Planning, Passion, Patience and Pedantry
The proposed National Planning Policy Framework is causing a certain amount of uproar in local government circles. However, the debate over big national issues, important as it is, sometimes means we miss the smaller day to day debates and activities of the average local authority planning committee which will interpret this Framework which local people might end up relying on. Thankfully, for those who are interested we have a guest post from a dispassionate observer of just such a committee; yes, the committee clerk.
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In my first job in the Committee section of a now defunct District Council I, like most clerks, cut my teeth writing the minutes for thePlanning Committee.
I can’t pretend that what I learnt by sitting listening to hours of discussion, debate and derision, has left me with an expert knowledge in planning policy but it did give me a number of interesting insights and an appreciation for our system that I’ll share here.
Before I start, and in the context of the National Planning Policy Framework debate currently raging like corn fire caught by a changingwind, I’d better acknowledge that we need to find a strategy for meeting our development needs. However, like all officers subject to political restrictions I won’t say whether my views are positive or negative on the Governments proposals.
What I have learnt is that planning issues engage the public like no other issue.
However, nearly all the time this is fuelled by negative desires.
You try and build something that people don’t want in their street then most of the street will turn up to tell you about it. Only once do I remember a member of the public (where there were neither the applicant nor their agent) turning up to a planning committee to talk in support of an application.
I have never seen a community more galvanized than the villagers who over months and months of campaigning which included making handmade signs and dressing up as crayfish got a planning application for executive homes in their quiet valley turned down.
Getting the public to engage positively in planning issues is far more difficult and requires much more input from the outside.
Planning excites passion.
The other thing I learnt from sitting in development control committees is that Planning Officers are monumental pedants. I’m a committee clerk so I should know one when I see one. I can remember sitting in a planning committee losing the will to live as a planning officer explained why we should care what shape the lintel of a door of a new house in a conservation area was.
This was at 10:43pm and I was fast losing the will to live. I could see the security guard taking my name in vain after I had promised him that we’d be out by half past ten. Whether it was through the weight of his argument backed with evidence or simply by attrition, the Planning Officer got his way and the applicant, reluctantly was obliged to pay a little more to put in a door more in keeping with the houses around him.
I should say that not all pedantry is necessarily bad and I have grown to appreciate my planning pedant colleagues. Months later I was walking though a different village and looking at new house built in a beautiful village in the Cotswolds. It was built to a high specification with good quality materials but it jarred with the houses around it because the windows and doors, whilst not shoddy, were a different design to its neighbours.
I hope that the debate of the National Planning Policy Framework results in an improved system that meets our needs. However, I hope that we don’t forget that sometimes good planning needs time, patience and pedantry.
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