As many residents of Fetcham will be aware, a number of different sets of plans (four) had been submitted, considered and all refused during the first four years since the Tudor Motors Garage closed its doors during 2014.
The establishment of a viable replacement for the petrol pump forecourt and garage workshops was always going to be problematic. The narrow triangular site and its prominence at the heart of Fetcham's main retail area would require an unconventional design to gain a degree at least of acceptance.
In earlier times it might have been no less challenging than maybe replacing a blacksmiths that had long served farmers and horse owners, with a vendor of gasoline for the new-fangled automobiles, or perhaps an ironmongers store.
Eventually, a fifth proposal (MO/2018/1388) was submitted in 2018 and approved in early 2019 for the development of a 3 storey mixed used scheme with retail at ground floor level and 10 No. residential units on ground, first and second floors.
Just when hopes were high for demolition and construction work to commence during 2019, a further planning application was submitted in July 2019 by agents (Stonegate Homes) acting for site owner's, Littleworth Properties. Approval for a slightly revised 3 storey mixed use scheme - with retail at ground floor level and 12 No. residential units on ground, first and second floors was sought.
The revised scheme was conditionally approved on the 2nd October 2019 by MVDC's Development Management Committee of Councillors. Full Approval remained "subject to the receipt of a satisfactory legal obligation to secure affordable housing by Thursday 31 October 2019, or any such later date to be agreed in writing with the Executive Head of Service"
Those undertakings were not completed until the beginning of 2020, finally enabling the sixth Planning Application (MO/2019/1074) to be APPROVED on 28th January 2020.
Throughout much of this prolonged 6 year period, the existing Tudor Motors garage and workshop buildings had been surrounded by chipboard panelled hoardings.
Whilst such materials might have sufficed for the originally anticipated one or two years of obtaining planning permissions; by late 2018 their condition and appearance had become a source of concern, annoyance and anger for many residents, including the FRA.
Frequent requests were made during 2019 to the owners, via their agent, by the FRA and the Planning Office to address the state of the hoardings. Latterly, MVDC Planning Enforcement also began issuing instructions. However, these efforts only managed to achieve very superficial whitewashing and the removal of graffiti being undertaken. Throughout this time ... the expectation remained that a builder would soon be appointed by Stonegate Homes to finally demolish the present structures and build-out to the approved plans. In doing so, it would have been necessary to replace the existing hoardings with security and visual screening to surround the entire site; whilst providing required access for excavation and building works and construction materials.
Therefore, it was with further disappointment during early March 2020, that it was revealed the owners of the site, Littleworth Properties, were intending to sell the site, now with planning permission, at auction later that month, on 31st March.
That auction was subsequently postponed, presumably due to the Coronoavirus lockdown conditions. Hence the attempted sale of the site remains seemingly in limbo... with no guarantee that any eventual new owner would choose to construct the approved plans, but instead submit alternative proposals for consideration.
With the active support of SCC Cllr Tim Hall, encouragement and some pressure continues to be applied to MVDC to oblige the present site owners to improve the safety and visual condition of the existing hoardings.
Formal enforcement action is being undertaken by the MVDC Planning Enforcement Team with regard to the condition of the hoardings by the serving of an S215 Notice. Unlawful access into the buildings is now also very apparent, as evidenced by an open 1st floor window and half opened window blinds ... raising further safety concerns.
It is believed that the obligations of the S215 Notice may not be transferable to a new owner. However, the existence of a Notice would be communicated to potential buyers of the property and if needed a new notice would be served on a new owner.
Update:18th May 2020 ... The site is due to go to auction again on the 28th May. https://auctions.allsop.co.uk/lot-overview/vacant-freehold-development-site-with-planning-in-leatherhead/r200528-132
Update: 28th May 2020 ... ONCE MORE, the site has been WITHDRAWN at short notice from the Auction scheduled for the 28th May. https://auctions.allsop.co.uk/lot-overview/vacant-freehold-development-site-with-planning-in-leatherhead/r200528-132
Regrettably, all this suggests that adequate remedial action about the hoardings, commencement of demolition work, the construction of an approved fulfilling and the eventual removal of the visual blight in our village centre ... all remain some way off.
Be assured though that the FRA will continue to at least attempt to engage with the site owners, whoever they may be, through their agents if required, in order to press the case for action soon. Only time will tell.