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DEVELOPERS VS COUNCILS

WHO REALLY HOLDS THE POWER?

FLEET ROAD DEVELOPMENT

When it comes to local property developers, it’s probably fair to say that the only time we really discuss them is in regards to an unwanted local development. But this time it’s a little different as we ask, who really holds the power in Hart, the developers, or the councils?

Numbers 102 – 104 Fleet Road have been an eyesore for a very long period of time, with the properties standing in a state of disrepair for around 6 years now as they continue to become more and more dilapidated. The roofing has been left in a dangerous condition with large, heavy slate tiles falling onto the street below and the hoarding on the pavement prevents people from walking past easily without having to veer into the road.

Below: Photos of 102 – 104 Fleet Road,  showing the danger of falling heavy slate tiles. But Fleet Town Council does not think this represents a danger to the public.

Below: Not only are the tiles extremely solid and heavy but they are very large too, clearly posing a serious danger to anyone they might hit.

Below: The roof is in a terrible condition and is only being left to get worse. How long before someone gets seriously hurt?

A local resident describes the situation:

“The development on the corner of Fleet Road and Church Road has been an open sore for years. The main danger is the Welsh slate tiles which have blown down and fallen off the derelict building roof onto the pavement and road. This is an immediate real danger to the public as another one was blown off the roof and fell onto the pavement on Wednesday night. This could cause serious injury to pedestrians or passing vehicles if they are unlucky, it’s an accident waiting to happen! The hoarding outside the derelict shop cuts the pavement down to only 1 metre width which prohibits people passing in wheelchairs. Equally people pushing babies in buggies through the reduced narrow gap have difficulty and have to walk onto Fleet Road. Plus the no-waiting sign pole halfway along acts as another obstacle to the extra narrow pavement. Not even wide enough for anyone with an umbrella to get though because of the post in middle of the pavement. The small narrow pavement makes a mockery of social distancing in Fleet Road. 

This is private property and it represents a real danger to the public – the District Council are fairly empowered to do something. Revised planning applications come in two or three times a year and they have an opportunity to get the private developer to make safe the building. It’s been 6 years since this developer started this project do you think if it will finish anytime soon?”

NO SAFETY, NO SOCIAL DISTANCING

Hoarding on a property isn’t really unusual throughout the development phase, as it’s there to both protect the public and keep them out of danger. In this case though, it has been there so long that it is actually looking rather dilapidated itself, with parts of it hanging off. The width of the hoarding takes over a large part of the pavement and to make matters worse, a metal signpost is also planted in the middle of it.

So what does this mean for you? It means if you have a pram, a wheelchair or have mobility issues, you are going to be forced out into the road to bypass that area. It means you can’t social distance without going out into the road and if you are unlucky enough to be carrying an umbrella or shopping bags…well you get the idea.

Below: Crumbling hoarding takes up a large amount of pavement space along with a metal signpost that prevents people passing by safely.

So Fleet is left with a building that clearly poses a danger to the public, as well as an eyesore to the town itself. The developers appear in no hurry whatsoever to reach any kind of agreement over the design and happily continue to apply for extra accommodation, without the necessary parking needed, knowing full well that they will be turned down…and our councils are supposedly powerless to act in our best interests?

WHAT ARE THE DEVELOPERS PLAYING AT?

The developers in this case appear to have no respect for local council procedure, or public safety. The buildings in question have a long and messy planning history, with permission being applied for and denied on an almost continuous basis over the years as the developers try again and again to push through plans which are simply unacceptable. In the meantime residents in Fleet are being left with a crumbling half-build that is a dangerous liability.

In 2016 these buildings were the subject of an enforcement case related to the “commencement of development without discharge of conditions”, which basically appears to mean that they had proceeded with demolishing/developing the buildings without fulfilling their side of the agreement first…and therefore without full permission from the council. Hart District Council issued a temporary stop notice at the time as the agreed S106 contributions had not been paid (so the developers can’t be stopped on the basis of public safety…but they can be stopped if Hart hasn’t got paid). The developers eventually sorted the bill but that was just the beginning of the story.

