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Permission Impossible

Last week saw the return of a BBC documentary looking into the planning system. This time re-branded as Permission Impossible (previous incarnations included ‘The Planners are Coming’)… So how did it fare?

The show saw the return of a number of familiar faces from local authorities, a new group of objectors and several groups of committee members.

Groups of members?!?

Panels perhaps?

But, for such a unique collective of power in local planning there should be a proper plural, as in a Murder of Crows or a School of Sharks…

For it was witnessed throughout the show how much power rests in the hands of the elected members and during a government that brought in the Localism Act that would seem to stand to reason. My only reservation would be on what basis were the Councillors making decisions that overruled those of the qualified planning professionals working for the Council?

Which brings me on to the ‘familiar faces’ of the Council planners! Never in all the years that I worked for local authorities did I once seen the head of planning, that’s right the HEAD of planning, consider any planning applications, let alone a change of use from a former agricultural plot to a builder’s yard. Roll the camera, dust off the scale rule, they were all at it!

What the show did highlight was that a minority can be very vocal and very organised in their objections to applications. I don’t dispute the distress that some will experience, but as the founder of Redrow Homes said on the show, “we build homes for the objectors of tomorrow”. Everyone is anxious to protect their assets and, for many, the most valuable is our homes. More understanding is needed; we can’t as a country continue as we are because more people means that more houses are needed, we can not allow home ownership to fall into the category of being only available to a privilege few.

The balance between backing a developer or satisfying objectors will never be easily achieved and the job of a Council planner is to judge each proposal on its consistency with adopted policy (with a little help from a carefully worded planning statement by yours truly). In contentious cases their job is then to make recommendations to the planning committee. The Councillors however are elected to represent their constituents and this is where the task of whether to accept a contentious recommendation to grant becomes much harder. It is sometimes going to be a case of voting with either head or heart. Like a Wisdom of Wombats or a Parliament of Owls…

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