It looks as if Mid Suffolk District Council planning officials were hoping to pile on the pressure to get Taylor Wimpey’s revived application to build 295 houses at the top of Gracechurch Street approved. A letter which I and many others received today said comments had to be made before January 3, 2020.
But before I opened it Jane Baldwin, chair of the parish council, had posted on the Debenham Village Facebook page that the time limit had been extended to the end of January.
The letter from Philip Isbell, the chief planning officer, certainly made it look as if they were trying to minimise scrutiny by only allowing comments over the Christmas and New Year holidays. There may be other reasons but that is how it looks.
This whole business is looking odd. It was only a year ago that Mid Suffolk District Councillors turned down a very similar application from Taylor Wimpey. The company waited until last Thursday, just a few days before their right to resubmit without paying normal application fees expired, to make its application.
And why did they choose to renew the application rather than appeal? There are several possible explanations: did they think they would loose on appeal? or did council officials support having another go?
Those officials, a year ago, recommended councillors to approve the plan. The councillors ignored them and rejected the scheme. Since then Boyer, Taylor Wimpey’s agents have been taking to officials — that is clear from the letter that accompanied the application.
The letter, signed by James Bailey, a director of Boyer Planning, writes, after an initial paragraph, “This approach has been discussed and agreed with Senior BMSDC Officers as suitable.”
Another paragraph reads, “It is clear that the Council’s Planning Officers’ professional assessment of all material considerations was that, in the planning balance, the demonstrated deliverability of the site at Gracechurch Street was of significant weight, notwithstanding the position of the DNP [Debenham Neighbourhood Plan].
Since then the neighbourhood plan has been approved by more than 95% of people voting in a referendum and 56% of the electorate. This plan, which is now legally a part of the District Plan, allows for substantial housing development in Debenham but not the site proposed by Taylor Wimpey.
The Mid Suffolk Development Control Committee in rejecting the proposal a year ago said, “This scheme would moreover deliver nearly double the amount of growth expected by the community in Debenham which is central to the emerging Neighbourhood Plan. Granting planning permission at this point in time would be premature and undermine community confidence in the plan making process after successful Examination but in advance of a referendum…”
Granting planning permission now would not only undermine community confidence in neighbourhood planning in Suffolk but would have national impact on a system designed to enhance democracy.
Immediately, we need to understand the extent of communications between council officials, Taylor Wimpey and its agents in the year since councillors rejected the plan. We also need to know if the second phase of Taylor Wimpey’s plan, another 300 houses behind the High School and Leishure Centre, is off the table.