Planning Forum meeting Sept 2010: some feedback

Author: Cyril Richert

On Thursday (September, 23rd), was organised the semi-annual (er, last one was November 2009!) Planning Forum at Wandsworth Borough Town Hall.

This time the meeting was chaired by the new chair of Planning Application Committee, Councillor Nick Cuff (replacing Councillor Leslie McDonnell), along with two planning officers: Tony McDonald, Head of Development Control Borough Planner, and Martin Howell, Group Planner, Policy and Information.

Minutes from the meeting should be available on the Council’s website, but apparently the page is no longer updated and last minutes are November 2007.

Better publicity for major planning applications

As usual the meeting started with comments on the previous forum. And as usual (sic!) I made a comment on the lack of publicity for major planning applications.

People might remember the outcry that came from the public meeting organised last January by the Putney Society to present Wandsworth Borough Council’s (WBC) new plans to guide the form and shape of re- developments in the borough over the next decade or so… with only a few days before the end of the consultation and while the Council apologised for missing the deadline to advertise the plan in Brightside.

Since then, Martin Howell explained that several measures have been taken to avoid the same problem:

  • A list of major planning application is now available on WBC website… or sort of… It takes a little bit of stamina to find it: you have first to scroll down (down, down,…down) on the home page to find a link to Planning, then on the new page you will find a link to Larger planning applications.
  • On the page for Larger planning applications, a link with the applications lead to a page where are grouped drawings, documents, photos…etc. But this page does not allow comments and you will still have to search the applications database with the application number (YYYY/xxxxx) to see the comments and make your own. A direct link would be appreciated.
  • A slot as already been booked in Brightside to allow planning news in November issue. As I explained in my previous comments, the idea would be to have a recurrent slot (half page?) in each issue for planning news/announcement, with the possibility to extend for more if needed with a bit of planning.

Update on Local Development Framework

The planning inspectorate has now confirmed that the WBC planning strategy is sound and can go ahead with a number of amendments. Most of the changes were discussed at the public hearings in February 2010 and you can read our comment on the Inspector’s approval here.

Martin Howell commented on the general approval but highlighted two fundamental modifications:

  1. The Inspector asked to amend Policy IS 5 c (affordable housing) so that the definition accords with national guidance and to ensure the trigger for affordable housing provision is consistent with the London Plan. The Council is proposing now to have a proportion of 70% social renting and 30% shared (60%/40% in previous version). Further limit has been set to studio and 1 bedroom flats, percentages have been reduced to 5% and 20% respectively in response to concerns about the number of small units this policy could create (and to reflect need for family housing identified in the Core Strategy).
  2. Regarding the size of buildings, I reported: “During the public hearing on the Core Strategy examination, Thursday 4 February at the Town Hall, the inspector made the point that developers will look at any suggested maximum and see it as the green light from which to start.” The Council acknowledged the issue and has decided to remove all the upper limit indications. Therefore, the maps will indicate only a limit above which buildings will be considered tall. ‘Heights above which buildings are unlikely to be considered acceptable’ have been removed from the SSAD/S2UDS (Stage 2 Urban Design Study) and applications for tall buildings will be assessed on their merits against the Council’s policy. The tall buildings criteria have largely been retained, but amended slightly to align with the Commission for Architecture and the Building Environment (CABE)/EH guidance on Tall Buildings.

On Monday 20th September, the Strategic Planning and Transportation Committee recommended the Council to approve the adoption of the Core Strategy during its October’s meeting.

Nick Cuff highlighted that despite the new strategy should be used by WBC for the next 15 years, the coalition government has some aspiration to modify local rules and there are some uncertainty on the future of the Local Development Framework.

The Proposed Submission versions of the DMPD and SSAD, which provide detailed policies to support the delivery of the Core Strategy, are now proposed for public consultation from the 12th October (following Executive Meeting) to the 11th December 2010.

Martin Howell confirmed that the Council is keen to participate to meetings organised by local amenities or groups when requested, and is also open to any proposal that could participate to the consultation on those strategic documents.

Although Clapham Junction was removed from the areas suitable for tall building in the core strategy, it has been re-introduced in the latest version of the SSAD document: p106 you can read (download here):

Taller buildings in this location could not only help deliver significant regeneration benefits, but also give a visual focus to the town centre, subject to the qualifications set out in Policy IS3 and the criteria based policy in the DMPD;

It seems to contradict a bit the following pages of the document where it often says:In accordance with Core Strategy Policy IS3d, tall buildings in this location are likely to be
inappropriate.

But I will elaborate this point in another article…

Patricia Poulter (Putney Society) commented that the SSAD document being nearly 200 pages (even broken into two ~100 pages on the Council’s website) it is very difficult to manipulate. Therefore the Council could make available a break-down version by location.

