Seems I could become one of the last planning committee chairman under this government’s plans

Housing bill amendments branded ‘privatisation of planning’
5 JANUARY, 2016 BY DAVID PAINE

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online
Concerns have been raised that the government is privatising the planning service after it tabled a number of major last-minute changes to the Housing and Planning Bill.

Amendments put forward by the government this morning include plans to let developers choose who processes planning applications.

Also planned are changes to let local authorities set their own planning fees, a new section 106 dispute resolution process, and giving ministers the power to force councils to sell off land.

MPs are due to debate the bill, and 100 pages of proposed amendments, in the House of Commons this afternoon.

New clauses proposed by communities secretary Greg Clark will allow planning applications to be processed by an approved “designated person” if an applicant “so chooses”. While local authorities will still be responsible for the final decision on any planning application, regulations will in due course outline the circumstances under which an external recommendation by a “designated person” will be “binding” on a local authority.
Hugh Ellis, head of policy at the Town & Country Planning Association, called the amendments “extremely controversial”.

“It raises the prospect whereby the advice of a private consultant on a planning application could be more or less binding on a planning committee,” Mr Ellis told LGC. “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out that what’s happening here is a fundamental assault on the public interest objectives of planning.”

A part of the amendments will force local planning authorities to share relevant information, such as the planning history of the land to which an application relates, with the designated person as well as the communities secretary.

Mr Ellis called the amendments “very worrying” and added: “People have talked about the privatisation of planning services and I think that’s probably what this is.”

He added: “I do wonder if people, particularly local councillors, who haven’t got their heads stuck in the Housing and Planning Bill will wake up to a particularly nasty shock over what this legislation has resulted in overall.”

Another government-proposed amendment will let councils locally set planning fees. The District Councils Network has repeatedly called for that, and in a briefing document on the latest amendments the Local Government Association voiced its support.

However, the proposed wording of the legislation gives the communities secretary the power to “prevent the charging of fees that he or she considers excessive”.

Plans to amend the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 and give the communities secretary the power to direct councils, and other public authorities, to dispose of the land they hold were condemned by the LGA.

“Councils are best able to manage locally their assets to meet the needs of communities and are on track to bring forward significant levels of development on their land up to 2020,” it said. “Local authorities should retain the flexibility to manage their own assets.”

Another proposed new clause would give the communities secretary the power to impose “restrictions or conditions on the enforceability” of how many affordable homes, including ‘starter homes’, local authorities want built on a site.

The LGA said that should be for councils to “determine locally”.

The LGA also expressed concern over government plans to introduce a new dispute resolution procedure in relation to section 106 negotiations. The amendments will allow for an appointed individual to oversee disputes.

“Strengthening requirements for the upfront negotiation of S106 agreements would be a more effective means of avoiding delays than offering an alternative route for resolution,” the LGA said.

Independent candidates fire blanks

bazookaThe two independents candidates, standing against myself and Christine Lawton on 7th May in the district council elections, have delivered their first election leaflets.

As always, leaflets from the opposition are essential reading, if only to understand where they are coming from campaign wise. In the case of these two, there are few if any surprises. There are however some clear misunderstandings when it comes to what can and cannot be achieved as a district councillor, but given that they are new at this, it’s understandable. I am however, not so understanding as to allow them to pass without comment, this is after all politics and there’s an election to win.

I’ll deal with their suggested policies first, before dealing with the ever present irony that is the ‘Independent Group’, to which they have attached themselves.

These are from the first ‘independent’ candidate’s leaflet.

1. A temporary cut in business rates to encourage small businesses.

Setting the business rates is not a district council function and cannot be done. The best we can do, is offer discretionary relief to a limited range of activities, such as the only pub in a village, a small village shop, or a non-profit making social club venue.

2. Waste and recycling collections to stay weekly

This has been the Conservative group’s position since it took control in 1999 and this has not changed.   Neither can it change in the near future, as we accepted grant funding from central government on the basis of retaining weekly collections for at least 5 years and we’ve no intention of giving back the £1.7m received!

3. A really good garden waste collection to serve gardeners in the town.

You wouldn’t intentionally offer a really bad garden waste collection, would you?

Only in the town, what about everybody else? What about every other town come to that?   This independent candidate is beginning to think and sound like a parish councillor already.

We are already working on a paid for green waste collection. This needs a significant outlay in capital and a more detailed survey, to identify potential users, will be carried out soon.

4. Make our environment as litter free as we can …….not just in run up to election…

Can you call a campaign that has been running for nearly 9 months, an election ploy? I think not. Had central government confirmed the local government finance settlement at the normal time and not the eleventh hour and 59th minute, as they did, we would have been able to start the South Holland Pride campaign some 12 months ago. This was the plan, but we could only find enough funding to appoint a part time enforcement officer at that time.

