Writing A Letter Of Representation
If you want to write a good quality planning objection letter, the best place to start is with all of the facts. The best place to find them in is in the planning application, which is held in the Council’s planning office.
Next you’ll need a basis of objection founded on valid, material planning reasons. Hearsay, speculation, allegation and rumour need to be completely ignored – focus on the facts and you’re half way there! Remember, a strong opinion does not make it a fact!
It is the soundness of the points, particularly regarding ‘material planning considerations’, that are raised, rather than the number of comments, which are important in the planning Case Officer’s assessment of the application and the final decision.
In writing a letter of objection, the biggest mistake can be making your letter too personal. It is tempting to do that when you feel strongly or outraged about the proposal. But it will only weaken your case if you include points that have no relevance to the lawful planning guidelines that planners will weigh the proposal against.
The key is to find out which are the pertinent material matters and stick to them. Be sure you keep your objection letter business-like and relevant, and communicate with the planning officer in a language they will understand.
While planning applications are often prepared by experienced professionals, it is not unknown for well researched and considered letters of objection, from ‘interested parties’ with no experience of the planning system, to stop a proposed development or to bring about improvements in it’s design that protect our environment and benefit the wider community.
Formulating Your Objection to a Planning Application
Research and review the planning application. You can’t object on general grounds. You need to access the actual application for permission to develop the land, and review the applicant’s plans.
South Hams District and Devon County Councils (the Local Planning Authorities – LPAs) maintain a public register of planning applications. The register is physically stored at their planning office and is also available through their website. There is no national centralised database of planning applications. Notice of new planning applications are often published in the local newspaper as well.
The planning register must, at a minimum, include the application number, information about the developers, the planning application form, and all supporting drawings, plans, maps, elevations, tree surveys, Design and Access Statements.
Visit the site of the proposed development.
After you have conducted a preliminary review of the planning application, visit the site in order to match your perception of the development plan with the reality of the property. It is one thing to read a tree survey and another to see and photograph the forest that would be removed as part of the project.
Do not trespass
You can stay on the public right-of-way or ask the landowner for written permission.
Draft your grounds for the objection
As you sort through the details of the planning application package, note your general objections and reference them to the plans. Note concerns about negative effects the project may have on protected areas, such as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Conservation Areas and the quality of life for residents and visitors including the effects on uninterrupted panoramic views, noise, smell, loss of green space, loss of sunlight, and traffic.
The application review can be done on your own or with a residents group. It is a big job, and applications can run hundreds of pages. However, you are not required to be part of an organizsd group to file an objection to a planning application.
Compare your list with Council’s local “material planning considerations.” Councils control the overall look and feel of their area and how it affects the quality of local life. An urban Town Council is going to have different priorities than a rural District Council. If material planning considerations (see below) and Local Plan codes are not available on the Council’s website, contact the authority in person or by phone.
Generally, Planning Officers and Councillors do not consider loss of private views, changes to your property value, or your convenience in traffic and access to your property to be material planning considerations. The private financial benefit to the applicant is not a material planning matter but public benefits may be. Public views, particularly in protected landscapes, are very important planning matters.
Creating and Filing Your Objection
Put your objections into writing. You must maintain a professional tone. Regardless of your personal feelings about the type of development or the politics of the landowner or developer, you must limit your comments to the substance of the application plan. Include the application plan reference number on all correspondence.
Material planning matters
Using your notes, work through the application plan and detail every objection that is a material planning consideration. Pick your battles and choose the parts of the project that would have the biggest effect on the area and your community. Common examples are “quality of life” objections. For example:
· The visual impact and harm that may be caused to a designated landscape or protected area, such as an Area of Outstanding Natural beauty or Conservation Area and their enjoyment by residents and visitors.
· The visual impact and harm that the development might have on the areas listed buildings and their setting in the landscape.
· Excessive tree or hedgerow removal can affect drainage, soil stability, wildlife habitat, atmosphere, and appearance of the area.
· Noise and traffic can affect living conditions, tourism, and quality of life.
· Concerns about pollution of native waterways from industry or agri-business and how that could affect water supplies, fishing, tourism, and wildlife.
· Stress on infrastructure, including waste disposal, roads, parking, and schools.
· Architecture that is out-of-character with existing historical structures and could negatively affect tourism and the charisma of the neighbourhood.
Cross-reference to the Council’s plans
Each objection must be matched to a material planning consideration and must be cross-referenced to the appropriate section(s) of the application plan. Be clear and concise. Aim for no more than one-half page per objection.
Address your letter to the Council and the case officer. Include the application number. Identify yourself and your group. Include your postal contact information.
Submit your objection to the Council. Comments and objections must be filed within 21 days of the publication of the planning application in the registry. Late comments may be accepted up to the time the decision is made, but you should aim for the deadline date.
Submit your comments either through the Council’s online comment page or by post. If you mail your objections, be sure to allow several days for delivery.
The contents of your objection will be available for public review. You cannot object privately or confidentially. There is no cost to submit a comment or objection.
Don’t use a standard form letter
Sometimes local residents circulate a standard form letter to encourage their neighbours to object on the same grounds. This is better than nothing. However, a letter setting out your specific objections will be much more effective and shows the Council’s planning officer or the appeal Inspector that you have taken the trouble to familiarise yourself with the proposal and set out your particular objections. At the very least, you should alter the wording of any standard letter you may decide to use so that it reflects your own views and concerns.
Don’t rely on petitions
There’s nothing wrong with signing a petition or even organising your own petition against a planning proposal. As with standard form letters, however, this is no substitute for setting out your specific objections in your own objection letter. Petitions are usually very simple and lack the kind of compelling evidence and robust reasoning that are necessary to ensure your planning objections are accorded the weight they deserve.
Attend council meetings concerning the planning application.
You can add power and garner support for your objection by speaking at local government and council meetings. Contact the council for instructions on how to be put on the agenda. Here is the Council’s guide to speaking at a planning meeting
An example letter from the excellent guide to planning from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) Example letter
A ‘gold mine’ of planning information and guidance: The Government ‘Planning Portal’
Guide to Environmental Information Requests
Planning file search
SOUTH HAMS DISTRICT COUNCIL – PLANNING SEARCH
You need the planning application number – and can post a letter online via the search page.
DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL – PLANNING SEARCH
CAMPAIGN TO PROTECT RURAL ENGLAND – PLANNING HELP
South Hams District Council
Email to planning: email@example.com
CONTACT SOUTH HAMS DISTRICT COUNCIL
FIND YOUR PARISH COUNCIL CLERK
FIND YOUR SOUTH HAMS DISTRICT COUNCILLOR – BY WARD
FIND YOUR SOUTH HAMS DISTRICT COUNCILLOR – ALPHABETICALLY
Devon County Council
DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL – PLANNING
Email to planning: firstname.lastname@example.org
YOUR COUNCILLORS ALPHABETICALLY
Gov UK – Determining a planning application
Friends of the Earth Guides:
The English Planning System: An overview
Planning Applications: A Campaigner’s Guide
Local Plans: A Campaigner’s Guide
Environmental Impact Assessment: A Campaigner’s Guide
Environmental Impact Assessment and Case Law Annex