Let’s take a look at the history of 102 – 104 Fleet Road, during the time the developers have owned it:

SEPTEMBER 2014 – MARCH 2015

Notification under Regulations 73 to 75 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 in respect of a proposed change of Use from Retail to Residential. 14/02255/HRA

OPINION ISSUED

MARCH – MAY 2015

Lawful Development Certificate for the proposed change of use of the first floor above existing retail unit to a flat for residential use. Despite being granted, this has still not been completed over five years later. 15/00581/LDC

GRANTED

FEBRUARY – DECEMBER 2016

Application: Demolition of part of existing building, use of part ground and part first floor for retail (A1) or financial and professional services (A2), and the creation of a second floor accommodating 2 x 2-bedroom residential units and associated parking. 16/00293/FUL

DISMISSED

JULY 2016

Application: Demolition of part of existing building, use of part ground and part first floor for retail (A1) or financial and professional services (A2), and the creation of a second floor accommodating 2 x 2-bedroom residential units and associated parking. 16/01868/FUL

FINALLY DISPOSED OF? (No further action recommended)

FEBRUARY – MARCH 2020

Application: Erection of a first floor rear extension with undercroft parking below. Erection of dormer window to front and rear. Alterations to shopfront, internal alterations and alterations to fenestration. Conversion of loft space to create 1 x 1 bedroom flat. 20/00536/FUL

REFUSED

MAY – JULY 2020

Erection of a first floor rear extension with undercroft parking below. Erection of dormer window to front and rear. Alterations to shopfront, internal alterations and alterations to fenestration. Conversion of loft space to create 1 x 1 bedroom flat. 20/01166/FUL

REFUSED

The back of the building is no better, with the roof shown to be in a poor state of repair and even more falling tiles. Not only that but it appears it isn’t even secured properly and while there is boarding at the back of the building, areas have been left open to the elements and indeed anyone/anything else that wants to get in there. In such an era of health and safety, is this acceptable?…

NOT A DANGEROUS BUILDING? 

Fleet Town Council have advised that as this is private property, unless this provides a real danger to the public, the District Council are powerless to do anything, despite complaints from…the public…who feel they are in danger.  Got that? So just to reiterate:

Heavy slate roof tiles that fall to the pavement and could hit anyone passing by are not a danger to the public.

Crumbling hoarding which was given permission to be erected while development took place and was never meant to be a long term fixture AND which prevents social distancing AND forces those with prams or wheelchairs, or shopping etc into the road (especially with the metal signpost on the pavement) – provides no danger to the public.

Just remember that if you happen to get hit by either a whacking great roof tile or a passing car.

Below: Photos from the back of the building…a really sad looking building that should probably have just been left as it was.

Is this a situation which is really going to be allowed to continue while our local councillors sit back and do nothing about it? Is the greed and laziness of local developers more important than public safety? If only they had just left it alone in the first place…

CHANGING TIMES

It’s always a shame to see original buildings demolished, as the character of Fleet is slowly left to drown under new builds and flats. A comment from the inspector reviewing an appeal in November 2016, said of the original building:

“Whilst I acknowledge that the existing building adds variety to the street scene, and its design provides a reminder of the town’s historical development, the proposal is of good quality design, and makes a better use of a site in an area where new development is aimed to be located. Similarly I agree with the Council that the town centre is an appropriate location to relax its parking standards”

I wonder if he would still say the same thing today if he saw the state of it now. Note also the irony of the ‘relaxed parking standards’ that still haven’t been met by the developer.

Below: The change in appearance over the years, from a parade of shops full of character, to a crumbling and dangerous mess.

Councillor Alan Hope, Vice Chair of Planning at Fleet Town Council expressed his frustration at the lack of action by either Fleet or Hart District Councils. He explained how he has been contacted by residents who are concerned at the dangerous condition of the building and the length of time it has been like that but despite him raising the matter with the local councils, no one wants to do anything about it.

It’s certainly a sad day when a local Fleet Town Councillor feels as frustrated as the residents he is trying to help…but with our local councils appearing blind to the concerns of those they are meant to represent, what chance do we have? As Cllr Hope himself says:

“If Fleet Town Council and Hart District Council can’t put pressure on whoever is responsible, then what’s the point of us existing?!”

Well said Alan, if our local councils don’t care about our town, who does?

Any comment Councillors?

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