Planning – A most frustrating & often futile local council function

I spent 16 years as a Borough Councillor and for the last two of those years I sat on the Planning Committee, something I said I would never do. You see some councillors fall head over heels in love with planning and the mere suggestion they should maybe just possibly sit on another committee instead could lead to all kinds of emotional turmoil. I didn’t then and I still don’t get what the draw of the planning committee is but accept that to others being on such a committee is a bit like what Bill Shankly said of football i.e. Somebody said that football’s a matter of life and death to you, I said ‘listen, it’s more important than that.

Why are pretty much all governments determined to build as little social housing as possible?

My problem with planning is that government has far too much say on what is built and it issues more laws and regulations on the subject than it does on its continual reorganisations the NHS, and that takes some doing! Governments of all colours are obsessed with house building, because we have a housing shortage, yet their new laws and regulations always end up with the wrong type (never any or enough social housing) of houses being built in the wrong places. Well at least that seems very often be the end result no matter what the intension was.

Just contact a councillor if you are concerned about a planning application

Local residents who wish to engage in the planning process often think that lobbying members of their local planning committee, or indeed any other local councillors, will lead to significant changes being made to the plan they don’t much care for. Yet in reality the room for manoeuvre that a planning committee actually has is very small indeed. Planning in my view, having experienced it from the 1980’s onwards, is a developer’s charter dressed up as a meaningful even a democratic process.

Campaigners, outside Maghull Town Hall trying to save Sefton Borough’s high grade agricultural land from development via the then draft Local Plan in June 2013.

Local and Neighbourhood Plans

I got involved in Sefton’s Planning Committee in my final years on the Council for one reason only, to try to stop its appalling Local Plan from being rubber stamped. I failed miserably I might add and that plan is now being used to concrete and tarmac over acre upon acre of high grade agricultural (land which feeds us) across the Borough. As a Lydiate Parish Councillor, after I had left the Borough Council, I also took part in the putting together of a Neighbourhood Plan for Lydiate. And yes it’s a good document which a number of people who are really committed to Lydiate put together for all the right reasons. However, I’m far from convinced that Neighbourhood Plans are anything but a small sticking plaster on a planning system which is hugely failing every community across England.

And then I came across this – see link below:-

Our vision for planning

www.cpre.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Joint-vision-for-planning-January-2021.pdf

Clearly it’s a worthy attempt to bring some sort of reason to the planning process, although history teaches us it will end in failure as government really does seem to want a planning system which simply rubber stamps the building of pretty much anything anywhere. I’d like to think I am wrong of course but the cynic in me says I’m far more likely to be right sadly.

So how do Planning Committees work?

Well as planning is a quasi-judicial process it has many rules and regulations and often a contentious matter before a committee is a little like a court room drama with witnesses for the defence and prosecution. It can look very well and proper to an impartial observer yet of course the members of any planning committee are not actually free to do what they think is right by their community. They are very much constrained by reports from council officers which detail law, regulation and common practice. If they go against such reports, by say refusing an application which professional officers say they should back, then straight away the chances of the applicant winning on appeal are very much higher.

And some pretty odd things happen too. Did you read about the decision of a planning committee in Bath to refuse a 5G mast application? It’s one of those things which can be seen differently by differing participants and observers of the decision. Supposedly, much of the opposition to the mast was associated with the alleged, but certainly false, claims about the health problems associated with 5G. Of course a planning committee, even if it believed the fake news, could not use such a reason to refuse a mast as the plan would be granted on appeal without a shadow of a doubt. So what does a planning committee under huge pressure do? It will want to be seen as backing its community but if it goes anywhere near 5G conspiracy theories as a reason for refusal it will be in deep trouble. So it obviously used other reasons, within planning law and regulation, to oppose the mast only to then be accused of in effect hiding the real reason for refusal.

No planning for me as a process was as futile in practice as I long suspected it would be before I got seriously involved in it. And now having upset many a former political colleagues with my views (which should not surprise them really) I’ll await them telling me how wrong I am and how fulfilling the life of a planning committee member can be. Planning is like marmite, you love it or hate it and I know where I stand………

2 thoughts on “Planning – A most frustrating & often futile local council function

  1. H McGibbon says:

    Hello mr Robertson,

    I’m sure you’re aware of the housing development being built on the Parkhaven site on Deyes Lane Maghull,my issue is how come such development can go ahead without any notification or production of formal notice to local residents,I’ve lived in Deyes Lane since July 2019,my immediate neighbours say they have not received any notification of a proposed development prior to my arrival on Deyes Lane.
    I find it sad that on the day the application appears on the Sefton council planning application site a digger arrives on site to start digging on the green field,therefore not giving anyone chance to have a say regarding the application.The fact that yet again another green lung is being lost in an already built up area,adding to the already congested area with the comings and goings of the nearby school Deyes high is saddening.
    The timing couldn’t be better for the developers as any group meetings would be hard to stage due to the present pandemic,also the fact that the roads are less congested due to a minute number of pupils attending the school,therefore less traffic on the road.
    Please don’t think of me as a nimby but I’m only concerned of the future chaos of such heavy traffic once development is built,considering the development is looking more alike a car park for 198 cars with accompanying houses.

    Regards

    Mr H.McGibbon.
    Deyes Lane resident.

    • Like you I don’t know why the usual planning consultation seems not to have taken place with nearby residents. I’ve not been a Sefton Councillor since 2015 so I think it best if you contact one of your Sudell Ward Sefton Councillors about that aspect. Otherwise I unsurprisingly share the same concerns as you.

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