The Chelsea Society has responded to the RBKC draft Statement of Community Involvement in Planning.
The draft Statement seeks to explain how the Council will involve local people in planning decisions, but people cannot participate effectively in the planning system unless they have a basic understanding of what town planning is. The draft document assumes that they have that understanding and goes straight into detail, but we consider that the first chapter, or a separate document on the website linked to it, should be a simple explanation of what town planning is, and should contain at least the following information:
Some people think that the Council has power to decide what buildings shall be built, where and when, and has power to require it to be done. In fact, the basic principle in British planning law is that people who own land and buildings are free to use them as they please, and may be restricted from doing so only if that restriction is necessary to give effect to a public interest of sufficient importance to justify that restriction of the owner’s freedom. The powers given to local councils by national government are therefore very limited.
Local councils have to decide how they would like to see the land in their area developed, or not developed, and they have to state their policies in a substantial document called a Local Plan (which is not just a map), but they cannot actually require any development to be done unless they own the land themselves. They have to wait until owners come forward with a development proposal (called a Planning Application) and then decide whether it complies with the policies in the Local Plan.
The elected Councillors then have to consider the application and grant or refuse it. They usually delegate this responsibility to a Committee comprising five or six Councillors, and in the case of less controversial cases they delegate it to their paid officials. If the Council refuse a planning application, the applicant can appeal to an Inspector appointed by national government, but if they grant the application there is no right of appeal for local people. Representative organisations can however apply to participate in planning appeals as a “Rule 6 Party,” which The Chelsea Society did at the Sutton Estate appeal. (It is essential that the Council is not seen by developers to be deterred from refusing applications in appropriate cases by the costs of an appeal).
As RBKC is in Greater London people need to know in what circumstances a planning decision can be taken out of the hands of the Council by the Mayor of London, or by national government.
They also need to know that the Mayor sets targets for the minimum number of dwelling units in the Borough for which permission must be granted in each year, and they need to know by what criteria these targets are set. This has an important effect on planning decisions, for if the targets are not achieved, future refusals of planning permission for dwelling units will effectively be overruled. Chelsea is one of the most densely populated parts of the entire United Kingdom, and there is simply not enough space for the number of dwellings that the Mayor expects to be built. Local people need to know what efforts are being made by their Council, their GLA member, and their MP to get these targets reduced.
Local people also need to know how many of these dwellings will be affordable, and what is the difference between “affordable” and “social” housing.
An additional problem is that many of the dwelling units built in Chelsea will be bought by people who do not live in Chelsea and will keep them empty for most of the year.
Even when writing their Local Plan, the Council are not free to adopt any policy they please. They have to have regard to statutory provisions and case law, and to national and regional guidance, and they have to consult local people. Finally they have to submit their draft Plan to a Public Inquiry conducted by an Inspector appointed by national government. The Council should explain the three layers of planning policy documents – National Planning Policy Framework, London Plan, and Local Plan, and explain “Local Development Schemes” and “Planning Performance Agreements.”
If local people are expected to participate effectively in the planning process they also need to know what constitutes a material planning consideration and what does not, and they need to know what powers the Council does NOT have. They need to know, for example that the Council cannot refuse an application just because one or more applications have already been granted in the same street, and they cannot require permitted work to be done at any particular time. The Council may require the work to be commenced within a particular time limit, but that can be easily circumvented by digging out a bucketful of earth and claiming that the work has commenced. Thereafter there is no time limit and the work may progress intermittently for many years, often disfiguring the street by hoardings and scaffolding. These, and other, deficiencies in planning law need to be addressed with national government, and local people need to know what (if anything) the Council is doing about it.
Local people also need to know what Construction Management Plans and Construction-Traffic Management Plans are, and to what extent a development may be restricted or refused if in the particular location it is impracticable to carry out the work without subjecting local people to an unacceptable diminution in the quality of their lives.
They also need to know what Planning Performance Agreements are, and in what circumstances the Council can be expected to write a Special Planning Document. What are “planning conditions” and what is a “discharge of condition?”
We think that “Planning and Place” is a silly name for the Council’s planning dept. Some changes are necessary at RBKC but this is not one of them.
FOR THE FULL RESPONSE Click here TCS response to draft SCI