Sunderland council leader uses casting vote overs plans for 72 new apartments

Plans for an apartment complex in the Penshaw area have been narrowly approved by city councillors.

Wednesday, 5th January 2022, 3:59 pm
Sunderland council leader Councillor Graeme Miller.

Back in 2021, Sunderland City Council’s planning department received an application for land off Station Road and Greta Avenue in the Shiney Row ward.

The plans from Vistry Partnerships North East included a three-storey building providing 72 apartments and aimed at people aged over 55.

In addition, the development proposed 100% affordable housing and the restoration of a walled garden near the Grade II-listed Penshaw House.

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Annika Martin is among many local residents who are concerned about proposed new apartments close to Grade II listed Penshaw House, off Station Road, Penshaw.

In recent months, the plans have sparked concerns from neighbours over potential impacts on the setting of the heritage building, as well as wider traffic and noise issues.

Some objectors also questioned the demand for over 55s accommodation and said the plans represented an “overdevelopment” of the site.

The planning application was discussed formally at a meeting of the council’s planning and highways (west) committee on January 4, 2022.

During the meeting, several objectors raised concerns about the development, including the loss of trees, the apartment plans exacerbating existing local traffic issues and heritage impacts on Penshaw House.

Speakers added the apartment complex was “just not right for this site,” with one objector describing the plans as “grossly inappropriate in design and scale”.

Other concerns included the apartment plans failing to meet the same “stipulations” as other local housing developments.

A representative for applicant Vistry Partnerships told the meeting the apartment plan was “carefully considered” and “trying to add some visual interest to the streetscene on what is largely a vacant derelict site.”

Alongside measures to try and “respect Penshaw House’s listing and status,” developers also confirmed they would provide highways works to improve vehicular access to the development site.

This included improving the entrance way where Greta Avenue exits onto Station Road to allow for two-way traffic.

Committee members were asked to weigh up the impacts of the plans, including “less than substantial harm” to the setting of Penshaw House, against the proposed economic and social benefits.

Although council planners recommended the plans for approval, the planning and highways (west) committee were divided.

Councillor Heather Fagan raised concerns about the apartments “sitting empty” due to lack of demand although council planning officers confirmed there was no policy requirement for developers to demonstrate a need for the scheme.

In response to concerns from councillor Len Lauchlan about parking, planners also confirmed that the developer was supplying more parking spaces than required under council policies.

Councillor Graeme Miller, chairing the meeting, noted there was a need for accommodation for older people in Sunderland in coming years due to the challenges of an ageing population.

He also pointed to a report prepared by council planners, which said that “the social benefits of providing affordable and accessible accommodation for those aged over 55 should carry significant weight in the planning balance”.

After being put to the vote, the plans were initially tied with four votes in support and four against.

However Cllr Miller used his casting vote as chair of the committee to approve the application, in line with council planning officers’ recommendations.

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