Plymouth Professor – Planning Control Being Removed ‘By Stealth’

Western Morning News

But Prof Balch said that the prior approval process is often taking planning departments just as long to deal with. And, unlike full applications, the development does not have to be advertised. “People expect the planning system to protect the amenities of their area. As a society we are not very good at talking to neighbours and tend to use bureaucratic processes to resolve issues.”

The changes were intended as a temporary response to the economic crunch, but now the Department f

The planning system which protects the public from “rapacious developers and thoughtless neighbours” is being transformed “by stealth”.

So says Westcountry expert Chris Balch, professor of planning at Plymouth University. who added: “we are seeing the gradual dismantling of local planning control”.

And he warned that a combination of staff cuts and changes in the law could have dire consequences. “I would point people to the West Coast of Ireland, where you see sporadic and inappropriate development which has completely changed the character of the rural landscape,” he said. In England, permitted development rights allow home owners to add single storey and often two-storey extensions to their homes without planning permission so long as they stay within government guidelines. These were extended in 2012, and later reforms allowed change of use of town centre businesses without the need for express permission, and the change of use of agricultural barns to dwellings.

“Allowing barns to be converted into dwellings is a big departure from the approach of discouraging sporadic development in the countryside,” Prof Balch said.

Since 2010 the government has introduced a “prior approval” scheme. Applicants can ask for the planners to give the go-ahead without the need for a full planning application. The fee is about half that of a full application.

or Communities and Local Government is consulting on making them permanent. “Do ordinary people respond to these consultations? No. It is the vested interests who do,” Prof Balch said.

Planning departments across the peninsula have been cut by up to half, and Prof Balch said the axe was likely to fall again. One planning officer told him she had a caseload of 91 applications, which had to be determined within eight weeks – more than two a day.

“How can you visit the site, prepare paperwork and do all the consultation?

“The changes may not be bad in principle, but you will see unintended consequences. You are probably going to see more legal challenges from a system which is running on three-quarters empty.”

Who are we doing planning for? Is it for the landowner and applicant, or is it for the community and society?”

Prof Balch said that there was some suspicion that the government was “teeing up” the planning system to be outsourced.

Prof Balch warned that decisions were likely to become more inconsistent because the government had introduced more ambiguity into the system.

“In Teignbridge virtually all the barn conversions go through on prior approval. In Wiltshire they have hardly approved any,” he said.

Prof Balch said homeowners could face difficulties when they come to sell their house and buyers’ solicitors ask questions about the planning status of work done.

Who are we doing planning for? Is it for the landowner and applicant, or is it for the community and society?”

Prof Balch warned that decisions were likely to become more inconsistent because the government had introduced more ambiguity into the system.

“In Teignbridge virtually all the barn conversions go through on prior approval. In Wiltshire they have hardly approved any,” he said.

Prof Balch said homeowners could face difficulties when they come to sell their house and buyers’ solicitors ask questions about the planning status of work done.

 

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