DESPITE winning over several councillors, a Thurrock man bidding to set up a permanent home alongside his smallholding business suffered defeat when a decision was made on his longstanding bid last week.
Steve Smith’s application to replace a mobile home with a four bedroom house at Hobletts Nursery on Green Lane, Stifford Clays, had won the backing of other local businesses, nearby residents and split councillors’ emotions – but when it came to the crunch at last week’s planning meeting it was thrown out.
The application was submitted earlier this year and became a protracted issue as councillors sought more financial details about the viability of the 6.5 acre site and also chose to visit it themselves.
Several members of the planning committee backed the plan, but others were entrenched in their opposition to greenbelt development and that view carried the day when it came to a vote.
Cllr Phil Anderson spoke in favour of supporting the application, saying: “As a committee we have always taken a strong line on defending the greenbelt and we would need very strong justification for not doing it here.
“However, the very real evidence is that the applicants are making a go of this.They have lived there for three years in a
caravan and if we ever want to have these kind of businesses in Thurrock, it is hard to see how anybody could do any more. They have got all the right permissions and have made the personal sacrifice and commitment.
“Translating that into a policy is difficult but there is also the historic pattern of land use. It is undisputed this had been a nursery and a residential smallholding since the late Victorian period and this is not in truth an attempt to plant something new in a field it is something to regenerate and restore a site.
“Going against I am concerned that the hard numbers show it is not yet generating the profits that would justify building a four bedroom house. They haven’t quite crossed the bar yet.
“I believe this application is made in good faith but I am concerned it sets a precedent for other applications not made in such good faith.”
Cllr Barry Palmer was a stronger supporter of backing the plan. He said: “I have seen the extensive hard work the applicants have put in. Working on a temporary permission to raise cash and funding to increase the stock is difficult.
“They need a more permanent basis, I feel we should be encouraging this sort of development, there is a genuine need for this type of activity in the area.
“In times when there is a lot of opposition to greenbelt development I am quite surprised that here we have 12 letters of support. The local residents and businesses have supported this.”
Cllr Barry Johnson was equally supportive, saying: “I find it hard to turn down entrepreneurship such as this.”
Cllr James Halden was less convinced, saying: “I am slightly split. I take the application in good faith but the evidence of reduced profitability and a lack of a financial case means at the moment I feel like I am looking at an application for a large residential building in greenbelt, not a business.
“At the moment I’m more minded to extend their temporary permission because the business is not at a critical mass at the moment. If it gets there I would support it.”
However, Cllr Charles Curtis was vehement in his opposition, saying: “I feel rather proud of this committee over the way we support the greenbelt and we are being asked to put a big residential house in it. It would be sad to let this lovely area go,” and his concern was echoed by his wife, Cllr Wendy Curtis who said: “Would we be setting a precedent? That is my worry. I can’t go with it. I’m sorry.”
Committee chair Terry Hipsey then called for the vote, saying: “It’s there but not quite, we need to make sure this is watertight to approve it” and that was borne out in the vote, with just Cllrs Anderson, Johnson and Palmer supporting the plan, and five others opposing it.”