Planning Rules Favour Development Over Wishes Of People

David Harrison
David Harrison

It’s fair to say that most people take little or no interest in planning policy and procedures until something is proposed that very directly affects them, especially if they think it will impact on their house price.

Over the years, sitting on various planning committees, I rarely see a member of the public attend unless the subject matter involves a neighbouring property or has some aspect that will spoil things the enjoyment of their home.

It isn’t a criticism of people because, why would you attend unless you had a specific interest ? However, people then begin to realise how poorly served they are by a planning system that is all stacked up in favour of development as opposed to the wishes of local people. We might all be NIMBY’s (“Not In MY Back Yard”), but we are utterly powerless NIMBY’s.

The first mistake people make is thinking that the local Town or Parish Council has any say at all on planning matters. It simply isn’t so. Only the District / Borough or City Council has any powers to determine planning applications.

Next thing is that people are invited to register objections to a planning application, either by writing a letter or by sharing their views on the Council website. Again, what most people don’t appreciate is that much of what they write is most likely to be ignored. Under the Town & Country Planning Act, only “Material Considerations” are permitted to be considered when determining a planning application.

It’s a complete waste of time arguing that we don’t need another fast food outlet in our town because we have lots of them already. Similarly, if you worry about obesity and don’t want a takeaway food outlet near your local school, don’t argue that is a reason to reject it unless your Council already has a policy in place that seeks to exclude such applications.

So let’s say you go along to your local Town Planning Committee and voice your concerns, only to find out that it has no powers. You then register your objection on the Council website and encourage lots of other local people to do so. What next ? it’s not uncommon for an applicant to withdraw an application and re-submit a slightly amended one, starting the whole process off and forcing everyone to object once again !

When it reached the Planning Committee the application may be rejected – but only providing members can justify the decision on material planning grounds. The fact that they may not like the plan and that is is massively unpopular is not a material consideration.

Beyond that, even if the application is rejected, the developer has a right of appeal, to a government Planning Inspector or potentially to the High Court. The current government is very clearly in the business of supporting development and not terribly interested in putting power in the hands of local people to decide what is best for their area.

If you think this is all very interesting but so what…. consider the local situation. All those green fields just north of Totton are now looking very vulnerable, as indeed is much of the green space that is located just outside the border of the New Forest National Park.

Of course, some will say that we need lots of new housing and more land given over to businesses. The Tory policy will create jobs. However, where is the balance between the need to grow an economy and having an environment that is good for us and future generations to grow up in?


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