QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION
THE ADMINISTRATIVE COURT
B e f o r e :
(sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge)
|THE QUEEN ON THE APPLICATION OF SPA PROPERTIES LIMITED||(CLAIMANT)|
|THE FIRST SECRETARY OF STATE||(1st DEFENDANT)|
|ELMBRIDGE BOROUGH COUNCIL||(2nd DEFENDANT)|
Smith Bernal Wordwave Limited
190 Fleet Street London EC4A 2AG
Tel No: 020 7404 1400 Fax No: 020 7831 8838
(Official Shorthand Writers to the Court)
MISS DAVIES (instructed by TREASURY SOLICITOR) appeared on behalf of the 1st DEFENDANT
The 2nd DEFENDANT did not attend and was not represented
Crown Copyright ©
"Mr McArthur maintains that the proposal complies with the relevant policies in the development plan, and the advice in the SPG, including detailed requirements regarding garden length etc. However, mere compliance with a set of guidelines does not make for good design. Paragraph 4 of the introduction to the SPG describes the guidance as being intended as a useful source of information to all involved in the development process. It is not intended to be a textbook, and cannot be a substitute for the use of qualified architects, planners and designers."
This was misconstrued as indicating a bias against those who did not employ qualified architects, planners and designers, although I am told that the plans which were submitted with this proposal were in fact drawn with the assistance of such qualified practitioners. It was, however, a direct quotation from the Elmbridge Residential Design Guidance, not the SPG, which used those precise words in paragraph 4, explaining that the guide sets out principles within which design creativity can be encouraged.
"... would not be so conspicuous as these visually isolated rows of houses, which, I believe, would appear incongruous in this setting."
Those are matters of judgment for the decision-maker. They contain, in my judgment, no error that entitles or constrains the court to interfere.
"Screening is present round the 272 site and visibility from Langton Road will be well screened, we will retain the boundary planting and mature screening."
"This is vulnerable due to the proximity of the main access roadway to the western boundary."
He then went boundary by boundary to show how tightly against the boundaries hard development was proposed:
"The middle block would be only between 1 and 2 metres away from the ends of the gardens of the Seymour Road houses [that is to say, the houses on the eastern side of the development]."
And he concluded that:
"... it would be difficult to retain any of the existing screen of trees and shrubs or establish any new planting that would soften the impact of the flank wall."
Attention had apparently been directed specifically to the western boundary, where one of the blocks would be between 1.5 metres and 2.1 metres from the boundary. The appellants therefore provided an illustration of how they would propose landscaping, with "fir trees and honeysuckle on a trellis". The inspector, having considered that proposal, concluded that:
"The difficulty of integrating the development into its setting by either retaining existing vegetation or allowing sufficient space for replacement planting adds weight to my conclusion that it would be harmful to the character and appearance of the area."
"The two southern blocks of houses have been orientated to avoid direct overlooking of the houses and gardens to the east and west, but both buildings are close to the site boundaries. The side windows would be obscure glazed, but overlooking of gardens would not be eliminated, as the first and second floor bedroom windows are so close to the boundaries. These are not habitable rooms, but their proximity would be likely to give rise to a perception of loss of privacy in my opinion."
"In my view it would not be a productive exercise to attempt to adapt these particular proposals."
The advice to the appellant is that the proposals on the scale made in this application are unacceptable, and the manner of its unacceptability is then explained in the next sentence of the decision letter:
"As the Council suggests, a similar density [that is to say number of houses on the site] could be achieved by proposing smaller house types."
That is to say, if you want that number of houses, they must be smaller houses. It may be, and this is not a matter to which the inspector has directed himself, that it would be acceptable to have that size of house but a smaller number. But what the inspector's guidance points to is a similar number of smaller houses because this, he says, "would enable more flexibility in the layout, and the aims of the policies in the development plan, as elaborated in the SPG could be more easily met".