Chairman’s Conservation Report 2021

Planning Applications 20/21

There seem to have been quite a few applications in the last two years.

We never like challenging residents’ applications; however, we (and many individual residents) did object to one which was  for change of use of part of the premises from C3 (domestic) to A1 (retail). We represented these objections at the SCC planning panel, where the application was approved by the council. In the end, we were content with the very strict conditions attached, which we are satisfied do not constitute a threat to the neighbourhood. No further challenge to the planning decision was deemed necessary.

We’d like to stress that our objection was in regard to an actual “change of use” class, and that it is unlikely we would  object to residents carrying out small scale home businesses that would not normally require planning consent. Details can be found on the planning portal here.  Residents’ discussion and OTRA summary details here

On a happier note we were pleased to be able to advise on and support various other successful household applications including dormer windows, garage conversion, and replacement windows.

After informally consulting with residents via our community forum, we had a very constructive dialogue with SCC in regard to changes to the panels at Gallia Court, which have now been replaced.

Historic Environment Officer (aka the Conservation Officer)

SCC finally has a full time Conservation Officer again (Jon Willetts) with whom both I and the committee have had fruitful and enlightening discussions. During 2019 the OTRA committee had revised our Character Appraisal and Management Plan (CAMP) and this was presented to Mr Willetts in early 2020. Although the management plan was intended to be updated regularly, he informed us that this was not practical at the moment, as proposed new planning laws at a national level could very quickly make this obsolete. Furthermore neither the wording of the plan nor the Article 4 direction fit well with current conservation general policy:

Dear Mr Thomas, just to keep you in the loop I have reviewed the CA`s with Article 4 Directions attached and unfortunately there seems to me to be lots of discrepancies in the wording, the coverage, and the clarity of the Directions in terms of current planning policy.  

I now intend to raise these issues with our legal department to see if we can bring some sort of clarity to the planning permission question…

He has pointed out to us that conservation has changed very much in the last fifteen years, that it is now more about managing change for modern living rather than “preserving in aspic.” These changes are often technology- and lifestyle-driven, an obvious example being the increasingly widespread desire for CCTV and EV charging points, something that did not exist at the time of publishing the CAMP. We are also aware that since COVID more people now work from home. Rocketing house and care home prices mean more people need extended families living at home.

He also mentioned that it is useful to focus less on details so when evaluating the effect of changes to properties on the area’s character, standing back and looking at the street scene is more important than taking single elements in isolation.

This may seem quite radical, but if we decide to work with the conservation officer and not against him, then we will indeed need to rethink how we approach our policy in general. He has advised us that pending an overhaul of the CAMP, that more informal guidance can be given (a) on the website, and (b) by encouraging residents to engage with us in regard to discussing individual applications before they are submitted. To this end we have started to add various articles and guides to our conservaton pages on the website. I would also like to add a list of contractors that residents have found useful regarding sensitivity to the conservation aspects, quality of work and, of course, value for money.

In addition to consulting with OTRA, Jon Willetts is happy to discuss with residents any changes they are considering in regard to heritage materials and design: several residents have already had very fruitful discussions and advice.

OTRA’s Role  

The CAMP was drawn up with a very strong desire to protect the Triangle from the kind of development that has ruined the character of nearby streets such as Winn and Westwood Roads. The Article 4 (2) directive that applies to most houses in the conservation area affords further protection by requiring that permission needs to be sought for changes that may otherwise be permitted development. Although I believe we should take the conservation officer’s comments about the CAMP into consideration, it is still a relevant document and we should not lose site of those original intentions to protect the area.

Nothing is ever easy though. I have received comments from residents who are not happy with OTRA’s  perceived policy around conservation, so I would like to take this opportunity to rectify a few misconceptions. Our role is different to that of the Uplands Estate Residents’ Association: their role in determining what changes can or cannot take place in its area are rooted in the covenants and leases of the properties, the freeholders of which they represent. OTRA does not have such a power. Our CAMP, and subsequently OTRA, can neither allow nor disallow anything you may want to do to your property, nor can we carry out any enforcement. We can only offer guidance and advice, both to residents and to the planning department as a consultee. I believe our ideal role should be in helping residents to formulate a successful application, in balance with observing the conservation status of the Triangle.

As our role is not to prohibit, we very much believe we are here to help residents as much as to look after the special character of the Triangle. Understanding the plan, and seeking advice from OTRA, can help you anticipate any objections or support there may be, and so save you money and time. 

We have been happy to assist residents with a number of successful applications. Our ideal aim is to help you get your application approved by taking into consideration its impact on the street scene and character of the area. Although this should be something that any architect will take into account, sadly it is not always the case. But we have found that often an architect is happy to talk to us, so I would urge you and/or your architect to contact us if you have any doubts about whether your plans may or may not be successful.

One final thing we get asked about a lot: repairs which do not physically change the appearance or materials are considered “like-for-like” and do not require planning permission. Nor does repainting your render, doors or windows a different colour.

As chairman of OTRA I would like to see a pragmatic and holistic approach to conserving our special neighbourhood, with its beautiful streetscene, characterful architecture, and a wonderful friendly and helpful community spirit.

If you have any comments please add them to the discussion here.

Conservation officer quotes and comments made with kind permission of Jon Willetts.