PLANNING chiefs were split down the middle over a retrospective application for an outdoor kitchen.

Josh Mathias has installed a pergola and pizza oven in his Walcote Place courtyard, just off the High Street. He claimed he did not realise it required planning permission.

But his neighbours complained to the council and Mr Mathias was forced to submit an application.

This was refused following lengthy debate at a city council planning committee on April 22.

Chairman Therese Evans used her casting vote to break the deadlock, as four councillors (Russell Gordon-Smith, David McLean, Laurence Ruffell, Jane Rutter) voted to grant permission, and four voted against (Angela Clear, Therese Evans, Brian Laming and Mike Read).

"I'm very disappointed in the officer reports as nothing is said about the lighting, nothing on the noise when the whole building will be impacted by this structure," said Cllr Evans.

Committee members heard that 11 objectionsd were received about the courtyard kitchen, mentioning loss of light; the structure being overbearing; the location of pizza oven; odour; noise; heat from the oven; flue arrangements; storage of gas canisters; and that the oven was unsafe for neighbouring occupiers.

Neighbour Prof Keith Baker told the planning committee that it would have an impact on peoples' quality of life and hit the rental and sale values of properties.

Mr Mathias has already carried out the work, telling the committee: "I didn't believe there was going to be this much resistance. The pizza oven was already approved so it was an incorrect assumption on my part."

Asked whether he had spoken to neighbours, Mr Mathias said: "I didn't. I thought I was doing something good for the area. I'm respectful to the neighbours. We don't take liberties."

Planning officer Rose Lister was recommending approval. "This is a private amenity space. Mr Mathias has the right to use it as he likes."

Cllr Mike Read said: "The amenity area lies in the middle of other people's properties. It's open and the fact that you have a slatted roof pergola does not mean that noise isn't going to escape from the courtyard.

"I'm disappointed because the lights cause problems in the area, and talking at night, your voice travels further than it does in the day. I just feel this retrospective planning application is not covered by planning law."

But Cllr Russell Gordon-Smith disagreed and said that potential noise from a gathering is not a planning concern.

He added: "My garden has houses all around, and I have people over and we chat into the night. If this was night after night I'd see grounds for a complaint but its not as if this is a pub garden – it's not the applicant's business. As long as the applicant is respectful to his neighbours I don't see a problem."

After refusing the plans, the committee had to decide on a planning reason. This took around 10 minutes to discuss, until Cllr Evans said the development was "overbearing with a harmful impact on neighbours' amenity."

The committee voted whether to go with this reason, and again tied four votes to four. Cllr Evans used her deciding vote to use the planning reason she suggested.

If Mr Mathias was to appeal, he would have to prove the development is not overbearing.