©2003

National Organisation of Residents Associations

 
 
 

NORA Response to Technical Consultation on Planning

 
































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































 


Introduction

You will find enclosed the promised hard copy of the NORA response to the Consultation Paper on Technical Consultation on Planning. It has been widely circulated and supported by NORA members. NORA members view with increasing alarm the steady apparently inexorable increase in power granted to developers, both private companies and individual householders, by increasing their Permitted Development Rights. It has the clear effect of reducing the influence of the community and the elected members of Local Planning Authorities on matter of planning. This policy of extending Permitted Development Rights is surely the antithesis of the government policy of localism.

Government's concern to reduce unnecessary legislation considered to be restraining on development is supported, but, when the effect is leading to undesirable proposals in the wrong place, there is resistance and anger by those seeing deterioration in their environment over which they have had no influence.

This is further aggravated by the failure of local government to recognise the importance of enforcement, with the result that this facility is underfunded, understaffed and treated as the Cinderella of the planning system. If ever more Permitted Development Rights are granted, who will ensure that the specified pre-conditions are observed and implemented?

I hope these sentiments are conveyed by this response.



N.B. The following red text details the answers to the specific questions put in the Consultation Paper. To understand fully the background to the questions it may be helpful to consult the original Consultation Paper.

Neighbourhood planning

Time limit for taking decisions on the designation of a neighbourhood area

Question 1.1: Do you agree that regulations should require an application for a neighbourhood area designation to be determined by a prescribed date? We are interested in the views of local planning authorities on the impact this proposal may have on them.

Yes.
Some Local Planning Authorities (LPA) take an inordinate length of time to determine Neighbourhood Area Designation often giving no reasons except shortage of staffing or complexity of issues, which delay the whole process unreasonably.

Question 1.2: If a prescribed date is supported do you agree that this should apply only where:

i) the boundaries of the neighbourhood area applied for coincide with those of an existing parish or electoral ward; and
ii) there is no existing designation or outstanding application for designation, for all or part of the area for which a new designation is sought?

Yes.

Question 1.3: If a date is prescribed, do you agree that this should be 10 weeks (70 days) after a valid application is made? If you do not agree, is there an alternative time period that you would propose?

No.
The period should be six weeks, comparable with the ideal time designated for the determination of planning applications. Extensions should be permissible for the Christmas-New Year closure and for the August recess.

Question 1.4: Do you support our proposal not to change the period of six weeks in which representations can be made on an application for a neighbourhood area to be designated? If you do not, do you think this period should be shorter? What alternative time period would you propose?

Yes.
The current 21 days for responses to planning applications is often too short. Neighbourhood Plans clearly affect many more residents and businesses than a planning application, so the six weeks period is appropriate.

Question 1.5: We are interested in views on whether there are other stages in the neighbourhood planning process where time limits may be beneficial. Where time limits are considered beneficial, we would also welcome views on what might be an appropriate time period for local planning authority decision taking at each stage.

No comment.

Pre-submission consultation

Question 1.6: Do you support the removal of the requirement in regulations for a minimum of six weeks consultation and publicity before a neighbourhood plan or Order is submitted to a local planning authority?

No.
There must be ample time for all those likely to be affected by the proposed Plan to have the time to study the proposals and decide whether or not to register any comments or concerns. Any shorter period of time especially at holiday times could unfairly affect residents and businesses.

Question 1.7: Do you agree that responsibility for publicising a proposed neighbourhood plan or Order, inviting representations and notifying consultation bodies ahead of independent examination should remain with a local planning authority? If you do not agree, what alternative proposals do you suggest, recognising the need to ensure that the process is open, transparent and robust?

Yes.
The LPA would ensure a proper consultation and even though it may place an extra burden on the LPA, it will parallel the system already in place that allows for appropriate examination of planning applications. It should avoid criticisms that might otherwise arise were other bodies to undertake the task and possibly omit adequate opportunities for those affected by the proposals.

