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Underground house approval a first for Sheppey

Plans for what is believed to be the first house of its kind on Sheppey have been approved - despite councillors being advised to throw them out.

A five-bedroom groundhouse - a home partially buried underground - was granted permission by members of Swale council’s planning committee.

It is planned for Flynns Bee Farm in Elmley Road, Brambledown, and the applicant, Heidi Pavlou, said Channel Four show Grand Designs had shown interest.

The artist's impression of the house
The artist's impression of the house

She had to live on site, she said, to help expand the firm’s bee breeding and conservation programme and so it can offer community-based services such as rehabilitation for prisoners.

The proposal won approval even though there was opposition from neighbours and Swale’s senior planner Ross McCardle, who had recommended it for refusal.

Instead of following his advice, which was based on the building being harmful to its countryside location, councillors queued up to heap praise on the project.

Cllr Mark Ellen (Lab) said he thought it was an “outstanding and innovative” scheme and would be a “feather in Swale borough council’s cap” if approved.

Swale council's HQ in Sittingbourne
Swale council's HQ in Sittingbourne

Cllr Andy Booth (Con) described it as a “unique application” which could put this part of Swale on the map internationally.

Cllr James Hunt (Con) was in support, saying there should be more groundhouses in the countryside.

Cllr Roger Clarke (Con) stressed the importance of encouraging companies that were protecting bees and Cllr Cameron Beart (Con) said it was “truly outstanding”.

The groundhouse will be surrounded by soil on three sides with a wall made out of tyres, a largely glazed front and solar panels and thermal tiles on a small sloping roof.

Earlier in the meeting, neighbour Donna Newman had objected, saying it did not comply with the council’s planning policies, access via an unadopted road was unsuitable and could not support a large number of visitors and there would be problems with parking.

Cllr Andy Booth
Cllr Andy Booth

Mr McCardle told members “there was no policy justification for approving it at all”, adding: “Approval would set a dangerous precedent for unrestricted development in the countryside”.

Just one member of the committee, Cllr Mike Henderson (Ind), spoke against it, saying: “If you are looking to approve this this evening then I am quite appalled by the direction we are going.”

Swale’s development manager Andy Jeffers urged councillors to defer the application so more details about the design could be provided.

Despite the intervention, the committee voted to grant planning permission.

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