Report of the Chief Planning Officer and Development Director.
The Committee considered a report of the Chief Planning Officer and Development Director seeking approval for the replacement of the existing balustrading, installation of new decking and planting at roof level in association with the formation of a roof terrace for use by occupants of the building between 9am and 8pm with the exception of 15 times a year when this would be extended to 11pm.
The Chief Planning Officer reported that the premises in question was a small, red brick, office building situated within the Fleet Street Conservation Area. Proposals were around the use of a flat roof as a roof terrace. She drew Members’ attention to a site plan of 10 Bolt Court and the location of 6 Bolt Court (where those residents who had objected to the application reside) which was immediately to the north of the site. Members were informed that there was a large deciduous tree between the two sites and that the proposals also sought to screen the proposed plant area at roof level. Planting was also proposed around the edge of the roof terrace which would become a decked area.
The Chief Planning Officer highlighted that a number of conditions were proposed to address the concerns raised by residents and that the ‘Roof Terrace Management Plan’ referred to therein would be as amended by conditions. Members were informed that details of any lighting to be used would be subject to approval.
The Chair thanked Officers for their introduction, introduced the registered objectors and invited them to address the Committee. Mr Toby Brown, a local resident, spoke first, highlighting that the area in question was currently a quiet space and that the existing office building was ordinarily vacated by 6.00pm. He expressed his concern that the original application had failed to even mention nearby residents and questioned the fact that the space referred to was already an existing roof terrace and not simply a flat roof.
Mr Brown went on to question Condition 2 which, as drafted, appeared to allow the use of the proposed terrace at weekends too. He added that the need for this space was, to his mind, unexplained, aside from use by any potential future tenants of the existing building. There was no suggestion that this building could not be let without the use of a roof terrace.
Mr Brown referred to the existing railings in place at roof level which he argued were perfectly adequate for its current usage which was limited to maintenance access for the plant. He concluded by highlighting how the proposals appeared to be in direct contravention to many of the City Corporation’s own plans and policies with no rational explanation as to why these should be breached. Mr Brown referred specifically to the Local Plan – DM10.3, arguing that the proposals were not for a roof terrace of high quality and would also be out of character with the local area. He also cited DM.7 with regard to noise pollution and DM 21.3 which sought to protect the amenity of existing residents.
Dr Kirsty Mann addressed the Committee, reporting that she had lived in her current residence for a total of 9 years. She reported that no planning officers had ever visited her home to assess the true impact of these proposals. Dr Mann went on to state that whilst there was a deciduous tree in place between her home and the office building in question, this offered only partial screening at certain times of the year from her bedroom window. She too referred to the likely noise impact of the proposals highlighting that, as she resided in a listed building, the installation of double glazing was not an option to mitigate against this.
Dr Mann reported that she currently worked with extremely sick patients in intensive care and that it was therefore vital that she was able to sleep peacefully when required. As such, the restrictions placed around the hours of use for the proposed roof terrace were unhelpful to her personally. Dr Mann went on to state that it was plain to see that the terrace was intended to be used for entertainment purposes and would be advertised as such and that effective policing of this was unrealistic.
Dr Mann also took the opportunity to refer to the existing security light referred to at paragraph 28 of the report and highlighted that this had recently become an issue as it had been permanently left on and sat just 8 meters from her bedroom window. The Chief Planning Officer responded that this issue could be pursued by Environmental Health with the applicant who had now been made aware of the problem.
A Member stated that there appeared to be some confusion as to whether the roof area had been used as a roof terrace previously and questioned whether, to the best of the objectors’ knowledge, this was the case. Dr Mann responded that, in the 9 years she had lived at Bolt Court, she had not seen the area used. She reiterated that residents had never been consulted on these plans and that her first knowledge of these was as a result of seeing workmen on the roof area. This had led to her visiting the office building on two separate occasions to question if any works were planned, only to be told, inaccurately, that there were not.
A Member questioned whether residents were already overlooked by windows below the proposed terrace and whether this was a privacy issue. Mr Brown stated that a number of residents were currently overlooked by office space but that this was very different to being overlooked by people standing on a roof terrace, socialising. He added that desks within the existing office space were positioned side on to the windows, therefore not looking directly through them. He added that, in any event, noise issues associated with indoor office use and outdoor use were very different.
A Member questioned Mr Brown’s assumption that Condition 2, as currently drafted, would also permit some weekend use of the proposed space. Mr Brown stated that the condition restricting hours of use stated that this would be “with the exception of 15 late nights annually” – this could, conceivably, permit its use for one weekend evening every Summer. A Member questioned if this condition would benefit from some amendment.
A Member questioned whether the proposal that restricted use of the terrace to a maximum of 12 members of staff at one time was of any assistance to residents. He also questioned whether this should be conditioned. Dr Mann responded by stating that she feared that the numbers accessing the terrace at any one time would be based on guess work and questioned how it was proposed that this be policed.
