The consultation period for the revisions of the National Planing Policy Framework closes at 11.45pm on 10 May 18.
It’s highly unlikely that it will make the decision making process any easier when it comes to dealing with unhappy residents, something the planning system appears to be destined to do almost every time a planning application is submitted.
Although the government are themselves elected, the policies contained in the NPPF are designed to set out government’s approach at the national level, with councils needing to produce their own, locally focussed policies to reflect local conditions and to a certain degree, views. The vehicle for ensuring this local position is applied consistently and more importantly equitably, in the Local Plan.
South Holland is currently working with Boston Borough to produce a new Local Plan, something that, with a bit of luck, will be completed by the end of the year.
National and local policies don’t always cover every issue that might arise when a planning application is submitted and this is where the planning committee come in. This is the locally accountable, democratic face of the planning system, used as a way of giving a voice to local people and allowing them to hear the arguments for both sides when an application is significant, or contentious.
However, whilst it’s good that local people have such access and a way of expressing their views, national and local planning policies always apply and will sometimes lead to tension and even conflict, when the outcome is not to the public’s liking.
Members of planning committees are required to be trained and to use this training when reaching decisions. They can of course use their judgement to weigh the issues presented during a debate and give more weight to one than another, but always keeping in mind the policy.
Unfortunately, on occasion, members choose to override policy completely and take what can only be seen , in planning terms, a perverse decision. When that decision is to refuse, an applicant has the right of appeal. However, when it is to approve you’re stuck with it with the perversity.
Such perverse decisions can take many forms, they are all frustrating and not a little embarrassing for a planning authority. This especially so when the decision is the opposite of a previous one, the application is no different from a previous one for the same thing and that decision was appealed against and upheld by an independent planning inspector.
The perversity in this particular case stems, it seems, from what I call the ‘good old boy syndrome’. The case that was made by supporters, on behalf of the applicant, was that he was local, hardworking, long serving and ‘deserved’ to be able to have a dwelling in a particular location. It didn’t seem to matter that the location in question was classified as the open countryside in policy terms and that many similar applications by people who wanted to built themselves a nice retirement property out in the countryside had been refused.
Apparently this particular person had some sort of extra merit that didn’t fit into the planning system and therefore deserved some sort of special treatment, ignoring the local planning policy and the recent planing inspector’s decision, completely.
Such potential inequity of treatment, between what are otherwise identical applicants, is a very worrying practice and one that makes me, personally, both uncomfortable and more than a little angry.
I can think of plenty of situations where an application from somebody whose face does not fit, isn’t a good old boy, doesn’t get a letter of support from the local MP, or actually sees their application receive a number of local objections, has been dismissed out of hand.
Allowing non-material planning considerations – to use the jargon, to influence decisions and over ride policy, is a slippery slope and one that causes major problems in other council areas. Thankfully, it is not a common problem here in South Holland. However, having experienced a recent perverse, ‘good old boy’ decision, I fear we are soon to suffer another. This, just when I thought the planning committee was starting to get the hang of it.