Planning permission for Olney retirement flats granted on appeal despite huge local opposition

    The government's Planning Inspectorate has granted planning permission for retirement flats to be built in Olney in the face of opposition from councillors and residents.

    Angle Property (Olney) and McCarthy and Stone appealed to the government after their planning application for the retirement flats near Sainsbury's in Olney was rejected by Milton Keynes Council's Development Control Committee. 

    The plans are for the erection of 48 retirement living plus apartments and 10 retirement living bungalows along with related access, road, parking, landscaping and associated works.

    Development can now go ahead subject to a number of conditions including external materials, lighting, boundary treatment and landscaping.

    It comes despite local opposition to the plans - mainly centered around the fact that the site was designated as being for retail use in the Olney Neighbourhood Plan, which was approved in a town-wide referendum in July 2017.

    Why did The Planning Inspectorate approve the appeal?

    Stephen Wilkinson from The Planning Inspectorate wrote in the report: "The Council refused the application on the grounds that the proposals would result in a loss of ‘employment opportunities’."

    He added: "In subsequent correspondence it was recognised that this was a drafting error and requested that this should be read as ‘retail opportunities’. I have assessed the appeal on this basis."

    Commenting on conflicts with the Neighbourhood Plan, Mr Wilkinson said: "Whilst the allocation of the appeal site for retail development is designed to address the limited opportunities for additional floorspace within the town centre, the results of a marketing exercise completed by the appellants, is used as evidence that there is insufficient market interest for further retail development including for a petrol filling station."

    "I do not entirely accept the Council’s criticisms of the marketing exercise given its scope involving a broad range of outlets and media and the length of time during which it was conducted."

    "The scope of marketing is also evidenced by the range of initial interest received from retailers and petrol filling station operators."

    "Whilst the Council is entitled to reach its own views on the strength of the marketing approach adopted by the appellants the conclusions of its consultants, appointed to consider this matter, included at paragraphs 9 and 10 of their letter is instructive in this regard."

    "Whilst there is a restrictive covenant on the sale of convenience goods from the appeal site it is unlikely that this would have reduced market interest for other forms of retail development and petrol stations which would be in accordance with adopted policy."

    "It is evident that on more detailed assessment of the marketing evidence many of these companies which responded, identified concerns about the site’s location and context which weighed against the site’s potential for uses in line with adopted policy at this time."

    He added: "Allowing the appeal, counter to a single policy, would not undermine the integrity of the whole of the Olney Neighbourhood Plan."

    "The existence of the new convenience store, in fact, complies with policy but marketing evidence indicates that there is insufficient demand for further retail investment and/or a new petrol filling station."

    "The division of [the allocated site], to accommodate the new store, has resulted in the appeal site having a frontage solely to the B565, Lavendon Road, reducing its visibility and attractiveness for passing trade."

    How did we get here?

    Local councillors rejected the retirement flats application at a meeting of the Development Control Committee in November last year.

    The Development Control Committee was told that a new Sainsbury’s store, which has since opened, included a covenant to prevent another similar retailer opening there.

    And despite 18 months of marketing for other retailers, no other company has stepped forward to take the rest of the site. Retirement living operator McCarthy & Stone has stepped up to fill the gap in another way.

    The decision for the committee was whether to accept that there is no chance of a retailer taking the other half of the site, and to bend the rules set by the Neighbourhood Plan, to allow for another use for the site.

    Speaking at the time, Olney Town Councillor Chris Tennant, a chartered town planner, said the application was “speculative, under the shroud of a retirement village. Our infrastructure can’t cope with the additional demand that would come from this.”

    He also claimed that the site’s marketing had been “fundamentally flawed” and that “Olney has had its fair share of housing.”

    Ward councillors David Hosking and Peter Geary, both Conservatives, objected to making a decision that would go against the Neighbourhood Plan, which had been only narrowly approved in a referendum.

    But landowner Tony Williamson said the site had been marketed for 18 months but because of the rise of the internet, retail has changed. “There is no demand,” he said.

    Mr Williamson argued that there is a demand for retirement homes, and was supported in that by planning officers who say there is a district-wide shortage of such housing.

    A representative from McCarthy & Stone said there was a demand for 100 retirement homes from Olney alone, and it would create between 14 and 17 jobs.

    Planning officers said the unmet demand for retirement housing could override the Neighbourhood Plan. But councillors queued up to disagree.

    Speaking at the meeting last year, Cllr Martin Petchey (Lab, Stantonbury) said: “To say the Neighbourhood Plan is out of date is a kick in the face of Olney. The Neighbourhood Plan is not yet invalid. Come back in two years’ time because now is too soon.”

    And Cllr Andrew Geary (Cons, Newport North & Hanslope) said: “We have no evidence that this is desperately needed in Olney. I do not believe it is meeting a need."

    “I’m a big fan of neighbourhood planning and I’m not prepared to kick them in the teeth.”

    Cllr Keith McLean (Cons, Olney) said he thought it was a “great scheme but in the wrong place, at the wrong time.”

    Councillors voted overwhelmingly to refuse the plan at the November 2019 meeting.

    You can read the appeal in full here.

    Additional reporting by David Tooley, Local Democracy Reporter.

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