Councillors dismiss medical centre plans by single vote

17/P/5592/FUL – Erection of a two-storey building to be used as a medical centre on land opposite Bird of Prey Centre, Smallway, Congresbury

On Wednesday, North Somerset Council’s Planning and Regulatory Committee resolved not to approve the application from the Mendip Vale Medical Group.

What happened at Committee?

As I did last month, I addressed the Committee and raised a number of concerns I have with the application as it stands.

You may need to turn your sound up and / or listen with headphones. The microphones were  playing up so forgive the slightly annoying sound effect. I was first to speak, and afterwards the audio system went into complete meltdown.

  • The Case Officer’s report to Committee was pretty much unchanged – other than references to “further discussions taking place on highway and access issues raised at last month’s Committee meeting”. I am not party to what discussions may have taken place, but Cllr Tom Leimdorfer (Congresbury & Puxton Ward) informed me that he and Cllr Jill Iles (Yatton Ward) had attended a meeting with David Tate (the Case Officer), Richard Kent (Head of Development Management) and Tom Gaze (the Lead Transport planner at NSC).
  • It became clear that although there had been some progress, the nature of the pedestrian crossing required was and is disputed. The update sheet published two and a half hours before Committee did not include an amended Condition 10 with the minimum basic infrastructure we need such as a light-controlled crossing. It mentions only a refuge island in the middle of Smallway.
  • Consequently, Cllr Leimdorfer’s motion was – “reluctantly” – for officers recommendation (i.e. approval)… but with robust amendments to conditions. This failed by one vote.
  • Cllr Iles then proposed refusal, mainly on the basis that the site is in the Strategic Gap and so contrary to NSC’s adopted green gap policy CS19.  The proposal for refusal succeeded, also by one vote. Update: See the reasons for refusal in the minute.
What happens next
  • For a planning application of this nature a vote for refusal contrary to officers’ recommendation is followed by a period of reflection and discussion and will need to be confirmed by a second vote on 14 November 12 December 9 January. The justification for this is partly to avoid councillors making decisions which might be overturned at appeal with costs possibly awarded against the Council.
  • Richard Kent will now go back to the applicants explaining the outcome and to get their views. The Mendip Vale Medical Group (MVMG) may appeal against refusal or they may drop the plans.
  • I understand that Cllr Leimdorfer will only try to reverse the vote next month if his amendments are taken on board by officers and accepted by the applicants.
  • However, at the time of writing, the expectation is that refusal is likely to be confirmed, despite the vote being so close. The Deputy Leader of the Council, Cllr Elfan Ap Rees (also the Executive Member for Planning, Highways, Transport, Housing and Economic Development) has his own reasons for wanting to defend the green gap policy and has the clout to ensure that the vote goes that way.
What will this mean for primary care provision?
  • I know that Cllr Leimdorfer is justifiably uneasy about refusal because of the possible consequences for primary care provision in our area.
  • On 8 October the surgery in Congresbury closed its doors without notice until 10 December. A resident informed me this week that he attended the surgery the day before it ‘closed’ and was told by a nurse that staff had themselves just been notified. It is clear the surgery’s days are numbered.
  • If they do not appeal, MVMG may reconsider, abandon the project entirely, or simply extend Pudding Pie Lane and make just the most essential improvements at Yatton. If they appeal and win… we are unlikely to get the crossing.
What would I have done?
  • Were I an elected councillor I would vote to refuse the application as it stands.
  • Cllr Leimdorfer was not prepared to vote for a new surgery on Smallway without assurances. I supported that position in my statement.
  • No one was present from the applicants side on Wednesday but we learned that the proposed new medical centre would cost in the region of £3.9 million. The minimum basic infrastructure we are demanding would probably add less than 2 per cent to the cost. It’s very sad if that kind of money cannot be found for pedestrian safety.
  • That we need a new surgery is beyond question but I have felt all along that we are being rushed and corralled towards a decision that might work for MVMG, but that is really unsatisfactory for many patients.

I touched on many of these issues in a letter published in the North Somerset Times on 31 October 2018.

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