Planning Application Objection: 27 April 2010

27 April 2010

From: Mike M
To: Mr A. Moorhouse,
Planning Development Control Dept.,
St.Albans District Council.

Dear Sir,

I wish to register my objections to planning application 5/10/0259 on the grounds that the applicant has:

1. Failed in its "Duty to Involve" and has provided an inadequate formal Statement of Community Involvement.
2. Failed in its assessment of needs.

I also wish to register my concern that the granting of this application would:

3. Degrade public confidence in the planning process, and encroach on un-approved Green Belt land.

My points are detailed as follows:

(1) Failure of Duty to Involve, and inadequate formal Statement of Community Involvement

For context, I quote the following paragraphs from Planning Policy Statement 1 (PPS1) (my emphasis):

41. One of the principles of sustainable development is to involve the community in developing the vision for its area. Communities should be asked to offer ideas about what that vision should be, and how it can be achieved. Where there are external constraints that may impact on the vision and future development of the area (for example, those that may arise from planning policies set at the regional or national level) these should be made clear from the outset. Local communities should be given the opportunity to participate fully in the process for drawing up specific plans or policies and to be consulted on proposals for development. Local authorities, through their community strategies and local development documents, and town and parish councils, through parish plans, should play a key role in developing full and active community involvement in their areas.

43. Community involvement in planning should not be a reactive, tick-box, process. It should enable the local community to say what sort of place they want to live in at a stage when this can make a difference. Effective community involvement requires an approach which:
  • tells communities about emerging policies and proposals in good time;
  • enables communities to put forward ideas and suggestions and participate in developing proposals and options. It is not sufficient to invite them to simply comment once these have been worked-up;
  • consults on formal proposals;
  • ensures that consultation takes place in locations that are widely accessible;
  • provides and seeks feedback.
44. The Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 requires regional planning bodies and local planning authorities to prepare a Statement of Community Involvement, in which they set out their policy on involving their community in preparing regional spatial strategies, local development documents and on consulting on planning applications[...]

(A) I do not believe that the consultation strategy followed by the applicant has been either in the spirit or to the letter of the above. In particular, the 2009 public consultation exercise and the associated 'Option 1' or 'Option 2' questionnaire which appears to form the core of the applicant's evidence of having consulted the community can hardly be described as anything other than a literal "reactive, tick-box, process" that did indeed simply invite comment once proposals had already been worked up.

(B) The Statement of Community Involvement document (PDF 39) included in the planning application is not fit for purpose:
  • The Community Statement is incompetently executed: While a reproduction of the glossy consultation presentation is included, the results are omitted. Despite the statement in section 3.0 that "A summary of the results of the public consultation is attached at Appendix 4the document does not have an Appendix 4 and this information is not included. One could be forgiven for seeing this apparent lack of care in the preparation of this part of the submission as an inadvertent reflection of the true attitude of the applicant to the public consultation element of this submission.
  • The Community Statement refers to "Residents and Stakeholder Meetings" and "Focus Groups" but includes no detailed lists of those consulted or detailed records/minutes of what was discussed in these meetings, and does not provide any reference as to where such information could be obtained.
(C) To date, there have been over 280 individually authored letters to the planning department in opposition to this proposal, the vast bulk of these relate specifically to issues supposedly addressed in the applicant's consultation exercises (water space and other pool related provision). This public response to the planning department, without the aid of glossy literature, structured forms or conveniently situated post boxes, constitutes demonstrable material evidence of the inadequacy of the applicant's public consultation efforts.

Further, while not an expert in this domain, it seems to me that the weight to be attached to matters of public consultation with regard to the consideration of planning applications of this kind has been increased by the "Duty to Involve" legislation that came into effect on 1st April this year.

(2) Failed assessment of needs

For context I quote the following paragraph from Planning Policy Guidance 17: Planning for open space, sport and recreation (PPG17) (my emphasis):

Assessments Of Needs And Opportunities:

1. To ensure effective planning for open space, sport and recreation it is essential that the needs of local communities are known. Local authorities should undertake robust assessments of the existing and future needs of their communities for open space, sports and recreational facilities. Assessments will normally be undertaken at district level [...]

