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How to comment effectively on planning applications

Anyone can comment on any planning application, you don’t have to have received a letter from the council inviting you to do so. All Brighton & Hove applications are published in the council’s weekly list at: https://www.brighton-hove.gov.uk/content/planning/planning-applications/weekly-list-planning-applications

 

Getting Started

To start, you need to identify the Scheme

All plans have a reference number consisting of the year it was lodged and a number eg BH (for Brighton and Hove) 2020/09876. This must be quoted in your comment. If you do not already know it, you can find it on the council website under Planning Applications: https://planningapps.brighton-hove.gov.uk/online-applications/.

When you have opened the above link, in the ‘Search for’ box, put in at least part of a street address or key word relating to its location.

For example, entering “Sackville” will bring up the various planning applications for the Sackville Industrial Estate, but entering “Moda”, the name of the developer, will not. It is of course quicker if you already know the reference number. Carry on through the site to find all the relevant documentation.

Understand the Scheme

Make sure you fully understand the application before commenting either in favour or against it

This is easy enough if you are checking your neighbour’s plan for a rear extension, but major schemes can consist of hundreds of documents and plans, often randomly uploaded, and can take many hours of work. In Brighton you can no longer go into the planning office and inspect the paperwork in person, it all has to be done online. Objections, comments or letters of support can also be viewed on the website.

Plans can be difficult to interpret if you are not familiar with dealing with them. If you think the documents do not give enough information for you to be able to decide, or are so badly drawn as to be incomprehensible, write in and say so. The plans should not be accepted unless they are clear and complete.

Be clear

It is important when you comment on line or by a letter that you make it clear whether you are supporting, objecting to, or simply commenting on the application.

If a major scheme is in the pipeline, go to the public exhibitions and ask questions

This will give a quick overview and can either alert you to possible problems or reassure you that the scheme is well designed and appropriate to its location. It is important to check what is not there as well as what is. Do not be hoodwinked by developer’s pretty illustrations!

Keep checking the Applications

Developers sometimes change them mid-stream, and you will not be notified even though you have written in.

Commenting

What you can and can’t say: The council will approve an application unless there are good planning reasons to refuse it. By law, the Council can take only certain matters into account. Raising other issues is therefore a waste of time.

Typical examples of what can be taken into consideration – whether supporting or objecting:

  • Whether the proposal complies with the council’s planning policies (found in the City Plan). If a proposal is in conflict with the City Plan, it should mean certain refusal, but this is often not the case particularly where housing schemes are concerned. The City Plan can be found on the Council website.
  • Whether it complies with national planning policies – particularly the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in relation to housing;
  • Whether the proposed use is suitable for the location;
  • The effect of the development on the character of the neighbourhood;
  • The appearance and size of new buildings (is it over-development, with over-bearing bulk, insufficient open areas, or inappropriate to its neighbours);
  • Whether the works are in keeping with or will adversely affect neighbouring listed buildings or Conservation Areas (CAs). Higher standards apply in CAs which should be “preserved and enhanced” by any new developments. A scheme can adversely affect a CA by being close to it, even if it isn’t actually in it;
  • The nature, detailing (or lack of it) and colours of the building materials to be used;
  • Whether it involves the loss of trees, open land, open aspects, or “garden grabbing”;
  • Whether neighbours will suffer overshadowing, loss of light, overlooking or loss of privacy;
  • Whether there will be an increase in noise and disturbance, eg from traffic or students – but not the noise of the building process itself;
  • Will hazardous materials be involved, or nuisance from smells;
  • Whether there is satisfactory access for disabled people;
  • Adequacy of parking/loading/turning provisions;
  • Will new roadways and accesses be safe for pedestrians and other road users. Objections on these grounds would need technical back up;
  • Will it damage archaeological sites;
  • Previous planning decisions, including appeal decisions.

What cannot be taken into consideration:

  • Loss of a private view; however loss of a view which would adversely affect the residential amenities of a whole area can be a valid ground for objection;
  • Loss of property value – neither your own property nor anyone else’s;
  • Boundary or other disputes between neighbours unless directly related to the application;
  • Loss of trade from competing businesses;
  • Private legal covenants;
  • The identity, motives or previous behaviour of the applicant, or personal circumstances or any other private matter – however much he is known to be a bad hat;
  • The political or religious beliefs of the applicant;
  • Hearsay or gossip about possible future expansion or alternative uses of the site, unless included in the application.

New housing applications

There are particular difficulties in opposing plans that include housing provision as the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) can over-ride the provisions of the City Plan. See our previous article Chasing our tail – Brighton and the NPPF target https://www.brighton-society.org.uk/chasing-our-tail-brighton-the-nppf-housing-target/ for fuller details.

When supporting

Writing in support of a proposal is straightforward enough. Just don’t be bamboozled by a developer into supporting a scheme without fully understanding it! If you are asked ”Do you support cheap good quality housing for all?” and answer Yes, you may find you have supported a wholly inappropriate scheme on the grounds that the developer thinks their scheme provides it.

When objecting

If you want to object to a proposal, and there is other local opposition to it too, be aware that a petition of hundreds of names may be considered as only ONE representation; petitions are really a waste of time. Many copies of a standard letter are also of very limited value.

