Horsham District Council has refused a retrospective application from one of its own members to live in a shipping-like container for three years while his new home is being built.
John Bailey (Con, Rudgwick) submitted the application for the container home at Windacres Farm, Church Street.
Mr Bailey’s current home, Windacres Lodge, has been demolished to make way for an access road which forms part of a 55-home development being built on his land by Berkeley Homes.
He plans to live in the one-bedroom container until he is able to move into one of the new homes.
At a meeting of the council’s planning committee north on Tuesday (August 7), officers recommended the application be refused as the container had been placed outside Rudgwick’s built-up area boundary, and no reasons had been given to explain why it was needed for so long or why Mr Bailey could not find temporary accommodation elsewhere.
Neighbour John Newell told the meeting that Mr Bailey had been living in the container since November and asked why it could not have been situated in nearby Rudgwick Metals – which is also owned by the councillor.
Mr Newell said: “I fear that allowing the container to remain where it is would allow the applicant to establish a residential footprint on a green field site.”
Councillors were divided over whether to give permission.
Peter Burgess (Con, Holbrook West), chairman of the council, told the meeting that he had visited the site and described the container as ‘not visible’, ‘shielded’ and ‘not intrusive’.
Proposing that Mr Bailey’s application be permitted, Mr Burgess added: “In my view, there’s no harm in the owner living on site.
“The reason he’s living on site is because his home was knocked down by the developers much earlier than was thought. It’s a temporary application, so I do not think it’s going to set any precedent.”
Leonard Crosbie (Lib Dem, Trafalgar) said: “From my point of view, it’s not a container in the countryside, it’s a replacement dwelling – but above all it’s temporary.”
Mr Crosbie said there were security reasons for Mr Bailey to live on the site, citing thefts elsewhere in the country of tractors and other large agricultural equipment.
He added: “Farmers are concerned about security. They want to make sure they’re on the spot.”
Toni Bradnum (Con, Nuthurst) described the container as ‘a pea on a drum’, adding: “The applicant has to live somewhere whilst this is taking place. And it’s not unusual for us to give temporary permissions.”
Adrian Lee (Con, Denne) said he was ‘struggling’ to understand the arguments in support of Mr Bailey’s application.
Pointing out that it was in breach of several planning policies, he added: “There’s a barn built on site without proper planning permission; this container’s been stuck in the middle of a field without permission and it seems to me that if we grant it retrospective approval, we’re going to look to the wider public as if we’re favouring a fellow councillor.
“I’m sorry, I just don’t buy it and I’m not prepared to accept it. I don’t think it should be granted and if it was anybody else we wouldn’t be granting it.”
Mr Bailey submitted a retrospective application for the barn in 2017 but withdrew it shortly before it was due to be considered in April.
Claire Vickers (Con, Southwater), cabinet member for planning and development, added: “This is quite clearly outside the built-up area boundary and I don’t see any proven need to live on site.
“There is no actual agricultural need. Cutting straw or hay does not justify living on site and, whilst there may be some equipment that he’s worried about from a security perspective, it’s stored in a barn that doesn’t currently have planning permission.”
Liz Kitchen (Con, Rusper & Colgate) felt the application would set a precedent for farmers all over the district to ‘stick up a portacabin and live in it’.
Mr Bailey did not attend the meeting. Speaking on Wednesday, he said: “It’s inappropriate to comment until the planning system is completed. There are further stages in the planning process.”
When asked if he would be appealing the decision, he added: “I’m going to talk to my advisors and consider all options.”