Consulting landowners

Question 1.8: Do you agree that regulations should require those preparing a neighbourhood plan proposal to consult the owners of sites they consider may be affected by the neighbourhood plan as part of the site assessment process? If you do not agree, is there an alternative approach that you would suggest that can achieve our objective?

Yes.
It must be so as with any planning application. Also residents adjacent to areas designated for development and relevant active residents associations must be included in the consultation process.

Question 1.9: If regulations required those preparing a neighbourhood plan proposal to consult the owners of sites they consider may be affected by the neighbourhood plan as part of the site assessment process, what would be the estimated cost of that requirement to you or your organisation? Are there other material impacts that the requirement might have on you or your organisation? We are also interested in your views on how such consultation could be undertaken and for examples of successful approaches that may have been taken.

The costs are unknown to us but they surely would be comparable to the costs of the current regime for consultation for individual planning applications.

Introducing an additional basic condition to test the extent of consultation

Question 1.10: Do you agree with the introduction of a new statutory requirement (basic condition) to test the nature and adequacy of the consultation undertaken during the preparation of a neighbourhood plan or Order? If you do not agree, is there an alternative approach that you would suggest that can achieve our objective?

No.
Whilst a check on the adequacy of the consultation process might be desirable, it is difficult to see how this would work. It is likely to be costly and engage much time of planning officers, who, because of staff reductions, are already seriously stretched to provide the necessary service for planning applications.

Strategic Environmental Assessment

Question 1.11: Do you agree that it should be a statutory requirement that either: a statement of reasons, an environmental report, or an explanation of why the plan is not subject to the requirements of the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive must accompany a neighbourhood plan proposal when it is submitted to a local planning authority?

Yes.
A Neighbourhood Plan may lead to a significant effect on the environment in terms of loss of amenity such as noise, pollution, loss of the natural features, etc., and when this is a serious possibility one or other of the recommendations merit inclusion in the proposals.

Question 1.12: Aside from the proposals put forward in this consultation document are there alternative or further measures that would improve the understanding of how the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004 apply to neighbourhood plans? If there are such measures should they be introduced through changes to existing guidance, policy or new legislation?

No comment.

Further measures

Question 1.13: We would like your views on what further steps we and others could take to meet the Government's objective to see more communities taking up their right to produce a neighbourhood plan or neighbourhood development order. We are particularly interested in hearing views on:

stages in the process that are considered disproportionate to the purpose, or any unnecessary requirements that could be removed
how the shared insights from early adopters could support and speed up the progress of others
whether communities need to be supported differently
innovative ways in which communities are funding, or could fund, their neighbourhood planning activities.

One serious problem arises when there is conflict between a Parish or Town Council and a Neighbourhood Forum in which the Council refuses to agree to allow the Forum to proceed. An independent appeal mechanism should resolve this dispute and avoid continuing ill-will.

Question 1.14: Are there any further comments that you wish to make in response to this section?

No.

Reducing planning regulations to support housing, high streets and growth

Would you like to respond to the consultation on reducing planning regulations to support housing, high streets and growth?

Yes.
A key issue, that appears to be absent from this Consultation Paper, is the importance of ensuring a 'good standard of amenity'. One of the twelve Core Planning Principles in the National Planning Policy Framework is: 'always seek to secure high quality design and a good standard of amenity for all existing and future occupants of land and buildings', a principle we have understood to be a vital planning concept, which had always to be considered in weighing its importance against whatever development proposal was being considered. There is no clear definition of 'a good standard of amenity', but it needs to include the environment in which the proposals are to take place.

The amenity of those likely to occupy the development as well as those adjacent to it needs to be considered in the assessment of any development. Accordingly in considering residential development this may include supporting facilities needed by residents such as access to shopping, schools, medical services, open space, etc. It is generally a matter left to the discretion of planning committees when respondents to a planning application claim a loss of amenity with a change of use or the failure of a developer of new build to provide a good standard of amenity.

