Town Planning…how to find your way through it all

There’s a lot of advice available regarding Town Planning, thousands of pages dedicated to what can be perceived as red tape but with a lot of jargon and confusing details. In general, they don’t tend to cover what you need to know in simple terms. This article for Wynyard Matters has been written by Helen Heward Associate at Planning House (& Wynyard Resident) to provide valuable information in order for people to be better informed about the planning process without being bogged down by unnecessary waffle.

Town planning can be seen as ‘red tape’ however it is what controls how we build our neighbourhoods, it sets guidelines to make sure developments do not have adverse effects on their surroundings. It also protects listed buildings – buildings that we have deemed important to heritage, culture and history. Basically, it seeks to manage development to minimise impact.

The National Planning Policy Framework, with supporting Planning Practice Guidance provides guidance for how Local Plans should be made and how planning decisions should be taken.

The planning function is controlled by different bodies at varying levels dependant on where you are. Town planning is mostly handled by local government. Typically, local government has three tiers:

  • County Councils;
  • District, Borough and City Councils;
  • Parish and Town Councils. Applications and all planning matters are handled by the relevant Local Planning Authority, for Wynyard this is either Stockton or Hartlepool Council depending on your location.

The process of a planning application is relatively simple it’s the potential issues involved which sometimes aren’t. Once an application is submitted, it goes through a validation process whereby the Local Authority ensures all the required information accompanies the application and plans are accurate. Then the process of consultation is carried out where neighbours and various Council departments and external bodies, such as the Environment Agency or Highways England are notified and given a minimum of 21 days to respond. For some applications, depending on the type of development, site and press notices are posted which you may have seen on lampposts.

Planning applications must be determined in accordance with the development plan unless material planning considerations indicate otherwise. The Local Authority have set timeframes in which they should determine applications, for instance; 8 weeks to determine minor applications, such as an extension to a home or 13-16 weeks for major applications. However, these timeframes can be extended with or without the agreement of the applicant. Often however are agreed where amended plans are submitted or additional information is required and further consultation is needed.

Decisions on planning applications can be made either under delegated powers, which means that Planning Officers make a recommendation and it is signed off by a Team Leader or Manager, or by Planning Committee. Planning Committees are made up of elected members (Ward Councillors) from across the Borough who assess planning applications in public meetings and vote to determine the application. These decisions are informed by a Planning Officer report, members can, and sometimes do, go against officer recommendation and this is their democratic right.

If your application is refused don’t despair, there is a statutory right to appeal against refusals of planning applications or if unacceptable conditions are imposed, however this is only open to the applicant. An appeal can also be lodged if the Local Authority do not determine the application within the agreed time. Be aware that there is no third party right of appeal, this means that an objector cannot appeal against an approval. Appeals are handled by the Planning Inspectorate on behalf of the Secretary of State and determined by Planning Inspectors who are independent from the Local Planning Authority.

Following the grant of planning permission an applicant may have conditions that they have to comply with. It’s essential to know what conditions are attached, what they cover and how they can be complied with. In some cases, a further application may be required to be submitted with additional information to formally discharge a condition. This could be anything from drainage details or details of external materials for a new house or extension up to details of landscaping, play areas or car parking for a larger development. Not discharging or adhering to planning conditions means the applicant is in breach of their planning condition and enforcement action could be progressed by the Local Authority. A Breach of Condition Notice could be served which would require compliance to the condition. However, breaching a pre-commencement condition (a condition which prevents a start on site until a condition has been adhered to), could render your whole permission as null and void.

Planning conditions cannot be imposed to secure financial contributions or relate to land outside of the application site boundary. Sometimes a decision can be subject to a legal agreement, often referred to as a section 106 agreement. These agreements often, but not always, secure financial contributions towards works in order to make a scheme acceptable. For example, housing developments may be required to contribute towards provision or improvements to cycle links, highway works or sports facilities.

Prior to a planning application both Stockton and Hartlepool Borough Council operate a pre-application enquiry service where you can ask for planning advice regarding a proposed development, some Council’s charge for this service. There are many benefits to engaging with the Local Authority before submitting an application, for example if an issue is identified early this can give an opportunity for amendments to be made to overcome any problems at formal application stage, ultimately avoid delays and wasted expense.

Town Planning is not rocket science, to help you know the basics of town planning, Planning House have prepared eBooklets covering just that, the Basics. If you want to look further into a particular topic more information can be found online very easily. These resources have been prepared as an easy read starting point, free of charge, no email collection before you can download and no sign up to a newsletter – no strings attached! All you need to do is go to the Planning House website, www.planninghouse.co.uk click the eBooklet and read it. Alternatively, should you wish to speak with a planning consultant please get in touch.

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