Archive for January, 2011

I’ve been back from planning committee for a few days now and am still reeling from the decision to refuse planning permission. Apparently the fact that no technical objections exist, the site is allocated for housing and the scheme provides for much needed affordable housing doesn’t really count for much when the local community don’t want it on their doorstep.  The quality of the debate wasn’t the greatest I have seen although it was most spirited. However the committee thought it was high time they set aside all of these allocations that keep constraining their decision  making!  So much for the comfort of a plan led system.  It remains to be seen whether the Inspectorate will remedy the situation and overule the local planning authority but you will be unsurprised to know that the appeal is ongoing.

We are running up to the demise of our RDA’s in just a few weeks time and one of the last grants they will issue in the North East has been awarded to a major manufacturer we are representing. The proposals need to be rushed through as quickly as the system allows so that a start can be made on site before the end of the year: No start = no grant and the loss of the inward investment to another part of the European Union.

An SCI event has been undertaken with overwhelming community support and the planning officer has also been broadly supportive, noting that the site is allocated for industry in the Local Plan. Everything seems to be going in the right direction and even the Highways Agency are being supportive -all that is apart from the possibility of newts getting onto the site.

A formal objection has been received from our national ecological team on the basis that we might have newts present and need to survey for their presence. There are newts in the area so there is a kernel of legitimacey to their objection. But the catch 22 to the situation is that we can’t survey for the newts until the weather warms the land in April/May, by which time the opportunity to attract the grant and the business it supports will be gone.  Two impartial sets of ecologist have looked at the site and pointed out that any newt on the site would have had to cross a busy main road to get there and would probably not have the best of genetic material to extend the newt gene pool. However its a classic dilema to the LPA as to whether they go for the certainty of securing inward investment or the possibility, however unlikely, of a protected species being present.

I’ve blogged before about the pre-eminence we give to protected species and I’m in danger of apearing like the dodgy developer on Corrie who persuaded his bats to leave in a manner not approved by Natural England. I’m not really authoring a book with Gordon Ramsey on 101 ways to cook newts but have to admit that it is becoming increasingly challenging getting the balance right between reconciling new forms of development and investment with the ecological issues.  By way of example; we recently had a decision from a planning authority that prevented us from working on the site between November and April because of the possibility of bats being present. Subsequently they then went on to restrict work in the summer between May and September because of the possibility of swallows being present. Not too many weeks of available construction time in that permission yet the planner’s couldn’t see anything wrong with their decision.

Rather than wasting time trying to get Localism to work in a positive manner, I would rather the boffins put some serious effort into sensible guidance on how we can more properly consider the integration of development with the protection of any said species. At the moment we have a very blunt and unwieldy system that gives far greater weight into the possibility of protected species being present than it does job creation and inward investment.

Now,  who is for pickled newts on toast…?

Day 1 of the New Year and my first work resolution kept so far -must blog more regularlyand must address the comments that have been received to previous postings. Resolution number 2 about de-cluttering my desk can wait a while… doesn’t do to rush these things!

As I write this blog, the office are reviewing the objectors to a planning application we have in for a social housing scheme in a nearby town.  The site is a brownfield one with a series of derelict industrial buildings on it. The site is allocated for housing in the Local Plan.  Notwithstanding this, over 40 local residents backing on to the site have written in to object to the scheme and we have been warned by officers at the Council that we will face a hostile and difficult time at the forthcoming planning meeting.  It seems that its OK to have housing for those in need -as long as they are in a different part of the town where they wont have quite so much impact upon local property values.

In itself this isn’t anything new and hardened planning consultants are no strangers to the odd bit of controversy. Our application is supported by officers after a protracted battle with the highway engineers who have denied ever having supported the allocation of the site in the first place.  If members have confidence in their own officers and truly believe in a plan led system then we might just get a permission.   However I can’t help be concerned that after the launch of the Localism Bill and all the discussions about empowering communities to take their own decisions, there is a good chance that the application will be refused.  I’m sure the grounds will be dressed up to allude to some sort of policy conflict rather than simply because local residents don’t want it -but we all know what the real motivating factors will have been.

As we enter the brave new world of localism, whatever that will come to mean, a lot of planning consultancies as well as a fair number of planning officers I suspect, are looking on with a significant degree of fear and alarm that local communities will be looking to use the new powers they seem set to inherit to resist development and maintain their status quo. The theory of localism is very sound and its difficult to argue against its merits from an idlealistic perspective. However when has theory ever worked in practice?

If any proponent of localism is able to explain to me how a local community might vote for their status quo to be disturbed, I would love to hear from you -but please be prepared to explain with concrete examples not abstract theories.  For the moment I remain an ardent sceptic of the road we seem to be embarking upon. If our permission is granted, I might be prepared to admit the concept has some possibilities but I need a lot of convincing.

Now, back to de-cluttering the desk…….!