This principle is always important when LPAs determine planning applications, so it is surprising that these proposals reducing planning regulations restrict the LPA's prior approval matters to 'visual amenity, highways and transport, traffic management, noise levels and flooding risks' in reference to permitted development with prior approval (para. 2.14) and to 'transport and highways impacts, contamination risks, flooding risks and the design and external appearance of the building' in reference to changes of use. 'A good standard of amenity' is not mentioned, and the serious problem of noise (2.37) is omitted in reference to changes of use.

It is the failure to include this issue in the proposals that has led to the cogent criticism of this chapter on de-regulation of the planning process, a regime that has hitherto been responsible for maintaining the high standard of decision making by LPAs. It gives added weight to the view that this further de-regulation continues the apparent inexorable process of diminishing the influence of residents and increasing the power of developers in the planning process. It is in conflict with the government's promise to support localism and give more power to the community.

Increasing Housing Supply

Question 2.1: Do you agree that there should be permitted development rights for:

(i) light industrial (B1(c)) buildings and
(ii) storage and distribution (B8) buildings to change to residential (C3) use?

No.
Residential accommodation is not just the provision of space for residence. Sustainable communities need a variety of supporting elements such as appropriate transport services, shopping facilities, schools, medical services, and open space for recreation. Most of the particular premises quoted are sited on industrial or business parks, which lack these facilities. Furthermore the adjacent remaining commercial facilities are highly likely to prove unacceptable to residents on several grounds including noise especially at night, traffic, malodours, waste collection, etc.

Accordingly planning applications should be required for changes of use from Class B1(c) and B8. On the rare occasions that the sites are appropriate, relevant planning applications would surely be supported and granted without delay.

Question 2.2: Should the new permitted development right:

(i) include a limit on the amount of floor space that can change use to residential
(ii) apply in Article 1(5) land i.e. land within a National Park, the Broads, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, an area designated as a conservation area, and land within World Heritage Sites and
(iii) should other issues be considered as part of the prior approval, for example the impact of the proposed residential use on neighbouring employment uses?

(i) limit on floor space........................... Yes.
(ii) apply in Article 1(5) land ................. Yes.
(iii) other prior approval issues .......... Yes.

If this permitted development right were granted, all these matters would be appropriately covered by adequate and rigorous prior approval provided 'a good standard of amenity' was included in the assessment.

On the other hand these matters would also be properly covered were planning consent required.

Anyway Article 1(5) land should not be included in permitted development rights, since the land is protected in order to ensure its use and appearance are appropriate to its designation such as 'Conservation Area, etc.'

Question 2.3: Do you agree that there should be permitted development rights, as proposed, for laundrettes, amusement arcades/centres, casinos and nightclubs to change use to residential (C3) use and to carry out building work directly related to the change of use?

No.
When amusement arcades, casinos and nightclubs sited in shopping streets fall into dis-use, there are few alternative commercial uses that might be suitable, so conversion to residential use might be considered. Internal changes to the premises may be feasible and acceptable, but Building Regulations will still need to be observed. External changes to the premises might be damaging to the environment and amenity of adjacent properties, so involvement of planning officers would be wise. On the other hand serious traffic problems could well arise were residents to own vehicles in areas without adequate parking facilities.

The inclusion of launderettes is curious. These are usually to be found either in residential areas or in shopping streets, usually of a size of a retail unit, so it comes as a surprise to find they are graded as 'sui generis' and not in Use Class A1.

They are of direct benefit to the aged and poorer members of the community, and should conversion to residential use be commercially profitable, it would be wrong to facilitate or encourage this change of use. On the other hand, should they cease to be used by residents, they do not need to be granted a permitted development right, since the granting of planning consent should enjoy the same consideration given to premises in Use Class A1.

Question 2.4: Should the new permitted development right include:

(i) a limit on the amount of floor space that can change use to residential and
(ii) a prior approval in respect of design and external appearance?

