Our aspirations to reform planning decisions in the borough of Wandsworth

3 mins read

Author: Cyril Richert

The Clapham Junction Action Group is committed to raise awareness on better consultation, transparency and taking into account seriously the voice of local residents on planning matters.

Today, as voters are electing their councillors who are going to represent them and take decisions for the borough of Wandsworth for the next 4-5 years, we would like to call for reforms in the way Wandsworth Council is consulting and pushing through planning applications and developments.

We list below a series of aspirations that we hope the next Council will consider.

Meaningful public consultations:

  • The Council will have a duty to meaningfully consult organised/constituted community groups and take account of recommendations.
  • The Council will have a duty to take account of and respond to consultations held by the Council (e.g. planning) to restore the confidence of communities in them. It will include stating clearly in advance how the consultation results will be considered.
  • The Council will have a duty to use a ballot for approving final version of large schemes such as regeneration.

Planning Application Committee (PAC) representation and transparency:

  • The Council will allow public representation of organised/constituted community groups for large schemes/ level of responses.
  • The Council will  improve transparency of planning decisions by ensuring that records/videos of the PAC discussions are accessible on the Council website within the week following the meeting.

Local plan properly non-ambiguous and enforced:

  • Community groups will be consulted ahead of Local plan reviews and the Council will take account of their recommendations when amending plans.
  • The Council will have non-ambiguous policies and enforce them through planning decisions.
  • The Council will ensure that local plan policies are not subverted and avoid breach of policy (such as with the “on balance ‘acceptable’” wording).
  • The Council will give guidance on and power to call-in decisions that do not accord with the local plan.

In drafting those pledges/aspirations, we have consulted with resident associations, community groups and Societies in the borough.

We understand that the aims and objectives will need working out in further detail and we wish the Clapham Junction Action Group to be involved, along with the other amenity societies, in discussions about the details.


UPDATE: 16th June 2019

As reported in the Planning Forum Meeting, based on the Draft document on planning reforms that CJAG had circulated in August 2018, and the invitation to comment reiterated last January, a few responses have been received:

  • Wandsworth Society (download): 24/29 May 2019

“We believe the issues raised cover important aspects of the relationship between local societies and Council planners.
We would welcome a better dialogue with officers. We support the principle that public consultation should be improved and agree that:
– a list of recognised local groups should be prepared and that these groups are invited to discuss applications with officers at an early stage;
– representatives from recognised local groups should be given the opportunity to speak at PAC meetings on significant schemes (we support the use of video recording as it is already the case for several London Councils including Richmond, and Southwark).
We hope that in future the Local Plan will have unambiguous policies and will be enforced in making planning decisions. Far too often applications have been approved contrary to our understanding of what should have been allowed.”

  • Tonsley Resident Association: email received (15th June 2019) stating that

at this stage we have nothing significant to add though we entirely endorse the excellent letter from Philip Whyte of the Wandsworth Society“.

  • Battersea Society (download): 30 June 2019

“We still have concerns about the decision process as follows:

Pre-application discussion: Tim Cronin gave an undertaking that any letters following such pre-application discussion would be posted on application sites. This has happened in a few cases but has not relieved our concerns. Pre-application discussions need to be minuted and ideally a different officer appointed once the application is submitted. We commend the RBK&C code of conduct which includes: “A written advice note will be prepared by the planning officer for all formal pre-application discussions, in the interest of public transparency and consistency in decision making. The note will be (except in clearly justified exceptional cases) made public as soon as possible, and in any event on submission of the relevant application.”

It is clear that developers draft proposals in such a way that they at best stretch criteria even if not actively drafting them outwith approved policies, with the intention that the application will be considered favourably by the PAC. As a Society we wish to see decisions in the best long-term interests of the area and founded on clearly articulated and enforced policies.

Reserved matters: Major changes to outline permissions through reserved matters continue to concern us.   Reserved matters do not appear to be subject to the kind of rigorous analysis that full applications are. The Design Review Panel does not always re-consider them and, from our experience, reserved matters are not always subject to public consultation, often seeming to go through on the nod.  Clearly this is appropriate for some highly technical reserved matters but changes in the number and type of units, massing of blocks and height changes in residential developments should be subject to such scrutiny

While we do regularly meet developers prior to submission (and where appropriate copy our comments to officers) we agree that it would be helpful if developers routinely held well publicised exhibitions of their plans –initially and at major stages in phased development. These need to be widely publicised and easily accessible to the public as well as to local interest groups. This is not always the case, with limited publicity and opening times and exhibitions in out of way locations. “

 

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CJAG News editor and Clapham Junction Action Group co-founder and coordinator since 2008, Cyril has lived in Clapham Junction since 2001.
He is also funder and CEO of Habilis-Digital Ltd, a digital agency creating and managing websites and Internet solutions.