|The planning process
||[Feb. 6th, 2013|10:01 pm]
In December I exercised the right to sit in on the Council's planning committee for the first time in my life; yesterday I did it again for what I hope will be the last time. The proposal this time was to build housing - both domestic and student - on the Mount Oswald Golf Course: a larger development that the one I wrote about last time, and one in which I have a less personal interest. There's been a lot of opposition locally, and I'm generally against building on green land unless there's a really good reason; the area wasn't scheduled for housing in the current local plan. a previous scheme by this developer was less than impressive - and as the planning officer presented the application, it became obvious that the intention was to build over almost all the available land.
What I wanted to think about, though, is less the scheme itself than the way the planning process works. On the one hand, there is a great show of public consultation and democratic control. Direct neighbours are asked to comment, the public can put in objections (or indeed support), the final decision is taken by a committee of elected councillors. On the other hand, the council has a department of professional planning officers who assess applications, make recommendations and then present their case to the committee. It's up to the committee members to make the decision - but in practice they rarely contradict the officers' recommendations. And why would they? What's the point of paying a bunch of expensive professionals if you're not going to listen to their opinions?
I don't have statistics for officer recommendations to grant or refuse planning consent, but the way it looks from street level is that the officers tend towards consent. As I understand it, they work with applicants to make this happen. If you are a householder who wants to build a conservatory, it's a very good idea that you should be able to consult someone at the council who will tell you what is likely to be permitted and what isn't (I'd look a great deal more favourable on this if you left off the twelve fott long fibreglass shark...). If you are planning a multi-million pound development, and you get to negociate about building density and parking space and vehicle access... Well, then by the time the thing reaches committee the planning officer has invested so much time and thought in the project, he (all the ones I've encountered are he) must feel like part of the team.
At yesterday's meeting, the scheme was outlined for the committee by a planning officer who was treated as if he were neutral, but who had already recommended acceptance. Councillors on the committee were careful to make it clear that they were not parti pris, that they were listening to the debate before making up their minds. But the planning officer who had already recommended acceptance had the job of presenting the application with no limit on how long he spoke, and was then permitted to speak again after the objectors had made their case, not to clarify but to counter their arguments. It would have been possible for the planners to remain neutral, to say that this was a controversial scheme and on the one hand, on the other hand... But no, they were openly partisan, yet the system treated them as disinterested professionals.
There were only two speakers in favour, the developer himself, and a representative of the University who are supporting the proposal for student accommodation. They were allowed to speak without time limits, at which there was some unrest - and all credit to the committee Chair who stopped to explain why this was only fair, given how many speakers against we had heard. I'm not entirely convinced of the logic of this - but as I said last time, I don't think it would have made any difference.
I was slightly shocked to learn that the obligation to include a certain proportion of affordable housing can be met by promising to build it - but somewhere else, in some other scheme, place and time unspecified.
Were you actually referring to this
? (there's a link in there but it's not looking obvious to my view - click on 'to this' Because friends of ours live literally across the street from the shark. It looks just like in the photos.
If you were in fact referring to the Headington Shark, I would be greatly amused and know that England is truly a very small country. ;-)
PS: J reminds me to mention that the actual owner of that house is an ex-pat Yank. Yet his house is on the cover of the book, 'Eccentric Britain'. Edited at 2013-02-06 11:46 pm (UTC)
The reason your link isn't working is because you've typed HRE instead of HREF, and I can't edit it because it's your comment.
Was I thinking of the Headington Shark
? Well, I certainly didn't make it up - but if you'd asked me, I certainly couldn't have told you where it was!
oh. Oops. I can't edit that link now because you've commented on it. But yes, I was thinking of the Headington Shark and I did link to the wiki page. The link did work for me, though, which is interesting. I wonder why.
Correction: no, it didn't work. It just changed color when I moused over it and I assumed that it worked. I shall know better in the future. Wow, I've learned something new today and I haven't even had my morning cup of tea yet.
Edited at 2013-02-07 01:47 pm (UTC)
oh. Oops. I can't edit that link now because you've commented on it.
Oh, I didn't realise that. Many and various are the tricks of LJ.
I could see your link in the notification of the comment - and since the link itself worked for me, it wasn't hard to spot where the problem was.
None of this shocks me, I'm afraid. This is the way to get what you done, done. Fair? Only if everyone else knows about it and plays the same game, but that rarely if ever happens.
I think we are now seeing an actual presumption in favour of development - and that's even before you start to look at the financial side of the deal.
There's a fantastic music venue in one Kings Heath, Birmingham. It's a local pub as well, but it does food, quizzes, knitting evenings, all sorts of things, and has two rooms upstairs where many indie bands play. We been there lots of times over the years. It's popular with locals and with people going to see specific bands. If we lived nearer, the prices are such that we'd see a lot more live music on spec.
In the autumn there was a planning application to build a flat very close to the pub.
There were lots of objections, a petition signed by many (including me), and a number of people writing direct to the council. The concern is that once the flat has been built, based on Birmingham City Council's previous performance, if an occupant objects to the noise, the venue will be closed down. Never mind that the venue was there first and serves many satisfied customers.
Permission was refused.
Then there was an appeal and the decision was overturned because the planning officers can't see the problem.
It isn't necessarily the death of live, independent music in Birmingham, but I'm not optimistic.
Is it possible to get a covenant put on the new flat? DCC are reluctant to use these, but I've heard of their being imposed elsewhere.
It’s not that the supporters weren’t time-limited, but their time limit was the same as the total time the opponents had been given, and they did not need it all. At least that’s how I read it.
And I think your analysis of why the planners end up supporting projects they have advised on is very plausible. I’ve seen this in similar fields. It’s very similar to the Stockholm syndrome where kidnap victims end up in sympathy with the kidnappers.
I couldn't have put it better myself.