Bedford Borough Councillors went against the strong advice of their planning officers to put off a decision on a plan to build seven retirement bungalows in the Riseley village conservation area.
A meeting heard that the proposal for land next to 156 High Street has backing from the parish council, but that it is in the conservation area, on protected countryside, and would “harm” three nearby listed buildings.
Council planners had advised elected members of the planning committee to refuse the application.
Cllr Alison Foster (Cons, Harrold) said at the meeting on Monday that officers’ advice “does seem to be rather arbitrary”.
“This is not a criticism but the planners do seem to deviate from policies when they deem it appropriate and there doesn’t seem to be any consistency in the deviations,” she said.
The meeting was told that there is backing in the village for the scheme which intends to provide homes for elderly people to downsize into, to free up bigger homes for families to move into.
Some 14 neighbours had sent in their objections to the council but 27 sent in their support, the committee reports revealed.
A supporter told the meeting that the village is getting older and needs to attract “new blood”.
Janine Laver, the council’s development manager said that “at the moment, everything is stacked against it.”
She outlined three reasons for refusal, and although advising councillors that planning matters were about balancing the issues, there was much more weighing against it than in favour.
“It’s not a case of balancing the scales, it’s got to outweigh it,” she said.
“It is an unallocated site, outside the settlement policy area, with an open space designation,” she said.
But ward Cllr Martin Towler (Cons) said there’s plenty of open space in Riseley and he considered it “infilling”.
But he was told that the land provides a gap in a built-up area and a “soft edge” to the village.
Committee chairman Jon Abbot (Lib Dem, Oakley) said officers were applying local policies that councillors themselves had voted for, and approved earlier this year in the local plan.
But Cllr Foster said; “All of the policies are open to interpretation as we see on many occasions.”
Councillors began to discuss the possibility of going on a site visit, with a conservation officer, to understand the issues more clearly.
But Ms Laver advised the members not to raise the expectations of the applicants by going on a site visit and then refusing the application at the next meeting.
But the members decided by five votes to three to visit the area and defer their decision until the next meeting.
By David Tooley
Local Democracy Reporter