A vote by planning committee members was compared to Brexit yesterday, with councillors complaining there was inequality in planning policy as plans for a single house were rejected via a casting vote by the committee chairman.
The proposal before councillors was for the demolition of an existing building and outline planning for a detached house.
The 327 square metre site includes a building suggested for demolition. The building had been a joinery workshop since 1955, but since the joiner has retired it is no longer required. Previously it was also a Co-op retail shop.
A public speaker in support of the application said: “The current premises as a January have served his purpose as a workshop 46 years and now the journey has retired and there’s no further requirement for the workshop.
Adding that the purpose of the proposal “….is to enable the family to utilise land with no requirement for any extension to the current size of the property, simply to replace a redundant building with the family home, not within the boundaries of the current property.
“And with no requirement for electricity or water as these are already available. Through conversations with the planning officer dealing with the application from the outset, there were no objections, and it was part of the support for the approval of the application.”
The speaker noted that ‘less than half a mile away’ planning has been approved for travellers site with seven units on greenfield site “despite being met with strong opposition from residents and councillors”.
Adjoining ward councillor for Chirk South, Cllr Terry Evans, spoke in support of the application questioning ‘Where is the equality?” stating there is “one rule for us, one rule for gypsies and travellers”.
The meeting was advised by the council officer that there are separate planning policies that applied, and that: “National planning policies do allow for traveller sites in the open countryside. They do not allow for new build housing in the countryside unless they are needed in connection with a rural enterprise or unless there was a replacement of an existing dwelling.”
Cllr Frank Hemmings, Chirk North, spoke in support of the proposal, pointing to a recent development proposal in Gresford with a largely negative residents campaign, contrasting that with local support, “In fact, one of the local residents, neighbours, is speaking in favour of it.
“I think there has to be times when we make exceptions. In this case, there is a good reason to make an exception to planning rules.”
The exception to the rules was debated, with Cllr Dana Davies saying taking such an action could set a precedent and come back and ‘bite’ the committee in the future.
Cllr Hemmings noted the large amount of work that had taken place, stating he felt that the applicant had been ‘led down the path’ by positive noises by officers, and said if it was clearly against planning rules ‘surely this could have been stopped a lot earlier’.
Cllr Pemberton said he felt there was a ‘major equalities issue’, adding: “I think the actual policy, it always favours the Gypsy traveler fraternity whether that’s right or wrong. It’s wrong, in my opinion.
“I suggest to the Planning Officer if an application came in on the site for a pitch for a couple of caravans for that fraternity I would suggest you would be in favour of it.”
Cllr Pemberton supported Cllr Hemmings suggestion for a site visit.
But chairman of the committee, Cllr Morris reiterated: “It is national policy that favours certain protected groups rather just our own”.
Cllr Paul Roberts spoke to support refusal, stating: “I hate to say this, but this is one of the few occasions I have got to agree with planning officer. It just does not fit, we have to be consistent. We’ve all got to follow procedures. It’s cut and dried, it just does not fit any of the criteria.
“With regards to a visit I personally don’t see what you can glean from that because it does not fit any criteria.”
Cllr Graham Rogers asked for ‘a bit of common sense’ and flexibility in the rules, and said he would be abstaining ‘on the equalities issue’ as raised by Cllr Terry Evans and Cllr Pemberton.
The debate wound up and moved to a vote, firstly on a proposal for a site visit and then depending on the outcome of that, to the officer’s recommendation to refuse the planning application.
The site visit was rejected, however there was confusion over the second vote on the recommendation of refusal.
It appears the initial count of the hands shown had six in favour of refusal, seven against refusal with two councillors abstaining.
Cllr Morris asked if councillors were ‘all clear’ on how they had voted, as there appeared to be some uncertainty while the vote was counted.
The vote was then rerun with the justification of counting ‘struggling’ as ‘it is near enough even’, with Cllr Pemberton calling a point of order stating in his view the vote had been taken and therefore should stand.
Cllr Pemberton branded the re-run as ‘a bit like Brexit, changing you mind half way through’ saying ‘the vote was passed’.
Issues apparently with councillors indicating after a count had taken place caused confusion.
In the re-run the count had seven in favour of refusal, seven against refusal and two abstaining. Therefore the chairman used his casting vote, which he had cast for refusal, so cast in the same way.
Councillors refused the proposal as it would be ‘unsatisfactory and undesirable because it is located outside any settlement limits’ as defined in Wrexham’s Unitary Development Plan.
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