At the last planning committee meeting of 2015, Crawley Borough Council overruled the advice of its most recently established Conservation Area Advisory Committee – for the Hazelwick Road area in Three Bridges – on the very first planning application to come in following the volunteer group’s establishment last year.
The disagreement surrounds the semi-circular feature archway to the entrance of the Mill Dental Centre in Mill Road, Three Bridges, which lies within the Conservation Area designated by CBC in 2013.
The dental practice, as part of a plan to improve access to its premises, applied to the council for permission to replace the arched porch-way by a new sliding door within a rectangular surround of the same overall height and width as the arch.
The Conservation Area Advisory Committee’s advice was that the archway is the most distinctive architectural feature remaining on an otherwise plain building; that it reflects the use of arched brickwork in surrounding earlier – Victorian – buildings, but is in keeping with the simpler style of the period in which it was built – a terracotta date plaque shows 1933 - and therefore contributes positively to the character and architectural heritage of the area. And furthermore that the council had not asked the applicant to show exactly why or how the removal of the arch is fundamental or essential to the objectives of improvement to internal and external access. The council’s planning case officer considered that a replacement rectangular doorway would be acceptable, and recommended permission mainly because it would look similar to a nearby house extension with a rectangular opening for an integral garage - that had been permitted long before the designation of the Conservation Area.
Whilst the building alteration works are yet to commence, the hope remains that the dental practice, to which individual representation has been made, will yet review its plans and discover that the arch can be beneficially retained without significantly compromising the access improvements, in which case the council would surely agree to an amendment. If, however, the current permission is implemented and the arch removed, the council will have as its defence the weasel words of the National Planning Policy Framework Statement, always quoted in planning reports, which to all intents and purposes says; ‘whatever a Local Planning Authority decides can never be wrong.’ Is it any wonder that volunteer groups constituted to support Crawley Borough Council struggle to find meaning, let alone members?
John Cooban, Crawley
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