(A) I believe that the applicant has failed to conduct a robust assessment of the existing and future needs of the community in the district with regard to the provision of water space and associated activities. In particular, the report commissioned by the applicant in 2005 from PMP- which is the closest any of the commissioned documents proffered by the applicant comes to providing a robust numerical assessment of present and future water space demand- has nothing to say about pool demand beyond 2010. Indeed, the Sport England report of 2007/2008 (produced by Strategic Leisure Limited and referenced but not commissioned by the applicant) makes projections only up to 2016, and states quite unambiguously that the district will be significantly short of water space even by that year.

(B) While I am not a domain expert, it seems to me that it is not sufficient for those assessing this planning application simply to dismiss these issues as not material to the planning process, or to say that they are merely "issues of an organisational and management nature for St Albans District Council [the applicant]" (as is suggested in the agenda for the forthcoming planning meeting). Since the issue of water space is clearly a need of the community, relating specifically to a sport and recreation planning issue, it is surely firmly within the realm of PPG17- and since PPG17 is acknowledged as "relevant planning policy" this would make the matter of water space provision of material relevance to the the assessment of this planning application.

(C) In further support of my view that the applicant has demonstrably failed to conduct a robust assessment in this matter I offer the following handy visual guide:


(3) Degradation of public confidence in the planning process and encroachment on un-approved Green Belt land

For context I quote the following paragraph from Planning Policy Guidance 2: Green belts (PPG2) (my emphasis):

Defining boundaries:

2.6 Once the general extent of a Green Belt has been approved it should be altered only in exceptional circumstances. If such an alteration is proposed the Secretary of State will wish to be satisfied that the authority has considered opportunities for development within the urban areas contained by and beyond the Green Belt. Similarly, detailed Green Belt boundaries defined in adopted local plans or earlier approved development plans should be altered only exceptionally. Detailed boundaries should not be altered or development allowed merely because the land has become derelict.

(A) Roughly half of the proposed new building extends outside the region of Green Belt previously allocated by the applicant for sport and leisure development (I include a further handy visual guide [map photo credit Google Maps UK]):


I understand the reasons for wanting to doing this, and I sympathise with them.

I do not want to stand in the way of the development of new sports and leisure facilities for the district.

I would whole heartedly agree that common sense- and the underlying spirit of the Green Belt rules clearly dictate that their breach in this case should be allowed. What would be the point of having this issue referred to the Secretary of State for a determination of the "very special circumstances" of this case?

However, at the same time, it appears that we, the inexpert public, are being told that in other areas of this process common sense and the presumed underlying spirit of fairness behind the planning process should not necessarily be a guide to how planning decisions will be made, and that instead the rules should be followed strictly and to the letter.

The agenda for the forthcoming planning meeting creates the impression that those assessing this application are going to make a show, perhaps entirely appropriately, of how formal and rule based their decision making process will be. It would appear this extends to asserting the seemingly nonsensical idea that the rules imply the size of a community swimming pool is not a material consideration when granting or denying permission for the construction of a community swimming pool!

How small would the pool in this application have to be, or how large would the bistro have to be before the facilities it is to contain would become a material consideration for such a building? It seems that if the rules are followed then a building with no pool at all and consisting entirely of a glorified restaurant would still be perfectly acceptable to the planning process. I do not think that many of the over 280 people who have so far taken the time and effort to write to the planning department on this issue will have their confidence in the utility or integrity of the planning process reinforced by this sort of approach.

(B) We are just about to conduct local and national elections, and the applicant's proposal has become a political issue. As evidence for this I include the following extracts from political literature from Labour and The Liberal Democrats respectively:



It think that were this application to be passed in accordance with the arguments advocated in the agenda for the forthcoming meeting then the high profile of this application combined with the aforementioned factors would combine, at least at present, to seriously threaten public confidence in the planning process.