Planning Forum meeting 4th July 2018: discussion on planning reforms

4 mins read
Planning Applications Committee - Room 123

The new format of the Planning Forum meeting, instigated by Cllr Will Sweet (who is also chair of the Planning Application Committee) last January, allowed once again to dedicate a large part of the time to items raised by Forum members. The main discussion, based on CJAG’s suggestion, was about planning reforms.

The meeting was attended by 15 forum members (community groups and societies), 3 officers, the chair Cllr Sweet and the note taker.

Tree strategy

The meeting started with an update on the Tree Strategy discussed last January. Patrick Langley, Arboricultural Manager at Enable Leisure and Culture (managing trees on behalf of Wandsworth borough) said that he intends to release a final version of the new Tree Strategy for the borough at the end of 2018 (with about a quarter of the draft already completed). A presentation to the Council will then follow. Officer John Stone was not able to confirm whether the document will remain as Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG) or Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) as part of the new Local Plan.

Marie-Claire Mason, Wandsworth tree warden said that the document should be embedded within the new Local Plan and become a stronger part on planning decisions. On another matter, she also said that considering the very dry climate and hot temperatures this summer, the Council should display notices on trees to ask residents to water them [we have noticed that the recent press releases of Wandsworth Council had such notice, however only in their email version].

Local Plan

The officers in charge of reviewing the plan are currently at the final stage of the review of the 2016 plan. The new policy drafting stage should start in July 2019.

Cllr Sweet expressed will of reviewing the way the local plan review works (or not work) in order to prevent ambiguous wording.

Either Cllr Cook (cabinet member for the planning policy) or Cllr Torrington (chair of the Strategic Planning and Transportation Overview and Scrutiny Committee) Cllr Sutters (Cabinet Member for Community Services and Open Spaces, which covers parks and waste) should attend the next planning forum.

Planning reforms

This item was raised by the Clapham Junction Action Group based on its proposal for planning reforms as published on the website the day of the last local election. It includes: Meaningful public consultations; Planning Application Committee (PAC) representation and transparency; Local plan properly non-ambiguous and enforced.

Unfortunately the Council (officers and chair) were more than reluctant to embrace any suggestion or encourage ideas. They limited their reactions to reminding that a) applicants are in charge of public consultations, regeneration are consulted in advance, and in any case requirement is limited by law for public application. We were very close to “everything is perfect thank you very much next item please!

Ms Mason highlighted that most of the other boroughs allow constituted groups to make representations but Cllr Sweet responded that (Conservatives) ward councillors prefer not to have representations other than authorised local ward councillors before the committee (although, when pushed with “would you not consider…?” he said that he was happy to hear other ideas). However the Putney Society recalled a previous occasion when Cllr Govindia made a representation for a scheme in Upper Richmond Road before the committee, which was exactly the opposite of what the local residents objected.

Answering a question from the Wandsworth Society about the possibility to broadcast a live video of the monthly Planning Application Committee meetings, Cllr Sweet said that there was currently an upgrade process regarding the full Council meetings, however they are nowhere near any solution for the PAC meetings as.. this is an expense (sic!)

Cllr Sweet rejected the idea to set up an group meeting to discuss improvement of Wandsworth Planning process. He strongly highlighted that councillors are the only elected representatives for that purpose and if residents are not happy, there is always the possibility to vote out councillors at local elections and it seems to [him] that this is what happened at the last election in some wards“. In other words, community groups are not elected so not legitimate enough to work with the Council!

However the chair agreed that in the meantime a document provided by CJAG as a basis of discussion on planning reform aspirations could be circulated with the minutes of this meeting, and the discussion could pursue in 6 months time.

UPDATE 2/08/2018: Draft document on planning reforms added

Website and planning portal

CJAG listed a number of issues that resident groups have complained about for years:

  • lack of formatting possibility [at the Planning Forum meeting June 2013 officers promised that the formatting of online comment would be introduced in V4 – September 2013 release],
  • scanning letter impossible to convert into Word documents,
  • lack of notification when changes occur,
  • documents do not have proper descriptions/titles,
  • the way documents are split into many small files,
  • adding people’s names for online comment,
  • misleading document names,
  • difficulties to download,
  • wrong dates for comments … etc.

All issues very easy to fix but no-one noticed any improvement. CJAG reminded that in July 2017, planning forum members were told that there were going to be some changes with the planning portal. Nearly exactly 1 year later, nothing happened. In a study published in 2014, the author said: “the fact that this problem persists for a few years now means that the council is not interested in improving the services they deliver“.

Officer Nick Calder answered that Wandsworth Council was facing a legal challenge with the previous company which is delaying any improvement on the website to September 2018 (at least?). In the meantime the Council is talking to Richmond’s contractors regarding the set up of a new system.

AOB: Neal’s Lodge

Following the defeat of Wandsworth Council in the Neal’s Lodge judicial review, David Kirk from the Wandsworth Society asked whether there was any future plan for the premises. Officer Nick Clader brushed away the rejection of the appeal and highlighted that in term of planning procedure the Council had been successful.

Suggested date for the next meeting is 20th January 2019.

Last but not least, we have moved all the articles on the planning forum meetings for the past 9 years in a dedicated folder, HERE.

Disclaimer: Cyril Richert was representing the Clapham Junction Action Group at the Council’s meeting

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CJI 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.