On 3 September 2013, the Planning Inspectorate upheld an appeal by a local waste business in Shropshire and granted planning permission for the change of use of land at a former civic amenity site in Telford. The decision provides retrospective permission for the use of the land for soil screening operations and for the construction of perimeter fencing and associated portable structures subject to a number of planning conditions.

The application for permission was first made on behalf of the appellant, Quick Skips, in February 2012. However, the application was rejected by the local authority, Telford and Wrekin Council, on the basis that it would have a detrimental impact on visual amenity, was contrary to local planning policy and would cause harm to local wildlife.

Following this, an appeal was lodged by Mr Nigel Jones on behalf of Quick Skips under powers contained in s.78 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

The appeal was heard by the Planning Inspector, who held a site visit and hearing on 13 August 2013 before issuing his decision to overturn the council’s refusal and to grant planning permission.

Main issues

In finding in favour of the appellant, the Inspector identified three main issues.

  1. The potential impact of the new use of land on the character and appearance of the area.

  2. Whether the change of use would have a negative impact on local wildlife, particularly great crested newts.

  3. Whether the new use of land would have a negative impact on public safety.

Background

Before considering the substantive issues of the appeal, the Inspector first turned to address two points that related generally to the appeal as a whole. The first of these related to an earlier application for planning permission that the appellant had made in relation to the change of use under consideration in this appeal.

This application, made in 2005, had resulted in a temporary grant of planning permission for the use of the appeal site for soil screening for a period of two years. Despite this permission expiring in 2007, the evidence before the Inspector and the site visit had demonstrated that this use had continued in full force since 2007.

Before the appeal hearing, the council informed the Inspector that it had temporarily suspended any enforcement action against the appellant while the outcome of the appeal was determined with any course of action to be decided at a later date.

The second point raised by the Inspector related to another planning permission covering the appeal site, which was granted in 1993. This permission provides that the appeal site can also be used for the purposes of a household waste and recycling facility. Despite being granted 20 years ago, it was agreed by both the appellant and the local authority that the planning permission was still applicable and could be implemented by the appellant if it so wished.

Taking this fact into consideration, the Inspector noted that the current use subject to this appeal had to be judged not only on its own merits but also as against the merits of allowing the 1993 permission to be implemented.

Issue 1: character and appearance

Merits of the appeal development

The appeal site is located on land forming part of the old Civic Amenity Site and is next to an old landfill site. It is bordered to the south by the A4169, which provides clear views into the facility for users of this road. There is also a public right of way adjacent to the western border of the appeal site.

Despite the previous use of the land as a civic centre, and its close proximity to a landfill site, the wider area surrounding the appeal site has undergone a period of transformation over the past decade and is now home to a number of residential developments.

In addressing this point, the local authority informed the Inspector that this change in the nature of the area was one of the key reasons why the 2005 permission had been temporary and not permanent. This was intended to allow the local authority another opportunity to reassess the use of the appeal site against the backdrop of the new residential developments, particularly the Lightmoor Urban Village scheme. The council also noted that a number of previously existing waste uses in the area had now ceased to operate and that there was a firm focus on residential and commercial uses.

In considering this argument, the Inspector turned to review the proposed use of the site in more detail. Under the proposed appeal operations, agricultural and construction waste would be delivered to the appeal site where it would be subjected to a screening and separation process. This would involve the use of a mobile screener which would be kept on site.

Waste brought onto the facility would be stored on site both before and after screening, although the appellant noted that an estimated 98% of the screened materials would be recycled and then removed from the site.

Despite the fact that this process had been taking place since 2005, the Inspector stated that this type of waste disposal activity was now something of an anomaly when considered against the increased residential nature of the surrounding area.

In particular, the Inspector noted that the site visit had revealed that the nearest residential units would only be approximately 250 metres from the boundary of the appeal site. There is also a park and ride facility nearby, which is heavily used by both local residents and visitors during its opening hours between April and October.

The close proximity of both of these developments to the appeal site indicated that operations at the appeal site were likely to be visible to those visiting the area, particularly in relation to the waste stacks stored on site. As such, it was likely that the appeal operations would have a negative impact on the visual amenity of the area and that they would be out of keeping with both the current nature of the area and the proposed plans for development, as laid out by the local authority.

Merits of the appeal proposal vs 1993 permission

However, after coming to this initial conclusion, the Inspector then turned to consider whether this impact on visual amenity would be more or less than the potential impact if the appellant were to implement the 1993 permission.

