Agenda item


Conversion of existing shop (use class E(a)) to form residential dwelling including external alterations to existing attached dwelling (amended plans received 26/04/2021)

Belmont, East Road, Longhorsley, NE65 8SY



Conversion of existing shop (use class E(a)) to form residential dwelling including external alterations to existing attached dwelling (amended plans received 26/04/2021) 

Belmont, East Road, Longhorsley, NE65 8SY


It was confirmed that Members had no questions on the site visit videos which had been circulated.  R Soulsby, Planning officer introduced the application to the Committee with the aid of a power point presentation.  Members were advised that one further objection had been received raising concerns regarding the loss of the retail unit and the use of UPVC fenestration within the building.   It was set out in the report that the applicant intended to replace the UPVC fenestration with timber sliding sash windows in keeping with the aesthetic of the Conservation Area.


Mr A Etchells addressed the Committee speaking in objection to the application.  His comments included the following:-


·       Mr Etchells was a member of the working group which had developed the Longhorsley Neighbourhood Plan which had been through full scrutiny before being confirmed as valid by Northumberland County Council and adopted in October 2018 and the policies contained in this Plan should be followed.

·       There had been a commercial use in the building since it was built in 1875 by the Bell family of Be-Ro fame and it had most recently been used as a successfully hairdressing business, had provided a useful community service and more importantly had provided employment for three people.

·       As well as renting the commercial property, the hairdresser had rented the residential part of the building until being given notice to quit in September 2019.  There was no financial hardship reason for her leaving in January 2020 and she did so only after being advised she had to be out of the building by September 2020.

·       Following receipt of the notice two people working with the tenant found alternative employment and at that point the tenant had texted the owners to state that she would have difficulty in covering the rent with only the income generated by one person rather than by three.  The text had been quoted out of context to give the inaccurate impression that the business was in financial hardship.  Unfortunately this misrepresentation had been accepted as fact and had resulted in a material inaccuracy in the Case Officer’s report. 

·       It was accepted that the owner would need to upgrade the energy performance of the commercial property but it was not accepted that this would cost more than £67,000. 

·       Policy LNP8 of the Neighbourhood Plan stated that the applicant had to demonstrate that the exiting commercial use was no longer economically viable and it had been marketed for at least six months without an appropriate offer being received.   Members must accept that it hadn’t been marketed for at least six months as this was fact and the applicant had not offered any evidence that it had been.

·       The application must comply with all elements of the Neighbourhood Plan and if this is ignored what message did send out about the importance and validity of Northumberland’s Neighbourhood Plans.


Councillor P Ford, addressed the Committee speaking as the Vice Chair of Longhorsley Parish Council.  Her comments included the following:-


·       The Parish Council continued to have a problem regarding the access for 3 cars to the property. They were disappointed that NCC planning were recommending the application for approval when access for the 3 cars was across a public footpath and village green.  Neither NCC planning or the applicants had engaged in any dialogue with the Parish Council concerning this aspect of the application.  The footpath was a Public Right of Way (PROW) numbered 411/25  and the village green VG18.

·       The footpath connected the East Road with the A697 at the location of the pedestrian crossing. The A697 was an extremely busy road with HGVs and was also greatly increased by holiday traffic which would get worse when work on the A1 commenced.

·       The A697 dissected the village with 3 estates on the east side of the road with many village amenities on the west side including the access from the footpath to the community wood.

·       The Council had decided that the only safe place for a pedestrian crossing over the A697 was at the southern end of this footpath and this was therefore the recommended and safest route for the residents of the estates to access the village amenities.  Construction of the pedestrian crossing had been part funded and championed by the Local County Councillor.

·       Car access via the footpath across the Village Green was certainly not an appropriate use and a car and pedestrian could not pass together. The footpath was only a soil surface and was not intended for regular traffic use as had been demonstrated when much damage was caused when the area at the north end of the application site was cleared at the early stage of the building works and the surface destroyed and not repaired.

·       The Parish Council was disappointed that the perfectly viable option to provide an access at the north side of the site directly on the East Road had not been explored.  This would provide excellent visibility splays but would involve the applicant purchasing a few square metres of land.

·       The Parish Council continued to strongly object to the change of use as this went against the sustainability of rural village communities and was  in contravention of Policy 8 of the Longhorsley Neighbourhood Plan. It was felt that the Officer report ignored part of the Policy and would set a precedent and therefore undermined the Neighbourhood Plan.  The report was based on inaccurate information and therefore was invalid and could not be approved.


