Medway Autos, Kent

Project: Converting a former car showroom into a 300-seat banqueting hall.
Location: Sittingbourne, Kent
Client: S.R.H. Ltd
Services: Transport planning

The Project

Calibro’s transport expertise was brought in to advise on securing planning permission for a change of use of the former Medway Autos car showroom and vehicle maintenance workshop. The ambition was to turn it into a 300-seat banqueting hall (incorporating a commercial kitchen for food processing and distribution) and overnight accommodation.

The Problem

Two planning applications for identical proposals had already been refused on transport grounds before we got involved in this project. The client was keen to understand whether all opportunities had been exhausted. We were asked to advise on the prospects of appealing the latest refusal, whether a fresh planning application was the way forward, or whether to simply accept the loss.

It may seem simple, but our starting point wasn’t to review the technical adequacy of the proposals; rather, it was to get under the skin of why both the original and resubmitted planning applications had been refused. This way, we were able to soon appreciate that, despite car parking levels being agreed with the Highway Authority, the Council believed there was insufficient on-site car parking for the size of the building, rather than reflecting on the detail of the proposals. In essence, 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 that the on-site car parking provided would therefore be exceeded. This would, in turn, mean an overspill of parking onto the adjoining A2 London Road; and parking on such a key road may have an unacceptable impact on safety.

The Conclusion

This project wasn’t about coming up with large infrastructure solutions – or providing more on-site car parking. This was about expertly reframing proposals, and communicating everything in our clear, straightforward way. The Council unanimously voted to grant planning permission for the scheme in April 2021: a great result and amazing turnaround.

“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 – I’m so pleased that I did. To walk away with unanimous approval was beyond my expectations.”

Managing Director, S.R.H. Ltd

The Solution

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 swiftly identified several significant inaccuracies in 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 the enforcement of the 300-seat capacity operation, and we formed a three-pronged strategy to re-frame the proposition:

  1. demonstrate that the on-site car parking provision was capable of accommodating the requirements of the proposed 300-seat capacity;
  2. identify a mechanism that would allow the Authority to control guest numbers and their travel arrangements;
  3. detail 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.

Our client agreed to appeal the current refusal and resubmit the planning application, supported by our additional information. We were commissioned to prepare a revised Transport Statement to support the revised planning application and prepare a Proof of Evidence to support the appeal.

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 under the terms of the ETMP. We also proposed a simple, cost-effective scheme for post-and-rail fencing within the highway verges, removing the opportunity for vehicles to park in the vicinity of the site.

In this context, we proved that on-site parking was suitable for the proposed quantum of car parking. We demonstrated a mechanism of enforcement and took away any residual opportunity for overspill parking.

Calibro are responsive, commercial and always ready to help. They have formulated complex arguments and presented them in a digestible fashion that has ultimately helped to elicit positive consultation responses from the Authority

Phillip Kirby
Northland PM

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