PLANNING PROCEDURE

 

Chessington District Residents’ Association


Questions asked on behalf of the Residents Association at the SOTB Neighbourhood Committee Meeting held on the 20th of October 2010



We wish to ask a number of questions on the way in which planning applications are currently dealt with. We wish to question the process, but not any planning application in detail


Question 1


A planning application which is expected to be heard in November raises a number of important issues.  The planning application (10/10143) has or will generate responses from four separate groups of residents.  Each separate ‘micro community’ will have unique and valid comments to make on the application.  Our Residents Association would also like to make a comment on certain technical issues.


The total time of five minutes given to residents for verbal representations will be inadequate in this instance.  We think that it will be very unjust to the residents groups if they are denied the opportunity to speak to explain their particular and legitimate concerns.  We also think that such a denial leads to poor planning decisions.  There have recently been a number of such planning decisions made, which it can be argued, have not been in the best interest of the community.


Will the committee please consider how this planning application can be better dealt with?


The Planning Officers response was confirmed in writing.


RESPONSE TO PUBLIC QUESTION ON SPEAKING ON PLANNING PROCEDURE


The procedures for members of the public speaking at planning meetings were agreed by the Executive of the Council on 5 November 2002 and amendments made on 13 May 2003. 


The procedures provide for 5 minutes speaking time for objectors and five minutes speaking time for the applicant to respond. (There is also a mechanism for allocating additional time for dealing with multiple applications for the same site and, if there is a major and complex development, a Planning Forum could be held for more informal discussion.)


The procedures were drawn up to be fair to both sides to allow a summary of concerns to be heard while not lengthening meetings in a way which would not be helpful for Members’ concentration and the efficient handling of business. 


Although some planning decisions may be unpopular, the fact that the Committee feels obliged to make an unpopular decision is because its decisions are constrained by planning law, regulation and policy, rather than because a Committee has not sufficiently heard and understood local residents’ concerns.


The main method for the Council to receive the detail of objections to applications is in writing in response to letters which are sent out to those who will most be affected by a development.  These objections and concerns can then be considered in detail by the Planning Officer with sufficient time to investigate the issues and, if appropriate, discuss them with other RBK colleagues, other agencies or if appropriate with the applicant.  It is particularly important that any technical issues are put in writing so that these can be properly investigated before the meeting. Once these investigations and discussions have taken place, the Planning Officer can then write up a report (if the application is to go to Committee) with their recommendation on an application, including any conditions which should apply.


Speaking at committee, therefore, is not intended to be the method by which the Council is informed of objections to an application, but rather as a way to summarise such concerns which will already have been notified to the Planning Office.  In the case of application 10/10143, therefore, each of the four groups of residents should write in with their concerns.  If all four groups wish to register a representative to speak, this would still be possible but it is usually preferable if a couple of representatives summarise and emphasise the main points which are material grounds of objection, referring to any photographs or other material which they may like to circulate to Councillors at the meeting to support their arguments.


The consultation for the scheme (10/10143 commenced on 18 August and the standard consultation period is 3 weeks.  However, members of the public can still write in up to the date of the meeting with comments and any comments received after the publishing of the report would be addressed within the Planning Officer’s Late Material.  There is therefore plenty of time before the meeting on 10 November for anyone concerned to write in with their concerns and these concerns can also be expressed to local councillors, as long as it is realised that councillors must not prejudge the issue or state views which suggest they have predetermined an application before properly considering an officer’s report on it. 


Question 2


At a pre-planning application meeting between RBK Planners and the developer which led to the planning application 10/10143 the planners said that the site was large enough to build more than nine dwellings.  Now the Councils Head of Housing has written a memo, which has been lodged as a planning objection, saying that the site is capable of accommodating more than nine dwellings and calling for an increase in numbers so as to build social housing.


Is it now the Council policy to advise developers on maximising the number of units that any site will hold, and is it the Council policy to raise planning objections if this is not complied with? Do their actions in any way consider the environment in which the development is taking place?  Is this a Borough wide policy or a policy unique only to Chessington?


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The answer to the second question was given verbally by a Planning Officer.

Response to the public question on the nature of advice given to planning applicants


The Planning Officers have a statutory duty to give advice to planning applicants that explain the relevant planning regulations and their operation and significance with regard to the specific planning application being discussed.  It is an impartial service that is being provided. In keeping with the impartial obligation in this instance it was proper to mention that the Suncroft site is large enough to take more than nine housing units.


Obviously this response calls into question the planner’s role and responsibility in maintaining the character and quality of the area and its new building. Do Planning Officers have a duty to protect a road recognised as being of fine environmental quality in RBK’s Borough Character Study from being turned into yet another housing estate?


The Planning Officer did not refer to the memo from the Housing Department which has been recorded as an objection to the planning application.  That memo called for more housing to be built on the Suncroft site so as to be able to create an obligation upon the developer to build some affordable housing units.  It now appears that lodging this memo as a planning objection might have been a clerical error made by the planning department.


Question 3


There have recently been a number of planning applications on which we have been denied the opportunity to comment. For example the Councils website provides details of planning applications, some of which have recently carried a note that ‘closing dates for comments has expired’ In one case, number 10/10195, first viewed on the 13th of October, the date of validation is given as the 10th of October.  Is this a means to make it impossible for the public to comment? 


Another example, but another technique, was the West Park hospital redevelopment consultation organised by Epsom and Ewell Council.  This is a major development of approximately 400 homes upon our doorstop which will utilise our infrastructure.  The residents have not been able to comment on this consultation and we are not able to discover if RBK made any representation at all. Would you please comment?


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The answer to the third question was given verbally by a Planning Officer.


RESPONSE TO THE PUBLIC QUESTION ON THE TIMESCALE OF RESPONSE TIMES TO PLANNING APPLICATIONS AND THE WESTPARK HOSPITAL REDEVELOPMENT CONSULTATION


The Planning Officer stated that at receipt of planning applications a planned timeframe for the processing of the application was established.  On rare occasions a conflict arises whereby publication of the planning application may be delayed, for example by public holidays or unforeseen circumstances, which have the effect of putting the dates for responses out of synchronisation.  The Planning Officers attempt to stop this happening.  However, if it should happen any responses from the public are included as ‘late material’ and duly circulated to Officers and Councillors.


With regard to the recent Westpark Hospital redevelopment consultation, this was a supplementary document to the original comprehensive planning proposal consultation.  RBK’s Planning Officers made a full response to that document.  As our response to the supplementary document had been expressed in our original response it was not thought necessary to repeat our comments. 


In the opinion of our Residents Association, which was publically stated at the meeting in response to the officers comments, it is very important that RBK take every opportunity to restate our very important concerns about the impact of the Westpark Hospital redevelopment on our community.  The development will inevitable radically increase the use of the Malden Rushett junction and put more traffic onto the A243 and onto the Chessington Road, Moor Lane and Bridge Roads, as well as adding to the amount of traffic using the Bridge Road roundabout.  Our Association requests that RBK planners continue to reemphasize these points at every opportunity.