Our Town and Country Planning system is built on the workings of local democracy, with the principle that, save for notable exceptions in permitted development, local bodies and neighbours should be consulted on development plans and proposals and that Councillors, in Planning Committees, should be involved in planning decision-making not delegated to officers.
The need for engaging with people locally is often seen by developers as an inconvenience to be avoided if possible. However, as we have seen already in national policy, and we are seeing in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill that is currently passing through Parliament, public engagement with local Councillors, residents of non-statutory bodies (local residents or amenity societies, heritage societies, conservation advisory bodies) is likely to be more commonplace. Furthermore, doing so can make sense in terms of a long-term strategy, building ammunition if needed for appeals and strengthening a case that may be called-in to go before the Planning Committee.
There are a number of very sound strategic reasons to take consultation with members of the public and local organisations seriously.
Firstly, you want to avoid key objections or a certain number of objections that can take the application to a Planning Committee. Once it goes to a Committee, the decision can be seen as more controversial, it gets more ‘political’ and the risks of refusal increase. This also adds to delay and cost. If Ward Councillors or a certain number of members of the public object to an application then, under the Council’s internal administrative rules (known as the ‘Council Constitution’), this can automatically cause the application to be referred to the Planning Committee.
Secondly, so many objections from members of the public are entirely avoidable. Objections can arise (a) because they feel upset at not being asked in the first place or alienated by the planning process, or (b) because they did not understand the scheme, could not understand the drawings or have misunderstood technical matters such as highways and parking, light impact or noise.
Local residents often also comment on non-planning matters such as the impact on the value of their own home or fears over construction activity. Catching these early in the right way can either allay their fears completely, obtain their support or at least dull the force of their concerns.