Planning Forum meeting 12 July 2017: What purpose?

Author: Cyril Richert

Room-123

Planning Applications Committee – Room 123

Was it a new start for the planning forum or just an iteration of the usual meeting were local amenity groups are fed with updates without much time for discussion on issues? If it was the initial intention of the new chair, Cllr Will Sweet, it was definitely a failure.

In any case it started very badly when I asked to read a very short (1 or 2 minutes) statement at the introduction. That little piece was intended to summarise the frustration of many groups attending this meeting, and had been discussed between us (local groups and Societies) before the meeting. The response from Cllr Sweet was: No! repeated several time as voices raised from several attendees (and members of Societies) to support my request.

From the original agenda sent 4 weeks before de meeting (a copy paste of the one sent in November 2016), most of the items were either dismissed or their status was similar to 6 months ago:

  • item 2-Shared Service with Richmond= replaced by announcement on a new planning IT system in the coming months;
  • item 3-Neighbourhood planning= proposed to amend to topic;
  • item 4-Neighbourhood forum in Tooting= same report as 6 months ago, i.e. early stage;
  • item 5-New Mayor’s approach to Planning= the officer reiterated the last minutes;
  • item 6- Update on Local Plan reviews= all dates switched by 6 months

As expected the meeting followed the usual path: a series of update statements read by officers followed by the chair asking if there was “any question?“.

This is not a forum, this is an update meeting!

Comments have been shared amongst community groups that the meeting was mostly considered by the Council as a place to update groups on planning matters, rather than an exchange on planning issues and concerns by community groups in the borough.

Those frustrations have been expressed during previous meeting as well as by more formal emails to the PAC (Nov 2015). Unfortunately (as usual with our planning concerns maybe) it was not addressed properly and no change resulted.

The definition of the word “forum” from the Oxford dictionary says:

Forum: A meeting or medium where ideas and views on a particular issue can be exchanged.

This is not the personal definition of Cllr Sweet, who only accepted questions on the topics defined on his agenda.

At the end, only 5 minutes to talk on other subjects

Only 5 minutes were left at the very end to discuss issues that the amenity societies and local groups wanted to discuss.

Of course most of it was dedicated to the frustration expressed above. No time for housing discussion (probably a frivolous subject) nor time for tall building policy concerns.

Recommendations for a better meeting

We would like to reiterate suggestion that update papers were sent beforehand to the different attendees, given them the possibility read and digest them prior to the meeting. There should be less need to spend time confirming details and devote more time to issues on which we would like to have a more substantive discussion upon.

In the spirit of the “forum” title, it was requested that at least 50% of the time be dedicated to discussions on issues raised by the attendees, not only 5 minutes at the end!

Several groups wanted to discuss about housing provision and affordable housing in the forum. Cllr Sweet promised that it would be in the agenda next time… probably in January 2018…

We consider that either the Council decides to dedicate a large part of the meeting to sharing views and discussing issues raised by the local groups, with abandoning its autocratic lead of the meeting, or the meeting should be renamed “Update on Planning Matters Meeting“.

Cllr Sweet is the 4th Chair of the Planning Forum since CJAG was invited to attend. As all his predecessors, he asked us to be given a chance. Unfortunately after so long with similar comments, we can only judge on results now.

Time for change

We note from the PAC meeting last April that there were frequent references from Councillors to the unsatisfactory nature more generally of the ‘tall buildings policy’ and even, at least, the regular apparent failure to apply the policy.

For many years we have been seen with contempt and our concerns dismissed or just ignored. The Clapham Junction Action Group, along with the Putney and Wandsworth Societies have been even officially accused of being Nimbys by the Council. CJAG decided to no longer waste time sending specific and elaborate comments on planning application as they are ignored by the planning department.

Isn’t it time to really work with community groups and not only with the aim of fulfilling statutory obligations? First of all by properly addressing our concerns regarding the organisation of this planning forum event and proposing changes, and by discussing, with effects, planning matters such as cumulative strain of new development on transport infrastructure, efficiency of Wandsworth planning policies and concerns about adequacy of information provided with planning applications leading to difficulty in assessing them.

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