The crowd grew increasingly irate as it became clear from the first questions asked by H&F's Conservative committee members that they intended to push through the planning permission for the controversial change of land use from employment to housing. This, in effect, ramping up the land value and awarding the developer a multi-million pound cash windfall.
The planning report was light on objective evidence supporting the proposal which was pointed out by ward Councillor Rory Vaughan (Lab) who attended the meeting to defend his constituents and advocate their views. Rory argued that the planning permission must be denied because:
- The report says that the land is contaminated and yet no comprehensive study has been undertaken to satisfy local residents’ fears.
- Applications for seven houses have been previously denied by the Planning Committee so why would Conservative members vote to allow eight houses?
- The area is already defined as high-density and is recommended in the Council’s own plans that the land remains for employment use.
- No study has been undertaken on the extra noise and other nuisance the development will cause to the area.
- The new houses will only be three metres away from other residential properties and this is insufficient.
Oddly, Conservative committee members paid no attention to the Exceptions guidelines introduced by Michael Heseltine (Con) when he was Environment Secretary. These urged that change of land use allowing residential development should only be given when there was a direct benefit to the wider community. Residents were still struggling to see what that may have been with this scheme.
One resident said to me afterwards “I thought they were meant to listen to our concerns and take them into account. They had made their minds up from the start. So much for putting residents first!”