Yes.
If this permitted development right is granted, prior approval is essential to consider the impact on adjacent users of a large premises becoming residential in a particular area, and certainly any changes in external appearance should be open to management by planning officers and to representations by neighbouring concerns. But this should include amenity value as well.

As explained in the response to Question 2.1 the Core Principle of 'seeking to secure.....a good standard of amenity for all existing and future occupants of land and buildings' is essential in deciding whether commercial premises should be permitted to change to residential use. The planning process is specifically designed to try to ensure that the interests of developers and others are dealt with in a fair and reasonable manner.

The weight given to ensuring a 'good standard of amenity' in relation to meeting the 'demand for housing' cannot be impartially assessed by the developer, and it needs the involvement of the relevant community and the relevant LPA. Furthermore the success or otherwise of the temporary measure due to end in May 2016 has yet to be assessed, so it is premature to consider perpetuating it for ever. No data has been provided to indicate how useful the de-regulation has been.

Accordingly if this permitted development right is to be granted, prior approval is essential for this to happen, and the factors to be considered by LPAs listed in 2.42 "highways and transport," etc. are insufficient because they omit the consideration of amenity and the potential impact on neighbours.

Question 2.5: Do you agree that there should be a permitted development right from May 2016 to allow change of use from offices (B1(a)) to residential (C3)?

No.
Again no evidence has been provided about the demand for this facility. The media report that Councils in London have introduced Article 4 Directions to prevent the change, where no doubt with the high price of housing such changes could be highly profitable but at the expense of the vitality of their commercial areas. No evidence that this would be useful in the provinces has been published to support this proposal.

In many towns and cities upper floors above retail outlets have been successfully converted into small flats, especially for residents without cars. Turning whole commercial buildings into residential use without adequate parking facilities will cause traffic problems. If parking is provided, it will add to the congestion already present in most towns and cities, and conflict with local planning policies restricting vehicular access to town and city centres with the aim of reducing congestion and pollution.

Question 2.6: Do you have suggestions for the definition of the prior approval required to allow local planning authorities to consider the impact of the significant loss of the most strategically important office accommodation within the local area?

Yes.
If this proposal is enacted prior approval must include assessment whether the change of use will provide 'a good standard of amenity' to include noise, traffic, access to medical care and to schooling.

Question 2.7: Do you agree that the permitted development rights allowing larger extensions for dwelling houses should be made permanent?

No.
No evidence has been provided to support that this change has been helpful. We do not know how many extensions have been built as a result of this permitted development, how many led to representations by neighbours, how many required considerable efforts by LPAs to resolve differences, nor how much time was spent by LPAs on prior approvals in comparison with the time that would have been spent on planning applications.

Representations are restricted just to adjoining neighbours, which excludes those living on sloping ground whereby an extension can loom over houses at lower levels. This omission could result in conflict between neighbours, a problem that would not arise if this restriction was removed and representation allowed to all residents likely to be affected by extensions.

Supporting a mixed and vibrant high street

Question 2.8: Do you agree that the shops (A1) use class should be broadened to incorporate the majority of uses currently within the financial and professional services (A2) use class?

Yes.

Question 2.9: Do you agree that a planning application should be required for any change of use to a betting shop or a pay day loan shop?

Yes.

Question 2.10: Do you have suggestions for the definition of pay day loan shops, or on the type of activities undertaken, that the regulations should capture?

No.

Question 2.11: Do you agree that there should be permitted development rights for:

(i) A1 and A2 premises and
(ii) laundrettes, amusement arcades/centres, casinos and nightclubs to change use to restaurants and cafés (A3)?

No.
Changes of the use of premises to Use Class A3 in moderation can be acceptable in shopping streets, but some control on the proportion of premises in Use Class A3 is essential in order to avoid damaging the image of the shopping street as a shopping street. This is particularly the case in towns and cities with streets that have only a small number of retail premises, whereby a dramatic change of the whole street and area can result, so that it is no longer a shopping street.

