WITH THE SPATE of planning applications to fill our back gardens with houses, a frequently asked question is "What does a Council look at when it makes a decision on these applications?" It may help if the things considered to be material planning considerations are spelt out:
The mechanisms against which each of these material considerations is tested are the Council's Local Development Framework, and the Government's Planning Policy Guidance notes (PPGs), Government planning circulars and decisions on relevant planning appeals. If an application does not break any policy rules, it is granted.
Items NOT Material in Planning Considerations
Some things are not material planning considerations. The most important are:
Property value - The impact on the value of neighbouring properties is not a consideration
Civil disputes - For example, potential damage to party walls from new development, disputed boundaries. Some civil matters may prevent a scheme from being built, but they will not prevent it getting planning permission
Items Material in Planning Considerations
The following items are material to all planning application. They include:
Density - The number of houses to the hectare - a Government imposed minimum mostly 30 per ha
Size of development - Height and footprint of the proposed buildings
Relationship of proposed buildings to immediate surroundings (how close are they to other buildings? Do windows overlook existing houses? Do they dominate the houses next door?)
Appearance - Design and materials used
Visual amenity - Would the street scene look better or worse?
Character - The character of the area
Roads - Road safety and the impact on traffic
Landscaping and open space provision
Trees - Existing trees which have Tree Preservation Orders (TPO)
Flood risk and drainage
Parking - Car parking provision (a Government imposed maximum mostly 1.5 per dwelling).
Infrastructure - Existing infrastructure
Access - Suitability of proposed access roads (width and visibility)
Impact on wildlife - Special rules apply where protected species such as badgers, bats or great crested newts live on or near the site.
Rights of way - Existing public rights of way
Air quaility - Existing noise levels and air pollution
Special circumstances - Such as listed buildings, green belt or countryside location, proximity of Sites of Special Scientific Interest, Conservation Areas (conservation of heritage not wildlife).
The planning system has a presumption in favour of development. - The system assumes that applications will be granted unless it can be shown that there is a planning reason why they should not.
Facts are important - They are more important than the loudness of your voice. One planning reason why a development should not go ahead is enough. A petition opposing a development, even one signed by hundreds of people, will have no weight at all if it does not include reasons why the development should not be approved
The Council is not your enemy - Developers submit planning applications, not the Council (or not normally!). The Council has to deal with those applications according to a set of rules which are largely laid down by the Government, and they have very little leeway.
If the Council refuses an application, the developer can challenge that decision at appeal and get it overturned. If the Planning Inspector who deals with the appeal believes the Council did not have good reasons to justify their position, he or she can impose costs on the Council, which come out of your Council Tax.
Corruption is extremely uncommon - Yes it can happen, but there are usually more obvious explanations for apparently bizarre decisions. They include: incompetence, including attention being paid; Government imposed rules, which the council has to obey (housing densities, housing numbers and car parking being the most common); and planning inspectors.
You do not have to fight on your own - Get in touch with your Borough Councillor and the Residents' Association or even form your own group.