The last Planning Forum was definitely a welcome change from the previous instances. Not only the main part of the meeting was dedicated to topics submitted by amenity groups and gave real opportunities for discussions, but Cllr Will Sweet (who is also chair of the Planning Application Committee) seemed receptive to comments and open to feedback.
The previous meeting last July occurred with some chaos, as several groups expressed their frustration for criticising for years the organisations of those sessions: lack of discussions, late minutes, pointless comments ignored by the Council representatives… Comments had been shared amongst community groups that the meeting was mostly considered by the Council (WBC) as a place to update groups on planning matters, rather than an exchange on planning issues and concerns by community groups in the borough.
After a difficult start in July’s meeting, Cllr Sweet promised he was going to make proposals for changing the organisation of these events. He kept his promise as Planning Forum Member received on December 1st a letter suggesting a new organisation in two parts:
- Update on planning legislation and planning practice, presented by officers and allowing a question and answer section (30-45 minutes).
- Specific matters raised by the Forum membership (at least one month prior to the date of the meeting) (45-60 minutes).
He suggested also to “review this new arrangement at the end of our next Forum meeting“.
Planning Update/Local Plan
Adam Hutchings (Principal Planning Officer, Wandsworth) gave several updates on the emerging planning policies that will be incorporated into the next local plan:
- presumption in favour of small site developments
- protection to retain core industry sites
- the new tall building policy will be very similar to the current one BUT they will remove the wording “sensitive” and ” inappropriate” in the policies.
A discussion followed on housing target and affordability. In a very ambiguous way, the officers warned that they see indications that meeting the overall target of new housing could be more difficult in future years and might increase the pressure. It is difficult not to see that as a threat to justify more schemes which could be rejected by local residents. To the question: Has Wandsworth ever failed to meet their targets ? Never, was the response.
Of course the opportunity offered in Nine Elms will vanish. But it is hard to believe that it means that Northcote Road should welcome a cluster of towers!
Officers added that the borough meets its target (in general terms) and admitted that they were not prepared when this topic was challenged by the Mayor of London to justify approval for the Homebase-Swandon Way scheme last year.
Topics raised by Forum members
A) Current structure of the Planning Services (raised by the Batersea Society)
WBC gave a detailed overview of the organisation with stream lines and contacts. Officers explained that some vacancies are currently filled by agencies and they have to start recruiting.
B) Tree Strategy (raised by the Putney Society)
The last Tree Strategy adopted by WBC is dated 2001. Question was raised about the consideration given by officers to the Trees (in the case of B&Q, the scheme proposing to chop down many mature trees was approved despite a specific Tree Protection Order).
As the Wandsworth Society said they “heard” that a new strategy was being set-up, officer Nick Calder (Head of Development Management) acknowledged that he only saw it today and that it was at discussion paper stage. A tree warden representative expressed her frustration and said they sent the document to all Councillors (Will Sweet confessed he could not recall receiving the document). They strongly suggest a more robust policy and a like-to-like replacement (a mature tree could be replaced by not 1 but several smaller trees for a similar foliage).
- Download the 2001 Wandsworth Strategy HERE.
- Download the May 2017 discussion paper prepared by the Wandsworth Tree Warden Network HERE.
C) The status of policy documents in particular the SSAD (raised by the Battersea Society)
Several community groups questionned the purpose of the document. The Battersea Society cited Lidl’s approval as contrary to the SSAD (which suggest a mix-residential for that area).
On Lidl, CJAG disagrees with the Society which wanted the scheme to include residential. CJAG is not against that inclusion; however ALL the previous schemes have shown the Council encouraging huge schemes with high towers (20 storeys suggested for this site) strongly opposed by local residents. Rather than having to fight for a reduction to a more human development (with a chance of being ignored by the officers close to 100%), CJAG welcome this “under-developed” scheme.
Amenity societies and groups expressed their frustration to the constant used of the terms “on balance” to justify any breach of policies. It detracts from engagement and it is difficult to see the point for asking people to contribute, they said.
It extends to consultations on the planning portal, a community group representative said. If you consult and don’t take into account/dismiss constantly all objections, people will consider that consultations and feedback have no weights.
Cllr Sweet said that he heard the frustration, the issues raised with the way policies are implemented, and will consider pushing for changes within the planning application committee.
CJAG seized the opportunity to ask, once for all, whether local plan policies were guidelines, or statutory policies. Adam Hutchings (Principal Planning Officer, Wandsworth) clearly said that the Site Specific Document (SSAD) is part of the statutory policies, as all the documents (Core Strategy, DMPD, SSAD) making the Local Plan. Nick Calder (Head of Development Management) added that guidelines are definitely below policies in importance.
This is in sharp contrast to Cllr Govindia, Leader of the Council, who stressed at a Wandsworth Society meeting in 2014 that they were only “guidelines” (read HERE).
D) Pre-Application discussions (raised by the Battersea Society)
It was said that once a planning application is submitted, it should have the pre-application minutes available on the portal. Officers confirmed that formal letter should be published once planning application is available to the public.
Organisation and practical matters
Following points raised by CJAG, Cllr Sweet also agreed that:
- Minutes should be sent within 3 weeks following the meeting.
- A date (or at least a range of possibilities as indications) could be sent with the minutes for the next meeting.
- Formal documents used and discussed by officers in their presentations could be sent at least a few days before the meeting.
Cllr Sweet was keen to stress that he was listening to our concerns. Soon hopefully, we should see some results. It is indisputable however that the atmosphere was considerably better than all previous meeting we have had for …at least 8 years, i.e. the first meeting CJAG went to in 2009!