'Views to die for' - Council backs fight to quash changes to £15m development
PUBLISHED: 06:00 31 May 2019 | UPDATED: 06:08 31 May 2019
Community leaders agreed to back a legal challenge against changes to a £15m boatyard redevelopment in the hope of saving views "to die for".
Woodbridge Town Council voted 7-2 in favour of supporting a Judicial Review (JR) against the recent Whisstocks planning decision at a special meeting on Wednesday.
Developers FW Properties warned councillors a JR could see the project "mothballed" for years, while public speakers also cautioned against delays.
But council members were not swayed by the warnings.
They criticised the approved changes, which would see the Chandlery building - a key part of the mixed use development - split into smaller retail units with a holiday flat above. Councillors said the changes would be a missed opportunity for the town and hoped JR could see the original vision realised.
The Chandlery was initially meant to be a two storey restaurant with views over the River Deben, near to the Tide Mill.
But after FW Properties finished work in December 2017, transforming the derelict Whisstocks boatyard into a mix of homes, businesses and community buildings, The Chandlery remained vacant.
Developers said the building was too big for buyers and applied to divide it up, which East Suffolk Council (ESC) approved in April.
But the decision, which was taken by officers rather than committee members, angered some in the community.
Peter Ashken, who held early discussions about his own plans for the Chandlery, said it was a "keystone" for the development and must not be split up.
He has notified ESC of his intention to lodge a JR and asked WTC for its backing, which led to Wednesday's meeting.
Speaking at the meeting, Mr Ashken claimed the Chandlery building had potential to link up with Sutton Hoo and the National Trust, attracting thousands of visitors and offering "one of the best views in the world", but not if it was split up.
He said the view "should be for everyone to share".
But other members of the public who spoke at the meeting were opposed to JR, which they feared would leave the building out of use.
Woodbridge Riverside Trust's Malcolm Hodd, who worked to incorporate community aspects to the project, such as the replica of the Sutton Hoo burial ship, defended the developers.
He said the proposed changes would enable The Chandlery to host small, bespoke restaurants, whereas JR would see it standing empty like a "great big white elephant" for two years.
A Deben Wharf resident also spoke to urge caution. "We really don't want to see these things going on for ever and ever," he said.
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Emma Cole, a restaurateur interested in taking one of the divided Chandlery units, said via email that the building had been too big but the changes had brought "an amazing opportunity" to have a thriving family restaurant. She said overturning the planning decision would be "really detrimental" to the area.
FW Properties director Ian Fox warned the council against JR, which he said was Mr Ashken's "personal crusade". Mr Fox said Mr Ashken's proposals for The Chandlery had been "vague" and never developed into a formal offer. "If we all get locked into a judicial battle it would not achieve anything," he said. "It would mothball the site and that's not what Woodbridge needs."
Mr Ashken responded to the comments, insisting his interest in the project was purely for the benefit of Woodbridge,
Julian Wells, another FW Properties director, also urged the councillors against JR and claimed the campaign against the change of use was based on "misinformation" from Mr Ashken.
He said there had been a "considerable" increase in interest in The Chandlery, since it received planning consent, whereas JR could see it left "totally dormant" for a year or longer.
Architect Peter Winters said the project had involved much public consultation, which had resulted in many of the community's wishes being adopted into the final design. But he said the commercial climate had changed in recent years and the restaurant proved too large.
Mayor Eamonn O'Nolan sad the council had previously objected to the change of use application and Wednesday's meeting had been held to make a decision before the deadline for lodging JR. He explained there would be no financial cost to the council.
He said the view from the top floor was "to die for" and it would be a shame to lose it.
Councillor Sarah Thompson also spoke of her concern about the town losing out on the views for more holiday accommodation, which she said thee was already "more than enough of in Woodbridge".
Several councillors questioned whether ESC had done enough to check whether the asking price was reasonable.
Seven voted in favour of supporting JR with two opposing and one abstaining.
'We will vigorously defend our position'
East Suffolk Council said it was confident the application was handled properly and "we will vigorously defend our position at any review".
A council spokesman said although the Chandlery building was originally to be a two-storey restaurant, planning permission was granted to sub-divide the unit after it had been on the market "for a considerable amount of time".
He said the application was referred to a referral panel, consisting of senior members of the planning committee, who considered a report by the lead officer to determine if it could be determined by officers under the council's scheme of delegation.
"It was concluded that the application did not need to be referred to the planning committee as the proposals accorded with the policies of the development plan," the spokesman added.
"The planning permission still enables a restaurant to occupy all or part of the building."