5. Better community policing

Yet another area over which the district council has no control. Lincolnshire Police raise their own precept via the council tax. This year that was increased by 1.9% to £197.64 SHDC’s council tax take was reduced by 0.5% to £154.84 for a band D property.

6. Better value for money when looking at provision of services….

I’d love to comment on this one, but I haven’t got a clue what its referring to!

7. More thought to planning applications, so that they benefit the town and not just the applicant…..

This is another one that’s got me guessing at to its meaning, let alone its ambition. The planning system isn’t there as a way of getting goodies, from the people who apply for planning permission, unless those ‘goodies’ are essential to making the application acceptable in planning terms.

Moving on to the second ‘independent’.

This one makes some pledges which reflect some double standards and a clear misunderstanding of what the overall role of a district councillor is.

1. I will not have any hidden agendas

My personal experience says otherwise.

2. I will work with any councillor…………..acting in the best interests of Wygate Park and Spalding!

Just because the ward is called Spalding Wygate, doesn’t mean it just covers the Wygate Park area, where this candidate happens to live.

As well as being limited to half the ward, the horizon of this independent only stretches as far as the boundaries of Spalding it seems.

As a district councillor, your role, first and foremost, is to represent the interests of all South Holland residents, not just those who voted for you, or happen to live in the ward you represent. This applies even when a decision might have a negative impact in your ward.

Some of the issues this candidate will support.

3. Pride in South Holland. My answer to this claim is the same as for the other independent and our manifesto actually contains a commitment to continue the campaign.

4. Highways – poor state of some pavements. This is a county council function. You don’t need to be a district councillor to get these fixed. Just report them on line, I do so regularly.

5. Road safety – road markings. Again, a county council function, not the district.

I submitted a defect report on these makings over 12 months ago. The answer from highways was very clear. It is not their policy to maintain any form of road markings within residential estates, when those roads only serve residents and have no other purpose, as this would not be a good use of their limited budgets. The road marking in question were put there by the developer, during initial build and were never a requirement of the detailed plans approval, or of the highways adoption process.

6. Community – Support for events…………Nothing new here, as all Spalding councillors have made financial contributions to such events.

7. Traffic – Stating the blindingly obvious here.  Again, something only the county council can rectify. Spalding Town Forum are already extremely active in pressing for a solution.

8. Planning – local services must keep pace.  Nothing offered here, other than a statement of wishful thinking. The planning system has no powers to require developers to provide funding for local services as a matter of law. Everything we achieve, outside of the planning policy requirements, is done by active negotiation and persuasion.

9. Licensing policy changes – another piece of wishful thinking, without any consideration of the reality. Like planning, the licensing system is controlled by national laws and policies, that offer the district council little leeway when it comes to resisting the granting of new licenses.

Now turning back to the various claims made about being unfettered and un-whipped independents.

The back of both very similar looking leaflets, has the same heading and the same piece of text, ‘A message from Angela Newton……..Independent Councillor and Leader of South Holland the Independent Group.’ ……………….

So, having declared themselves as intending to be, ‘Independent Councillors’ (sic) and not tied to any Political Party (sic) (they do like their capital letters don’t they!), they willingly attach themselves to somebody stating that, they are actually the leader of a group of independents. Using the word group and independent in the same sentence is an oxymoron isn’t it?

Splitting hairs, you could argue that Angela Newton is not leading a recognised political party, but it is very clearly a group involved in politics, making it, at the very least, a political group and therein lies the irony of the claims trotted out be these so called independents.

Just to add insult to injury. This non-group, group of independents, hold group meetings before full council meetings, in exactly the same way as the Conservative group do, but somehow they manage to make them last even longer than ours and there’s only twelve of them compared to 25 of us!

It must be all the effort required to be totally independent of each other, that makes their ‘group’ meetings last so long.

Nick Boles is from Venus, everybody else is from Mars

Below is a perfect example of how those in charge of our planning system, are speaking a totally different language from those raising major concerns about the impact recent changes to the system are having.

It’s not even a case of one speaking English and the other French, at least there’s half a chance of getting some understanding when you’re both from the same planet. Unfortunately, when it comes to the planning system, government ministers are from Mars and the objectors are from Venus. Indeed, some objectors might wish to suggest that ministers are (talking) from Uranus.

Anna Soubry, a Conservative health minister, wrote to Eric Pickles saying:

“planning inspectors are forcing local councils to accept more housing and build on Green Belt.”

