Agenda item

19/01141/FUL 2 Bethesda Street


Cllr Barnes left the Chamber; Cllr Baker took the chair.

Officer introduction

BH introduced the application as above.  It is situated in the central conservation area, and will have frontage to Chapel Lane, similar to No.1 Bethesda Street.  It is at Committee at the request of Councillor Harman, due to residents’ concern about over development, loss of amenity, access issues, and the impact on Bethesda Church Hall.  All of these issues have been considered, as set out in the report.  The recommendation is to permit.

David Terry, on behalf of Bethesda Church members and regular hall users, in objection

Two years ago, Bethesda spent £650k on refurbishment, to create a modern, community-serving church centre, which includes the large hall opposite the proposed dwelling.  On a  weekly basis, this is used, amongst other things, for two mum and toddler groups, a lunch club for the elderly, cubs, scouts, brownies, a dementia support group – adding up to approximately 500 people a week.  The hall has three large south-facing windows directly across to gap on Chapel Lane, and receives 90% of its natural light from those windows; there is one other small window in the hall.  For 150 years, the hall has had the benefit of daylight flooding in, but now that will be blocked by a building 10 feet away. This will have a detrimental effect on all users, as sunlight has many benefits, especially on the needy.  Strip lighting is not used all the time in the hall, only when needed.  In addition, while the existing buildings only slightly overlook the hall, the windows of the proposed dwelling will directly overlook it, giving rise to safeguarding concerns.  The report states that the proposal won’t cause unacceptable loss of light, but would respectfully disagree with this, and question whether it is based on the experience of standing inside the hall and looking out.  Understands that the law doesn’t give the right to light, but would suggest that a 150-year-old listed building serving as a vibrant, modern community centre deserves some right to light.  Church members and hall users are very concerned, and ask Planning Committee members to reject the application.

Public Speaking

Mr Otter, applicant, in support

Moved to 2 Bethesda Street two years ago with his partner, with the intention to make it into a family home.  This work is now complete, but the parking space to the rear is used as a parking space for other people, by dogs, and for other anti-social behaviour.  One solution would be to build a wall to alleviate the problem, but would rather do more.  Parking is not an issue in the area – it is residents’ parking only, and there are two big car parks nearby which are cheap by day and free at night.  There are concerns that the new dwelling will overlook the church hall, but it is not true to say that the existing houses on Chapel Lane and Bethesda Street don’t already have windows overlooking the hall – from No. 2 Bethesda Street, it’s possible to see right into the hall from the back windows.  The hall is used by his own child, and is unaware of any complaints about overlooking; if it was a problem, suggests that more could be done by the church to prevent it.   The new dwelling will be closer to the church, but the two ground floor windows will be opaque glass to reduce any worries about views into the church hall.  Regarding construction techniques and disturbance, most of the houses in Chapel Street have been built in back gardens of Bethesda Street, and suggests a better construction method statement to ensure disturbance is kept to a minimum.  In addition, as he owns the existing house, the new dwelling can in effect be built from the inside out

Cllr Harman, in objection

Doesn’t call applications in to Committee lightly – there are real concerns here, as Members hopefully  saw on Tuesday.  Mr Terry has made a lot of good points, and in the agenda pack, Members will have read many comments and objections from various users of the hall and neighbours, including a well-argued objection from a neighbour at 2 Chapel Lane who is unable to attend the meeting tonight.  On planning view, they will have observed that Chapel Walk has a particular character, and is a nice area of sanctuary. Understands that the applicant wants to improve the standards of his home, but this area is special and if the proposal goes ahead, it will have a significant effect on Chapel Lane and this cannot be ignored.  Bethesda Church plays a vital role in the community in that part of town, and objections from church users and residents are not frivolous; the Civic Society has also raised concerns.  Hopes Members will consider the application carefully and hopes they will not approve it;  if they do, however, hopes they will consider measures to soften its impact, or defer pending improvements to the scheme.

Member debate

PB:  notes that the biggest issue is the loss of light to the church hall and the impact on its users.

BH, in response: 

-       when considering loss of light and protection of habitable spaces in residential properties, officers apply the 45 degree rule;  guidelines state that this can also be applied to non-domestic buildings, including schools, hotels, hospitals, small workshops and some offices.   Village halls are not specifically listed, so the decision is needed as to whether church hall use falls into one of the categories which can have reasonable expectation of daylight.

RW:  drilling down on light protection, has read the officer statement and noted that the examples given don’t include church halls, but these are only examples.  The import is that occupants have reasonable expectation of daylight, and the Committee seems to be of the opinion that the community hall can have that expectation.  Has experience of this – daylight is good for a community hall, and it is reasonable that the Committee takes it on board.


KH:  thinks on this occasion we should support applicant in what feels like the creation of a mews house - looking along Chapel Lane, practically everyone else has done it.  This in itself isn’t a reason why this applicant should do it too, but he could feel aggrieved if all the neighbours have built structures of this kind, and he is not allowed to do it. We shouldn’t deny him the opportunity in this instance.

Respects the concerns raised by objectors – neighbours and users of the church hall - but feels that if their safeguarding concerns are that strong, the onus should be on church hall to obscure their windows in some way.  It seems odd to put this responsibility on the builder.  Notes that the applicant has offered to consider obscure glass, and this should be done, if it works.

Doesn’t agree that the proposal will have a significant impact on parking - the applicant is right to say there are large car parks in area, and we can’t constantly turn down applications on parking grounds.  This is a sustainable location, already densely populated, but  by and large very nice area to live. Doesn’t think the addition of this property will significantly impact that. 

