Thursday, 20 October 2011

The Levington Road problem

Planning issues have been the topic of a number of posts on various Ipswich political blogs recently, a number of these posts have been about the proposal to turn the Golden Key into a supermarket but two of the Tory supporting blogs have had an identical post about a planning application to build a bungalow in Levington Road.

Nothing wrong with that you may think? That is what political activists should do, inform residents of local issues that they may be interested in. But what has annoyed me with these two Tory posts is the assumptions, some may even say accusations made by a senior Tory councillor- someone who should know better.

The same post by Cllr Liz Harsant is published on both the Ipswich Politics and A Riverside View blogs. The post is a copy of her Evening Star column that was in the paper this Tuesday (18th October) but this is where it starts to go wrong. It seems after sending her column to the local paper she handed it over to one of her Tory colleagues to place on their blog, the post went up on the two Tory supporting blogs a week before it appeared in the paper. You would have thought they would have at least waited till the article had been printed, especially as the post is date sensitive, referring to a planning meeting that will take place tomorrow (the 19th). It makes you wonder if Nadia Cenci or Kevin Algar even read it before putting it up on their blog.

But the Evening Star decided not to publish all Cllr Harsant’s article and though it has the item about the bus shelter on Nacton Road, the ‘Star’ decided not to print the item about the Levingon Road planning application. I am not sure if that was because there was not enough room on the page or if they thought the article may be not what was expected from a senior councillor.

I have printed below the article so you can read it:
So tomorrow we will know the outcome of another application which has been submitted to the Planning Department for a bungalow at the rear of 34 to 40 Levington Road and using part of 36 and 38 Levington Road. A precedent was set back in June this year when an application for a bungalow was approved further up Levington Road towards Felixstowe Road in spite of the residents fighting against this for over 6 years – can you imagine their dismay when this was agreed. So my prediction that this would happen again is about to come true – we shall soon have another street between Levington and Salisbury Road! The site in question had some lovely trees on it and suddenly overnight the developer cut them all down. The residents are very distressed by this as many of them saw what they believed to be a bat roost in there. I am told by the Planning Officers that it is the Wildlife and Countryside Act that offers protection to any protected species and any offences under the Act are criminal offences to be dealt with by the police rather than the local planning authority. So we shall see but it is strange that biodiversity is important along the greensward on Nacton and Clapgate Lane but not important at the rear of these properties. Let’s hope the Planning Committee listen to the residents’ concerns this time. The application will be heard tomorrow Wednesday October 19th at Grafton House.

Now from the tone of the article it seems to me that Cllr Harsant is implying that she thought a decision had already been agreed on before the planning application had been heard by the committee, now as a senior councillor she should know better than most that planning decisions should not be political and certainly not decided on before the meeting. That has certainly been the way it works since I have been a substitute on planning and quite often we find ourselves as Labour Councillors not always voting together. Cllr Harsant repeated again that she thought the decision had already been made when she gave her comments at the planning meeting. Now I am sure many of the public think that planning is dealt with behind closed doors but it is not, I have never heard of a planning decision being made by a group before the meeting, certainly not by the Labour Group. She also implied that many of the residents, especially some of the more elderly were not happy with the way the property company had behaved – that should be a police matter not something that the planning committee should or could deal with. Cllr Harsant was also concerned about a possible bat living in one of the trees, I am glad she seems to be now caring about our local wildlife as she certainly did not seem to display the same passion for protecting wildlife when she gave the reasons behind the last Tory administration’s plan to sell off Kiln Meadow.

Anyway for all of Cllr Harsants predictions, on Wednesday the application was refused by the planning committee. (However, Christchurch can appeal against our decision, in which case an Inspector will investigate the case and make a final decision.)
But the posts by Cllr Harsant all seem to be part of a tactic to blame the Labour administration for building on back gardens and any small available space in East Ipswich.

We need to correct that misleading impression that Labour committee members have supported building on backland plots in Levington Road. This was not the case on Wednesday. Nor was it the case on any of the occasions where Christchurch Property applied to build on a similar backland plots behind 8-18 Levington Road.

In reality, Labour have consistently led the arguments against every application (and in every case, against the council officers’ recommendations.) The planning committee won two appeals against Christchurch Property. In the end the committee were left with no planning reasons for refusal, and planning committee members of all political parties voted for the single bungalow behind 34-40. Nobody was happy about this, but it was better than Christchurch’s first application – a row of terraced houses and chalet bungalow.

However, Labour members were so worried by this attempt by a developer to build what amounted to another, unplanned street in between two roads, Levington and Salisbury, that in 2009 we added a proposal into the Council’s Local Development Planning Framework. We wanted to give the local authority the power to refuse applications like Christchurch’s. We actually called it the ‘Levington Road problem’ because this was the place where we had found ourselves, in the end, without strong enough planning reasons to refuse an application nobody wanted except the developer.

We are also very worried by the government’s new National Policy Planning Framework (which has been described as a ‘developer’s charter’), and by local Tory MP Dan Poulter’s comments – he thinks there should be more building in places like East Ipswich because he doesn’t want any building on North Ipswich. As we know, this means more houses crammed into places like Levington Road – which already have enough houses and people and traffic.


Anonymous said...

Councillor Harsant has "previous" for dodgy statements:

Claiming that all Ipswich Borough Homes had met the "Ipswich Standard" a few years back when they hadn't - No retraction ever published.

Blaming Labour for street light switch-off in the Holywells newsletter when it is SCC Tory policy.

Even the reduction in grass cutting which she complains about on Nacton Road/Clapgate Lane, was part of her administration's budget for this year.

I could go on...

Anonymous said...

Not every home has reached the Ipswich Standard. Some residents have not wanted work done on their kitchens or bathrooms.

I know of one that needs some major work on it to bring it up to minimum housing regulations.