A decision to approve a plan for a Port Erin building deemed ‘negative’ by planners has ‘astonished’ the local authority, who aired their grievances in a letter to Kevin Gillespie, local government unit manager at the Department of Infrastructure.
The plan (14/01282/B), for a two-storey residential extension and an additional storey above Donnington’s cafe-bar restaurant, formerly known as Beachcomber, to house a tea room, was turned down by planners.
They said ‘by reason of its design, proportions and scale [it] would have an adverse impact on the street scene and overall character of the area’.
The local authority also objected, raising concerns about its visual impact, particularly so close to the George Herdman Institute building, highway safety and lack of parking.
The Department of Infrasture raised no objection because there was parking on the nearby promenade.
Applicant Phillip Martin Joynes appealed against refusal, leading to an inquiry.
Planners said in a draft conservation area character appraisal, the building was described as being ‘negative’. Extending it would only increase this. The choice of windows was also a concern.
Independent inspector Ruth MacKenzie agreed it was a ‘negative building’ and, if enlarged, ‘the incongruous building would become even more incongruous’. Any alterations to ‘negative’ buildings should make them more sympathetic to the area, but these proposals were ‘unsympathetic’.
The decision was delegated to Richard Ronan, Minister at the Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture.
Mr Ronan said the building was economically viable and that demolition was not an option. If approved, it would enhance the offering to the public. He pointed out the DoI did not object and it was not silhouetted against the skyline. He noted concerns about the visual impact and, while it is in a proposed conservation area, this was not yet approved.
Mr Ronan argued that the area had evolved in a piecemeal manner, meaning different styles of building co-exist. As such, he did not think it was a ‘negative’ building. Also, ‘it is diversity of built form, design and time which creates an area’s character.’
Mr Ronan quoted the planning principle that every application should be considered on its own individual merits. The building was ‘clearly representative of its time and design’ so he was ‘not persuaded . . . that the evidential context is such that it has been proven that proposed development would adversely affect the character of the surrounding area by reason of its design, proportions and scale.’
Port Erin commissioners’ clerk Jason Roberts wrote that the board was ‘astonished’ at the decision taken by Minister Ronan, which went against the recommendations of the local authority, planning committee and independent inspector.
He said Mr Ronan had ‘advocated the empowerment of local authorities as part of mandate at the last election and furthermore in his role within the Department of Infrastructure and now as Minister of the Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture.
‘His decision in this instance certainly does not go along with this view,’ the letter continued before asking why there was ‘such a significant lack of consistency in planning decisions made by ministers and the Council of Ministers’.
The letter then referred to the decision over the redevelopment of the marine laboratory, and said: ‘Many of the same concerns and recommendations were made by the independent inspector yet, in this instance, the Council of Ministers agreed with the inspector.’