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Too big, too ugly or what we need?

February 25, 2009 11:59 PM
By Paul Ainsworth in Brentwood Gazette

Tonight, Brentwood's elected representatives will be responsible for making the biggest decision the town centre has seen in decades.

On Wednesday last week, the controversial cinema development was given the seal of approval by the council's planning committee following an intense three hour debate.

Now it's the turn of the full council to decide whether the development should be given the final go-ahead.

One resident who had the chance to speak early was Swan Paddock Residents' Association member Elizabeth Guyatt, who hit out at the stakeholder meeting organised after the decision was deferred by the council back in December.

She said: "All the council has done is ignore us again.

"This scheme remains too big, too ugly and too significant in its impacts on its neighbours"

This speech set the tone for the meeting.

Many argued against the sheer scale and adverse impact the development would have on nearby residents, including traffic, noise and attracting social behaviour.

Planning policies were quoted as being contradicted and there were even call for the council to give the developers a new brief.

Perhaps the most passionate speaker of all the committee, Cllr Ross Carter, listed objections including the scale, design and effect on residents.

He said: "If we are not only to do the best thing for Brentwood and our residents, and to follow our own planning criteria, we must refuse this.

"Planning guidance says we can, residents want us to and without doubt we should unanimously refuse this."

Later, Cllr Carter hit out at the fact he had not seen any of the feedback responses from the stakeholder meeting. He said: "I should be able to see this. Where is the democracy on this? I think this is disgusting."

The committee chairman, Cllr Keith Parker, explained that the stakeholder meeting was never designed as consultation for ward members or the planning committee and was instead designed for residents to get answers.

It was also pointed out that the feedback forms were used by the independent expert Erica Whettingsteel.

The only Conservative member to speak out against the development, Cllr Margaret Brehaut, said it would look a monstrosity.

She said: "We do not have the shops here that people actually want, that is half the problem. We do not listen to what the people say and this is a very, very, very bad idea."

But those in support, despite heckling, spoke about making a brave decision and the benefits this would bring Brentwood. It was claimed that new retailers at the cinema could also attract other businesses to closed shops in the High Street.

Cllr Karen Sheehan, who is not a planning committee member, said: "We have got to give young adults something different to do but drink. We have a High Street with drunken 18-year olds every Friday and Saturday night. Let them go to the cinema.

Cllr Jean McGinley, who is also not a planning committee member, questioned the level of protest from residents of Brentwood, which she believes was minimal.

She continued: "I understand the residents that are here tonight, who are very vociferous, because obviously they are concerned about their environment.

"But I think there was what - 40 people here. I have had them in my ear all evening and they are not giving this chamber the courtesy it deserves."