The appeal site lies on a main route into Newcastle which follows the line of Hadrian’s Wall and is identified in the Council’s Local Plan as a “major movement corridor”. These routes are key to the promotion of the perception of Newcastle and therefore require a particularly high standard of design.
Following a six day in-person inquiry the Inspector agreed with the Council that the proposed development breached the Council’s development plan in relation to character and appearance and living conditions of neighbouring occupiers. Her decision is notable for its strong emphasis on good and contextual design, drawing on both local policy and the NPPF, and its discussion of appropriate separation distances where no minimum figures are specified in policy. It also provides confirmation that the concept of the planning unit is fundamental to determining whether permitted development rights are engaged.
On character and appearance, the Inspector found that “the darker materials palette, especially in combination with the smaller window openings” gave the building “a heavy, oppressive, almost monolithic feel” which drew attention to its scale and proportions and emphasised its incongruity in its more traditional setting. Any building on the site was required to respond to the Government’s drive for good design as expressed in paragraphs 126 and 129 of the NPPF and the modelling and materials palette proposed here did not represent good design. Furthermore, the minimal planting proposed, particularly along the site frontage, fell well short of what was required to enhance, to any meaningful degree, the appearance of the site from the major movement corridor.
Similarly, the Inspector found that the proposed fast food restaurant and takeaway building was an “anonymous, context-less black box, more suited to a retail park” and did not “appear to be based on an understanding of the way the local area looks and works”. It did not deliver a successful place with “character, variety and identity”. Ultimately, it did not represent good design. Even though the refusal of permission would prolong the current, unsatisfactory appearance of the land, that was not a reason to allow development of poor design.
Regarding living conditions, the Inspector found that a separation distance of 22-25 metres between the proposed flats and neighbouring properties was not sufficient to prevent direct overlooking into habitable rooms of existing properties, given that the two storey existing properties would be directly facing a four storey building. This would materially affect the privacy of existing residents. It was further exacerbated by the fact that the proposed apartments would be little more than 6 metres from the rear gardens of existing properties, with elevated views directly into those garden areas. While there would previously have been some overlooking as a result of the police station use, offices were spacious, with multiple windows, offering more wide-ranging views. By contrast, the new residential apartments would be compact and single aspect, focussing views directly towards neighbouring properties and their associated rear gardens.
Finally, the Inspector dismissed the Appellant’s argument that the Appellant would be able to rely on permitted development rights to convert the main police block into residential apartments, which would result in a more harmful development. This was rejected on the basis that the site as a whole was a single planning unit, in sui generis police station use, and as such could not benefit from the permitted development rights for changes of use from Class E to dwelling houses. Notwithstanding the upper floors of the main police station block had been used as offices, these were used by staff in connection with the police force and were an “integral part and parcel of the police station use of the building” and could not therefore be considered a separate planning unit.
A copy of the decision can be found here.
Isabella Tafur and Esther Drabkin-Reiter acted for Newcastle City Council, instructed by Elena Plews of Newcastle City Council’s Legal Services. Michael Feeney assisted with the preparation of the case.