“Notwithstanding the localism agenda, the National Planning Policy Framework, the abolition of the RSS [regional spatial strategies] and the repeated assurances of your good self and the Prime Minister”…………….. “local authorities like Rushcliffe and my own are unable to determine their own housing needs, set their own targets and protect their Green Belt land from development, ” she wrote to Mr Pickles.

Nick Boles, Eric Pickles junior minister for Planning replied:

Local councils are in control of their Green Belt boundaries, through local plans, which this Government put at the heart of the planning system to allow communities to deliver the right development for their local area.”

The key phrases here are “…unable to determine their own housing need…”, from Anna Soubry, compared to, “…to deliver the right development..”, from Nick Boles.

The clear lack of comprehension, let alone understanding, is that one wishes to reduce or even prevent development, whilst the other is saying, you can control where and what, but not if, or when. PINS understand this, but are currently being made the villains of the piece. All I can say is, don’t shoot the messenger.

Letter to Local Government First magazine – Localism and planning

Dear sir,
 
I was both interested and concerned to see First, Issue 542, peppered with complaints regarding the relationship between the planning system and Localism, some even calling for the abolition of PINS because, apparently, they don’t get it.
 
The Localism Act has introduced much confusion for the public when it comes to influencing the planning process.  Comments made by members of the public on recent contentious planning applications in my own area, clearly indicate a belief that the Localism Act increases the public’s ability to prevent development from going ahead if enough of them shout loudly enough.
 
This mis-interpretation of the Localism Act’s intentions is, in turn, increasing pressure on councillors to be more outspoken and forceful when speaking at committee.  This pressure is increased further by the Localism Act’s guidance to councillors that advises that they can somehow express an opinion and even campaign on a planning issue, without being accused of pre-determination!  I wonder if any high powered planning barrister would be prepared to defend a decision made by a committee populated by such campaigning members?
 
Whilst I very much sympathise with the councillors who made these comments and understand their wish to represent fully their electorates’ views, I’m afraid it is they, not PINS who don’t get it.  
 
There is a clear need for the government to restate its intentions when it comes to how the Localism Act can be used to influence the planning system – through the process that makes the policy, not the one that determines individual applications. 

 

My best regards, 
 
Councillor Roger Gambba-Jones, 
Planning Committee Chairman, 
South Holland DC, Lincolnshire

Attack!…. my response

09 May 2013
Re- The Proposed Incinerator development at Wingland/ Sutton Bridge

NOTES:
The constant reference to this application being for an incinerator, are disingenuous and clearly designed to be inflammatory, in the hope of whipping up the maximum support for the objectors’ statements.
An incinerator is designed for one purpose and one purpose only; to burn waste. The power station to be built at Sutton Bridge, will be burning unused wood, not waste wood. It is designed to generate electricity, not to dispose of waste, as in the case of an incinerator.

Mr Gambba – Jones,

I listened to the deliberations at the meeting held 17th April with dis-belief at your dismissive attitude to the objections of the proposed development; frankly it stank of nepotism, corruption, ignorance of facts and public opinions and, it seemed to be just a money making opportunity for certain individuals, plus the promoters and SHDC. But I came away hoping that you and your committee would see sense and ultimately reject the proposal. How wrong can one be?

For dismissive, substitute focussed and endeavouring to ensure that only relevant material planning considerations are discussed and used to determine the application, by the planning committee.
All the planning related facts were made available to committee members in the officer’s report. All other related documents, used by the officers to arrive at the recommendation, were available for committee members to read if they had any concerns regarding the information provided to them in the report.
Nepotism is about giving favourable treatment to a family member. I’m not aware of committee members with family connections to this development, as this would have been declared at the start of the meeting and the member would of left the chamber.
Corruption – any proof of that sir? Likewise, money making for individuals and SHDC?

As Chairman of SHDC’s planning committee, you are ultimately responsible for results and repercussions of the decisions of your committee, but it appears that you are being guided and/or manipulated by certain people and the promoters of the project, all of whom appear to have personal gain as their objective.

As chairman of the committee, my role is to keep good order, avoid time wasting through discussion of irrelevant matters and to ensure, as best I can, that the decision reached by the committee is sound and defendable should it go to appeal.
The committee is most certainly guided and in some respects manipulated, by the policies and guidance handed down to us by national government, the latest of this being the NPPF. Locally, SHDC has an adopted Local Plan, that is the basis (guide) for all our planning decisions.
All commercial developments are built for profit and some form of personal gain for those investing in the development.

