The government requires that the local authorities consult the public, the “stakeholders”, when developing or altering certain policies or plans. The Kensington Society is very active in the consultation process. As this is the front-end of the planning process it is important that there is early engagement with the Society and any of the local “affected” parties and that they participate as soon as possible.
We have pressed for years to be involved in the early stages of policy development and in the formation of supplementary planning development plans (SPDs). In the past there was an almost total lack of involvement with the public until the draft document was completed, however, both through the requirements of the government as well as an understanding by some councillors that the involvement of the locals is not to be feared, we have succeeded.
There have been improvements in the way policies are adapted thorough consultation, however, recently we have become concerned with the implementation of the planning application process. We are particularly troubled by the pre-application process where a developer can pay large sums of money for advice from the planning department in the formulation of a planning application.
For larger and more complex developments, this process involves a planning performance agreement (PPA), with a contract between the developer and the council. The payment involved will depend on the size and complexity of the scheme. The council has published a charter explaining how these PPAs are supposed to work, which can be found here.
For smaller schemes, the council has a sliding scale of fees for providing ‘pre-application advice’ to an applicant. It offers three levels of service, with charges ranging from £230 to £870 depending on the nature of the applicant and of the development. More details and a table of the charges can be found here.
Other than the planning department’s request that the locals be consulted by the developer, we have no involvement in this process, and the information and advice provided by the council to the developer is deemed commercially confidential and is not made available to the public.
We have found that by the time an application is submitted there is little or no impact we can have as the proposal has been more or less agreed. In fact, the planning department will not consider any of our or the locals input during the pre-application stage and relies totally on the developer to tell the department what local residents are perceived to want.
In addition to the SPDs, we are very active in commenting on the numerous changes to the planning policies. “Housing and Enterprise” were consultations which did not generate much local reaction but there were very important changes to policy which we along with some of our affiliated societies commented upon. The “Basement” policy change generated considerable activity, while the “Conservation and Design” consultation and the “Miscellaneous” policy consultation generated less response as they were consaulted on at the same time as the controversial Basement draft policy.
However, all of the consultations are important. Our input along with our members and our affiliated societies can reinforce change for which the Council needs support from its residents. It can also combat the creeping powers of developers which threaten this borough.