25 August 2010
The current planning application at Badgers Cross is emblematic of how planning matters of any import have been dealt with in Somerton over the past decade, possibly longer.
The central issue today is how Tony Canvin, as a 'self-employed contractor', ex-Local and current District Councillor, has used his network of contacts to maneuver his applications through the planning process, usually out of sight of the community most effected by them.
The best illustration of the process is the original Household Waste Recycling Centre proposal from last year. Tony Canvin developed that proposal with the informed help of Boon Brown and their ex-SSDC Planning staffers, and supported at County level by ex-County Councillor Pauline Clarke whose part in the process cannot be underestimated. Claire Alers-Hankey, the planning officer who dealt with Districts response to the application (District were a consultee to the application which was dealt with at County level) recommended the application for approval.
Pauline Clarke acted as go-between for Canvin in his conversation with the Somerset Waste Partnership and, as a direct consequence, Canvin's proposal for Badger's Cross leap-frogged other SWP projects recognised as being far more important than Somerton. (It is sad that Pauline has never managed to explain exactly what she was doing for Canvin and why.)
From the moment the HWRC proposal broke cover it was obvious what Canvin was up to. Had the HWRC project been approved Canvin would have cleared many of the obstacles to industrialising his land holding at Badgers Cross and creating Bancombe Mk2. Importantly, the taxpayer would have been paying for the project and Canvin himself, as the contractor to the project (no competitive tendering as usual) would have made a bundle on the side. The HWRC would have brought in all the required infrastructure (at taxpayer's expense) as well as clearing away any obstruction from Highways at County level.
And where, exactly, did the community of Somerton figure in all of this? Exactly nowhere. Canvin was only forced, at the very last minute, to lash up his perverted version of a 'public consultation' where, in order to intimidate, members of the public were photographed entering the Tin Dunny by Canvin's skin-head friends. The 'consultation' was nothing more than an opportunity for members of the public, with very real concerns, to be brow beaten by Canvin's hired-hands. In the aftermath of this 'consultation' the project was withdrawn, and Canvin went off to think again.
Almost a year later we can see the results of Canvin's deliberations and the application shows just how devious the man is. This time we have an application which was presented as being a 1 hour makeover project, with some new cladding and landscaping, which was described by Canvin's boy, Matt Frost, as being 'betterment'. Betterment certainly but for Canvin's wallet, not for the community of Somerton.
Make no mistake, this application is just HWRC without the HWRC. The concerns that vexed the community about the HWRC application are equally present and I would not be surprised if the HWRC project is just around the corner. If Canvin succeeds with this Trojan Horse, what is to stop him resurrecting the HWRC project? We know that he is perfectly capable of it and he has a financial interest in making it happen.
If you opposed Canvin's HWRC project then you must oppose this one. The half hour that you spend on a letter to the Planning Authority will be rather less than the dislocation that this application will deliver in perpetuity if you don't.
See you at the barricades.
PS Click on the link 'Badgers Application Information' at the top of the page for guidance should you wish to object.
Posted by niall connolly at 10:49
20 August 2010
Earlier this week I wrote to the Manager of Development Control at SSDC, Mr David Norris on the subject of the current planning application at Badger's Cross and the web of relationships that lies behind it. That letter is reproduced below, as is Mr Norris' reply. (As usual, click on the image and it will open in a larger version.)
...............and Mr Norris' reply:
Whilst Mr Norris' reply isn't what I would have liked, it is a confirmation of the 'official' position on Badger's Cross, as opposed to the Canvin/BoonBrown version. It is now up to SSDC Planning to ensure that the conduct of this application is 'by the numbers' from here on in. Equally, it is up to the Community of Somerton to express its views clearly, as happened when ex-Local and current District Councillor Canvin sprang the surprise that was the Household Waste Recycling Centre. Writing a letter might take you half an hour but I assure you that it will be half an hour very well spent.
Till next time, I'm still Niall Connolly
Posted by niall connolly at 08:12
16 August 2010
Somerton has been told, ad nauseam, that land at Badger's Cross, owned by (District Councillor) Canvin and currently the subject of planning application 10/02027/FUL, enjoys an existing B2 use which means that (District Councillor) Canvin can have his way with the land as he pleases. This position was made abundantly clear in the supporting documentation provided in May of this year by Boon Brown, planning consultants to (District Councillor) Canvin. The application was presented by Shaun Travers of Boon Brown who also happens to be an ex-SSDC planning staffer.
