Are Planning committees getting longer? …or am I just getting older?

John Paschoud

John Paschoud

Cross posted from Love Perry Vale with John Paschoud’s permission:

We had a private meeting of the Council’s Planning committee Chairs tonight, with Cllr Heidi Alexander (who has Planning amongst her Cabinet portfolio), John Miller (the chief Planning officer) and the Planning officers who normally give us advice at committee meetings.

The issue is that some meetings do seem to be lasting a long time, whilst others have very few or very quick cases to deal with. I still think I hold both of the – unofficial – Lewisham records, for conducting the longest (until way after the pubs closed, at 11pm then) and the shortest (about 7 minutes, I think) Planning meetings.

We considered delegating more decisions (those that could be made on purely technical grounds) to officers – but they already deal with about 94% of the workload! – so we’re not going to do that. I think this is one reason why some people have the (definitely false) impression that “the Council is in cahoots with developers, because they pass nearly all the planning applications they get”. That’s because you don’t see most of the ones that get refused – they never see the light of day at a public meeting! I suggested (not completely seriously) that we could publish a sort-of rogues gallery of the proposals to build really outrageous things that have been refused permission… but that would probably just attract lawyers!

The Council is supposed to “work in partnership” with developers, and actually our officers are quite good at negotiating with them to produce proposals that are generally acceptable, so that’s another reason why more that emerge as formal applications are approved, than are refused. (Correspondingly, the Council involves amenity societies quite extensively in the process of drafting new policies on which decisions are based.)

In the end we’ve decided to improve the training for councillors who’re members of Planning committees, so they don’t spend (so much) time discussing “non-planning issues” (which can’t be reasons to refuse an application). And to try changing the way each case is heard so that we hear the officer’s impartial advice first, and then the contributions from applicant and objectors. We’ll see if that gets us all home any earlier…

John has kindly given me permission to do this with other posts of his, so you may see more of his thoughts here in future.

About Andrew Brown

I live in Lewisham, South East London, and spent 9 years as a Labour councillor in the borough between 1997 and 2006.
This entry was posted in John Paschoud, Lewisham's Politicians. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Are Planning committees getting longer? …or am I just getting older?

  1. rp says:

    Thanks for that Andrew, very kind of you.

    Of course I understand that councillors have a heavy burden to bear and that planning issues cover all shapes and sizes of ‘development’, from the small to the great.

    I can’t imagine that they, generally, have the time or capacity to digest *all* the information that they have to. Much of it must be technical, or at least, embedded in technicality, all the better for obscuring obfuscating, the facts.

    I also know that John Miller is the kind of person who will go to (measurable) lengths to try and give the point of view of the Council. After all, he’s a council employee . . .

    That said, and you knew I’d get around to it at some point, I very strongly suspect that any of the councillors who took the decision to vote in favour of the Lewisham Gateway had the knowledge of the development to be able to cast their vote for the good of Lewisham, and so, that vote simply fell into the hands of the developers who are far better at getting things through council red tape than are planning departments or councillors at stopping them.

    After the vote was taken it was noticeable that there was back slapping between developers and council employees and councillors, the kind of greeting that only is made when people have a friendly relationship. Not that that, per see, is a bad thing, but I think it must lead to a lack of rigour that would be essential in that situation.

    I noticed on another, more frivoulous, blog, that during your time as a councillor you had a brief for examining public toilets. I’m sure you applied discipline to that task, and I like to think the good burghers of Lewisham, and those that visit or pass through, would be pleased to shake your hand warmly if you have served them during their time of need.

    all the best!

  2. Lone Ranger says:

    Re planning: Is it not likely someone wishing to make a planning appliction will firstly talk to the planning and possibly regeneration departments to test the water?

    Depending on the scale of the project would not an applicant have a fair idea of the officers response by the time an application is made?

    I’m not so sure the officers reports are impartial in the sense officers appear to come to a decsion and write a report to support that view.

    An area you can quite often see this is the conversion of houses into flats. Where an officer opposes an application breaches of council policy will be flagged up. When an officer wishes to grant permission those very same council policies my have been breached but are not flagged up in the report.

    In recent months I’ve been reading a number of planning applications and reports in an attempt to see where Lewisham is heading compared to vision outlined by the Mayor and in the UDP.

    If only 6% of applications go to committee who is responsible for the mish mash of buildings you see around Lewisham, which developers then use to justify their schemes?

  3. Bill Ellson says:

    Depending on definition the shortest LBL planning committee might well be the inquorate one that Terry Scott chaired about five years ago. Over the years some strange things have happened at planning meetings the most bizarre being the mystery ‘councillor’ who arrived a couple of minutes into a meeting and took a seat at the committee table, and participated in all that evenings decisions. After the meeting I asked officers who she was and it rapidly became clear that nobody amongst the officers or members recognised her. Always possible that she was the member for Solihull ward but that is another story.
    Getting back to the point too much time is taken up by officers giving dreadful slideshow presentations. If members read written reports they can clarify detail by looking at plans and elevations.

  4. Andrew Brown says:

    Now that’s what I call public participation!

    I take the point about slideshows, but I guess that while their slickness could be improved the point of them – to help councillors see the plans in context – isn’t without merit. As you say reading the reports and looking at the plans are essential, but (as a visitor rather than member of the committee) I always felt that the photos of the site were helpful.

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