There must be few judicial or quasi-judicial processes where an applicant gets to have bite after bite of the cherry. Where if he fails, he can try and try again until he gets what he wants. The planning system allows this.
A case in point is land in Brook Road off the Wolverhampton Road in Oldbury. Originally owned by Sandwell MBC it was traditional open green space, when sold to a private individual.
It would be interesting to know if the price at which it was sold valued it as green field or took into account its development potential.
In 2014 the new land owner did obtain planning permission to build a single story vets' surgery on the site. Whether this application was to test the water or not, the plan was not proceeded with. Instead, perhaps, a more lucrative, scheme for the building of 13 four or five bed houses was submitted.
On 17th March 2020 that planning application was refused. The committee gave three reasons for refusal; insufficient parking provision was made, the land was subject to a risk of flooding, and the land was allocated as community open space.
A second application basically the same as the one rejected was submitted on 15th July 2020. The applicant is a Mr. Rajesh Sood who lives in Edgbaston. The application form asks whether the applicant is a member of staff, a councillor or related to either. Mr Sood ticked the “yes” box indicating that he fell into at least one of these four categories. He failed to complete the following box which asked for details of the relationship.
Now Sandwell is celebrated for the sale of public lavatories at an alleged undervalue to the relative of a senior councillor, the Wragge report which investigated this and a series of court actions and disciplinary proceedings which cost its tax payers a fortune and the council any shred of a reputation for probity.
In the light of this past experience, one would have expected the bureaucrats dealing with this application to have made some enquiry to determine if Mr. Sood had simply ticked the wrong box or was failing to spell out a significant relationship within the council. There is no evidence this has been done.
When the second application was listed before a planning committee on 9th September 2020 the committee had a report from an officer recommending approval and effectively rubbishing each reason given for the refusal in March. That report has since disappeared from the council web-site.
Now, according to the report, it seemed there was no problem with parking, though the proposed properties were four and five bedroom and likely to be occupied by as many car owners. The officer had more difficulty dealing with the flood risk and effectively ignored it. His answer to the green field objection was bureaucratic gobbledygook The land, said he, was not assessed by the council as part of 2018 Green Space Audit. Of course, by then the council no longer owned the land and so the officer was able to conclude that “following sale the council did not consider it part of its greenspace portfolio “
Generously the officer was of the view that the developer should not be required to provide public housing within the development on the basis that the rules had changed since the application was made. This recommendation, if adopted, is likely to increase the profitability of the development.
For reasons which remain obscure just before the committee was due to decide the application it was withdrawn.
Some lessons need to be learned. A closer scrutiny of planning applications would not come amiss. More fundamentally, it’s clear that Sandwell council fails to value and preserve green spaces within the borough. If it did, it would not be so cavalier in selling off these resources to those whose chief concern may be profit, not the provision of a recreational amenity.
Each and every one of these green spaces in Sandwell is significant for the quality of life of residents, in the fight against pollution and to protect an endangered environment. Eternal vigilance is required to protect them.
There is no argument for their destruction when so many brownfield sites remain abandoned eyesores.