Housing scheme to go ahead despite concern

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A ‘FLAW’ in the planning process means that, despite concerns about the impact of a new development in Port St Mary, the commissioners accept the planning recommendation for approval because building control issues are beyond the remit of the local authority.

The commissioners considered a plan to build a detached house with garage on land overlooking the bay and adjacent to Rocklands, Bay View Road.

The application (10/01211/B by William Bush) provoked objections from the local authority and two neighbouring properties, concerned about the geological stability of the area (it is next to the site of the Happy Valley landslip that happened in January 2010), the removal of trees and stability provided by their roots and traffic problems accessing the site, in an area where there is already limited visibility.

In the planning authority’s report the director of planning and building control Ian McCauley said the plan was consistent with the use of land in the draft and adopted area plan. He said the highway authority did not object to the application.

Regarding the stability of the site, he referred to an independent planning inspector’s findings for an application (09/1295) for a house by Willow Terrace, further along the same stretch of headland. In that, the inspector said: ‘There is an engineering solution to the problem of land stability’ – control over which falls to building regulations. Work would probably make the land more stable, the inspector said.

‘As responsible commissioners we have to protect our village and making sure we get a structural engineer’s report,’ said commissioner Rebecca Sinfield. ‘If anything happened during construction it would cut off the bottom of the village. We cannot ignore the landslip, and the roots of trees give stability. If they are removed, you lose some of the stability.’

Commissioner Alan Grace was worried they had no detailed structural engineer’s information.

He quoted from the planning report that ‘there is no community and personal safety and security in the design of buildings and the spaces around them’. He said: ‘That’s been our stance and what we have been trying to get into words. That’s why we are worried. That’s the main artery of Port St Mary, on it there will be wagons and diggers and people off-loading materials to service that site. Plus there is the rock face with the potential to slide off into the sea.

‘We have not seen a design brief that answers those worries that gives us any comfort, that says this will be perfectly safe and won’t affect the road and ensure it is stable.’

Ms Sinfield said: ‘Those questions are not answered at the planning level, even if we went to appeal. It’s passed but has not given us any comfort in the reasons we objected to, so how do we get answers to that? We, as commissioners, need to be responsible. We cannot step back and say: “We told you so”.

‘How do we get comfort every precaution has been taken to ensure it will not happen?’

Commissioners’ clerk Jason Roberts pointed out that planning is separate to building control, the latter is outside the commissioners’ area for comment.

Commissioner Alec Merchant said: ‘The issue in general terms that taxes the board is the separation of the planning process and engineering concerns, building regulation and building control.

‘We are effectively being advised our concern is planning, when we stray into building control we are going beyond our brief. There are people in the community who feel that is a flaw in the planning process.’

He added that that flaw means people ‘do not feel protected’.

‘As a commissioner it is incumbent on me, there is that public concern, but building control is beyond our brief,’ he said.

‘The board has aired its legitimate concerns. I cannot see we are in a position to take this forward to appeal. The board has gone as far as its powers allow it to go. The board has raised questions and those are a matter of record, we must hope the engineering side will be dealt with properly. There is not the basis to go to appeal.’

He proposed they accept the decision and was seconded by commissioner Mark O’Meara and was supported by the majority of the board. Ms Sinfield, Christopher Kinley, Ms Kinvig. Bernadette McCabe and Mr Grace voted against the proposal.

Siamack Rowaichi, senior building control officer in the planning and building control division of the Department of Infrastructure, has offered the reassurance that his division only passes off applications for safe builds.

He said: ‘It’s up to the applicant to prove to us that what they want to build will be safe and structurally stable. If not, they get a refusal, full stop.’

The applicant can re-submit building control applications as many times as they like until the building control division is happy to pass them.

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