The position was reinforced by Mr Matt Frost, another ex-SSDC planning staffer, who now works for Boon Brown and who, at the meeting of Somerton Town Council's Land & Property Committee held on 27th July 2010, stated:
"Thank you Chairman, Members, my name is Matt Frost from Boon Brown we are the agents on behalf of the application, thank you for letting me speak tonight. Members, this is an application for a minor extension, refurbishment and recladding of the existing building on the Badgers Cross site. Its also for improvement to the existing access and also for associated earthworks and landscaping to make good the previously excavated surrounding ground. Members, its important to stress that this site has an established lawful use for B2, that is general industrial uses and, as such, it must be understood that the continued use of the building and the access for general industrial purposes does not require planning permission and that can continue in perpetuity. There is no change of use proposed as the intended users, I understand a company called Wainscot Stone, operate within the B2 use class consequently they can operate from the site, served by the existing access without further planning permission. Members of the Committee, planning permission is only required because of the physical alterations to the building as they will materially affect and change its appearance. But given its tired and shabby appearance is it not a change for the better. (coughs excuse me) Upgrading the access requires planning permission as this is directly onto a classified road. This will improve highway safety over and above the continued use of the existing access. What's more, this must be giving betterment. Accordingly, the County Highway Authority have raised no objection to the planning application. Again, planning permission is required for the associated earthworks and landscaping as they amount to a significant engineering operation but this will surely improve the character of the surrounding area subject to appropriate landscaping. There is no objection from the Council's landscape architect and my client is very happy to submit a detailed landscaping scheme in due course as could be required by a planning condition. Members of the Committee, in summary, the intended use of the site does not require planning permission. We are simply applying for associated works to improve the appearance of the site and to improve highway safety. On that basis, we hope that the Town Council are able to support this application and I am happy to try and answer any questions that I may be able to do so. I would add the slight caveat there that this is one of my colleague's planning applications who is on holiday at the moment but I will try and cover it as best as I can. Thank you Mr Chairman."
However, earlier today, 16th August, I received an email from the Planning Officer dealing with the application, Ms Claire Alers-Hankey, which states:
"My original understanding of the site was that a B2 use existed as a result of planning applications granted on the site in the 50s and 60s under planning references 24771, 2621/A and 2621/C. These files are on microfiche, which you can see at our Yeovil office. However, correspondence from planning file 01/01430/COU dated 18th June 2004 would seem at odds with this, as a letter states the site has no lawful planning use as the site has been unused for some considerable time. Due to the fact there is a question over the use class of the site, we have asked the agent of the application to amend the application to include 'Change of Use' in the description. Once this information is submitted, we will be re-notifying consultees and neighbours on the application for an additional 21 day consultation.
As a result of the delays this issue has caused, the planning application will no go to the August Area North committee meeting; the earliest date it will go to the Area North committee is September 22nd."
So, it would now seem that (District Councillor) Canvin will have to apply for a 'change of use' and it will be interesting to see how that application is dealt with by the various interested parties. But its worth asking if the original planning application had not been subject to public scrutiny, would it have just passed quietly through the system and ended up confering on the property a use to which it was not entitled? Its difficult to say but, had that happened, who would have been the beneficiaries? The obvious answer is the owner of the land, (District Councillor) Canvin. And that situation would have been enabled by ex-SSDC staffers Frost and Travers who both now work for Boon Brown, planning consultants to (District Councillor) Canvin where fees would have been generated from the process.
And in all of this, I'd like to ask who is speaking for the community of Somerton? Certainly not Somerton's District Councillors.
Till next application, I'm Niall Connolly
Posted by niall connolly at 11:30
12 August 2010
The letter reproduced below is pages 10 and 11 of planning file reference 01/01430/COU and can be found here. If you have an interest in Badger's Cross, either as a resident or as a developer, then I suggest that you read the file very carefully and give special attention to para 3 of this letter. (As ever, click on the image and it will open in a larger version.)
Now, I'm no planner, or planning consultant, but para 3 of this letter seems to be pretty unequivocal so, maybe, this is why the current application by (District Cllr) A H Canvin is ambiguous. Maybe this is why (District Cllr) Canvin's planning consultants, Boon Brown, made the application in the way that they did. (District Councillor) Canvin isn't asking for any Change of Use because his consultants, Boon Brown, are claiming that there is an existing use on the site. The issue that their plan raised for Somerton Town Council was that the drawing seemed to indicate that a significant part of the site would be covered by a B2 use. However, this letter proposes an altogether different situation, one where (District Cllr) Canvin should actually be applying for a 'Change of Use' for the site, something that this same letter suggests would be opposed by SSDC.
Its a fair question to ask if (District Cllr) Canvin and or Boon Brown are trying to pull the wool over everyone's eyes because, if they know about this letter, then they must also be aware that, in the view of Mr Frost, there is no established use on the site. Had the Household Waste Recycling Centre gone ahead, then the structure would, most probably, have been swept away and the issue would never have arisen. But the HWRC ran into a storm of protest and (District Cllr) Canvin is now trying another tack to achieve his longer-term ambition which is to redevelop this site at Badger's Cross as a second industrial locus in Somerton. But it would seem that (District Cllr) Canvin is basing his planning application on the assumption that there is B2 use for the building when, in the view of SSDC Planning, there is not.
So maybe someone should write to SSDC Planning and enquire if the current application is rather more flawed than some people thought. Maybe (District Cllr) Canvin should withdraw this application and make a formal application for 'Change of Use'. And, as something of an afterthought, it might be useful to contact 'Matt Frost', a Town Planner for Boon Brown, and get his take on things. He might want to contradict his doppelganger's view.
