Working with planners
By Bob Kindred Published 12 December, 2012
Bob Kindred trained as a planner and was Head of Conservation and Urban Design at Ipswich Borough Council until 2012. He now runs his own consultancy.
Planning is about land use and how places will change in the future to deliver positive social, economic and environmental outcomes. As part of this process the government considers public participation to be vitally important in shaping the sort of places local communities want. Effective communication with planners is therefore important.
Working with planners at local authority level is most likely to involve two aspects: forward planning, and development management. These two strands should be closely integrated to help to shape local areas, deliver local services and development in the right place.
The former is the means by which the local authority sets out the strategic principles. details of its intended land uses, and environmental protection policies for the years ahead. The latter deals with the approval or refusal of planning applications for development; individual changes to the use of land; alterations affecting protected buildings and historic areas; and enforcement against unauthorised development.
Overarching national planning policies including those for heritage protection are set out in the National Planning Policy Framework [NPPF]. Local plans must be in general conformity with the Framework but need not replicate it.
Not all local planning authorities employ a conservation officer, despite management of the historic environment being a statutory function. Employment of specialist advice may also be influenced by the number and condition of heritage assets within the authority’s area. However, as ‘special regard’ must be paid to heritage considerations when dealing with development proposals, failure to take such advice into account may put an authority at risk of maladministration.
Local authorities should have in place an adopted Local Plan or a Core Strategy required by planning law but in addition there will be other supplementary local development documents which build on the principles it sets out. Being familiar with these policies is essential when engaging with the work of planning officers.
If the local authority area contains heritage assets, there should be appropriate planning policies to protect these and it may have approved Conservation Area Appraisals and Management Plans for some or all of its conservation areas to which the authority should also have regard under the NPPF. The first point of contact on heritage issues should be the conservation officer.
A Core Strategy should be in accordance with the Council’s Community Strategy. This separately identifies initiatives 'for promoting or improving the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of the area and contributing to the achievement of sustainable development'. Each local authority should work with the voluntary sector, private sector, and local people to agree it’s content but the extent to which it reflects heritage considerations varies widely.
Individual local planning authorities are at different stages in this statutory process and you will need to enquire what juncture your local authority has reached. There are a number of formal stages to influence the content of the plan prior to adoption, however if plan had been formally adopted many of the big decisions will usually have already been made. Your influence becomes more limited but the plan will be subject to periodic review when the policies can be updated and a further round of public consultation will ensue.
Development management uses the apparatus of planning applications and planning enforcement to proactively manage development opportunities not just to control the effects of unrestricted development. The aim is to facilitate the creation of sustainable developments and the creation of places and buildings that will lead to improvements in the social, environmental and economic wellbeing of the area.
The number of planning applications and the efficiency with which there are dealt with by local authorities varies considerably, but government expects as many un-contentious planning applications as possible to be decided by delegated decisions by planning officers.
Planning applications, including e.g. works to listed buildings requiring listed building consent must be advertised on the Council’s website, in a newspaper circulating in the locality in which the application relates, and by a by site notice. You then have 21 days within which you can comment, although the planning authority is only obliged to consider representations relevant to planning and or heritage considerations.