'Hit them where it hurts' - calls for tough action on housing developer who breached regulations
PUBLISHED: 05:30 29 November 2018 | UPDATED: 09:53 30 November 2018
A Suffolk housing development which repeatedly flouted regulations could still see homes demolished as the "ultimate sanction".
Suffolk Coastal’s planning chief Philip Ridley said that while it was not his preferred course of action, his team would consider all options to ensure Persimmon Homes’ Mount Pleasant development in Framlingham is brought in line.
His comments follow this week’s planning committee meeting at which Persimmon sought to vary its application, bringing it in accordance with what had already been built, rather than what was first approved in 2015.
MORE: Persimmon admits to Framlingham Mount Pleasant errors prompting launch of task group
Since work began on the scheme in autumn 2016, the 95-home development has been found in breach of numerous regulations, including dozens of houses being built in the wrong design or location when compared with the original application.
The breaches have seen Suffolk Coastal issue enforcement notices and orders to halt work on the site. Officials even wrote to people living in the new homes earlier this year saying their properties lacked full permission.
MORE: Planning row shock for residents of new Persimmon estate at Framlingham
But despite the warnings, many people in Framlingham feared Persimmon would get away with “riding roughshod” over the planning system, as the revised application would gloss over the earlier breaches.
Christopher Hudson, who represents Framlingham at Suffolk Coastal, said the council’s enforcement “lacked teeth” and Persimmon had “game played” the officers. He said the £100million-plus bonus awarded to Persimmon’s chief executive Jeff Fairburn last year was “obscene”, given the company’s track record in Framlingham.
“Developers have much more resources and so can flout the regulations,” he said.
“We need the powers to hit them where it hurts – in the pocket.”
At Monday’s planning meeting, however, committee members went against officers’ recommendations to approve the revised applications. Councillor Stephen Burroughes said: “I don’t see why we should let them off the hook”.
The committee refused to back the applications, asking instead for them to be deferred so more work to mitigate the changes could happen.
Lord Marlesford, who was president of the Suffolk Preservation Society for 22 years, before stepping down, congratulated the councillors on standing firm. “Three cheers to the committee,” he said. He criticised Suffolk Coastal’s planners, however, saying they had been “outgunned” when dealing with big developers and preferred to focus on “easy targets”.
Mr Ridley rejected Lord Marlesford’s claims, insisting: “We will take on anybody if it’s necessary to do so.”
He acknowledged there had been problems with the Mount Pleasant application, but denied letting developers off easy.
Mr Ridley said the troubles had arisen in Framlingham because the development had been “foisted upon us”.
Persimmon’s original 100-home application had been opposed by the community, rejected by Suffolk Coastal, and only got through after revisions were made..
Mr Ridley said that when new housing was developed in accordance with the Local Plan, such as the 2,000 homes at Adastral Park in Martlesham Heath, it allowed planners and the community to have a greater say.
“What’s lacking with Persimmon in Framlingham is that opportunity for a full and proper community engagement,” he added.
“So it feels to the residents of Framlingham like this is something that has been done to them, rather than with them.”
With Monday’s deferral allowing for a liaison committee to be set up between Persimmon, Suffolk Coastal and Framlingham Town Council, Mr Ridley said he felt confident a satisfactory solution could be arrived at.
“Our intention, as the planning authority, is to see a good development on that site, which to all intents and purposes reflects the original application,” he said. “I believe we can get there, but we have to spend more time working with Persimmon and the community to do so.”
He stressed, however, that the “ultimate sanction” of ordering homes to be demolished remained an option, though he said it was not his preferred course of action, particularly as many were already occupied and there would inevitably be further appeals.
He also said financial penalties could be issued or negotiations held to bring further benefits to the community, such as a new bus stop outside the development.
Mr Ridley blamed the delays in reaching this stage of enforcement on Persimmon, which he said had taken a long time to provide necessary information. “This has been a huge time burden on my team,” he said. “It will have cost several hundreds hours, which we do not have to spare with everything else that’s going on.”
A spokesman for Persimmon Homes said: “Two variations of condition have been sought at Persimmon Grange, the submission of which date back to August 2017.
“There have been many meetings with the local authority to attempt to reach a decision and we are pleased that they now support our proposals. We wait a decision at planning committee.
“Any residents with concerns about the situation, or their own property, is welcome to contact us direct to discuss matters.”