How we turned blocked planning into a banqueting hall

Rejected twice. So how did Calibro get the planning through?

It’s what clients need from us, and what we pride ourselves on: solving problems, presenting information clearly and delivering where other consultants may have been unable. On this occasion, our client approached us following the refusal of planning applications for issues that others were simply unable to overcome.

Is there a way forward after two refusals?

We were approached by the planning consultants Fuller Long on behalf of Solid Rock Holding Ltd to advise on the prospects of securing planning permission for a change of use of a car showroom and vehicle maintenance workshop in Sittingbourne.

The ambition was to turn the former Medway Autos car showroom into a 300-seat banqueting hall, incorporating a commercial kitchen for food processing and distribution (Class D2 and B2) and overnight accommodation (Class C1). Two planning applications for identical proposals were refused on transport grounds before we got involved. The client wanted our advice on appealing the latest refusal, and whether to submit a fresh planning application.

Both the original and resubmitted planning applications were refused on the basis that the Council believed there was not enough on-site car parking for the size of the development. The building was able to operate with a seated capacity of up to 500 guests, rather than the 300 being proposed. The Council was concerned that they would be unable to enforce the lower limit of capacity, and considered on-site car parking provision would be exceeded, leading to an overspill of car parking on the adjoining A2 London Road. Parking on such an important road would, the Council suggest, have an unacceptable impact on safety – and both applications were refused due to this concern.

Putting our Transport Services to work

Transparency and openness with clients is part of our make-up. So, as soon as Calibro was brought in, we proposed to minimise potentially abortive fees by carrying out an initial technical review of the previously submitted information. From here, we could advise on whether there were realistic prospects of success at appeal and/or via a new planning application.

We quickly identified some significant inaccuracies in the previous consultants’ work, which would need to be addressed before going ahead with an appeal. In addition, it appeared previous submissions had failed to acknowledge that the Council’s concerns all stemmed from their belief that they’d be unable to enforce the 300-seat capacity operation.

We identified a strategy of re-framing the proposition:

a) demonstrating that the on-site car parking provision was capable of accommodating the requirements of the proposed 300-seat capacity;
b) identifying a mechanism that would allow the Authority to control guest numbers and their travel arrangements;
c) detailing how a proportionate scheme of mitigation could also be deployed, which would physically stop vehicles from being able to park on the adjoining public highway.

Looking deeper for a compelling case

Based on this three-pronged strategy, our client agreed to appeal the current refusal, and resubmit the planning application with the additional information advised by our team. We were commissioned to prepare a revised Transport Statement to support the revised planning application, as well as a Proof of Evidence to support the appeal. The documents dovetailed to reposition the proposals with a clear, compelling case in favour of the scheme. We openly identified and corrected inaccuracies in the earlier work, giving us the opportunity to demonstrate to the Council that our approach was different – and trustworthy.

We set out the case for using a planning condition to require an Event Traffic Management Plan (ETMP) to control guest numbers, and provided a framework of measures to demonstrate how the proposal could operate in the future; avoiding any risk of the demand for car parking exceeding the on-site provision. We also proposed a simple, cost-effective scheme for post-and-rail fencing within the highway verges, averting the opportunity for any vehicles to park in the vicinity of the site.

Without changing the scheme, we presented the information to the planning committee in a different way, demonstrating there were no risks and identifying the measures that would smooth the way forward.

Reframing the proposals with new clarity

This project wasn’t about coming up with large infrastructure solutions – or even providing more on-site car parking. This was about reframing the proposals in a way that showed there was no material risk of overspill car parking occurring; that enforcement could take place against a controlled process (the Event Traffic Management Plan); and that even with all of this, proportionate mitigation would remove the physical potential for vehicles to park on the local highway.

By taking this new approach and communicating it in our clear, straightforward way, the Council unanimously voted to grant planning permission for the scheme in April 2021. This wasn’t just the right result for our client: it was an amazing turnaround to receive the full backing of the Council.

With the scheme going ahead unanimously (with no objections whatsoever), our client was understandably delighted:

“After the first two refusals, I was really quite unnerved by the planning process. But Calibro came to us with an openness and fresh approach that provided me with enough reassurance to push one more time. And I’m so pleased that I did. To walk away with unanimous approval was beyond my expectations.” Christine Adeosun, Solid Rock Holding Ltd

Previous applications had failed because others didn’t fully understand the Council’s genuine concerns, and so were unable to find ways to provide the Council’s planning committee with the solutions and assurance needed to give the scheme the go-ahead. We also won the appeal, as well as securing planning at the local level.

While not our largest project, every scheme we work on receives the same level of commitment: this is an important example of how Calibro thrives on solving problems to get projects the green light.