In addition some control on the hours of opening is required particularly in areas of mixed use where there are residents living in the vicinity especially when they occupy flats above the premises. Accordingly were permitted development rights granted to premises in Use Class A1 and A2, an option to control hours of use must be included.

We are aware that premises seeking premises licences for the sale of alcohol would, however, be subject to control of hours to which representations can be made.

Another sequel to the appearance of cafés and restaurants in a shopping street is the addition of pavement seating that follows should the width of pavements be adequate. The whole ambience of the street will change if too many shops acquire Use Class A3 status and include pavement seating, and this can damage adjacent retail trade.

On the other hand changes from casinos, night clubs and amusement arcades might be an improvement, but again it depends on their siting and their size. Launderettes are a different matter, since they may be in close association with residential dwellings. There could be noise and nuisance in the evenings especially if pavement seating were to appear, which would disturb the peace and quiet they enjoy.

In order to ensure that the environment is respected involvement of the LPA and the community is essential. This is either achieved by planning applications or prior approval by the LP with adequate provision for the community to represent its views.

Question 2.12: Do you agree that there should be permitted development rights for A1 and A2 uses, laundrettes, amusement arcades/centres and nightclubs to change use to assembly and leisure (D2)?

Yes and No.
Yes.
We regard amusement arcades, casinos and nightclubs as leisure facilities, so we see no obvious reason why they should not be able to change the style of their leisure facility.

No.
But launderettes are a different matter for the reasons expressed in the answers to Questions 2.3 and 2.11. Unless they are no longer required by residents, it is unwise to facilitate or encourage changes to leisure facilities. If they are in residential areas introducing activity out of normal shopping hours could cause considerable nuisance to residents from noise of people and noise of traffic in areas that are normally peaceful and quiet.

Supporting retail facilities

Question 2.13: Do you agree that there should be a permitted development right for an ancillary building within the curtilage of an existing shop?

Yes.
This proposal is supported provided the conditions listed in paragraph 2.74 are imposed. Without these condition problems will arise.

An ancillary building may or may not be appropriate because the siting of existing shops is so variable. Where they are detached it may be practical but its relationship to adjacent properties may be important. Where the shops are in terraces, such uncontrolled development could cause havoc.

Where the shops are on an out-of-town-centre site, such extensions if used for extra sales as distinct from providing 'click-and-collect' services, there may be a harmful effect on high street retail outlets, which would be contrary to the stated policy of these proposals.

Question 2.14: Do you agree that there should be a permitted development right to extend loading bays for existing shops?

Yes.
Provided the conditions listed in paragraph 2.75 are included there is no concern.

If they are not included, the argument against this proposal is the same argument explained in the answer to Question 2.13, and it is repeated here.

The extension of loading bays may or may not be appropriate because the siting of existing shops is so variable. Where they are detached it may be practical but its relationship to adjacent properties may be important. Where the shops are in terraces, such uncontrolled development could cause havoc.

Where the shops are on an out-of-town-centre site, such extensions if used for extra sales as distinct from providing 'click-and-collect' services, there may be a harmful effect on high street retail outlets, which would contrary to the stated policy of these proposals.

Accordingly some control of this proposal is needed. The options are still to retain LPA control either by planning applications or prior approval,

Question 2.15: Do you agree that the permitted development right allowing shops to build internal mezzanine floors should be increased from 200 square metres?

No.
If this proposal could be restricted to properties in town and city centres then it might be acceptable, but to allow out-of-town-centre stores to double their sales area would be disastrous for many central shopping areas. It would conflict with the policy of supporting town and city centre shopping.

Question 2.16: Do you agree that parking policy should be strengthened to tackle on-street parking problems by restricting powers to set maximum parking standards?

No.
A major concern for most town and city centres is traffic congestion and its attendant pollution, and it is this that has led to control of town and city centre parking.

