Diary of a Sutton Councillor

Council Motion on Planning Reform

At Monday’s Full Council a motion calling for a review of permitted development rights was passed with unanimous support from both Conservative and Lib Dem members.

Cllr Hall & I had prepared the motion to highlight current borough issues in the context of calling for the current planning policy reforms to be extended to look at permitted development rights.

In my speech I concentrated on the threat posed to backgarden land:

‘This council has a long history of seeking to protect the suburban character of this borough from the creep of backgarden development.

In true Liberal Democrat innovative tradition this council was one of the first to include specific policies with the aim of protecting backgardens from development, within its local planning policy framework.

In fact so new and unfamiliar was this idea to some planning inspectors that some very unsatisfactory decisions were made at appeal that didn’t fit well with our local policies.

However we have continued to update and strengthen our policies on backgarden development in our new Local Development Framework and the Government changes to remove garden land from the definition of brownfield, and therefore no longer seen as a priority area for development, means that national policy has finally caught up with us somewhat.

Now that our Core Strategy has been adopted and our Site Development Policies DPD currently at the submission stage, and therefore a significant document in terms of current planning applications, the full force of our revised and strengthened policies will start to take effect.

However, with strong and defensible policies protecting backgarden land we are unfortunately now facing some unintended consequences.

Having seen that backgarden development will not be accepted through normal planning processes, a new approach has become evident whereby developers are seeking to achieve their aims via the back door of permitted development.

These developers prepare plans that are very careful to meet the stipulations of permitted development, which gives them freedom to build without reference to the planning authority or the local community. The local authority can only intervene when there is a proven breach of permitted development rights.

With a full planning application the onus is on the developer to prove that the plans comply with planning policy. With a breach of permitted development the onus is on the local authority to prove that a development is not within national set guidance.

Planning experts across the country have raised concerns about the vaguaries of the guidance in respect of permitted development as amended in 2008, with too many opportunities for loopholes to be exploited.

In light of these recent developments and the government’s desire for review of planning policy we believe that now is the time to extend that review to permitted development rights, and this is the point of our amendment to add to the resolutions of the motion.

Our Planning Enforcement team takes a strong stance on breaches of permitted development and has a good track record of resolving issues at an early stage. However when our enforcement team finds it necessary to take legal action, we find that the courts are often unwilling to see planning cases as a priority. In my view there is no point having any planning policies in place if we do not have the support of the legal process to enforce breaches of planning law.

I attended a course recently looking at the built environment and design matters. On this course we were asked to think about what we meant when we talked about suburbia.

The answers were about well laid out streets, large houses set in spacious plots with generous gardens. Trees and greenery were seen as a key part, as well as good commuter links. A good quality of life was also mentioned, smaller shopping areas and distinct neighbourhoods.

 Sutton is Suburban. We do not deny it, in fact our residents are proud of it and want to preserve it. People move to Sutton to enjoy the suburban lifestyle.

It is our duty as a council to listen to our residents and seek to preserve that suburban character through our local planning policies. That is what we have done and that is what we will continue to do. We know that housing is scarce and we are happy to encourage development in the right places which fit well within the area.

But backgardens are not the place for new developments.

We call upon the Government to reinforce the powers of local authorities to respond to the desire of local residents to protect the suburban character of Sutton.

For if we do not we will become just another part of the inner city urban sprawl.

Please support the motion and our amendment.’

The agreed resolutions were:

 i) Write to the Secretary of State for CLG to express this Council’s view that permitted development rights should not be applicable to changes of use by commercial enterprises so that communities will continue to have a say in ensuring the vitality of their local areas, and

ii) request an overall review of permitted development rights and Certificates of Lawful Development to ensure that there is a suitable balance of a householder’s right to modify their property against the amenity needs of their neighbours and the local community.

iii)Encourage the Government to highlight the importance, and strengthen the enforcement of, breaches of Permitted Development when they reach the court system.

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October 19, 2011 - Posted by | Committee Meeting | , ,

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