How to Comment on Planning Applications
A thorough guide to commenting - or objecting - to planning applications
13 November 2014
This article was first published in ‘Visions’, November 2014.
When a planning application appears to affect your life, what can you do about it? Tony Joyce spells out how to make your views known.
With well over 3,000 planning applications being submitted each year to the City Council, most of us will be affected by at least one at some stage. This may be a new and possibly worrying experience, so we hope that the following notes may be of some help. The Planning section on the Council’s website is very helpful and should contain all necessary information, since almost the whole documentation of the planning control system is online these days.
At the outset, it is important to stress that ideally every development proposal, by the time it becomes a formal planning application, should be in a form which is acceptable to the whole community. Local applicants should discuss their needs and plans with their neighbours in advance; institutions and developers should carry out meaningful consultation with residents, local interest groups and other interest¬ed parties. This can alleviate many later problems, lead to a more harmonious outcome and require less complex and expensive control procedures.
The first you may learn of a planning application is a yellow A4 notice posted near the site concerned, stating briefly the nature of the proposal, its reference number and the date by which any comments or objections should be submitted. All city planning applications are also published weekly in lists which may contain 60 or so items, but you can register to receive the details of any applications within a stated distance of a particular address (see the Council’s website). All residents’ associations and other area groups are strongly encouraged to do this. It is a useful safeguard for individuals also.
What’s proposed exactly?
Using the application reference number or the address you should be able to find sufficient detail on the Council’s website to understand exactly what is proposed. If anything is not clear, or if you have difficulty in accessing information online, a duty planning officer at St Aldates Chambers (opposite the Town Hall) should be able to help you. If you have a major anxiety about the impact of the proposed development, it is useful to inform your ward councillor and a member of OCS Planning Group as soon as possible.
How decisions are reached
Only the larger or more contentious applications are automatically taken to Planning Committee. The great majority of applications are decided by the Planning Officers as soon as possible after the closing date for comments. Such applications are shown by the letters DEL at the end of the application number. The application information shows which officer is handling a particular application.
In contentious cases, your councillor, if contacted in good time, may be able to ensure that the application is brought to Planning Committee for full discussion – and you will be able to attend and make your own points. Planning committee members then vote on the proposals, based on the officer’s full report and recommendation.
Grounds for objection
If you consider that some important information, of which you have local knowledge, has been omitted from the application, contact the relevant officer as quickly as possible. Where the pro¬posal directly impacts your own property through overlooking, cutting off im¬portant light or in other ways, invite the officer to call and view the problem. Photographs can often make particular points convincingly.
The City Council has a series of policies relating to development (see Planning Policy on the website). When objecting to a particular proposal, it is important to relate your objection directly to one of these policies if possible, so that a defensible reason can be given for refusal of a planning application. Though the Core Strategy deals with major issues and has revised some policies, most of the policies likely to be relevant to local applications have been retained from the Local Plan 2001/16. The chapter on Core Policies is particularly relevant, but more advice on this may be needed. Chapter 5 on the Historic Environment deals with Listed Buildings and the more stringent restrictions which apply in Conservation areas. One of the Supplementary Planning Documents (for instance on Parking Standards or Balance of Dwellings) may also apply.
On highways issues, it is the County, as highways authority, which is responsible for commenting, but local experience of traffic and parking problems is often very relevant.
If you wish to make a formal objection you may do so by letter, by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by using the Public Access electronic response form. All comments are displayed on the application website, so it is possible to see what other objectors too have said.
If an application goes to Planning Committee and you wish to address them, be aware that the total time allowed is only five minutes and this may need to be shared with any other objector wishing to speak. Try to be as succinct as possible and restrict yourself firmly to the points at issue.