Councillors on Torfaen’s planning committee shared their frustrations after their decision to refuse a new bus depot and supermarket in Cwmbran was overturned by the planning inspectorate.
Last September (2020) the committee refused an application on the Stagecoach Bus Depot because of traffic issue for:
“Demolition of existing buildings and construction of a new Lidl food store and replacement Stagecoach office and servicing depot, with associated car parking, service areas and landscaping arrangements.”
The applicant has now won an appeal to a planning inspector and the development will go ahead with the council having to pay the costs.
Councillors were given the update at yesterday’s planning committee before the next agenda item saw them consider and approve the resubmitted application.
Helen Smith, principal planner for Torfaen Council, told the committee: “The inspector granted the award of costs as he was of the opinion that council had failed to provide any technical evidence in support of the refusal and that the council relied on anecdotal evidence and local knowledge.” (to refute the application.)
The Inspector said that the council “failed to substantiate reasons” for refusing the application.
Cllr Jason O’Connell said: “I think from my point of view this one was blindingly obvious that it was going to be overturned.” He later said: “I just want to follow up on Cllr (Huw) Bevan’s comment that we didn’t have any technical evidence. I’m not aware of any but if any should come to light I’d be interested in knowing what it is.
“As far as I understand all we are basing the committee’s refusal on, I wouldn’t refuse it, is hearsay, rumour and speculation whereas they have a considerable wealth of safety-based analysis and technical detail to state what they are planning is acceptable and we are going off feelings and thoughts. If there is any evidence out there that we haven’t seen I would be welcome to see it and have my view changed.”
Cllr Janet Jones said: “Quite disappointed that they have won this appeal especially as local people we know how dangerous this roundabout in this area can be.”
Cllr Stuart Ashley: “I hear what Cllr O’Connell says but I don’t know what price democracy? As one of the local ward councillors I have nothing against the actual development, it’s the road scheme that local residents and there were a considerable number of them, that’s local democracy, local people did not approve of it in any shape or form. They were fearful of it.”
He said he would “reluctantly” support the new application. “What it costs, it costs, because that is the price of democracy. It’s a cost of what happens and on planning committee, we have to accept that. Sometimes we win them and sometimes we lose them.”
Cllr Norma Parish said: “I’m going to find it very difficult to approve this application too because I feel strongly about the traffic issues. But we have to acknowledge the inspector’s report which makes it obvious that in the inspector’s opinion that the committee behaved unreasonably but we can’t do anything about that. I don’t think we have a choice but to approve the application.
Cllr Gwyn Jenkins said:- “It amazes me that we as a planning committee have made a decision, not 100%, but we made a decision on local knowledge yet you can get someone stuck in an office somewhere who can come and overrule everything about us. Absolutely disgusted that this decision has been overuled. Dreadful. I don’t know why we bother as a planning committee.”
A new “right turn lane” will be added to St David’s Road to address concerns
The council report about the Inspector’s decision said: “In allowing the appeal, the Inspector considered that the Council’s concerns regarding the proximity of the junction to the roundabout leading to rear shunt collisions has been addressed by the provision of the right turn lane that would accommodate the predicted traffic for the proposal and future traffic growth. He stated that the Road Safety Audits, traffic assessments and modelling raised no concerns with the operation of the revised junction and that there was no evidence to contradict this.”
Ten councillors voted in favour of the resubmitted application, two were against and one abstained.
Read the agenda and papers