As a 17-year-old, working my summer on a building site to get cash together to fund a trip to the Greek islands, there was this one person who would visit site and inspect what was going on every now and then. She was a little bit older than me, wore a suit, clearly hadn’t been shovelling concrete or digging foundations since 6.30am and kept referring to plans, pointing at what needed to be done and where. I had a bit of a crush.
I soon learnt she was our planning consultant and that that was the career for me.
Roll forward 6 or 7 years and I was a planning officer at Calderdale Council; a Lancashire lad behind enemy lines. Hardly the most glamorous of jobs but a great start. My first boss, told me that I’d joined the only profession where my professional opinion could and would be overturned by someone who’s knowledge of the planning system could be “written down on the back of a matchbox”. Inspiring stuff!
That was 1996. I didn’t really believe him or fully understand what he was saying. I learnt quickly what he meant and left the Council, already frustrated, to become a planning consultant 2 years later. 21 years later we still have a “democratic” planning system where the opinion of a locally elected Member, fuelled by Localism, NIMBYism and a desire to preserve their vote, sees perfectly reasonable and sensible development proposals refused by planning committees up and down the land, often against Officer recommendation. Planning applications refused on sites that are allocated in Development Plans for the use specified in the planning application, planning applications refused where the benefits for the many are given less weight than the wishes of the few. Hardly the democratic process it is supposed to be.
Of course, the instances set out above are from my own experience. Hourigan Connolly has since successfully overturned the refusals at appeal meaning costly financial losses for the Local Authorities involved, draining already depleted coffers. The appeal process isn’t cheap and often could so easily be avoided if elected Members make the right planning decision. An idea would be to make them more accountable. Publish the cost to the specific Council of each appeal, particularly those that were made necessary by refusals made by planning committee against officer recommendation. It’s a little bit like diving in football; make diving a “red card” offence and you’d soon stop it.
Ultimately what this all leads to is delay. Delay in the delivery of jobs. Delay in the delivery of places for people to live. Delay in the delivery of much needed local facilities, which many communities fail to understand are brought forward by the development process. That road that’s full of pot-holes, that school that’s “full”, that Post Office that has closed because it didn’t have enough customers. The development process funds and supports these things. Councils don’t have enough money to do it any more so developers pay for it instead. If you don’t have development, you don’t get improvements to these things. It’s not rocket science.
And who refuses these planning applications? The average age profile of a planning committee membership doesn’t include many 20- or 30-somethings. And who objects to development proposals and has the ear of their local Councillor? Again, not many 20- or 30-somethings. It’s the people with a vested interest. The “right to a view”. The ones with a home who are “concerned about the impact of a proposal on the value of their property.” These are the some of the very things the planning system set out to avoid yet it is these self-same things that are frustrating development across the land that would help younger generations get on the property ladder, help them find work, improve their local circumstances.
We are told that Localism will help communities decide when and where development should take place, but it only serves the few. Localism, because of the vested interests mentioned above, is in fact stifling development. A dramatic rethink is required to capture and include the views and aspirations of the younger population, to provide a more balanced local view of development proposals; a fairer system if you will. Otherwise, the planning system will continue to under-perform and the associated problems will continue.
My colleague Rebecca Thompson has further opinions on the future of the planning system. You can read her article here.
Hourigan Connolly are experts at negotiating the complex planning system. We seek to promote the right development proposals, in the right place, at the right time and our advice is rooted in those three commandments. Get in touch to see how our innovative, commercial approach to planning problems can help you. Contact Daniel at the office on 0161 300 3476 or at email@example.com.