Sunday 15 January 2012

Finely Balanced Decision

At Wednesday's Planning Applications Committee, Highdown School sought permission for 8 x 15 m high floodlight columns for their recently upgraded football/hockey all-weather pitch (near the transmitter tower).

Kidmore End view: floodlights will be to the left of the transmitter
The elements making this a tricky decision included on the one side: the lie of the land & elevated position of the pitches, proximity to & lower level of the housing, location next to the wildlife corridor & proximity to open countryside, accepted fact that floodlighting would have a detrimental impact on the character of the area/residents' quality of life/the environment.  On the flip side there are obvious health benefits of increasing the hours sport is enjoyed, as well as giving people of any age a positive pastime.

When the application came to the October meeting I asked for a deferral because the applicant's submission didn't take into account the change in levels between the proposed siting of the floodlighting and the surrounding housing.  This month the application came back to Planning with the addition of a Floodlighting Impact Assessment.

Residents and I were left unconvinced by the submitted predicted light pollution drawings.  I truly hope that I am proved wrong in my belief that the light spill will be a blight to the area.

After the officer's introduction I highlighted the choices before the Committee.  I discounted the applicant's desired 10 pm curfew out-of-hand.  I said it was between accepting the officer's proposal of 8 pm Mon-Fri, 6 pm Sat-Sun plus a variance in September to accommodate bats; seeking an earlier curfew; or refusing the application outright.  I added that it was an incredibly finely balanced decision and that my belief was the negative impacts outweighed the benefits.

Sadly Labour's Deputy Leader, Tony Page had a conflicting opinion - and the predictable block voting of his colleagues, added to the 2 Liberal Democrats' votes prevented a refusal.  Thankfully though Cllr Page agreed with me as far as a 10 pm week-day curfew would be inappropriate, but he & his Labour colleagues as well as the 2 Lib Dems - voted against my compromise of a 7 pm Mon-Fri and 6 pm Sat-Sun to accommodate young children being disturbed by the floodlighting.  I'm happy to note that Green Cllr Melanie Eastwood supported me in this bid because of her first-hand experience as a mother of a 3 year old, together with my Conservative colleagues.

However the final vote came down in agreement with the officer's recommendation, with 5 against.  The proof of the level of intrusion will be when the floodlighting is put in place and turned on.  I sincerely hope the fears shared by local residents, Cllr Eastwood, my colleague Ed Hopper, Conservative colleagues on the Committee and me are proved wrong.  This is a unique, elevated position adjacent to an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty; I fervently hope this creeping urbanisation will not have a dramatic negative impact on this beautiful valley.