BSCF's response to Development Management Consultation

Letter to Communities and Local Government

The BSCF recently received a 56-page consultation document from Communities and Local Government entitled:
"Development management: Proactive planning from pre-application to delivery"

The letter below is the BSCF's response to this consultation document.

Development Management Consultation
Communities and Local Government
Floor 1, Zone A2
Eland House
Bressendon Place
London
SW1 5DU
23 February 2010

DEVELOPMENT MANAGEMENT – PRE APPLICATION ENGAGEMENT

I am writing on behalf of the Bishop's Stortford Civic Federation to comment on your consultation and, in particular, the draft annex on pre application engagement.

The general tenor of the consultation document is about facilitating rather than controlling development. Our experience in Bishop's Stortford is developers have no need for facilitation and that the local planning authority already has too few weapons at its disposal either to control development or to ensure that development which does take place is of high quality and sustainable in nature.

The problems are compounded by the apparent belief of our local planning authority, East Herts District Council, that a proactive approach to planning legitimately requires planning officers to engage in pre application discussions with developers to facilitate development on Green Belt land which they could support but which, as part of the Green Belt, is not zoned for development of any kind. We have taken up the matter with the Local Government Ombudsman following rejection of our complaint by EHDC, the substance of which is summarised in the enclosed letter to the council’s Chief Executive.

It seems to us that your proposals for local development frameworks, which appear to downgrade or eliminate precise zoning of land for particular uses, would further weaken the ability of an authority to control inappropriate development in its area. Moreover, we believe that the limits to the discretion which should be allowed in pre application discussions, and the importance of properly recording all such discussions, if only to avoid subsequent suspicions of bias, need to be emphasised much more strongly.

Our answers to your questions [on page 37 of your document and in italics below] are as follows:

Q8. Do you agree with the pre-application principles? If not, what amendments to these principles would you suggest? Are there any additional principles which should guide local planning authorities to ensure a good quality and effective pre-application service?
You should add to the principles that any pre application discussions should make it clear that they take place within the context of the adopted local plan (or LDF where relevant) and that proposals which do not conform with it should be discouraged. You should also add that such discussions should encourage developers to engage with relevant local community organisations at the earliest opportunity.

Q9. Do you agree with the draft policy (PA1) on pre-application planning services? If not, what amendments would you suggest?
Local authorities should be required to publish their procedures for pre application services and should also be required to provide guidance for their councillors and officers about how they should conduct such discussions, to avoid any suggestions of impropriety.

Q10. Do you agree with the draft policy (PA2) on the approach to be taken to pre- application advice for small scale development? If not, what amendments would you suggest?
No comment.

Q11. Do you agree with the draft policy (PA3) on the need for clear LPA guidance on pre-application advice and discussions? If not, what amendments would you suggest?
You should add to the need for clear guidance the need for any such discussions to be properly recorded and for those records to be available for public scrutiny. You should also be offering guidance about the circumstances in which developers may reasonably ask for such records to remain confidential (having regard to the Freedom of Information and Human Rights Acts) and for how long a period the confidentiality requirement should remain in force.

Q12. Do you agree with the draft policy (PA4) on the proposed scope for involvement of key participants at the pre-application stage?
It is not clear from this section how you expect the local community to be involved in a way which enables it to shape development at this early stage.

Q13. Do you agree that the extra resources spent by applicants at the pre-application stage will be compensated by savings at the post-application stage? If not, please explain.
We disagree. Your question is framed on the presumption that developers will be happy to comply with the wishes of the planning authority and local community. In our experience, developers will all too often wish to override those wishes, and pre application discussions will simply be an additional stage in a process in which they have little interest.

Q14. Should specific fees for pre-application engagement be established in planning legislation, or do the current powers under the Local Government Act 2003 make adequate provision?
No comment.

If you would like any further information about how our local planning authority has chosen to interpret your current guidance about proactive engagement in planning, I should be happy to let you have the full details of the complaint to which I have referred above.

John Rhodes
Vice Chairman
Bishop's Stortford Civic Federation