Six weeks before submitting its plans for 295 houses north of Gracechurch Street, Debenham, the developers presented Mid Suffolk council planners with “Option A” (left) for a development less than half the size.
The larger option was selected. A comparison of the two plans can be seen at the end of this post.
The story of how the council encouraged the developer can now be pieced together from documents released by the council under freedom of information rules. Initially the council refused to hand over the documents using a “public interest” argument. It was only after the Information Commissioner’s Office became involved did they produce the material.
The saga begins in February 2017, ten months before the application was submitted by Taylor Wimpey (TW). Senior planning officer John Pateman-Gee had a meeting with TW at which he learned the developer had options on two large sites, together suitable for 600 houses, in Debenham – one north of Gracechurch Street and the other north of Low Road. At that meeting it was decided “a place shaping and project team approach” was the best way forward.
Pateman-Gee tells colleagues at Mid Suffolk and the County councils he will set up an internal meeting and another with TW. The meeting with TW takes place on March 13 at Needham Market where the Mid Suffolk council still had its offices. At that meeting were nine officers from the two councils and three representative of TW.
On the TW side was James Bailey, a director of TW’s agents Boyer’s office in Colchester. Pateman-Gee already knew him as they had been colleagues for three-and-a-half years in the Mid Suffolk planning department. Bailey had left his senior planning officer job at Mid Suffolk in 2011 to join Boyer.
At that meeting, according to the minutes prepared by Boyer, Pateman-Gee questioned the potential for increasing the size of the parcel of land north of Gracechurch Street. Extending it westwards would allow the masterplan to provide a “gateway” to Debenham. It also had the potential for a school/leisure centre hub, and/or a buffer to countryside, he said.
TW’s strategic land project manager, Daniel Hewett, agreed to approach the land owner about increasing the size of the site north of Gracechurch Street.
On April 3 Hewett emails Pateman-Gee with a copy to Bailey, saying he has discussed with the landowner extending the plot. He wrote:
As discussed at the Place Shaping meeting I have looked into the land ownership situation to the rear of the leisure centre and high school. Unfortunately both represent ransom positions. The strip to the south of the leisure centre is owned by Lawrence Homes. The strip to the south of the high school whilst owned by MSDC, does unfortunately have a restrictive covenant in favour of Lawrence Homes. Our lawyers confirm that the restrictive covenant is sufficiently wide in its drafting to prevent any form of development (including an access) other than playing fields.
On this basis I have discussed extending our Option land with the landowner such that an access can be achieved to the west of the leisure centre. I also discussed extending Parcel A to the west in order to provide playing fields. The landowner is happy to discuss including both additional areas (hatched blue on the attached plan) within our option agreement. Would you mind discussing the additional land to the west of the leisure centre with your colleagues to confirm whether such an arrangement would be considered acceptable?
This plan showing the extra land was attached:
Work on the plans continued during the summer and autumn but clearly TW retained the option of the going for the smaller site.
On November 7 Bailey emailed Pateman-Gee and others:
Please find the attached options for tomorrow’s meeting.
Option A = c.110 dwellings + potential primary school or community/care use.
Option B = c.300 dwellings + potential primary school or community/care use.
The potential primary school or community/care use site measures 1.6 hectares, the same size as the primary school at Chilton Leys.
The plans (see images at the top of this post and below) were attached.
I cannot find any discussion of this proposition in the documents released by Mid Suffolk but clearly the larger scheme was chosen because that is what was in the application submitted six weeks later on December 22.