Plan to turn Babbacombe hall into three new homes is refused

Plan of the proposed development in St James Place, Torquay

Plan of the proposed development in St James Place, Torquay - Credit: InkPad

Plans to turn a former religious hall into three homes in a narrow street in Torquay have been refused.

Torbay Council’s planning committee voted five to four against the scheme at the former Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in St James Place, Babbacombe.

Planning officers had recommended approval, with a series of conditions to overcome objections from neighbours on issues including privacy,  overlooking and noise.

Planning officer Craig Davies said on balance, the proposals would provide new homes in a sustainable location, close to a bus route and car parks.

But Cllr Terry Manning said he felt three homes on the site of the empty hall was too many for the narrow road.

He proposed refusal due to over-development, and his move was carried by a majority of votes at the meeting on Monday night.

Councillors heard the plans involved partial demolition of the hall, with the rest of the building being reused. The scheme involved converting the building, which is surrounded by housing, into a pair of two-bedroom homes, and a one-bedroom single storey house with a mezzanine level.

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The proposals had been revised following discussions with council officers, and included taking away part of the front of the building to create an enclosed front courtyard with bins and cycle storage.

A planning report said two parking spaces in the original plans had been removed due to lack of visibility, but the homes would be close to a bus route and car parks.

The report said the proposals had been carefully designed to minimise any overlooking to an acceptable level, including the use of obscured glazing, and the development would not lead to unacceptable noise for neighbours.

Mr Davies said the planning conditions included a construction method statement, which would set out how the project would be carried out, and how the impact of the work on neighbours would be minimised.

He said the scheme would use high quality materials and was a good example of brownfield redevelopment, reusing an existing building.

He said it was a site where car-free development was feasible, with public car parks two or three minutes’ walk away, and was a two-minute walk from a bus stop on Babbacombe Road.

Neighbour Chris Reynard, of Greys Cottages, which backs onto the hall, asked for all the windows facing homes to be of obscured glass.

Objecting to the scheme, he said there were “major problems” with blocked drains in the area, and there had been flooding in gardens when the hall was in use.

Tony Drake, founder of Torquay-based Larkmead Homes, which had applied for planning permission, spoke in support of the scheme. He said the homes had been carefully designed for the sustainable residential area, and the impact on residents had been considered from the outset.

He said the firm had worked closely with the council to respond to concerns that had been raised and would comply with any conditions required.

The homes would help the council meet its housing target and would reduce the carbon footprint, helping to tackle the climate emergency.

Cllr Anne Brooks said she was concerned about the quality of life for existing residents close to another three houses, and about the quality of life for the new residents who would have “very little outlook”.

She said the outdoor space was  limited for three properties.

She said refusing the scheme would allow the scheme to be revised to allow two buildings on the site, addressing issues with amenity, overlooking and parking.

Cllr Manning said he would have preferred two rather than three homes, and raised concerns about access for emergency vehicles during construction work. He questioned the size of the homes, the amount of outdoor space, and the lack of outlook.

Cllr Jack Dart, who voted for the scheme, said the homes would suit people who, like him, chose not to drive, and the development was an “attractive” use of a brownfield site. He urged councillors to take into account people’s different housing needs.

Cllr Jackie Thomas also supported the scheme, saying it was a good example of a low-carbon development in a sustainable location, reducing reliance on cars, and would give new life to a vacant building.