In this regard, the council noted that there were a number of advantages to the 1993 permission as against the proposed appeal operations. In particular, the authority drew attention to several of the conditions to the 1993 permission, which required waste stacks at the permitted facility to be limited to an acceptable maximum height and strict requirements as to how the waste facility could be operated. In the council’s view, the terms of the 1993 permission provided a desirable alternative use to the proposed appeal development and this should be prioritised in favour of the current appeal.

While the Inspector acknowledged that there were some advantages to the 1993 permission, he also noted that the terms of that permission had some limitations, particularly in light of the changed environment since that permission was granted.

This was especially the case in relation to appropriate conditions to minimise the visual impact of operations at the site. While the conditions to the 1993 permission were somewhat deficient in this area, the Inspector emphasised that a new planning permission would allow for new conditions to be imposed to improve the visual impact of the site. For example, conditions could be imposed to improve the landscaping of the site, to limit the areas to be used for certain activities and also to require visual improvements to the site’s borders.

The Inspector also noted that the 1993 permission had limited restrictions on the times at which the appeal site could be open. While this may have been acceptable when the area was more industrialised, this was out of keeping with the current residential nature of the area. Again, granting a new planning permission would allow for appropriate limits to be placed on operating hours at the site to reflect the new residential nature.

As a final point, the Inspector noted that a number of policies under the Telford and Wrekin Core Strategy Development Plan required new developments to maintain and enhance the character of their locality. Although the appeal development did not meet the standards set out in these policies, it had to be acknowledged that the new development would at least go further in satisfying these policies than would the development permitted under the 1993 permission.

As such, the Inspector held that the appeal development would provide a preferable alternative to the 1993 permission with respect to the potential impact on the character and appearance of the surrounding area. The Inspector therefore found in favour of the appellant on this issue.

Issue 2: wildlife

In turning to consider the second issue, the local authority noted that one of its reasons for rejecting the initial application was that it failed to adequately assess the impact on local wildlife. In particular, the application did not address the impact on the local community of great crested newts, which had their habitat close to the appeal site.

In responding to this, the appellant drew attention to the findings of a report prepared by an expert witness for the appellant in June 2013 covering this point. While accepting that there was a colony of newts located about 250 metres from the site, the report stated that it was unlikely that the newts would be impacted by the appeal operations or that they would be likely to seek shelter at the site. As such, the report concluded that there was a negligible risk that the soil-screening operations would have a negative impact on the great crested newts and their habitat.

By contrast, the council also provided evidence at the appeal, stating that the habitat of the newts was in fact considerably closer to the appeal site than was suggested by the appellant’s report. In light of this, the authority argued that there was a higher degree of risk that the appeal operations would impact upon this wildlife community with potentially damaging consequences.

In considering these two arguments, the Inspector noted that this was a highly technical area that required expert guidance. Although this was an important element of the appeal, the Inspector held that the absence of agreement was not a reason in itself to refuse permission. Instead, the Inspector stated that this was a matter that could be resolved by an appropriate planning condition if permission were to be granted. Again, this would be an advantage over the 1993 permission, which contained limited protections for local wildlife and nothing to cover the express concerns for the colony of newts.

Issue 3: public safety

Turning to consider the final issue, the Inspector noted that the authority’s concerns in this regard related to the use of earth mounds to form the site’s perimeter. In particular, the council argued that parts of the existing earth mounds appeared to be structurally weak and therefore posed a risk to public safety should they collapse.

The Inspector acknowledged that the site visit had revealed that several parts of the earth mounds appeared to have been weathered with some potential risk of collapsing in the future. However, the Inspector held that this was a matter that could be resolved by the imposition of a condition requiring the appellant to undertake appropriate remedial works before continuing operations at the site.

Again, the Inspector noted that the concerns in this area were not addressed in the 1993 permission, which contained no direct requirement to improve the site boundaries. This factor also provided support in favour of the appeal proposal as against the 1993 permission.

As such, the Inspector concluded in favour of the appellant on this issue.

Conclusion

Having found in favour of the appellant on the main substantive issues, the Inspector proceeded to grant planning permission subject to a number of planning conditions. These included conditions covering site landscaping, drainage, limits on the heights of waste stacks stored on site, restrictions on operating hours, a requirement for an agreed ecological report to be prepared by the parties and a requirement for remedial action to be taken on the site boundaries.

Further information on the Planning Inspectorate decision is available at http://tiny.cc/xfb85w.

Last reviewed 13 November 2013