Monday, September 30, 2013

The 'Weird Workings' of our Planning System

All of us have experience of telephoning some large corporation, and becoming exasperated by the sheer inefficiency we encounter. And its always on the 'service' side rather than the 'sales' side! But today I was reduced to laughter after having a Powys County Council planning policy explained to me. Thought it was worth sharing.

My wife and I own a field of about two acres near our house (which is in the hamlet, probably known as Cil). We have always valued our privacy, and in the past have never contemplated allowing development on land we own near us - even when we have been asked to consider proposals. Things change, as family circumstances do, and today, I decided to contact my Local Planning Authority to ask how to go about including our little field in the local development plan. And this is what I was told.

In 2011, the LPA (Powys) advertised widely, seeking invitations from land owners to seek inclusion in the Powys Local Plan. About 1,000 replied, and these responses are being currently 'worked through'. Impression I have is that this process is not going to be completed any time soon (probably never) - if ever. It seems (after some discussion)  that there is never going to be an opportunity to have our little field included.

Now this raised a few questions in my enquiring mind. So I removed my 'personal' hat and donned my 'political' hat and started asking some of them. For the purpose of this exercise we need to assume that our little field is the best located site in our hamlet from a planning perspective (which I think it is). Not relevant. There will not be an opportunity for its inclusion as 'development' land - ever. We missed the 2011 deadline. What if the ownership of the site had changed over the last 2/3 yrs (in our case, circumstances had changed)? No difference, and no mechanism for reconsideration. What if I were to put a planning application in for development on this field, better located for development than another parts of our little settlement? The Planning officers would recommend refusal of our site and recommend approval of the less suitable site. I promise you this is all true. And to trained professional planning officers is entirely logical!! And we are supposed to need more 'local needs' housing!!

So happens that we are not in the least bothered about the position at the personal level. But it is utterly bizarre. I suppose that's it was by a similar process that the House of Lords came to be created.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

not on point, but...

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Local Planner working for a neighbouring Planning Authority said...

Glyn

As a past chairman of the old Montgomeryshire Planning Committee you should know better than to criticise the planning system. The location you refer to is nothing more than a cluster of dwellings located on the fringes of one of Montgomeryshire's finest villages and therefore open countryside and a site that would no doubt increase sporadic development, of which North Powys appears to have plenty of. I am also aware that there is presently for sale a so called 'local needs' dwelling within sight of your home and therefore if your family circumstances are of such that you are in need of a dwelling, there is your answer. I will let the vendors know that there appears to be someone 'of local connection' interested in their property that would full-fill the 'local needs' criteria as placed on the property and therefore the current owner who I am informed is a 'solicitor' will not need to worry about getting the 'local needs' restriction removed in order to make a huge profit on her 'local needs' investment !!

Glyn Davies said...

Local Planner - you completely miss the point I was making. In face you make several odd points. Why on earth shouldn't I criticise the planning system because I was elected chair of the Planning Committee 30 yrs ago - and elected because I was critical of the system! And we have no wish to build a house at all. There is a shortage of housing and I was thinking of helping out. And Cil is a recognised 'rural settlement'. What I was doing was criticising a planning system that is ridiculously inflexible, and based on Plan preparation that makes the planning process always at least a decade behind the times. I would have expected professional planners to have some sympathy with the points I was making, and I have received one thoughful email already taking much the same view.

Local planner's response said...

First of all I am not a follower of your Blog and came across it by chance !

Your comments on the planning system referred to 'things change, as family circumstances do'

I am sure I do not need to spell out the criteria of the local needs policy for Powys,(Cil being designated for local needs housing), to you, which in my opinion is very flexible and helpful for persons wishing to get on the housing ladder, if they have access to an appropriate plot of land. Montgomeryshire an area where there presently appears to be an abundance of dwellings for either sale or to rent. If you want to refer to shortage of housing I suggest you take a look at other areas.

