6 February 2010

Planning for a playgroup

The planning application for Change of Use at Unit 14a Wessex Park was discussed at the Area North Committee of South Somerset District Council on Wednesday 22nd October 2008. The Members in attendence were: Patrick Palmer (Chairman), Jill Beale, Keith Ronaldson, Ann Campbell, Jo Roundell Greene (to 4.25p.m.), Tony Canvin, Sylvia Seal, Roy Mills, Sue Steele, Paull Robathan, Derek Yeomans.

The following text is extracted from the Minutes of that meeting. (Italics, bold text and or links are mine - ed.)

08/03055/COU - The change of use of building from light industrial (Use Class B1) to an indoor childrens play centre (Use Class D2) at 14A Wessex Park, Bancombe Road Trading Estate, Somerton, Somerset TA11 6SB

The Planning Officer advised that although the Economic Development unit supported the application and there was no precedent being set as other units on the estate had diverse uses, his recommendation remained of refusal because of the likely conflict between pedestrian and commercial traffic. He noted the objections raised by the Highway Authority as the access, parking and turning facilities were not completely separate from the other nearby industrial units, however, as the estate was privately owned, they had no actual jurisdiction although he asked Members to take account of this.

As permitted under the new Code of Conduct, having previously declared a personal and prejudicial interest, Councillor Tony Canvin addressed the Committee. He said that amendments had been made to the parking area to accommodate a safe footpath to the entrance of the unit. The business would create 5 or 6 new jobs and the main use of the facility would be afternoons and weekends whereas the majority of deliveries to the other nearby units took place in the mornings. He then left the room and took no part in the discussion or voting on this item.

Mr D James, occupier of a nearby unit, said there was no alternative access to his unit other than through the site and his agricultural engineering business attracted heavy goods vehicles and tractors on a daily basis. He said the proposed parking area was not separated from the main access area and there was a potential for children running in front of vehicles.

Mrs P Clarke, County Councillor, spoke in support of the application. She reminded the Committee that they had given permission for a children’s day nursery less than 200m from the site, which was a great success and although there were other small business units nearby, their main business and vehicle activity would be in the mornings, when the indoor play area would not be operating. She said the segregated footway meant there would be no need for children to cross the car park, and, as Portfolio Holder at Somerset County Council responsible for Children and Young People, she would not be supporting the application if she thought is was in any way dangerous.
Mr M Walrond, the applicant, said that safety and access to the nearby units was his main concern and although he expected the indoor play area to be busy outside of normal working hours, he would be willing to cone off part of the car park for large deliveries if necessary. He said the outside area of the unit had always been designated as a car parking area and the only difference would be the presence of children.

The Ward Member, Councillor Jill Beale, referred to other indoor childrens play areas located on trading estates in the area. She felt the additional safety measures proposed overcame any objections and she recommended granting permission.

During discussion varying views were expressed. Whilst the majority of Members felt the proposal was sound and would be an asset to the town, some expressed deep concern at the safety of children in the car parking area.

In response to Members questions, the applicant confirmed that no children over the age of 10 would be allowed entrance, all children must be accompanied by an adult and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) would inspect and certificate the premises annually. This was a condition of their insurance.

The Development Control Team Leader also confirmed that obtaining RoSPA certification could not be tied to a planning condition, nor could an age limit of the children attending.

It was proposed to grant permission, with conditions regulating the layout of the parking area and pathway to the unit, that the land and building only be used as an indoor play area and no other purpose, and that the unit remain within the ownership of the applicants. On being put to the vote, the proposal was carried (voting: 6 in favour, 2 against, 0 abstentions).

RESOLVED: That planning permission be GRANTED for the following reasons:-
The proposed change of use is considered to be an acceptable form of development, which meets an identified need, has no detrimental impact on employment provision locally and is not considered to result in a conflict between pedestrian and commercial traffic, which would be prejudicial to the safety, amenity and convenience of users, in accordance with the aims and objectives of policy VIS 2 of the Regional Spatial Strategy, policies STR1 and 49 of the Somerset and Exmoor National Joint Structure Plan Review and policies ST5, ST6, MC5, MC6 and ME6 of the South Somerset Local Plan 2006.

So, there you have it. The Officer's recommendation was for refusal on safety grounds. Pauline Clarke and Jill Beale were, on the other hand, convinced that the application was perfect. And, as Pauline Clarke pointed out, 'she would not be supporting the application if she thought is was in any way dangerous'. Even Tony Canvin couldn't see any problems.

Who got it right? You make up your own mind.

Till next time, I'm Niall Connolly