SHDC – Steve Jorden, Ross Kennerley
South Hams Society – Vivien Napper, John Chalmers
The South Hams Society wishes to raise the points below concerning the District Council’s planning processes:
1. Describe the Society and the Bulletin article that gave rise to the meeting.
The membership and activities of the Society were described.
Steve Jorden said that the Council was undergoing major changes in the T18 process which was designed to accommodate the reduced financial resources available and improve services over time. There was however a national shortage of skilled persons in planning and IT which combined with an increase in planning applications and the major changes being undertaken contributed to a drop in performance within the Planning department The changes included the use of case officers for most work backed by specialists where necessary. Improvements were expected from the autumn onwards.
2. Make the Development Management process more thorough, open to the public and accountable.
Agreed in principle
Our suggestions – and those of the wider public – are:
a. assess applications for all the required information before registering them,
e.g. lack of visual impact analysis, heritage assessment and traffic analysis for the agricultural buildings at Bantham Cross,
Already done to some extent, however the meeting agreed that better use of the existing Validation Checklist could address the concerns. The Society notes that the PARSOL system has been implemented by a number of LPAs. PARSOL employs pre-application certification undertaken by approved planning consultants to ensure that applications with all the correct information are submitted.
b. get web site up to date rapidly,
e.g. weekly planning lists are now a month late, letters of representation often take a week or more to appear, .
Current problems were due to the shortage of IT staff. It was hoped to improve the service from the autumn. The Society suggests that until the list are brought up to date it should be made clear on the website that comments can be made after the date shown in the application up to the date of officer report.
c. record pre-application discussions and publish them routinely and refuse unnecessary claims of confidentiality by applicants,
e.g. Chillington housing proposal,
South Hams Society agreed to provide information on the handling of pre-application discussions by LPAs when SHDC would consider the question.
The Local Government Association’s document ‘Probity in Planning’, 2013 states that notes of meetings and telephone conversations should be kept and ‘placed on the file as a public record’.
The Planning Officer’s Society’s publication Practice Guidance Note 3, ‘Councillor involvement in pre-application discussions’ states similarly that notes should be kept and placed on a public file by the officer involved. And the Society’s ‘Future of Planning Advice Note No, 8’ emphasises the need for local communities to be involved in pre-application discussions.
Finally the RTPI publishes many documents about the planning process and the way it is handled by LPAs. They stress the need for public consultation. Included among these are the ‘Planning Pack 2012, the ‘Good Practice Guide to Public Engagement in Development Schemes. The LGA and RTPI joint publication ’10 commitments for effective pre-application engagement’ also stresses the need for local communities to be involved and provides a number of case histories.
Lastly the Environmental Information regulations with the Freedom of Information Act can be used by the public to obtain the information anyway.
The Society suggests that records of pre-application discussions on all proposals which would become major applications and any others which are requested by the public should be published on a separate website and incorporated within the documents of any subsequent application.
d. publicise major applications in the local papers and radio,
Agreed, use of the local paper is particularly important as it is read by more residents while many fewer make use of the council’s website
e. monitor applicant‘s public consultations to ensure a fair view is obtained for the record,
e.g. the developer‘s conclusions on the consultations at Palm’s Cross, Modbury are disputed by the parish council and community.
This particular alleged discrepancy will be looked into.
A planning officer should attend public meetings between developers and the public, take notes and produce a record of the meeting which both the developer and the public can refer to. If this is not possible both the public and the developer should record the meeting so that their versions can be referred to later.
f. the officer’s report on a planning application must not be written by those engaged in pre-application discussions,
Mr Jorden did not feel this to be a problem. He was confident that professional standards could deal with the issue. The Society felt that at the minimum in such applications the officer report should be checked by senior management.
g. record member‘s votes in meetings of the Development Management Committee,
This was within the remit of the committee and now appears to be implemented.
h. publish developer’s viability calculations for provision of affordable houses.
It was felt that a version of the non confidential summary documents of the viability report could be provided in all cases.
i. publish on the council‘s website a definitive statement of the amount of housing land available in the next five years as defined by the NPPF and update it quarterly,
Agreed, the council is currently working through the process to enable this to happen as it is important to ensure any published information is accurate.
The Government has asked LPAs to compile a list of brownfield sites in their area. The Society suggests that this should be published on the council’s website
3. The Local Plan – Our Plan
The Local Plan required by the NPPF will now be several years late. Work on it appears to have stopped. The public need to know what progress has been made particularly those drawing up neighbourhood plans.
At present all that is published of the Local Plan is a wish list of contents – none of the contents themselves. The Society and the public are concerned that we will be landed with a lengthy draft document with a short period for consultation and too little time to make real changes. This happened with the existing LDF and was widely criticised.
We regard the new Local Plan as a rare opportunity for the Council and the public to work together to achieve a result which satisfies them both.
Our suggestions are:
a. better publicity for public meetings and consultations on Our Plan. Use the local and regional newspapers, parish/town councils, local radio as well as Twitter and Facebook. Few people go to the website unless provided with simple directions to the information concerned,
b. publish as soon as possible an assessment of the present position on the local plan, including the timetable and any draft contents currently existing,
c. as soon as possible resolve the wide disparity of forecasts contained in the Housing Market Needs Assessment so that work on neighbourhood plans can proceed,
d. publish the draft content of sections for comment as early as possible and as they are made, inviting comments from the public, to help the production of neighbourhood plans.
Ross Kennerley is now leading the work on Our Plan. He is currently progressing the project now that organisational structure has been finalised and staff appointed to the relevant roles. but will consider the points above as part of the process. Points a and c are agreed now.
In the autumn the Government is expected to set a date by which all LPAs are expected to have have completed their Local Plan. It is unclear what the sanctions if any may be.
4. Regular consultation with local groups and societies.
We suggest a regular meeting of management with all local groups at quarterly or 4 monthly intervals. Information on the progress of the T18 process would be a regular agenda item.
A provisional list of attendants drawn from previous meetings is:
Aune Conservation Association
CPRE South Hams and Plymouth
Dartington Community Action Group
National Trust, South and East Devon
River Yealm and District Association
South Devon AONB
South Hams Society (SHS)
Stoke Gabriel Parish Plan Group
Totnes and District Society
Steve Jorden could not commit to the council holding such meetings but would be prepared to attend a meeting of those above to discuss a list of agreed topics.