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Retrospective approval granted to controversial homes in Bures St Mary subject to partial demolition work

A partial demolition of controversial village homes has been green-lit, in an effort to reduce their impact on neighbours – but opponents believe the development “has always been wrong” and these changes will not make it right.

Babergh District Council awarded retrospective permission for two properties within a six-home development in Bures St Mary yesterday, subject to both homes being party demolished and rebuilt at a lower height, along with other modifications.

Plots five and six of Apple Tree Mews in Cuckoo Hill had been due to be knocked down by next month, following a planning inspector’s ruling last year to uphold two enforcement orders, due to a breach of planning permission from 2015.

Residents protesting the Cuckoo Hill housing development in Bures in 2018. Picture: Mark Bullimore Photography
Residents protesting the Cuckoo Hill housing development in Bures in 2018. Picture: Mark Bullimore Photography

In response, developer The Stemar Group applied to alter the houses, seeking to address the concerns highlighted by inspector Diane Lewis that their height causes “serious harm” to neighbours and the local environment.

Residents and Bures St Mary Parish Council continued to call for full demolition, but Babergh’s planning committee decided that modifying the existing homes would be preferable to them being rebuilt under the approved 2015 plans.

Following the decision, with nine votes in favour and one against, planning committee chairman Clive Arthey said: “Our planning officers have fought long and hard to get the best possible outcome for Bures St Mary, on what has been a lengthy and complex enforcement case.

“Whilst our council welcomed the Planning Inspectorate finding in our favour on Cuckoo Hill, we also believe that complete demolition was not the best option on this occasion.

“Instead, our planning and enforcement officers have worked with the developer to find a solution which addresses previous concerns without the need to totally rebuild plots five and six, which may have resulted in more intrusive homes than those approved today.

“I support the committee’s decision on the basis that this comes with a great deal of conditions for the developer, who must now spend time and considerable expense rectifying their previous errors.”

The planning breach was first detected in 2017, with Babergh planners rejecting a retrospective plan for all six homes in 2018, before approving revised applications for plots one to four in 2019.

Bures St Mary Parish Council chairman Gill Jackson said that the “torturous history” of the case made it impossible for residents to look at the development afresh.

“The development of Cuckoo Hill is an issue that has caused more upset, annoyance, protest and disturbance to residents than any building since the 1840s,” she said.

“We did not agree with granting permission of plots one to four. Bures St Mary Parish Council supports residents in believing that this development has always been wrong and no changes to the buildings will make it right.”

A neighbour of the site, who did not wish to be named, argued the outcome shows “demolition doesn’t actually mean demolition”.

“The lack of due diligence with the 2015 permission has led to the problems we’re facing today,” she said. “We don’t have a voice in the planning system, and the system is weighted towards development.”

During the planning committee meeting, a number of councillors questioned whether the original application had been given proper scrutiny and examination in 2015, adding that they felt having the homes built in accordance with those plans would be less desirable.

Cllr David Busby said: "This has been going on far too long and if I lived there, I'd just want the developer to get on with it and get off the site.

Cllr John Hinton added: "It's a complicated situation, but I think the officer's recommendation is the better option for the residents, in that it gets the fuss and bother over and done with, and in a more acceptable way than if they knocked it down and rebuilt."

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