A planning hearing into Calderdale Council’s refusal under planning to allow a nursery to increase its numbers has been held.
Planning inspector Catherine Humphrey chaired the meeting at the Shay, Halifax, into the appeal lodged by Robert Preston, owner of Hipperholme Private Day Nursery, against the council’s refusal to allow the nursery increase the number of children it can take at any one time from 67 to 98.
When the council’s Planning Committee refused the application in May 2018 – on the chair’s casting vote – the main issue was consideration for neighbours’ amenity.
Officers believe more children would mean more noise and could not see how imposing planning conditions relating to noise or suitable acoustic solutions on the nursery, which is at Greenglades, Denholme Gate Road, Hipperholme, could adequately manage the situation in practice.
Mrs Humphrey said the main issue was the effect the proposal would have on the living conditions of the occupants of neighbouring homes, with particular regard to noise disturbance.
The nursery, which can open from 7am to 7pm, has a forest school element and does a lot of teaching outside, the hearing heard, with the appellants stating that a proportion of this takes place away from the nursery at its associated site seven miles away and using local woods, local rugby fields and local parks.
Including before, after and holiday club provision only 67 children were on site at any one time although the number of children using the nursery was greater, said the nursery team, which included Mr Preston and planning consultant Roger Lee.
In areas which affected residents, an outdoor classroom and a garden, only around 30 children would use those areas at one time and if the appeal was successful this might rise to about 40.
Mrs Humphrey asked what sort of activities were undertaken as there had been mention in objections of children playing chimes and bells.
Nursery representatives said that had not happened in the recent past and activities ranged from looking for insects to breaking ice took place, supervised by trained staff.
These were lessons which aimed to engage the children, and although the nursery was not denying there was some noise it was not a case of children running around unsupervised.
Ofsted regulations set out how activities should be implemented and staffing levels required, they told the hearing.
The garden was designed in a unique way and zoned to keep groups in each part of it smaller. “They are not ‘together together’, the nursery team argued.
Council officers counter-argued: “You still can’t stop children making a noise – they are excited. That is what is concerning the council.”
They reiterated concerns that practically it would be difficult to control issues through conditions, saying: “Our submission is we would put conditions on but they would not be enforceable, so how would they control the children?”
Mr Lee told the hearing conditions like these were imposed on other nurseries in Calderdale and there was appeal case evidence too, using hours limitations, acoustic fencing and so on.
The nursery and council teams exchanged views about the suitability of a noise report produced for the appellants which argued the extra children would not result in much extra noise.
One of the residents at the hearing summarised their point of view by saying: “At 30 children we have an issue with the current situation, that is why we are so against expansion.
“We are not criticising how good the nursery is at all, all we are trying to do is preserve our amenity and privacy, and the noise impact it has on us.”
Resident David Oliver said the rise in numbers of around 30 per cent was an enormous increase and the amount of noise would increase accordingly.
He told the hearing he had four major areas of concern – that increasing numbers would represent over-development of the site, that more noise would affect neighbours’ amenity, highways issues including safety around the entrance and air quality matters, and the percentage increase itself. It had outgrown the site.
“My objection is that the location is no longer suitable,” said Mr Oliver.
“The site is very close to residential properties and even though mitigation is in place it is considered not effective enough or enforceable and this would cause an unacceptable amount of noise.”
Mr Preston said the nursery had more space than Ofsted required for the number of children at issue and there was a shortage of nursery places in Calderdale and in the Hipperholme area. The council argued against the latter point.
After hearing submissions about conditions and making a site visit to the nursery and some nearby homes, Mrs Humphrey left to make her decision which will be announced at a later date.