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OBJECTING OR SUPPORTING A PLANNING PROPOSAL

Anyone is entitled to object to any planning application. Equally you may wish to lend your support.

Every planning application is considered and determined having regard to the Development Plan and any other material considerations. The Development Plan includes National and Regional Planning Guidance, the County Structure Plan or Unitary Development Plan, Local Plans and any supplementary planning guidance.

You may have a social, political, environmental or purely personal concern about a particular development proposal, but to be effective any objection or supporting statements must focus upon the 'planning merits' of the case. These would include the relevant planning policies applicable to the property and area concerned, as well as consideration of such matters as the impact of the scheme upon the local environment, highways issues, nature conservation, flood risk and many more detailed issues. Each application is unique and this section cannot cover every proposal. However, the principles outlined below should establish the framework for making purposeful representations to planning proposals.

Set out below is a checklist that should help you in assessing the need to object and how to make an objection. The same principles apply to lending your support to an application.

1.       SHOULD I OBJECT?

You may have received a letter from your Council notifying you of a nearby development proposal, spotted an application notification posted on the site or in the local paper, or even been asked to join an action group. Maybe your neighbour has let you know he is making a planning application. What should you do?

Clearly, if you are not concerned about the proposal there is no need to do anything. But it is worth giving some momentary thought to the matter. The proposal on its own might not be objectionable but will it set a precedent?

If your reaction is one of concern take a moment to stand back and think about your reasoning. The fact you do not like your neighbour is insufficient to justify an objection.

To stand a chance of being taken seriously by the Council any objection or support must be rational, impersonal and directed principally to the planning issues raised by the proposal.

2. THE PROCEDURE

When a planning application is submitted it is processed by the planning department within a set procedure. Applications are usually dealt with within 8 weeks of submission, but delays do occur for a variety of reasons.

Once the application is accepted as valid by the Council a series of consultation letters are sent out to a range of Statutory Consultees (such as the Highways Department, Environmental Health, English Heritage etc) which vary depending upon the individual proposal. These consultees are required to respond within 21 days with their comments on the application.

The local Parish Council will be notified and they will consider the application at one of their regular meetings. They will formally respond giving their views on the application and stating whether they approve or object.

Local Authorities also carry out public consultation. The way in which this is undertaken varies considerably between Councils. Some require the applicant to post a public notice on the site for a period of 21 days, or place an advert in the local paper. Others use their public address database to select addresses local to the application site for notification by letter. Increasingly weekly planning application lists are published on Council websites.

Public participation in planning is increasingly sought by the Government and modern technology will assist further in ensuring you are aware of what is happening in your area. The actual procedure for your Council is established in their Standing Orders.

3. ESTABLISH THE FACTS

All too often objections are submitted which are based on an incorrect understanding of the application. The first step must be to inspect the application and understand it. You may review the application at your Councils' planning department or increasingly review the application online through the Councilís website. Each application is allocated a discrete planning reference number - it may look something like this x/x/2007/12345/FUL. If you know the number, then ask for the application details by reference to that number. Otherwise make sure you have the address of the property.

You will be allowed to inspect the application forms, plans, drawings and other information submitted by the applicant. You may not be allowed to view the responses from consultees or other objectors, although increasingly these are published online. The planning department will outline the areas of objection and support in their report to the planning committee.

Consider the application carefully. You can usually discuss the application with a Duty Planning Officer so that any technical details can be better appreciated. You can make notes and may also be able to purchase copies of the application (but probably not any plans as these will be copyright).

Review the Local Plan policy. The Council will have copies of their Local Plan available either to view or purchase. This may take a bit of reading but will almost certainly contain policies that have a bearing upon the application. Do they support or deter the proposal? You may wish to refer to relevant policies in your letter of objection / support.

Check the planning history of the property. This may be going a bit far for most domestic applications, but sometimes the property may have been subject to prior refusals/ approvals that will have a bearing upon the matter.

4. JAW JAW NOT WAR WAR!

Can your objections or concerns be resolved by simply discussing the application with the applicant? This might be your neighbour and you need to remember that you will have to continue living next to them in the future. Many concerns relate to overlooking or blocking out of light from a proposed extension. Will obscured glazing or a change in roof design resolve the problem? Think how the application may be modified or improved before you confirm your objections. Maybe your encouragement to a revised design could be beneficial in the long run.

5. MAKING YOUR OBJECTION / SUPPORTING STATEMENT

You've considered the application, reviewed the options and still wish to make representations. Next step is to write down your concerns / supporting points and send them to the Council Planning Department. There is usually a Case Officer or Area Group allocated to deal with the application, but if you cannot discover the exact person then just send your letter to the Planning Department. Always try and include the Planning Reference Number and location of the property. Again, some authorities now accept online submissions via the planning pages of the Councilís website.