How you can be so mis-guided by recently re-elected councillors who have lots to say about this project, but no conviction to vote either one way or the other, but just to leave all their options open for themselves defies belief, they are hypocrites in their own right and as such should be ignored.

Recently re-elected members? All members of the planning committee receive training in order to ensure that they understand the policies that must be used when determining planning applications. As such, the experience of the committee members is not nearly as important as their understanding of our planning policies and the national guidance.

At last nights meeting you again ignored the feelings and objections of the electorate (who ultimately pay your salary) and others, of how this development would affect the wellbeing of residents of Wingland, Sutton Bridge and beyond by bulldozing this approval through, all it seems for the price of land which I am led to believe SHDC currently owns.

Unfortunately, the planning process makes no allowance for the feelings or objections of objectors, unless these clearly relate to material planning issues. Likewise, we are not allowed to take the potential devaluing of property values into consideration when determining an application.
I and others on the committee are elected members and as such, do not receive a salary. SHDC has NO financial interest in the Wingland site and does not own any of the land allocated.

The big question is; how commercially viable is this project without government subsidies? It would appear that it is not commercially viable and as such will in time become a “white elephant” all at the expense of the tax payer and to the detriment of local residents. Probably leaving an enormous bill that SHDC will have to pick up.

In planning terms, this is no question at all. It is not for SHDC, or the planning dept, to judge the viability of any development.
There is no reason why SHDC, or the taxpayers, should suffer any financial losses should this power station project fail.

Sleep well Mr Gambba-Jones in the knowledge that your actions are making some members of your electorate very ill, they live in fear of health issues and devaluation of their properties and, that because of your decision making, you are probably at this time one of the most mistrusted and disliked people in South Lincolnshire. It is probably best that you resign your position.

It’s most unfortunate that residents if are making themselves ill worrying about issues that currently have no evidence to back them up. As stated previously, property values cannot be taken in to account when determining a planning application. I have no intention of considering my position. I am but one member of the committee. Just because I happen to be the chairman, doesn’t mean that I have any greater power, or influence, than any other member of the committee when it comes to the vote.

I don’t expect a reply because if I were you, I would not know where to begin!

As you will see from the above responses,I have no problem with knowing where to begin.

Jim Stalley – resident Sutton Bridge

Planning minister dipping his fingers in to the infrastructure pot

<em>Yet another short-term, short-sighted proposal from the Minster of Planning Chaos. This government has a lamentable track record of top slicing local government funding – robbing Peter to pay Paul. They now appear to have turned their sights on to privately sourced funds, as a way of bribing communities in to accepting development.

Developers only have so much funding to put into such pots. Taking 25% of any CIL that might be in place, simply means that the funds that should be accumulated to the benefit of the community as a whole will, under these proposals, be partly dispersed amongst pockets of the community, potentially to the long term detriment of all.

New plans to encourage communities to build more homes will be unveiled today by planning minister Nick Boles.
Mr Boles is expected to announce a community infrastructure levy, which will replace Section 106 agreements and raise around £1bn a year from property developers.
Communities that draw up neighbourhood developments and secure the consent of people through a referendum will get up to 25% of the money raised through the levy. The money will be paid directly to town or parish councils.
Neighbourhoods with no development plan will still receive 15% of the levy from developments in their area.
‘The Government is determined to persuade communities to accept more house building by giving them a tangible share of the benefits it brings,’ said Mr Boles.
‘By undertaking a neighbourhood plan that makes space for new development, communities can secure revenues to make the community more attractive for everyone.’
The National Housing Federation’s head of homes and land, Rachel Fisher, said: ‘New developments should take into account the needs of local people, so we welcome the commitment to giving 25% of community infrastructure levy (CIL) money to neighbourhood groups. But it’s crucial that this does not come at the cost of delivering affordable homes.’

David Cameron advises us to use local policies to fill NPPF gaps

David Cameron so obviously doesn’t understand the way the planning system works and has not read the NPPF. He appears on the Andrew Marr show this morning, trotting out the propaganda fed to him by those who have been promoting wholesale changes to the planning system.

More interestingly, he suggested that, just because something isn’t ‘specified’ at the national level, such as the control of roadside advertising hoardings, this doesn’t mean it can’t done at the local level. Taken to it’s logical conclusion, this could see the thousands of pages that will been thrown on the bonfire, by the introduction of the 50 odd pages of the NPPF at the national level, replaced by thousands of pages of planning legislation being created at the local level – some improvement to an over complex system that will be!

I hope all of those involved in the producing planning policies at the local level take note of this steer from the Prime Minister. I read this as: Where the National Planning Policy Framework is, out of date, indeterminate or silent on a subject, a local policy is to be used to fill the gap.