'Massively oversized' Derbyshire house sticks 'two fingers up' at planning rules

The controversial conversion of a series of homes and barns into a “massively oversized” house has effectively “stuck two fingers up” to a Derbyshire authority, say councillors.

Friday, 23rd April 2021, 3:18 pm
Updated Saturday, 24th April 2021, 8:52 am
Bent Farm

Matthew Slack is the applicant behind the controversial scheme at Bent Farm in Farley Hill, just north of Matlock.

Mr Slack was granted approval from Derbyshire Dales District Council in 2015 to convert the farm site into a large house and large indoor swimming pool building.

However, since then, residents, councillors and council officers say he has deviated from the approved plans and built a scheme that is drastically different from what was allowed.

Mr Slack was told to submit a new planning aplication to match what has actually been built.

In a virtual meeting this week, which saw heated comments from residents and the applicant’s agent, councillors chose to refuse the application, against the recommendations of their own officers.

One particular new extension along the roadside is two metres taller than approved, council officers said.

Mr Slack’s agent, Roger Yarwood denied this.

Jon Bradbury, a district council planning officer, said the former buildings had blended into the surrounding area quite well and noted numerous differences with the built scheme.

He said the property is “slightly bigger” than the approved plans and there 15 “modest” discrepancies but that these changes do not represent significant harm.

Cllr Julie Daly, a member of Darley Dale Town Council, said the scheme has been based on “guesstimates” and sets a “dangerous precedent”.

Cllr Daly said: “This property, taken as a whole, is nearly 60 per cent larger than the building it replaces, the sheer volume and higher ground levels makes this building obtrusive and incongruous with its surroundings

“Bent Farm, as built, is massively oversized and out of keeping with its neighbours.”

Cllr Steve Chrystal, chairman of the town council, said: “Effectively, this applicant has consistently stuck two fingers up to this planning authority, the district councillors, the Planning Inspectorate and his neighbours.

“The applicant is a serial offender, when it comes to adhering to planning conditions, as such this authority cannot reasonable trust nor expect the applicant to adhere to any conditions issued in the future, including any attached to this application.”

Cllr Chrystal said the applicant had previously built another home in Farley Hill which was also far larger than it was supposed to be “because they wanted a bigger property”.

In August 2019, Dales councillors refused the plans for the home, paving the way for it to be demolished and rebuilt for “consistently flouting” and showing “disregard” for planning law.

Officers said the three-bed house, in Sunnyside Terrace, was 20 per cent larger than approved but had recommended approval.

Councillors refused the plans, however, this was approved at appeal.

Cllr Chrystal said: “It appears any conditions are simply ignored and the applicant does whatever they wish. Given the history of this applicant and their total disregard for planning rules and regulations, can they be trusted with a successful application tonight, even with conditions attached? I think not.”

Donna Shimwell, a Farley Hill resident, said: “What stands in front of you now is nothing like what was originally applied. Bent Farm has been altered in every way to suit the applicant’s needs.

“To grant permission in this case would set a terrible precedent. It could be seen as rewarding incompetence, duplicity and bad practice.”

John Groves, on behalf of other Farley Hill residents, said: “You are being asked to approve a building which is larger in almost every dimension. Any semblance of the character and distinctiveness which could possibly have been retained is destroyed.”

Roger Yarwood, agent to the applicant, said: “The building that is there today is the same size, basically, and is in the same position and is of the same design as the one that was approved in 2015.

“It is only now that the house has been built, without significant alteration to its size or design, that people have come forward to object.

“The officers’ report lists 14 minor departures from the previously-approved drawings, several of these are not departures at all. In reality, there are only 10 small changes.

He said the extension alongside the road is one-metre taller than previously-approved, not 2.2 metres.

He said: “Don’t be misled by what you have heard into thinking that this building is dramatically different either in character or size from what was approved.

“It is no different whatsoever in size, save for the slight increase in height of two elements.

“This is a lot of fuss over very little.”

Cllr Garry Purdy, leader of the authority, said: “If we refuse this, what do we do, knock it down? Frankly, I very much doubt it.”

Cllr added that planning agents do seek to push the boundaries of planning law, but that it is the legislation which is the problem, not the authority’s officers.

He said there was no respect from Mr Slack to his neighbours but felt the changes to the scheme were not significant enough to warrant refusal.

Cllr Sue Burfoot said the plans should be refused and that “everything on this site has been controversial”.

She said: “It is out of character with the local hamlet. As built, it is so different from the approved plans, and the changes are so significant, that it takes it beyond acceptable.

“The building is overbearing and incongruous in this rural setting.

“If we approve this application it is sending completely the wrong message. If we approve this we will be looked on as incompetant.”

Cllr Peter O’Brien said it was becoming “commonplace” for people to build without permission and said it was the fault of the planning committee itself for approving retrospective applications “and word is getting around”.

The application was refused by six votes to five and one abstention.