Powys clearly has been to lenient with local needs housing, you only need to take a look in last week's local paper and see a local estate agents advert for advice for removal of local needs restrictions, (something that is virtually unheard of in other areas, local needs housing policy clearly states that they should be affordable in perpetuity), and take a look at local estate agents property lists to see an abundance of such properties for sale, at prices that are hardly what I would call affordable to the average local earner !!

Or perhaps you are advocating a 'free for all' and build houses anywhere! You refer to 'The Cil' as a designated rural hamlet, that may be so in accordance with the local plan, 'for local needs only', but I fail to see what if any essential services are provided at this spot, being a location completely dependant on the private motor car, located on one of the entrances to one of the few local villages which thankfully appears to have largely retained its character. (Not as I am opposed to new build dwellings, but lets build them in appropriate 'sustainable' locations and of a suitable scale to their surroundings). You sound as if you want unencumbered housing on your land.

Therefore its my thoughts that missing the deadline as indicated to you, by your local Council planner makes no difference to your case.

In England as you are no doubt aware, their is a new buss word called 'neighbourhood planning' it will be most interesting to see how this evolves.

You complain about the Local Planning Authority's inefficiency, I suggest you look closer to home, as it is your party that is making substantial cutbacks to Local Government spending and hence this sort of scenario is inevitable and as a consequence the service provided to the public will suffer, despite the Council's statutory obligation to provide a planning service.

Anyhow I do not have any wish to get into a slanging match for cheap political gain, as I see all comments must be approved by the blog author !

Matt said...

Well, Glyn.

I'd encourage you to develop your plot, and certainly submit it to the local area, if only so that more politicians get experience of the nightmare our planning system has become.

But you may well find that to develop your plot you will need to lay out up to £50-60k as a non-returnable stake to come to the game of planning poker - £30k or so for the initial application, then up to the same again for a possible appeal to the Planning Inspectorate.

At least that is what it would cost under the system in England, and since Wales is run by big government enthusiasts I'd expect it potentially to be worse.

You will need a team of around 6-8 different consultants, including a batman to tell you whether their are any bats in your field, an eco-man, a transport man, a surveyor,

And that would be to outline stage only.

In Powys you will have to hand over 35% or so of your new houses at cost to a Housing Association - which if you are aiming to provide affordable houses should not be a issue, and pay various other planning permission levies on the rest.

In our area you also have to make 10% of your plot into open space, which cannot be built on. No idea what Powys do there.

And if you make any cash yourself you will need to pay tax on the profits, and then CGT when you sell anything. That will come to about 40% or so. Again, that may or may not be an issue.

The process - if you get past all the hurdles - will take something like 4 years, and you (may) be subjected to a local hate campaign.

Again in our area, the council has no local plan, so they have lost 3 or 4 consecutive appeals on the same grounds, but keep rejecting valid applications for Councillors to avoid responsibility for their
past actions with voters. Even in the face of strong Officer recommendations.

The system is broken.

And they wonder why so few houses get built :-)

Much of this is down to Gordon Brown, searching for stealth taxes that aren't visible to voters. In 2007 at peak they made about £5bn from these construction taxes.

On a different note I'm actually quite surprised that LAs can legally pass policies declaring that houses cannot be built for 'foreigners' in particular places.

@Planner

When the Powys affordable house price-theu-can-afford estimates (including for 4 bed houses) are based on 1950s-style single average salary earners needing to buy houses from scratch with no prior equity it's hardly a surprise that they don't match the real market, is it?

Most people work their way from cheap houses to better ones as they go, bit by bit.

And a question for you - what impact do lifetime affordable housing rules have on people improving their own homes for example, or are they forced to move house when they have a second baby?

The 18000 word Powys Affordable Housing policy guidance is here:
http://www.powys.gov.uk/rep_2010-09-28b1_298c_en.pdf?id=47

Evan Owen - Snowdonia said...

Found this by accident, I would ask the planner what "locals needs" is, there is nothing in national policy so who created this ridiculous policy?