Presumption in favour of Development? – Don’t be silly

  • Building Design Expert
  • 5 years ago

It’s quite clear in the current PPG2 document text that there is an automatic presumption against development in the ‘green belt’, with the exception of adherence  to very strict criteria within quite distinct parameters. As hard as that is for some, it is a premise that all planning applications will come up against should they dare open the gate into that field. You could liken it to someone thats been arrested being automatically presumed guilty. The onus is upon them to prove otherwise – and receive their planning consent. What a mixed up world.

So you might therefore consider, and deduce that the opposite is true? If in certain ‘designated’ areas there is automatic presumption against development, then in those other areas there should be the presumption that is in favour of development as a starting point.

Mr and Mrs Jones have, through their retained design professional, submitted a planning application for an extension to their kitchen. Their house is not in a conservation area, it’s certainly not a listed building, and next door but one had a very similar extension approved only last year. What could possibly go wrong?

In this instance – ‘Trees’. When the housing development was first granted consent, not too many years ago; the developer quite rightly agreed with the local planning authority (LPA) that the estate layout would give a reasonably wide berth to the existing mature trees, such that excavations did not disturb their root systems. Consequently these trees became the subject of Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs). Mr and Mrs Jones extension footprint was to impinge on the perceived extent of some TPO’d trees, so, sorry that is the end of the matter as far as the planners are concerned.

A presumption in favour of development would, you might think, initially search for, or at least ask a question of the applicant and agent: Whether under the discovered circumstances they could offer an alternative design solution that might resolve the LPA tree officer’s concerns? If the answer was ‘No’ = Refusal. But at least the discussion the discussion has taken place. Answer ‘Yes’ = a way forward that could conceivably keep all parties happy. But simply asking the initial question seems to be the stumbling block with a large number of LPAs.

The cynics might say that the LPA looks upon Mr and Mrs Jones application for an extension to their home as something so inconsequential that any opportunity to reject the proposal at the earliest hurdle should be grabbed. Because after all that would be far less work. Wouldn’t it? They don’t ‘Get’ that they are in effect playing with peoples lives. Their aspirations. Their dreams. Their right to work hard and seek out the rewards available in our democratic society.

In the end a proposal to use ‘Mini Piles’ and ground beams, rather than a ‘deep trench’ foundation was all that was required to gain an approval. Wasn’t hard was it?

The problem being that planners set themselves up as these god like people who we don’t want to upset for fear of that affecting the outcome of our application. The lay person, and often less experienced professionals don’t realise that they are in fact human and can be questioned and argued with. In fact their standard adopted premise for dealing with applications often means there is no other choice.

Mr and Mrs Smith, on the other hand, had saved up to extend their semi-detached, as two stories onto an area of garden to the side of their property.

Mr and Mrs Smith were quite switched on people. They had produced their own sketch proposals and submitted them as a pre-application enquiry to the LPA. No problem responded the planners. They submitted a formal application thereafter that was summarily refused on the grounds of design. The application was dealt with by a different planning case officer to that of the pre-app!

So when you open the gates into the planning arena make sure you have the thinnest soled shoes in order to detect the land mines that have been strewn.

Could Mr and Mrs Smith’s extension design have been modified to meet the concerns of the planning officer? Yes. Absolutely. Without question.
What was the planning officer’s view on this? – “I saw no way to amend the design such that it would comply with the criteria I had to apply”. – Please pick your own bones from this pile.

Planning officers are not trained in design. Most have trouble in actually reading an architectural drawing. They are therefore not qualified to assess whether a building proposal can be amended. Yet they make sweeping decisions with the stroke of a pen, that can affect peoples lives permanently.

Incidentally, the application was resubmitted with some minor design alterations and planning permission was given. Wasn’t hard was it?

In fact if planning officers would only adopt a glass half full attitude, instead of one that has their glass permanently half empty. Present a co-operative front, rather than one to confront, and get in touch with their ‘positive’ side (they need to discover it first) they could save their authorites so much money in efficiency savings, and massively enhance their own PR all at once.

So send out the sniffer dogs to search for a planning system that has a Presumption in favour of Development? – Don’t be silly!