SW:  agrees with RW in thinking that public halls should be included in the list of places that have a right to daylight. Another point is that looking down Chapel Street, most of the houses that have been built there are opposite houses with small gardens, while the church hall is right up against against the narrow alley-like road - to build another property directly opposite, on what from a birds-eye view is the only little piece of green land in the area, could be seen as over-development.  The church hall deserves the right to some natural daylight.

CM:  coming back to the list of non-domestic buildings read out by the officer, this isn’t exclusive, which means other types of building can be taken into consideration.  Functions and users of Bethesda Hall are entitled to expect daylight.  Notes that the Civic Society expressed surprise that the drawings it viewed on 26th June were conceptual – are the final drawings available now?  Would also suggest that dormer windows are not in keeping with the area. 

DB:  parking space will be lost, and there are major parking problems in this area, but realises that is not seen as a major concern.  Also believes that church hall is entitled to expect some daylight – it is like a school, and is regularly used without electric light.  Another important issue which has not yet been brought up is that the church is a Grade II-listed asset, and even if the hall is not listed, it would seem that it is part of the setting of the heritage asset, and all sorts of things should be taken into consideration when looking at a heritage asset, the impact of the proposal on its significance, and the potential harm – this requires clear and convincing justification. It is also an important and well-used community asset, and all this should be taken into consideration.

PM:  is primarily concerned about the light for hall users,  but DB has raised another important issue about the setting of the heritage asset.  The guidance list, including hospitals and schools, is significant, and there is a difference here:  domestic use means 365 days a year, hospitals all day every day, but guides, brownies and other hall users only use the hall for 2-3 hours a week – has sympathy with this argument, but this isn’t a domestic property and the question of light is different.

DB: talked about the listed building and its environment – the listed status relates to the whole of the church – this application is just affecting the windows to the hall. Cannot see that one building will make that much difference in this particular setting; the buildings are much of a muchness and there are a lot of buildings just as close to it as the proposed.

SC:  this building is a heritage asset with community use, in a conservation area – it is not just a church.  There have been 13 objections, not just from individuals, but also from community groups;   it is clear that many users will be affected, maybe for only a few hours a week but in perpetuity.  Is concerned for all users of the hall; the applicant is just one individual.  The hall was built with windows facing directly due south, to receive direct sunlight at all times of day – this is a good thing.  The proposed house will be just a few feet away, directly south of windows, and will block out light, having a material impact on all users.

PB: it’s clear that a lot of Members feel this sympathy, but the question is whether there are any planning grounds for refusal here.

DO, in response: 

-       the guidance used by officers is prepared by a national lighting specialist, and lists buildings other than dwellings - the primary consideration is how intensely and how frequently the buildings are used.  This can obviously range from eight hours a day to once every few days.   Use of the church hall is transitory, and this makes a difference.  The windows are on the south elevation because they can’t be on north, west, or east, where the roof of the hall drops away;

-       regarding the listed status of the church, the church hall is not included in the listing; the case officer has engaged with conservation officers who have considered the scheme and have no objections – they do not consider it causes any unacceptable harm to the setting of a listed building.

(Note:  Mr Terry stated at this point that the church hall is included in the listing of the church).

PB:  is there any requirement for amenity space in new properties?

BH, in response: 

-       the Civic Society noted that the drawings were only conceptual, but this was an oversight on agent’s part; the revised plans no longer are no longer titled ‘conceptual’, and if approved, these will be the drawings used;

-       regarding the dormers, these were changed during the process, reduced in size and location on the front elevation; they are not a common feature, but recently approved in another local application;

-       regarding amenity space, there is no requirement for new development to provide amenity space for a new dwelling; bin, bike and recycling space are provided as part of development.

MC:  noted on Planning View that this is a tight site, but it is sustainable development, and the applicant has said he is prepared to obscure the windows in some way. Is happy with the application as it stands; will vote in support.

PB:  the church could obscure its windows if necessary.


BF:  members are getting carried away with the light issue.  The new dwelling will be 14 foot away, and on an average day, ambient light will be similar to what it is now.  It is immaterial why the church hall windows are on the south of the building – it will receive ambient light, it is non- residential, and a lot of activities take place in the evening and rely on electric light.  Another way to prevent overlooking would be to put up curtains.

PB:  looking at planning policies, is unhappy about the impact the application will have on the church hall, but is struggling to find any planning reasons to support this.

DB:  the NPPF talks about preserving historic environment, but the issue here is the significance of the church and the important spiritual and community support it provides. The harm that the loss of that significance will cause is clear and convincing justification; the proposal will cause substantial harm to the building, as set out in Paragraph 194 of the NPPF.

DO, in response: 

-       looking at the website, can confirm that the Methodist church is listed, but the hall is not.  The two designated heritage assets to be taken into account are the church and the conservation area.

BF:  another family will live in the new house, and this will be an asset for the church;  church is about the people and the community, not the buildings.  Has attended non-church events at Bethesda and realises it is a good community asset;  another family in the area will be another community asset.

RW:  was leaning towards refusal at start, but having listened to the debate, is not convinced that there are reasons strong enough for refusal.  As DO explained the examples set out in policy guidance and how long users spend in the building, is persuaded that it isn’t strong enough reason to refuse and it would therefore be better to provide another much-needed dwelling in Cheltenham.  If the application is refused and goes to appeal, it would be lost if the only appeal grounds were the light issue.

PB:  residents will hear Members’ predicament and understand that there is a lot of unhappiness, but the Committee has to go by planning rules and the additional dwelling won’t prevent church providing a community function.

Vote on officer recommendation to permit

7 in support

4 in objection






Supporting documents: