FIGHTING development on the Underway in Port St Mary has cost the local authority and residents £20,000.
The figure was quoted in a letter to Economic Development Minister John Shimmin MHK, who had the final say on the appeal as minister with delegated responsibility.
The commissioners’ clerk, Jason Roberts, outlined the commissioners’ objections to the approval of the application to develop two houses at the site.
They wrote their ‘valid arguments [were] simply brushed to one side’, adding that the development (of the car parking) was not in the applicant’s ownership (despite what the applicant said initially). The commissioners also pointed out the scheme was below the recommended flood level, yet no flood risk assessment had been done and that the parking area would ‘tarmac over one of the prettiest shingle beaches in the Isle of Man’.
They also asked what compensation there would be if there was a land and road collapse. If the road is closed, the only alternative route to the port is via Glen Chass – a single track road with a hairpin bend – or by boat. Their concerns were compounded by the fact that, at the planning appeal hearing, the structural engineer tried to allay concerns by saying if the road did collapse ‘that’s what my [the engineer’s] professional indemnity insurance is there for’. Mr Roberts said this did not instil confidence in the commissioners or residents.
The plan (10/01892/B by Len Chatel) provoked concerns about the geology of the rock face (in an area that suffered a collapse of the highway in the 1980s, leading to closure of the road and severe disruption), the risk of flooding and building on a green stretch.
A previous plan (09/1295/B) was passed earlier this year. Eddie Teare, MHK deputising for then Infrastructure Minister Phil Gawne MHK on planning decisions, recommended another plan be submitted to cover car parking issues, leading to this latest plan, approved in May.
At appeal, the inspector, Stephen Amos, took the appeal decision into the first plan (09/1295/B) as his starting point.
Except for car parking arrangements the appeal was the same, he said, and he concurred with the previous inspector it should be passed.
PLANNING has ‘made the wrong decision for all the right reasons’, said Rushen MHK Phil Gawne.
He was Infrastructure Minister, which has responsibility for planning, when the decision about the Underway plan was made and, as MHK for the area, had to delegate responsibility to two of his colleagues – Eddie Teare MHK and then John Shimmin MHK – for the final say on the two appeal hearings.
Mr Gawne said: ‘This one [application] seems to have got all permissions despite being objected to by the community and myself.’
He outlined his ‘frustrations’ with the planning process and said: ‘We set legislation and legislation has to be quite a blunt tool.’ The decision did not reflect ‘what the community wants but has followed due process and found it to be a reasonable application. The frustration is we should have a planning system that works for the community.
‘I’m aware of how difficult it can be [for planning] to cover all the bases. Planning has to consider these things to a certain extent and it is not up to planning to investigate the engineers when they say: “Here is scheme that works”.
‘These engineers should have liability insurance. Concerns about the cliff face and flooding were addressed by the engineers, all issues had been dealt with satisfactorily.
‘It may still go wrong, but when you pay an engineer to give independent advice, it’s hard to go against it.’
He added the first application submitted by Mr Chatel was sent off before car parking ‘became such a big issue’. Mr Teare recommended that the area be covered within a second application. He wondered ‘how many people want to park their cars on the beach?’ – but added: ‘Planners received evidence permission should be granted.’
Mr Gawne said he would support the commissioners ‘in any meaningful way I can. If they in some way come up with a valid reason to question the engineer [about the] cliff face ... that’s an important issue to consider, that’s the sort of evidence commissioners need to present. They cannot just say: “We want you to review it,” it’s a case of having evidence-based information.
‘We [planners] try and set the rules as tightly as we can for the community to get what they want, but they do not always get what they want.’
Rushen MHK Juan Watterson described the decision as ‘a travesty’ and said he has always supported the commissioners’ opposition to the application and wrote about the first plan ‘strongly objecting to it’. He added that MHKs have no powers – fewer than commissioners – in planning, which is ‘a downside’ to the process.
He added: ‘We support what’s best for the local community and do not think this is the right decision.’
Rushen’s third MHK Laurence Skelly added his voice of opposition and said he was shocked and dismayed by the decision.
He added the MHKs will see if there is anything they can do about it, although he doubted there was anything further to do as it is beyond the appeal stage.