Former Northants County Council leader in garden grabbing row

Cllr Heather Smith
Cllr Heather Smith

A planning refusal stopping the former leader of Northants County Council from building a second home in her back garden has been challenged by a ward councillor and will now go forward for members of her own political party to vote upon.

Conservative county councillor Heather Smith, who ran the county authority from May 2016 to March this year, wants to build a three-bedroom detached home in the garden of her home in Church Street, Nassington.

Nassington is a designated conservation area and dates back to Anglo Saxon times.

Using delegated powers, East Northants Council’s planning officers have refused the plan but now Cllr Smith’s neighbour Cllr Annabel de Capell Brooke, who is ward councillor for the Prebendal Ward, has called the matter in to be decided on by councillors sitting on the planning committee.

Cllr Smith said she will not be attending the meeting and ‘has been very careful to keep out of it.’

She said: “I just want everybody to be treated the same and I don’t think that has been the case.

“The fact that I am a councillor should not preclude me from submitting a personal planning application.”

Cllr Smith, who resigned as leader of the county council after ‘vicious attacks’ from Northamptonshire MPs also said there was precedent for similar projects in the village and considered there to be errors in the planning officers’ report.

Cllr de Cappell Brooke, whose family own the historic Great Oakley estate in the Corby area, lives on the same street as Cllr Smith.

In a statement included on the planning committee report, which will be voted on at a planning meeting on Wednesday (June 16), Cllr de Cappell Brooke gave her reasons for calling the matter in.

She said: “The reasons being that there appear to be too many grey areas where facts are in dispute.  

“For example the proposed properties are three, not four-bedded properties.

“Further the applications were wholeheartedly supported by the parish council.

“It seems to me that if delegated decisions were to be taken at this point in time, where there are clear areas of disputed facts (also relating to whether or nor neighbouring properties will be overlooked), this would be inappropriate.”

Planning officers have again advised that the proposal be refused when it goes before councillors.

The application has been put forward by Cllr Smith’s husband and a Mr Farrow who lives next door.

They are proposing to build a detached three-bed home in each garden and create a new access to the two properties.

Two letters of objection from neighbours have been submitted to the council.

Arguments against the build say that it would be infill development, there would be loss of privacy for neighbours and that the homes would ‘dominate the skyline.’

Officers are recommending that councillors refuse the development because they say it would have an ‘unacceptable and overbearing impact on the adjacent premises.’

Officers also think that it is a too large footprint for narrow gardens and that it would ‘detract from the character and appearance of the settlement and Nassington Conservation Area.’

The process of building a second home in a back garden is often called garden grabbing.

Common practice is to then sell on the second home.

Zoopla estimates that the average house price in Church Street, Nassington, is £550,249.

Eleven of the 13 current members of the East Northants Council planning committee are members of the same political party as Cllr Smith.