Set out your comments logically and in a straightforward manner. Personal comments about the applicant are rarely helpful and imply the objection is personal rather than based upon the planning issues.

Keep it brief. Long or rambling commentary is unhelpful. Why not use sub-headings to illustrate each point. If you wish to include other information then you can do so. Photographs are often helpful to illustrate to the Council your particular concerns.

If there is a particular matter that you believe requires the Planning Officer inspecting personally, from your property, then ask him to make a visit. You will need to make yourself available during normal office hours for such a visit onto your private property.

You will usually be asked to make your objection within the 21-day consultation period established at the outset of the planning application. However, you can submit objections / supporting statements right up to the moment the application is considered. The later you leave it though the less chance there is of the Council really giving your comments due consideration.

Putting your comments in writing is far better than simply telephoning the Council. Always remember to keep a copy for your records.

6. MONITOR THE APPLICATION

Larger applications may take some time to determine. It is worthwhile asking your Council if they can keep you informed of progress. Once you are logged as an objector / supporter most Councilís today will notify you of any material alterations. Any significant changes to an application may have to be re-advertised and sent out for further consultation.

Check to see how the application will be handled. There is an increasing trend toward the use of Officers Delegated Powers, where the application is determined by the Officers, rather than going to a full planning committee.

If the application is to be heard at a planning committee you are entitled to inspect a copy of the Officers Report to Committee. This is usually available 3/4 days prior to the committee and sets out the Planning Departments full consideration of the various planning matters, including a discussion of any objections / supporting statements. Check the committee pages of the Councilís website for the agenda and minutes.

7. ATTENDING THE PLANNING COMMITTEE

You are entitled to attend any planning committee meeting to hear the applications being considered by the Council. Committees are usually held on a monthly basis, but may be more frequent depending upon the Council workload. Committee dates are usually posted in the Council Offices and can be checked with the Council's Committee Clerks Department or the planning department, or online.

The committee agenda will indicate when the application will be considered during the meeting, but often the 'batting order' is altered, at the Chairman's discretion, to bring forward applications where there are significant levels of public interest. This is to avoid people having to wait all evening to hear a particular application.

Increasingly the public is being allowed to speak at committee meetings and each Council adopts their own procedure for this. In most cases you will need to notify the Council in advance of your intention to speak. Check with the Planning Department or Committee Clerks office about the procedure adopted in your particular Council.

The Chairman will invite those who have registered to speak to address the committee from a suitable position in the Council Chamber. Two or three minutes are common time periods allowed for individual public address to the committee and are strictly controlled. This is not long and therefore it is a good idea to read a pre-prepared (and timed) statement or have a series of bullet points to make sure you remember all the points you wish to make. Here again, keep your comments simple, keep them to the point and avoid personal jibes. The committee is only interested in the planning merits of your comments and how they relate to the application. You may even be prevented from speaking if you just use the opportunity for making political or personal statements, make personal comments about the applicant or you lose your temper.

In my experience as a planning consultant the most effective objector is always the cool, calm and collected representative of personal or local opinion, who has done their homework and presents a logical planning case against (or for) the proposal under consideration.

If you do not wish to speak yourself you can arrange for someone to do this on your behalf, but this must be made clear to the committee. If you are representing other people you should ensure you have their permission for you to speak on their behalf. This may be requested by the committee to prove you have other people's permission. A letter of authority would be useful.

Group objections / supporters wishing to say much the same thing are generally encouraged to group their comments together with one or two speakers only, but you may be able to negotiate more time per speech as a result. This should be discussed with the Clerks office or planning officer well before the committee date.

The applicant or his agent will also be allowed to speak and will usually be given the chance to address the committee last so that any points raised by other speakers can be reviewed and commented upon. Sometimes matters are considered 'in camera' i.e. without public access, but this is increasingly uncommon.

SUMMARY

  • Investigate the application and associated planning policy
  • Consider helpful amendments / modifications
  • Consider discussing the application to resolve problems
  • Write down and send your concerns to the Council as soon as possible
  • Monitor the application
  • Attend the committee to hear the decision
  • Consider addressing the committee
  • Keep all comments to the point, impersonal and related to the planning issues
  • Make sure you have other people's permission to speak on their behalf

NEXT STEPS

If the application is approved then this may be the end of the matter, although if you consider the Council acted in a manner that did not conform to established procedures then you might consider a complaint to the Ombudsman.

If the application is refused the applicant may go to appeal. You will then need to repeat the process at an appeal. Do not assume your objections will automatically be represented at this stage. You will need to object / support again. To consider this situation in more detail, go to appeals.

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