Will the council fight our corner on a planning appeal?

PROPERTY CLINIC: Will the council fight our corner when a planning application we’re battling goes to appeal?

  • Residents fought off planning application for unsuitable new housing
  • The developer is now appealing in a bid to get the application through 
  • Same planning officers who fought for consent now arguing against the appeal

My local residents’ group successfully fought off a planning application for a new housing development in our area.

The council’s planning officers said it should be approved, but the planning committee took on board our concerns and refused it.

The developer is now appealing to the Government and the council’s case will be made by the same planning officers who thought it should be approved in the first place.

How can we be sure the council will fight our corner when its officers supported the development?

How can residents be sure the council will fight their corner when its officers supported the new development?

MailOnline Property expert Myra Butterworth replies: The planning process can appear to be heavily stacked again residents.

Here, we have the same planning officers who fought for consent being asked to argue the case against the development now it is going to appeal. This seems to be deeply flawed.

We speak to a planning expert about whether there is anything residents can do to make sure that the council has their backs.

Their suggestions include keeping in contact with the case officer, who will manage the appeal on behalf of the council. 

Martin Gaine, a chartered town planner, replies: Planning is a messy business and one of many anomalies is that planning officers in a council assess planning applications and make recommendations, but the final decision rests with elected councillors on the planning committee.

If the committee refuses an application that the planner supported, and the developer appeals to the Government, the same planner is expected to defend the appeal, making opposite arguments to the ones they presented in the report they wrote for the committee and made in person at the committee meeting.

When I was a case officer in councils, it was a mark of shame to have a recommendation overturned at committee and I went to great lengths to avoid it.

Now that I am a private planning consultant, I often submit appeals that highlight the contradiction in the positions taken by the planning committee and the council’s own planning experts.

This is all very frustrating for neighbours who object to a proposal. They won the first battle – the application was refused – but it will be a hollow victory if planning permission is granted at appeal.

So how best to fight the appeal, and to ensure that the council makes a strong submission supporting their reasons for refusal?

Any representations made by neighbours at planning application stage will be provided to the inspector (the person who decides the appeal), so there is no need to repeat earlier objections.

Consider whether there is anything else you wish to add to your initial comments and read the developer’s Appeal Statement to see if they have made new arguments to which you wish to respond.

Remember that planning objections must be carefully drafted – they should be thoughtful, focused and based on valid planning considerations. Don’t rant or get angry or personal – stick to the relevant (planning) facts. Long, rambling letters are not effective.

It is a good idea to engage with the planning committee members. They chose to refuse the application against officer advice and must take responsibility for ensuring that the council makes a strong case at appeal.

They cannot just assume they have done their duty and need not have any further involvement.

Remind them that if the council does not make a robust argument, it may be held liable to pay the developer’s appeal costs.

Keep in contact with the case officer, who will manage the appeal on behalf of the council. You might also work with other consultees (the highways authority, conservation officer, tree officer, parish council) to chivvy them into making strong representations.

You are entitled to attend the inspector’s site visit – email the inspectorate and ask to be notified of it.

If you are concerned that a development impacts your property directly, you can invite the inspector to view the site from your house or garden.

If you are especially concerned about the impact of a proposed development and determined to see it refused permission, seek professional advice from a planning consultant.

  • Martin Gaine is a chartered town planner and author of ‘How to Get Planning Permission – An Insider’s Secrets

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