A minimum of five objections is required before an application qualifies for consideration by the full planning committee – the great majority of applications are determined by council officers under delegated powers. So three letters of objection and a petition might not be enough to avoid a scheme being approved under officers’ delegated powers, without any discussion by the councillors on the planning committee.

Personal letters are the most effective way of making a comment – and if you mean to object, make sure to use the word OBJECT or it may be ignored as a mere comment. Local councillors can be approached for support and to ask for an application to go to the full committee. Applications have an allocated Case Officer, and you can ring or email them to discuss the scheme.

If you leave comments at a public exhibition, for example, do not trust the developer to pass on any objections to the local authority – make sure you do it yourself. They will pass on any support quickly enough.

Major schemes

Objecting to a major scheme takes a great deal of time, effort and watchfulness. The so-called public consultation which developers are obliged to undertake can be a sham, with vital information not available at public exhibitions and artists’ impressions making what will be sunless canyons appear as verdant oases (e.g. the disastrous Circus Street development). If you do not get a satisfactory answer to a valid question at a public consultation, write to the developers and follow it up until you get a reply. Write to the Council once the planning application has been made and highlight your concerns.

Sometimes developers make changes during the planning application process. Objectors are not notified when this happens – you have to keep checking the application on the Council website, and look out for any amended plans and documents. Write in again if something important has changed.

Another thing to be aware of is that the council will not check the technical calculations put forward by the developer. For example, the Brighton Society, acting on a hunch that the over-shadowing effect of the first Anston House proposal had been underestimated, re-calculated it and found that, indeed, the effect had been seriously misrepresented and the shadow cast by the tall buildings would have had a major impact on Preston Park. For major schemes therefore, you may need some level of technical input.

Submit your views

This can be done by using the on line form, by email to:  mailto: Planning.Applications@brighton-hove.gov.uk or by post to the Planning Department, Hove Town Hall, Norton Road, Hove, BN3 4AH.

If you use the council’s website to check the application, you will be directed to the place where you can comment on line – but the space is limited. If you are commenting on a major scheme, and want to make a long comment with images to support your case, you can do it by email to the email address shown above. Remember to quote the application reference number.

All planning applications have a deadline for comments to be lodged. It is of course safest to get your comments lodged in good time, but in practice they will be considered up to immediately before the decision is actually taken. But bear in mind that Planning Officers start to prepare their reports three weeks before the planning committee meetings.

If the application goes to full committee you can watch the proceedings on-line via the following link: https://aisapps.sonicfoundry.com/AuditelScheduler/CreateSchedules/Past/20

Your comment will be published on the website but your name and address will be redacted.

Anonymity

In what we consider to be an excess of zeal, and unlike every other council that we have contacted (Bath, Cambridge, Adur and Worthing, Eastbourne, Lewes and Chichester), the council now redacts all names and addresses from all comments, except the names of organisations, quoting “data protection” (the GDPR – regulations responsible for a lot of nonsense as people hide behind them for administrative convenience). See our previous article https://www.brighton-society.org.uk/council-redaction-policy-is-vulnerable-to-abuse/

It used to be possible to check who was commenting (for or against) a plan which was useful as It made it clear whether people with valid local concerns were involved or whether, as sometimes has happened, developers had distributed postcards, with standard text of support, to all-comers, and “support” has come in from anywhere in the country. In our view, the opinions of local residents should be given high priority. A comment from far away should not carry the same weight as the views of local residents with valid concerns over the impact of a scheme on their immediate surroundings.

And Then

Result

You will not be notified of the result, you will have to check on the council’s website.
If a planning application is turned down, reasons will be given and the applicant has the chance of dealing with the problems and submitting another application. If this happens, the whole process starts again from the beginning – previous objections will not be carried forward and must be sent in again, if they still apply.

Often, the second time around it is all the harder to re-motivate people who feel they have already made their views plain. A policy of attrition can succeed. Developers know this so it is essential to maintain the same level of opposition to unacceptable proposals.

Appeals

If an application is refused, the applicant may appeal. If this happens, objectors to the scheme will be notified, and the procedure then depends on the type of appeal.

A Planning Inspector will be appointed by the Planning Inspectorate (i.e. independent of the local authority) and in due course there may be a hearing, a Public Inquiry, or it may be dealt with on the paperwork. Unless it is a “householder appeal”, anyone can take part even if they did not take part originally. A “householder appeal” is one relating to minor developments to existing dwelling houses. These cases are dealt with on the paperwork, and further evidence is rarely allowed.

Full details of the appeals procedure can be found at: http://www.planninginspectorate.gov.uk/planning/appeals/guidance/guidanceontheappealprocess .

A major reason councils may appear to be feeble in their resistance to unsuitable projects is the cost of being taken to appeal when council budgets are severely strained. Even if the council wins, it will still have to pay its own costs.

Only the original applicant can appeal; objectors cannot appeal against a decision to grant permission. Their only remedy is to challenge the decision in court. The courts will not decide whether the decision was right or wrong, but will rule only on legal issues, such as whether the various planning rules and regulations were properly followed when the application was dealt with. Challenging a planning decision in the courts is difficult and expensive, and needs specialist legal advice.

Good luck!