A Member questioned whether the use of black out blinds or the frosting of residents’ windows might be a way to overcome concerns around privacy. Dr Mann stated that she would have concerns around loss of light with this approach and added that it would do nothing to alter any noise pollution which remained a primary concern.
The Chairman invited those speaking in favour of the application to address the Committee.
Emma Conwell, Senior Planner, Iceni Projects Ltd began by stating that proposals were around changes and design enhancements to an existing roof terrace that was an area accessible to the entire office building at present. She added that plans were intended to improve the use of the area for existing and future residents in an area where such space was highly sought after, making this a particularly special opportunity. She added that the plans were, in her view, in line with the City Corporation’s development plans and policies.
The Chair thanked Ms Conwell for her contributions and invited questions from Members.
A Member questioned whether the applicant had commissioned a noise assessment and, if so, what the findings of this were and why this had not been included within the information presented. Ms Conwell confirmed that such an assessment had been carried out and had formed part of the applicant’s first submission. The same Member also questioned how the applicant proposed to enforce the suggested conditions, were this application to be granted. Ms Conwell stated that this need to be explored with the building management.
A Member questioned if Ms Conwell could confirm whether the roof area had ever been used as a social space previously. Ms Conwell reported that she did not believe it had been but that the area was ancillary to the office space.
In response to a question regarding the likely use of this space, Ms Conwell responded that it would be primarily for existing and future occupiers of the office building as opposed to clients.
A Member questioned how large, in square meters, the roof terrace area would be once the plant area had been discounted. She also questioned disabled access to the roof terrace. Ms Conway confirmed that it would be a limited space which was why it had been suggested that a maximum of 12 people occupy the terrace at any one time. In terms of accessibility, the office building currently had a lift but access beyond this to the roof terrace area would need to be given further consideration.
A Member questioned whether the existing flat roof formed part of the office building’s fire escape route. Ms Conway responded that she would need to explore this further with her client.
In response to questions on the proposed planting around the edge of the roof terrace, Ms Conway stated that this would reach the middle bar of the existing railings in terms of height but that the depth of any planters would need to be looked at so as not to heavily impact on the available floor space.
A Member referred to the wording within Condition 2, which would permit extended use of the area for “15 late nights annually”. She questioned whether there were any specific, immediate plans around its use in line with this. Ms Conway reported that proposals for these 15 late nights would centre around Summer months only and would involve events such as presentations for existing workers up to 11pm.
The Chair asked that Members now move to debate the application.
The Chair began by posing some questions of the Chief Planning Officer and Development Director seeking to ascertain what precisely the works that required planning permission were here and also whether temporary consent had been considered.
Another Member questioned Officers as to what powers the City Corporation had if conditions were violated. A third Member questioned how much reliance the Committee should place on the proposed ‘Roof Terrace Management Plan’, whether it could be altered at any time and if this might be conditioned. He went on to express concern that Condition 2, as drafted, would permit late night use of the space on both weekends and bank holidays, whereas paragraph 23 of the report seemed to state that the agent’s own Management Statement excluded use at any time on Saturday, Sunday or Bank Holidays.
The Chief Planning Officer and Development Director took the opportunity to respond to these questions and to further clarify some of the issues raised earlier. She began by stating that, if the existing office building was considered in its entirety, the roof was arguably an ancillary space. She added, however, that she did not think it was the case that the area had previously been extensively used, particularly as the current railings were not believed to be compliant with building regulations. It was the proposed alterations to these that required planning permission.
The Chief Planning Officer and Development Director confirmed that temporary consent had not been considered as this is not what had been applied for. She went on to report that the violation of any conditions imposed would be subject to enforcement action although it was fair to say that such action would not be instant and would require supporting evidence.
The Chief Planning Officer stated that she did not believe that the flat roof was part of the fire exit route. She clarified that the Management Plan sought to limit the impact of the proposals and that this was also conditioned. With further reference to conditions, the Chief Planning Officer apologised for the drafting of Condition 2 which she agreed could be wrongly interpreted. She therefore sought the leave of the Committee to tighten this, should the application be approved, and clarify that the 15 days of annual late night use would be for weekdays only.
Policy-wise, Members were informed that other roof terraces existed in the City that were adjacent to residential premises. It was not, therefore, inappropriate but there were different constraints around this in residential areas.
The Chief Planning and Development Director reported that Officers had no record of a noise assessment having been submitted by the applicant and neither had this been requested of them. With regard to questions around access, Members were informed that a small lift was installed within the building but that it was step access only to the roof area rendering it inaccessible to wheelchair users.
A Member opened debate by stating that the Committee had a statutory function to take account of relevant planning considerations and to look at relevant policies, assessing applications against these. He went on to state that CS1 of the Local Plan policies, and the provision of additional offices was a golden thread running throughout, as these plans were not around an office but merely a roof terrace, it would appear to fall at the first hurdle. He argued that the roof space was not necessarily ancillary to the existing office building given that many other office buildings did not have roof terrace areas.
