Homes plans approved for famous Thomas Gainsborough landscape in Great Cornard

Michael Evans, who is opposed to the plans, outside Abbas Hall
Michael Evans, who is opposed to the plans, outside Abbas Hall

Controversial plans for a 166-home development near Great Cornard’s historic Grade I-listed Abbas Hall got the green light from Babergh District Council yesterday.

Applicant Persimmon Homes had a previous application for the same site east of Carsons Drive unanimously refused in 2013, a decision that was upheld at appeal.

Its revised application - for 108 market houses and 58 affordable homes - was amended to address the planning inspector’s concerns and had been recommended for approval by planning officers.

Councillors criticised the scheme’s layout and design and its impact on the nearby 13th century Abbas Hall, which has an artistic association with Thomas Gainsborough and is considered one of the most significant buildings in the country.

But the decision to approve the application was carried by four votes.

Objector Jeremy Hyam, who has owned Abbas Hall since 2010, told the committee its former planning officer had ‘wrongly assessed’ the balance between public benefits and harm to setting as ‘very marginal’ even though the developer’s own heritage assessor had assessed it as ‘moderate’.

Ray Rix, Persimmon’s agent, said the ‘significant’ public benefit of housing and the fact the site had been allocated for that were ‘fundamental’ considerations.

He added: “The closest house from Abbas Hall is some 400 metres away, which is getting on for some quarter of a mile.

“Together with that distance, you have the woodland planting which, in a sense, will add to the feeling of isolation of Abbas Hall because it will enclose the valley which currently is quite barren and stark in the way the land is farmed.”

Cllr Stephen Williams said he no problem with the idea of building houses on the site but he was critical of the ‘really poor’ design of those proposed, considering that ‘artistically and historically we’re dealing with one of the most famous painters of landscape artistry this country has known’.

He said: “The principle of development has got to be accepted - the dial was cast back in 2006. But I just think that given the setting, given the fact that we’ve got one of the most architecturally important buildings just 400 metres away, some degree of thought could have been given to the design of this layout.”

Cllr David Bushby said: “The thing that annoys me most is I think we’ve got to ask ourselves whether we’re prepared to sell our souls for maximum number of affordable houses or whether we go for quality development.

“It seems to me that we’re just creating a slum of the future and are we prepared to accept that? Why are we allowing developments like this to go ahead?”

Cllr Peter Beer, chairman of the planning committee, told members he was no more impressed by the design of the flats, which he had previously remarked ‘looked like a prison block’, and said he had ‘very great concerns’ about the scheme’s shared pavements.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Hyam said he was ‘amazed’ with the outcome, adding: “I think it’s completely at odds with the whole thrust of protection of heritage assets.”

Mike Evans, chair of the Cornard Tye Residents Association, said they would consider appealing the decision.

Cllr Pamela White, chairman of Great Cornard Parish Council, said: “I’m very disappointed with the outcome. They all seem to have gone with the flow.”

Cllr Beer said: “It’s always extremely difficult trying to balance the views of local people with the needs and future sustainability of our district but I feel that we have managed this today.”