open Spaces Award