Last but not least, the Committee recommended to approve the use of the Development Management Policies Document and Site Specific Allocations Document Proposed Submission versions as material considerations in planning applications from the date of the start of public consultation.

This is more or less what I was already saying 9 months ago when I wrote:
However, as we can hope, the new size limits specified in the SSAD do not come out of thin air, and we can reasonably assume that they are based on solid arguments. Therefore, I have difficulties understanding why those arguments are not used in current planning applications! An example? Osiers Road, where the SSAD says that “applications for buildings of more than 18 storeys will generally be unacceptable, and will only be considered in exceptional circumstances” but a 21-storey tower and high density (contradictory to London policy framework) were quickly approved by the Council on January 7th.

Update on Nine Elms

Work on the infrastructure requirements and related funding is still continuing along with the public consultation which will close at the end of 2010.

A strategic Board has been build to define how transport infrastructure should take place (especially regarding the Northern line extension).

An issue was raised regarding the possibility of a section 106 agreement for the US embassy. WBC proposed that a “contribution” was made to improve the surrounding area.

Website

Albeit not being in the original agenda it was such a major issue that Nick Cuff decided to make it a full topic at the end of the meeting.

You might have noticed that the planning section of the website had recurrent problems. Actually it was unavailable most of the weekend in July and August, often when people have time to consult the information and give their views. For the record, a major upgrade was planned (unfortunately without clear notification) during the bank holiday weekend at the end of August where power regulation was set, but it did not fix the issue. The council officers are well aware of the problem and as frustrated as anyone else trying to use the service.

Therefore a new upgrade was planned at the end of September and properly displayed on the website:

“Please note

Owing to a very important upgrade that will improve the performance and reliability of the existing planning searches, the “View related documents” function will be suspended on the 29th and 30th September and 1st October 2010.

Thank you for your patience as we look to improve the service to you.”

On the other hand, while the planning service worked on the weekend 18-19th September, the moderngov pages (where you can find Councillors, meetings, agendas, minutes and related documents) were inaccessible (actually from Friday evening… and it was specifically the weekend preceding the important meeting of the Strategic Planning and Transportation Committee that we discussed above).

Although I understand that we talked about the planning service that is the responsibility of the borough planners, I would like to reiterate the need to work globally on the structure of the entire website to avoid similar problems. May I suggest that someone responsible for the full service (not only the planning section) be at the Planning Forum meeting next time to update (or at least that information on the global status was passed to the other representatives)?

Next meeting: 6th December 2010

I would like to finish this report on a more personal touch. I wrote on the Agenda pages, in advance of the meeting: “This is also going to be the first meeting with Nick Cuff, the new Chair of the Planning Committee, so maybe ideas will be different from the past answers 🙂“. And indeed it was! The meeting was very positive with a lot of welcomed announcements: affordable housing and mix-used issues addressed, information and changes made on tall building policy with a response to previous concerns, initiatives to improve the publicity on major planning applications and a shared concern on the website accessibility. But maybe the new approach to more consultation made by the new chair could be summarized with the date of the next meeting: not anymore every 6 months, or 1 year, or even 2 years, it will be in less than 3 months!

UPDATE 6/10/2010 – Emails received from Martin Howell

Dear Mr Richert,

At the Planning Forum meeting I undertook to provide feedback on the problem with the Committee pages of the Council’s website on the weekend of 18/19 September which meant that Committee reports could not be viewed.

I have spoken to the Council’s Website Manager. He informed me that the problem was due to the computer which hosts the Committee pages crashing. Investigations indicated that this was caused by a problem relating to search engines (e.g. Google) indexing the site. This effectively reduced the resources available on the server and meant that requests to view pages could not be completed, this in turn caused the system to crash.

The Council has worked with the system vendors to implement changes to the system which should protect the system from further problems of this nature. The system worked successfully over last weekend and further changes have been implemented this week to provide added protection.

If you do experience any problems with the Committee pages in the future, please inform the Council’s Website Manager, James Petersen (jpetersen@wandsworth.gov.uk).

Regards,

Martin

I apologise for the fact that the Planning Forum page of the website has not been updated since 2007, thank you for bringing this to our attention.  I am arranging for the minutes of both the 23rd September 2010 meeting and the 2009 meeting to be made available as soon as possible.  These should be on the Council’s website in the next week.

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4 thoughts on “Planning Forum meeting Sept 2010: some feedback

  1. Thank you for a very helpful report on the Planning Forum and the summary of the present position with the LDF.

    ( for info Tony McDonald is the chief planner and T Cronin is Head of Devlopment Control)
    Shirley

  2. Website update: I was told that wandsworth.gov.uk is now experiencing problems with its ISP.

    However they are about to start migration to Rackspace in the upcoming weeks.

    Apparently they received very positive references about their service. This is also my experience and I am happy to confirm that the managed service provided by Rackspace is very high quality and should hopefully help to tackle the current record of problems.

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