Last week I blogged that Gravitas Housing Ltd has been planning to build houses in Bourne and that there are no definitive public evidence that South Kesteven’s Local Authority Controlled Company (LACC) is planning anything else.
On 10th January, the Deputy Leader, Cllr Kelham Cooke, decided formally to sell the Wherry’s Lane site to Gravitas Housing Ltd. If I have understood correctly, the council also agreed to lend £250,000 to Gravitas in order that they could afford to buy the land.
So, after securing the land and almost a year of Shareholder Meetings held behind closed doors, the Gravitas Directors (who are all employed by SKDC) decided to request planning permission for the erection of 25 dwellings on Wherry’s Lane in Bourne. A valid application was received by SKDC planning department on 27th March 2018 (which had been prepared by a consultancy in Louth!).
Almost a month later it was discussed in some detail by Councillors at the Shareholder Committee. Councillors were informed that a community consultation had taken place at the site in February and as a result of feedback, appropriate amendments had been made. In reality, the consultation was so extensive that 30 people attended the drop-in session (including County, District and Parish Councillors), 6 people filled in the paper survey and a staggering 1 person completed the on-line version! This exercise was later described by planners as “an extensive pre-application consultation exercise including a public consultation”.
The application was due to be decided at last week’s SKDC Development Management Committee meeting (aka ‘Planning ’). As with most applications heard by the planning committee, there was a site visit a week beforehand to enable decision-makers to be familiar with the site and the plans.
Formal objections had been received from various parties including Bourne Town Council, while Bourne Civic Society suggested there should be provision for retail on the site in accordance with existing policies to encourage footfall in the town centre.
On the Thursday before the Tuesday meeting, Gravitas wrote a letter to the Planners with additional information. This letter made its way through the official channels and was forwarded to Councillors (including me) the day before the meeting. Committee members would have read this alongside the 6 pages of additional information sent by planners the previous Friday.
As a member of that committee I was expecting to listen to, and maybe even participate in, the debate last Tuesday (26/6/18). However, just as the Wherry’s Lane project was about to be discussed, the Chair of the Committee announced that the application had been withdrawn by the applicant. No reason was given (nor was any needed by the planning committee who are obliged to consider all applications based on merit without regard to the status of the applicant).
As a member of the planning committee and the Gravitas shareholders committee I am sorry to report that I have received no formal explanation of why the application was withdrawn so I can only speculate. IMHO, the most likely explanation is that Gravitas heard the formal and informal feedback on their application and, despite their ‘extensive pre-application consultation exercise’, decided to go back to the drawing board. Some concern has been expressed about various aspects of the proposals including the parking, the lack of retail units, the lack of onsite affordable housing etc.
If the SKDC owned Gravitas Housing Ltd had gone ahead with the application, there was a real risk that SKDC planning committee would have refused permission. This would make everyone look silly. As a supposedly independent company, if Gravitas had been refused permission, they could have appealed to the Planning Inspectors and either the council would be vindicated for refusing itself planning permission or the council would be chastised for refusing itself planning permission. The Inspector might even have decided to force SKDC to pay the SKDC company’s costs. In all these scenarios everyone would look very silly.
I hope that at the Shareholder Meeting tomorrow I will discover the real reason why the planning application was withdrawn. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that I will be able to tell you what I learn as most of the meeting will take place behind closed doors. You must understand, dear reader, that this secrecy is for reasons of commercial sensitivity and definitely not because anyone is afraid of looking silly!