Town centre first principle prevails over increased community centre usage

The increased intensity of use of a community centre in east London, through non-compliance with a condition, has been refused for harm to the living conditions of adjoining residential occupiers and conflict with the town centre first policies of the adopted local plan.

The community centre had been approved by the council in 2016 in compliance with an exceptions policy regarding its size and intensity of use, but subject to a condition restricting it to an upper user limit of 25 persons. This was because it was located outside of a town centre or an opportunity area normally identified for large-scale uses in the local plan. The community centre was originally allowed because a need for the use could be shown and it was close to public transport options. However, it was specifically conditioned with regards to the intensity of use to prevent harm to adjoining occupiers, as the building was in a parade of shops with residents living in flats above to either side. In requesting to remove the condition,  the appellant wanted to use the centre for up to 100 people at any one time. 

The inspector held this increase in usage would far exceed the user threshold set out in the policy and substantive evidence had not been provided to explain why the centre could not be accommodated in a town or local centre where it would provide a valuable contribution to vitality. He concluded the proposal would undermine the town centre first principle in the adopted local plan. In reference to the impact of the proposal on adjoining occupiers, the inspector held that so many people congregating outside the property waiting for classes or the same number attending an event inside the building would significantly harm the living conditions of neighbours and probably their health and quality of life over time, through noise and disturbance.

An award of costs against the council was refused, the inspector holding that the council’s assessment of the scheme was not flawed. He did acknowledge the council appeared to fail to consider the appellant's suggested mitigation conditions but given these were vague and were unlikely to alleviate their concerns, this did not result in a substantive failing.

Inspector: Graham Chamberlain; Written representations

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