Surely where this is the case, it is the park-and-ride (P&R) service that needs to be encouraged and subsidized to persuade shoppers to leave their cars outside the town and city centres. P&R sites outside towns should provide information and toilet facilities to make them an attraction.

The problem is not universal, so in many towns and cities there may be room for extra parking facilities In some there is no room for a multi-storey car park and a P&R solution is not feasible, so access to cars is vital to ensure viability of the retail facility. If this provision is abused, however, it will only introduce the serious problems of congestion and pollution to places that are free of these problems.

In view of this variability, it is surely wise to leave Parking Policies to LPAs. If the recent Consultation Paper on The Right to Challenge Parking Policy is agreed and implemented, it would entitle the local residents and businesses to seek changes where the relevant policy merits revision.

Supporting growth

Question 2.17: Do you agree that there should be a new permitted development right for commercial film and television production?

No.
This gives an unacceptable degree of intrusion, temporary development and public nuisance - noise, traffic, and obstruction - that could seriously affect the viability and vitality of crucial areas of retail activity and damage residential amenity.

Accordingly it is essential that LPAs retain the power to grant and manage or to refuse any facility sought by the visual media in their area.

Question 2.18: Do you agree that there should be a permitted development right for the installation of solar PV up to 1MW on the roof of non-domestic buildings?

Yes.
This is approved provided the conditions listed are mandatory.

Question 2.19: Do you agree that the permitted development rights allowing larger extensions for shops, financial and professional services, offices, industrial and warehouse buildings should be made permanent?

Yes.
This is approved provided the listed conditions are mandatory.

Question 2.20: Do you agree that there should be a new permitted development right for waste management facilities to replace buildings, equipment and machinery?

Yes.

Question 2.21: Do you agree that permitted development rights for sewerage undertakers should be extended to include equipment housings?

Yes.

Question 2.22: Do you have any other comments or suggestions for extending permitted development rights?

No.

Implementing the proposals

Question 2.23: Do you have any evidence regarding the costs or benefits of the proposed changes or new permitted development rights, including any evidence regarding the impact of the proposal on the number of new betting shops and pay day loan shops, and the costs and benefits, in particular new openings in premises that were formerly A2, A3, A4 or A5?

No.

Article 4 Directions

Question 2.24: Do you agree:

(i) that where prior approval for permitted development has been given, but not yet implemented, it should not be removed by subsequent Article 4 direction and

No.

(ii) should the compensation regulations also cover the permitted development rights set out in the consultation?

No.
These proposals place unfair burden on LPAs and in effect on the council taxpayer, and they should not be pursued.

Question 2.25: Are there any further comments that you wish to make in response to this section?

Yes.
NORA members have two important concerns with the current planning regime.

They wish to register their serious concern that the balance of power in the equation of developers, LPAs and the community is slowly becoming weighted too heavily in the direction of developers and denying the community an appropriate level of involvement in the planning process.

It reduces the ability of LPAs and the community to ensure that all development provides 'a good standard of amenity'. Short-term expedient decisions can have a disastrous effect, and it is the long-term vision that must be considered and respected. Accordingly it is vital that we protect our environment in the interests of our descendants.

The second concern is the failure of most LPAs to ensure that the local enforcement facility is adequate to meet the need. With cogent conditions on Permitted Development Rights and important provisos limiting the Rights, who is to monitor the regime?

The Enforcement Service appears to be regarded as the Cinderella of the planning system. It is under-funded, under-staffed and under-resourced. Reliance on the public to report apparent breaches of the planning system may be essential, but if enforcement officers cannot attend to such reports because they do not have the time to do so, what's the point of all the careful and time-consuming planning of our planners?


3. Would you like to respond to the consultation on improving the use of planning conditions?

No.

4.Would you like to respond to the consultation on planning application process improvements?

No.

5.Would you like to respond to the consultation on Environmental Impact Assessment Thresholds?

No.

6. Would you like to respond to the consultation on streamlining consents for nationally significant infrastructure projects?

No.

September 2014