CASEBOOK: Appeal cases - Housing: New build - Sheltered homes criticised for design drawbacks

A 31-unit sheltered apartment development proposed by McCarthy & Stone in Hertfordshire has been rejected on the grounds that it would be harmful to a conservation area, would provide no affordable housing and would offer a poor living environment for future residents.

The site occupied land last used as a garage and workshop and featured a number of locally listed buildings. The inspector found that demolition of the vacant and utilitarian buildings would be acceptable provided a suitable redevelopment proposal was forthcoming. Similarly, she accepted that the loss of the locally listed buildings could be outweighed by the gain from meeting a need for sheltered housing, subject to acceptable and detailed plans for redevelopment.

Turning to the merits of the scheme, the inspector found serious design shortcomings. In her view, the retained facades of the locally listed buildings would demonstrate a contrived and disingenuous approach to conservation and design. She agreed with the council that the scheme had not been designed to suit the site or its surroundings but was an adaptation of a standard house style.

The inspector accepted that the appellant had extensive experience of sheltered housing and agreed that the quantity and quality of amenity space was not a matter of high priority among elderly residents. Nevertheless, she noted that the main outlook from the residents' communal lounge would be to a car park. She judged that the landscaped and amenity areas around the building would be inadequate and would lead to a poor living environment for future residents.

Although the council and the appellants agreed that the site was too small to require provision of affordable housing under Circular 6/98, the inspector was not convinced that it was not feasible to accommodate elderly households who could not afford sheltered housing provided by the market.

She accepted that the site was too small to provide separate blocks and was concerned that registered social landlords or other providers would have to contend with pepperpotting of affordable with private units in the same block in the future. She noted the council's claim that a disparity in facilities offered or in the level of service charge levied among residents could cause significant animosity and resentment.

She concluded that the design of the development would mean that the proposal would be at the expense of the value and interest of the conservation area. In her view, concerns about a poor living environment for future residents and the lack of affordable units added weight to the planning objections, and these could not be overridden by the benefits of using previously developed land or of meeting a need for sheltered accommodation.

DCS No: 28420504; Inspector: Ava Wood; Inquiry.

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