Most of the planning applications in our area are for minor or major alterations to existing properties, although from time to time we get applications for wholesale re-development.
Some of our streets, such as Hereford Road and Chepstow Road, are largely terraces of Grade 2 listed buildings. Both the interiors and exteriors of listed buildings are controlled. Many of the recent relaxations to planning control do not apply within a conservation area such as ours.
What happens when a planning application is made?
Each planning application is allocated to a case officer in the planning department of the council who looks at the application and considers comments from neighbours, ourselves and other interested parties. Ideally those making applications will have discussed their proposal with their neighbours and file properly labelled documents and plenty of photographs to support their case. If the planning officer feels the application is controversial and not easily resolved, the application may be forwarded to a planning committee made up of councillors.
Planning itself does not entirely deal with the technical performance of buildings, so Building Control exists as a separate mechanism to ensure that buildings perform efficiently from the technical standpoint. Health and safety issues also impact the construction process and there is legislation designed to deal with this.
What is our role in the planning application process?
When we look at planning applications we seek to ensure that the public good is preserved and enhanced. We look at the benefit to the applicant and to the costs and benefits to the neighbours and to the community at large. We use the principle ‘So use your own that you do no harm to others’ and also look to see some public payback in some cases, such as in terms of greening and energy conservation and the use of sustainable materials when viable.
While planning aims to improve the public good, unfortunately there is no clear measure of it, so the planning process allows for discretion in how it is interpreted. This means it is possible for there to be inconsistencies in judgements between cases. When these appear significant we are sometimes able to resolve matters with discussions with senior officers.
We look at the following sorts of factors when examining planning applications:
- The effect on the well-being of neighbours with regard to sunlight and serious overlooking.
- The consequences for the environment. We look for energy conservation, retention of gardens, greening generally and as far as possible the use of sustainable materials.
- Design features. We are concerned with form and function and look for designs that are compatible with the best features of the existing streetscape or alternatively for bold completely innovative proposals that are nevertheless compatible with the existing environment. For non-listed buildings this relates to how the building will look from the outside. The exterior of buildings compose the interiors of our streets and backs. The pleasure of our streets is available to us as a community but also to anyone passing through them. Our backs very often compose sheltered eco-systems. It is here that problems of light and overlooking present themselves and getting this right preserves harmony among neighbours.
- We are concerned with the harms during construction and seek to ensure that there is a plan of work that minimises disruption to neighbours and other street users. We also intervene if we find out that developments are not proceeding according to the approved plan. We can alert both development control and enforcement teams and get work stopped if necessary in such cases.
- We work to modify established policies which we believe are not in the interests of our residents. Fortunately neighbourhood planning will in the future allow us to do this far more effectively.
The process described here is only part of the control mechanisms currently in place when a development occurs. A number of different agencies are involved in planning and development. The technical performance of buildings is controlled by the building regulations, separately from planning. In Westminister a proportion of this work is sub-contracted out to the private sector. Work that affects neighbours requires a party wall agreement to try to ensure neighbours’ interests are fully protected. The ancient right to light is part of common law. In addition, permissions for skips and so on during construction rest with the highways department of the council.