Mr L Singleton addressed the Committee speaking in support of the application.  His comments included the following:-


·       He was not aware of anything which had happened before January 2020 as he had not been involved. 

·       The shop was not viable for use as a commercial property as it the energy efficiency certificate was below E and therefore it had not been able to be put out for rent or tender, which they would have done. It had been more than 6 months and they still believed it was not viable.

·       This was the only access able to be used for parking in the area.  It was near to a busy road, close to a pub car park and two public rights of way to the front and side of the building. The only reasonable access was to the rear as it was on a raised hill and this was the only flat access available. 

·       The shop front and access would remain and could be turned back into a shop in the future if needed, but he did not believe that would be the case.

·       He did not know anything about a north entrance as there was no access to the properties from that way. 

·       He did contact the Parish Council when there had been complaints about the damage to the village green, however the damage had occurred prior to his involvement.  He had requested a meeting with the Parish Council to discuss the Public Rights of Way but did not receive a response.

·       He would be happy to accept conditions attached to the permission as he had over 40 years in the construction industry and knew what was required and wished to get on the job.


In response to questions from Members of the public the following information was provided:-


·       The retail unit had been vacant since January 2020.  A statement had been provided by the former owner advising that the previous use as retail premises prior to its use as a hairdressers had not been viable within Longhorsley Village.  There was a policy within the Longhorsley Neighbourhood Plan which required the property to be marketed at a reasonable commercial rate for 6 months however the property was not at a lettable standard at the current time and the costs involved in bringing it up to a standard in terms of energy efficiency for commercial use was not viable.  In weighing up the Local Planning Authority (LPA) was of the opinion in this instance that the information provided by the applicant into the viability of the commercial premises outweighed the need to advertise the property for commercial use. 

·       If Members were minded to refuse this application, it could be that a decision be deferred in order for a third party to triangulate the viability  given the property’s local importance to the Village. 

·       The PROW was an unrestricted bridleway which allowed vehicular access and therefore as this was the only access to the property then its use was acceptable in both Planning and legislative terms.    The previous damage to the PROW was not part of this application. The PROW team had requested a condition to be attached to any permission given regarding any further damage to the PROW.

·       In respect of costs incurred in triangulating the viability, advice would first be sought from both Building Control and Housing to ascertain if the works proposed were reasonable and then to find the costings of those.  Three quotations would be sought for the external validation of costs.   It was not expected that many other applications of this size would require this to be undertaken and evidence would be gained during this exercise for use in any other similar situation.

·       Access was technically achievable and planning permissions were regularly granted but land disputes prevented them from being delivered.  Access via the Village Green was not a planning matter and Members were reminded not to place any material weight on this. 

·       No evidence had been provided in relation to the previous tenant being given notice to quit only that the previous tenant had left due to financial difficulties.

·       In some circumstances the County Council would look at a clear business case justification for the use of funds to help an existing business to continue trading. In this instance there was no tenant of the property and the applicant had advised that the works had been designed which would not prevent the property to return to retail premises if there was a strong demand for this.  Prior to the Covid pandemic there had been a forecast that between 30% to 70% of commercial floorspace would be lost and any request for assistance would need compelling and focussed case for support.

·       In relation the validation of the costs for bring the property up to standard for a commercial use, it was commented that the historical nature of the building might also require structural improvements and not just energy efficiency measures to be made.  The Committee’s view on requesting independent assessment of the viability would be welcomed as a guide and in future if this was something that would be required to be provided as part of a planning application this type of validation could be sought at the submission stage and at the cost of the applicant. 


Councillor Sanderson proposed that as the application went against Policy LNP8 of the Longhorsley Neighbourhood Plan and Paragraph 83 of the NPPF it should be refused.  Following a short discussion on the merits of the suggestion to assess the viability and costings he then rescinded this proposal.


Following further discussion on the merits of also seeking further information on the advertising of the commercial premises, Councillor Sanderson then proposed to defer the application for an independent viability assessment to be carried out and for further information as to whether advertising for a period of 6 months was required under LNP8 which was seconded by Councillor Beynon.


A vote was taken as follows: FOR 8; AGAINST 1; ABSTENTIONS 1.


The application was DEFERRED for an independent viability assessment to be carried out and for further information as to whether advertising for a period of 6 months was required under LNP8.


Councillor Wearmouth joined the meeting at 4.51 pm


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