I have now confirmed that it was Matt Frost who, as a member of staff at Boon Brown, presented the Canvin/Badgers Cross application to the Land & Property Committee on 27th July. I am assuming therefore that the 'Matt Frost' who wrote the letter reproduced above and the 'Matt Frost' who addressed the Land & Propery Committee are one and the same person. This obviously leads me to the conclusion that Canvin & Boon Brown know all about the letter and the view it presents.
Till next application, I'm still Niall Connolly
Posted by niall connolly at 08:00
8 August 2010
7 August 2010
Anyone who has considered the development history of the Bancombe Road Industrial Estate might be forgiven for thinking that its been undertaken in a rather haphazard manner. From my own (limited) knowledge, the estate was established by District or County in the late 1970s and (factually) the original estate (and the only existing portion of public highway) extended to the third turning head from the Bancombe Road (just outside Somerton Glazing).
Based on hearsay, Canvin Concrete (or something similar) was based at the original estate which was, most probably, how ex-Local and current District Cllr Canvin became involved in ownership. From the documents that I have seen, Canvin was buying land in the area in the mid to late 1980s, and developing the estate in an entirely piecemeal fashion, an approach which continues today.
Whilst it is probably an unfair comparison, it is informative to have a look at the Solstice Business Park, off the A303 in Wiltshire, to see how a business park is developed by professional developers with a vision.
That development was undertaken by Amesbury Property Company Ltd and was planned at a strategic level in close coordination with Wiltshire County Council. The difference between Bancombe and Solstice is marked. Where Bancombe is haphazard, unplanned and plug-ugly, Solstice is well laid out, coherent and, importantly, the infrastructure was put in place before commercial users moved in. In fact, a large part of the development's infrastructure, and probably the single biggest part of the development in investment terms, the road interchange with the A303 and the internal service roads, was entirely funded and completed before the business park came into use.
The location for Solstice was chosen a) because of its relationship to established transport links and b) because of its position near but apart from established residential communities. The size of Solstice, at 160 acres, means that it will take some years before it reaches capacity which will allow the strategic authorities to plan any future development and integrate it at that location or seek another suitable site.
In comparison, the Bancombe Trading Estate never enjoyed that level of consideration. If you believe the signs that are displayed as you come into Somerton, Bancombe, at 40 acres, is one quarter of the size of Solistice. On a 'pro rata' basis, would it be fair to expect Bancombe to have attracted 25% of the infrastructure budget spent at Solstice? In fact, the only infrastructure investment that I know of was the widening of Cartway Lane which was made a planning requirement when Canvin sought permission to develop the northerly end of the trading estate.
On the wider planning front, no-one can deny that Bancombe is the established industrial focus for Somerton and it is a reflection of Canvin's complete lack of vision, that, when it suits him, Canvin does not seek to extend the existing site (utilising existing infrastructure) but seeks to open up a new location to the south of Somerton. This new location has no effective road infrastructure meaning that the taxpayer will be required to fund the widening and expansion of existing roadways. This development will also cause a fragmentation of the commercial use of the local road network in that there will be, over time, two commercial locations set relatively far apart from one-another.
There is another significant and negative impact arising from the haphazard and uncoordinated development of Bancombe and that is the steady erosion of the commercial centre of Somerton.
West Street, which, in days of yore, was the recognised retail core for Somerton, has been steadily undermined as businesses either moved to Bancombe or started up at Bancombe. In this regard it was interesting to note that when Canvin offered an industrial shed at Bancombe for use as the proposed health centre, the planners rejected the idea. The reason cited for the rejection was the inappropriateness of the location and the loss of commercial activity from the established commercial core of Somerton itself.
I can only speculate as to why smaller as well as larer scale businesses have been encouraged to move to Bancombe but there is one significant physical reason - the width of West St and its continuing two-way use. Behind Berry was widened, almost 30 years ago, to offer the opportunity of a one-way system being introduced to include part of West Street but almost 3 decades later, nothing has been done. Anyone driving along West Street knows that it is hard to avoid clipping pedestrians with your wing-mirrors so the argument is made, the 'bypass' has been created and West Street remains two-way.
The benefits of one-way working to the commercial units on West St is undeniable. Servicing those units would make it easier for business to function and it would make West St far more comfortable for pedestrians. Which makes the lack of action in this regard difficult to understand.
In the final analysis, it probably comes down to property values. Property on West Street is worth a lot more in residential use than in commercial so the local property speculators are probably quite happy for West Street to be as uncomfortable as possible for commercial users. Bancombe serves as the perfect 'alternative location' for commercial use of all sorts allowing the heart of Somerton to suffer a slow death as a mixed use location.
So Somerton is being ghettoised. All possible commercial uses will have been moved or have gone to Bancombe/Badgers leaving the core of the town an empty husk. At the same time, the town will have commercial and industrial uses to the north west and to the south causing commercial traffic to crisscross the town looking for coherent routes to other places.
Of course, we might expect our revered District Councillors to work hard to obtain a coherent development strategy for the town. But, upon careful consideration, its easy to understand why they don't.
Till next time, I'm still Niall Connolly
Posted by niall connolly at 07:55