The Member went on to refer to DM 10.3 of Local Plan Policies stating that the plans were in contravention of this in that the area would immediately overlook residential premises, regardless of the angle that occupiers would be looking at. He added that this was also a conservation area and that, according to the City Corporation’s own policies, development here should only be permitted if it preserved and enhanced the area. He offered the view that the proposed use of tensile wires and artificial plants were far from in keeping with Georgian architecture. He questioned why there was no report from the Conservation Advisory Committee on the proposals.
In summary, the Member stated that whilst he recognised that a balance needed to be struck in terms of development and protecting residential amenity and that this was not a majority residential area, it was difficult to argue that the development policy was applicable here. He was of the view that the proposals materially breached many of the City Corporation’s policies and was therefore opposed to granting this application.
Another Member spoke of the difficulties in enforcing conditions such as those proposed given current resources. She added that, whilst music could be conditioned, the noise emitted from those standing and talking could not. She questioned what real powers the organisation could therefore be expected to have here. She agreed with the point made that none of the City Corporation’s policies appeared to be in favour of these proposals.
A Member spoke to state that he found it very troubling that the applicant had chosen not to liaise with residents at any stage and that the report to Committee appeared to be misleading in its suggestion that plans were around formalising the use of the roof as a terrace when this appeared not to have been used as such previously. He agreed that the application clearly failed to satisfy DM10.3 and suggested that it would be incredulous to describe this as a high class roof terrace. Access was also clearly an issue. The Member went on to refer to DM 21.3 and stated that no mitigation seemed to have been proposed on this. He added that the proposed conditions were disturbingly silent in terms of capacity and alcohol consumption and that he found the applicants assurances on these points unconvincing.
Finally, the Member referred to the agent of change principle, adding that the local residents had lived on this site for some 12 years, the applicants were therefore the agents of change and, as such, should be providing mitigation. Whilst Members could move that conditions were put in place around maximum capacity and alcohol consumption, these would be difficult to enforce in reality and, for this reason, he intended to also vote against the application.
A Member stated that the application did not deal with an office space and did not, therefore satisfy the objective of CS1. All objectors had remarked on the particular character of the area which seemed to go against guidance under DM12.2 concerning development in conservation areas. Finally, the Member remarked that suggested use of the area for 15 late nights annually could potentially amount to once a week until as late as 11pm during the summer months. For these reasons, she too would seek to reject the application.
A Member sought clarification around what the status of the existing area would be if permission were not granted today and how the existing railings here might be made compliant with building regulations.
Another Member commented that he lived in a similar Conservation Area and was of the view that roof terraces were incompatible with mixed office and residential space.
The Chair noted that no Member had yet spoken in favour of granting the application.
The Chief Planning Officer and Development Director clarified that the Conservation Advisory Committee had considered the application and had no objections. She also clarified that the planning application sought was to facilitate the use of the flat roof as a terrace and not technically a change of use as it was ancillary to the office space. She added that Officers could tighten the conditions as proposed for the applicant to agree around maximum capacity and alcohol consumption.
The Chair highlighted that Officers were of the view that the application could be approved and was compliant with policy. He added that the roof space could currently be used, unconditioned, although the fact that the existing railings did not meet building regulations could render such use non-compliant with building control. He stated that, if the application were refused, the Committee would forego any planning control over this area; if it were to be granted, certain conditions could be applied.
A Member highlighted that the opening line of the report clearly stated that the application was around the formation of a roof terrace. Another Member added that elsewhere in the report it was made clear that the application sought to formalise the use of the roof as a terrace. She added that, at present, however, it seemed to be utilised for maintenance only and questioned whether the continuation of this might be conditioned so that office workers and the public were unable to use the area, even with replacement balustrades.
The Comptroller and City Solicitor reported that the roof was part of the office planning unit and as such, in planning terms, it could be used as a roof terrace in association with the office use. However, the new balustrades would address safety/building control issues and therefore facilitate the intensified use of this space as a roof terrace.
MOTION: A Member moved that the application for the replacement of the existing balustrades be approved but that access to the roof area continue to be restricted to maintenance purposes only. He added he would withdraw this motion if the Committee could be provided with further information as to the consequences of rejecting this application in its entirety.
The Chief Planning Officer and Development Director clarified that the applicant could appeal any rejection and that it would then be for the planning inspector to consider the matter as well as any appropriate conditions. However it was unlikely the area could currently be used beyond maintenance given that the existing railings did not meet building regulations.
The Member withdrew his motion.
The Chair asked that Members move to the vote. The Town Clerk clarified that six of the Members still present, following the earlier departure of two, were unable to vote, given that they had not been present for the full discussion of the Item. Members proceeded to vote on the recommendation, with 2 Members voting in favour of the recommendation and 18 Members voting against the recommendation. There was one abstention. The application was therefore refused.
RESOLVED – That planning permission be refused due, primarily, to concerns around the protection of residential amenity and development within a Conservation Area. The final wording of the refusal was delegated to the Chief Planning Officer in consultation with the Chair of the Planning and Transportation Committee