Not in My Back Yard- The Ombudmans Tips for Avoiding Planning Cockups

LGO

Photograph site notices
There is no legal requirement for a council to provide photographicevidence that it has put up a site notice. However taking a photograph on a digital camera and keeping a record on file can help councils demonstrate
that they have fulfilled the statutory publication requirements.
Take care when preparing neighbour notification letters
Notification letters are the most direct way of alerting neighbouring properties to nearby planning applications. However we often find councils are over reliant on computer systems to produce these letters. Therefore
extra care should be taken to ensure that it has written to every property entitled to a letter. This can easily be done by looking at location plans and maps, and checking on site.

Keep a clear record of site visits
A good record of a site visit, normally with photographs, can help officers recall what they saw when they are in the office making their decisions. It can also help other people looking at the file, such as colleagues,
understand why they may have reached certain conclusions about the impact of a development.

Use the officer report to summarise objections
Summarising the substance of objections to a planning application can help objectors feel their voice has been listened to. Some councils separate these into material and non-material considerations which can
help local people understand how their objections have been considered.

Make officer reports easy to find on the council’s website
Councils must now produce a written record of decisions made by officers under delegated powers and make it available to the public for a period of six years.
Councils must also keep background material for four years in addition to keeping information as part of the statutory planning register. Reports can help local people understand the reasons why a council has reached its decision. These are generally available online and many councils include them within the online planning file. However some councils include it with committee minutes which can be hard to find. Councils in Scotland attach officer reports to decision statements and some councils in England have adopted this as good practice.

Maintain a good understanding of the council’s constitution and code of conduct
A council’s constitution says which decisions should be made by committee and which decisions can be made by officers. Constitutions can change and it is important officers understand the extent and limits of their powers. Officers and councillors should also be aware of the relevant code of conduct to protect themselves against allegations of bias.

Develop a policy for dealing with amendments to planning applications and decisions
In some circumstances minor amendments to applications and decisions can be made without the need for any publicity. Each council can decide what constitutes a minor amendment and what constitutes a major amendment. Major amendments might require further publicity or a new application. By having a policy that explains how different amendments will be dealt with councils will make consistent decisions and local people can understand how amendments are considered.

Develop an enforcement plan
Government guidance says councils should consider publishing a local enforcement plan to “manage enforcement proactively, in a way that is appropriate to their area.” Plans should set out how councils will investigate alleged cases of unauthorised development, the circumstances where they might take action, and the enforcement options they will consider. This will help officers make consistent decisions and understand the legal tools available to them. It will also help local people understand what to expect when they make a complaint. The enforcement plan should be reviewed and updated on a regular basis.

 

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