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  • Writer's pictureAdewole Ademolake

Engaging in the Town Planning process

Did you know that where you live, work and play and everything that most city dwellers see is as a result of Town Planning? Yet, I have found many people are concerned about what is happening in their local area, nor are they aware of how they can engage in the planning process. Unfortunately, many of my friends and family do not engage in the planning process unless they want to extend their homes.

Whether you're a property developer, office worker, property development professional like me, cleaner, bus driver or are simply a resident, I still feel that everyone should at least know/ be involved in the following:

  • Getting involved in community consultation.

  • Local plans.

  • Attending planning committees.

  • Objecting or supporting a planning application that may concern you

This post gives some pointers on how you a resident, can meaningfully engage in the planning process and have your voice heard.


Community consultation

The process of community consultation is a requirement for all major applications under the Localism Act 2011. Major applications deliver 10+ homes/ site which is 0.5 hectares or more or non-residential units with 1,000m/2 of floor space, or the site sits in one hectare or more. Engaging in a consultation process is probably your only opportunity to get your views across. As a resident, you should not be afraid to stand up, for or against a proposal. Simply not saying something can take away your ability to shape the environment around you. I have organised many consultation events in my career and for some reason, they are not well attended.

The types of things that you can discuss and influence are the scale/ mass of a building, play areas, the type of housing, landscaped areas, types of community facilities and arguably community contributions. There are so much more things that you can influence through using your voice during a consultation process, and I feel that such an opportunity is generally underutilised, which is unfortunate.

Generally, a developer consults with residents at least twice for major developments, firstly to share its overview of the schemes and secondly meeting, presenting to the community the final scheme which would factor in some of the comments raised during the first consultation. Your voice can influence things.


Local plans

Local Plans are prepared by a Local Planning Authorities (LPA) in consultation with its community, and it seeks to set out a vision/ framework for the future development of an area. A Local Plan guides how planning decisions are made and must be updated every five years.

Local plans set out the objectives of a local area over a 5-10 year period. It touches on schools, play spaces, business, housing, play spaces and sustainability. Getting involved in your Local Plan consultation process is so vital as it allows you to have a hand in shaping your local area. I strongly recommend that you consider going on your local authorities website and searching for the existing local plan and also see if they are looking to update it so that you can get involved in the process.


Objecting to a planning application

Everyone has the opportunity to support or object to a planning application. The fact is that a building or structure that impacts you negatively in a small way can be a permanent part of your life. A bit extreme, but very apt.

Clearly need to cut my grass but you see the picture

My next-door neighbour applied for an extension, and I didn't have any issues with it. The application was granted planning permission. After a few weeks, the works commenced, and I saw that the building was significantly more extensive than what was permitted. Intending to be considerate, I pulled my neighbour up on it and said a larger building would impact the light coming into my home and that if they wanted to make the building bigger, they would need to submit another application. My neighbour reluctantly conceded and submitted a new planning application.

On reviewing the new plans, I decided to object to the application as they wanted to build a large structure which was not in keeping with the local area. The proposal had a material impact on my property due to impacts on amenity, including overshadowing, poor outlook and the creation of an increased overbearing structure. The extension's principle was not in question as I think it is essential for homeowners to utilise their homes and create more space.

For instance; if I decided not to use my voice via commenting on a planning application, I would have lost the opportunity to give my opinion on something that impacted me directly. That would have affected me for the rest of my time living at the property plus I would have a massive obtrusive structure that was not in keeping with the local area. I decided to use my voice, and I think you should too.

You can also support a planning application that you feel adds value to your local area.


Attending planning committee

Attending a planning committee is, by far, one of the most educational parts of engaging in the planning process. Before planning committee, a committee report is produced by the planning officer; the report provides so much useful information to learn and see things from a professional point of view. The planning committee is where a planning application for a major scheme is determined. A planning committee is elected Councillors who vote to decide whether to grant or refuse a planning application. The planning committee meeting is the make or break moment for any major development proposal.

Attending planning committee allows you to see how decisions are made in your local area. It gives a front-row seat on how Planning officers consider a proposal and their recommendation to the planning committee. Planning consultants/ architects and even you as a resident can get the chance to speak in support of a proposal. Alternatively, you may choose to object to a proposal and voice your concerns by registering to speak against the development proposal. The planning committee asks questions to the planning officer or applicant to understand the planning implications better. These implications could be financial contributions, level of affordable housing or technical matters like carbon reduction measures. The planning committee considers all the points raised, and then the committee's Chair calls a vote for or against or tables a motion to abstain or defer the decision. The majority vote wins. A planning committee vote is a democracy being enacted in practice to shape a local area.

For my sins, I have experienced planning approvals, rejections and deferrals at the planning committee. More lessons are learned in failure than success so why not learn from others. They also say a wise person learns from others experiences whereas a fool seeks to learn only through their own experiences.


Key lessons

Do not let things happen to you but get involved in the things that shape your world. Town planning is one of the more important things that shape the world around you. This is why getting involved in the planning process is essential. Your business is to enable your voice to be heard; however silly you may think your comment or opinion is, it still counts for something.

Whether objecting or supporting a planning application, always use your voice, and it gives you some control over what happens in your local area.

I challenge you to attend your local planning committee meeting, which is all done online. Search on google your boroughs planning committee, find the date and register to attend. Please send me a message and let me know your thoughts.

Finally, getting involved in the planning process does not cost you anything, so why not learn something new and get more involved with your local area.

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